Tigers losing grip on SEC title

COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Auburn senior Kyle Owens won a pair of gold medals, but the Tiger men’s 16-year run as Southeastern Conference swimming & diving champions is on the verge of ending.

Kyle Owens claimed two more SEC titles Friday/Todd Van Emst photo

Going into the final day of the SEC Swimming & Diving Championships, Florida leads with 1,038 points. Auburn is second with 821.5.

Owens lowered his own nation-leading time in the final with a 45.60 in the final, a personal-best by .03 seconds. He was .47 seconds ahead of runner-up Sam Rairden from Tennessee. It was the third individual SEC title for Owens.

“It feels pretty good,” Owens said. “We’ve been training all year for NCAAs, and to have a swim like that at SECs feels good. It was almost half a second faster than what I won with last year. The competition is a lot faster. It feels good to win it again for a second time, and going into NCAAs, it gives me some confidence.”

Owens became the third repeat winner of the 100 backstroke for the Auburn men. Pascal Wollach won it in 2009 and 2010, and Doug Van Wie went back-to-back in 2005 and 2006.

“It was a great race,” Hawke said. “He’s such a tough competitor, very composed. He wanted it, he wanted to repeat. He wanted to prove he’s the best backstroker in the SEC, and he did that tonight.”

Owens came back to lead the men’s 400 medley relay team to a convincing victory as Owens, Stuart Ferguson, Arthur Mendes and Marcelo Chierighini clocked a winning time of 3:05.92 to win by almost two full seconds and post the second-fastest time in the country this year. Owens took out the backstroke leg in 45.69 seconds and Chierighini brought it home with a blistering 41.33 in the freestyle.

“I love swimming relays,” Chierighini said. “I’m relaxed more and I love swimming with my friends. It was great. It always feels good. I went out fast on the first 50, 19.2, but then on the last 25 I was hurting pretty bad. For my individual 100 free (Saturday) I need to go a little bit slower (on the first 50). But I’m really happy with my time.”

Senior Lindsey Norberg turned in the best swim of her career Friday night as well, earning a bronze medal in the women’s 100 breaststroke. Her time of 59.43 ranks as the second-fastest in Auburn history, a mark she previously set in the morning prelims with a 59.67. Her time was also an NCAA automatic qualifying mark.

Four Tigers were in the championship final. Senior 2012 U.S. Olympian Micah Lawrence finished fifth with a 59.74. Lindsey’s twin sister, Lauren Norberg, was seventh with a 59.97 and Abby Duncan was eighth with a 1:00.48. All four Tiger swimmers were under the one-minute mark in the morning prelims. Senior Laura Johnson also had the best swim of her career, clocking a 1:01.66 to win the C-final.

“They got it done in the morning, which is most important,” Auburn assistant Demerae Christianson said. “This is just a stepping stone to NCAAs, which has been our main focus all year. It’s going to be exciting; they’re in a good spot right now. I think it gives them confidence knowing they can swim fast not fully rested.”

Auburn’s women also had two in the 100 back championship finals. Emily Bos turned in a seventh-place time of 52.79, and Jillian Vitarius had a 53.23 for eighth place. Aubrey Peacock finished 12th with a 53.41 in the consolation final, and Caitlyn Forman (54.19) and Sarah Reynolds (54.30) were 21st and 22nd, respectively.

Senior Stuart Ferguson finished fifth in the men’s 100 breaststroke final with a time of 53.30, dropping .25 off his morning swim. Chandler Gerlach (54.24) and Peter Haas (54.44) clocked PR times to finish 13th and 14th, respectively.

Freshman Arthur Mendes made his second appearance in as many nights in a championship final, finishing eighth in the 200 fly with a 1:45.46. Kevin Behrens was 16th overall with a 1:47.95 in the consolation. And in the women’s 200 fly, Sarah Peterson won the consolation final with a 1:57.72, and Alex Merritt was 13th in 1:58.72. Those rank as the seventh- and eighth-fastest times in school history.

The women’s 400 medley relay team of Bos, Lindsey Norberg, Olivia Scott and Hannah Riordan finished off the night with a fourth-place finish in an NCAA automatic qualifying time of 3:32.44.

In the women’s standings, Georgia stayed in front with 1,058 points, but Texas A&M closed the gap and heads into the final day with 985 points. Florida (852.5) is third, Tennessee is fourth (810) and the Tigers remain in fifth place with 657 points.

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