AU men rule SEC swimming again

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Auburn won its 16th consecutive men’s Southeastern Conference Swimming & Diving Championship on Saturday night at the Allan Jones Intercollegiate Aquatics Center on the campus of the University of Tennessee. The Tigers finished with 730.5 points while Florida was the runner-up with 700 points.

Auburn men's swimmers celebrate another SEC title/Todd Van Emst photo

“This is the third straight SEC meet where it’s come down to the last relay,” Auburn head coach Brett Hawke said. “It’s a really competitive conference. We had a lot of great swims. We had to dig deep tonight because it’s not easy. This is a great group, and they know how to respond on the last day when it counts the most.”

Hawke was named SEC Men’s Coach of the Year for the first time.

It marked the 18th title overall for the Auburn men with all 18 coming in the last 19 years. Saturday’s result also marked the 11th consecutive year that Auburn and Florida have finished first and second, respectively, in the conference meet.

Auburn’s 30-point margin of victory was its largest in the last three years after a 17-point win last year and a 19-point margin at the 2010 meet. Georgia took third place in the men’s competition with 521 points, and Tennessee took fourth with 459.

The Tiger women finished in fourth place with 509.5 points. Georgia’s women won the championship with 781 points, and host Tennessee earned its best finish since 1990 as the runner-up with 629.5 points. Florida was third with 566.

Auburn’s men and women combined for four wins on the final night of competition with both relays capping off the week in style. The men’s 400 freestyle relay team of Drew Modrov, James Disney-May, Kyle Owens and Marcelo Chierighini gave Auburn its ninth title in the last 10 years in the race with a time of 2:51.66, missing an NCAA ‘A’ cut by just .40 seconds. Auburn’s men won all five relays during the week.

Not to be lost in the men’s triumph was a stellar performance by Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace. Swimming the leadoff leg of the 400 freestyle relay, the Nassau, Bahamas, native broke her own SEC and NCAA record in the 100 freestyle with a time of 46.61, shaving .20 off her time from last year’s SEC meet. It gave the relay team of Vanderpool-Wallace, Hannah Riordan, Megan Fonteno and Haley Krakoski an insurmountable lead as they won in an NCAA ‘A’ cut time of 3:12.85.

“I had a lot of emotion going into that race,” Vanderpool-Wallace said. “I just wanted to go out and get the women into open water. That and the emotion led to breaking the record. It’s awesome, and I know I can go faster. This year is about getting everything right and going faster at NCAAs.”

Owens earned two wins on the night. In addition to his relay victory, he took gold in the 200 backstroke with a time of 1:41.67, coming within .14 seconds of an NCAA ‘A’ cut. Owens led a 1-2 finish as senior Max Murphy clocked a 1:42.59, to finish runner-up. Brandon Siemasko added four points with a 13th-place finish, posting a 1:46.83 in the consolation final.

With the 1-2 finish, Auburn took a lead it would not relinquish.

“We get in there – Brandon, Max and me – and we train together every day,” Owens said. “We said back in September that it was going to come down to this. And we know Auburn has the best backstroke in the country.”

Owens was the star of the week for the Tigers, winning six gold medals and a silver during the week. He was part of four winning relays as Auburn won all five relay events in the meet, a feat not accomplished since the 2009 championship.

It was one of two individual wins on the night for Auburn’s men. With five championship finalists in the 100 freestyle, Marcelo Chierighini led the Tigers with his first individual SEC gold medal in a time of 42.45. Drew Modrov took third place in 43.10, James Disney-May tied for fifth with a 43.38, and Chris Manning (44.00) and Karl Krug (44.41) were seventh and eighth, respectively. Auburn took a 97-point lead after that race, putting the championship nearly out of reach.

“Last year I got fourth and this year I got first,” Chierighini said. “It’s my favorite race, so I feel really great. (Having four teammates in the race) was great; it was like a practice. We always race against each other in practice, so I love it.”

Zane Grothe provided an early spark for the Auburn men, winning the silver medal in the 1650 freestyle. His time of 14:50.86 was an NCAA ‘A’ cut and just shy of a school record. Sam Parker (15:33.72) earned 11th-place points while Chris Kramer was 15th with a 15:34.23.

Stuart Ferguson scored the other points of the night for Auburn with a fifth-place finish in the 200 backstroke, clocking a 1:57.26.

On the women’s side, senior divers Vennie Dantin and Anna Aguero made the most of their final SEC competition with second- and fourth-place finishes, respectively, in the platform diving event. Dantin scored a 328.50 while Aguero posted a 271.15. Tennessee’s Tori Lamp got straight nines across on her final attempt to overtake Dantin for the title.

“Anna had an injury and we didn’t know if she was going to be able to dive three weeks ago,” Auburn diving coach Jeff Shaffer said. “She gutted it out, and our trainers did a great job getting her ready to compete. She competed like I would expect a senior at Auburn to compete. Vennie had a great meet. There were a couple of mental miscues, but I’m proud of her last two dives. It forced Tori to come up and do an outstanding dive, which she did. It was an outstanding contest and a great four days of diving.”

Katie Gardocki got the night off to a fantastic start for the Auburn women, swimming an outstanding race in the 1650 free to earn the bronze medal, her first individual SEC medal, with a time of 16:06.14. Siena DeVenuto also scored for the Tigers, earning 15th place with a 16:48.37.

Six Auburn women scored in the 100 freestyle final. Haley Krakoski took eighth in the championship with a 49.64. Hannah Riordan won the consolation final in 49.47, Olivia Scott (49.58) was 11th, Megan Fonteno (49.62) tied for 12th, Becca Jones (49.98) was 15th and Kelsey Winters (50.58) was 16th.

Emily Bos earned a sixth-place finish in the women’s 200 back with a time of 1:56.13, and Sarah Peterson finished eighth in the 200 breast final with a 2:13.11 while Abby Duncan was 15th in 2:14.94.

Auburn’s divers will compete next at the NCAA Zone B Diving meet, which will take place March 5-7 at the James E. Martin Aquatics Center in Auburn. The Tigers will also host the women’s NCAA Championships the following week, March 15-17. Auburn’s men will compete at the NCAA Men’s Championships March 22-24 in Federal Way, Wash.

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