Spectacular finish for AU swimmers

COLLEGE STATION, Texas – It wasn’t enough to win a 17th consecutive championship, but Auburn’s men had one of the stronger finishes in the history of Southeastern Conference Swimming & Diving Championships on Saturday.

Marcelo Chierighini celebrates winning 100 freestyle title Saturday/Todd Van Emst photo

The Tiger men earned individual titles in five of Sunday’s six events and posted national best times in three. At the Texas A&M Student Rec Center Natatorium.
The Tiger men finished second to Florida, falling short of the championship for the first time since 1996.

Florida won the men’s championship with a total of 1,408 points. Auburn was second with 1,196. The 16-year streak is the third longest in any sport in SEC history, behi(1991-2008) and Arkansas’ 17-year streak in cross country (1991-2007).

“It has been an incredible streak, which I was a part of as an athlete or coach for nine years, so I understand how hard it has been to maintain,” Auburn coach Brett Hawke said. “It's disappointing, but I am very encouraged at how fast we swam this meet. We had so many fast times and PRs, which really sets us up well for NCAAs next month. Give credit to Florida, they had a great meet and swam really well. This meet will fuel us moving forward, and we will continue to work tirelessly to represent Auburn at the highest level. We have a month to improve, and hopefully we can build off our fast times this meet to swim even faster at NCAAs.”

The Auburn women finished in fifth place with 860 points. Georgia won its fourth straight title with 1,420 points.

Auburn senior Kyle Owens and junior Marcelo Chierighini successfully defended their 2012 titles in the 200-yard backstroke and 100-yard freestyle, respectively. Junior Zane Grothe won Auburn’s first title in the 1,650-yard freestyle since 1999 and junior John Santeiu won the platform diving event for his first individual conference title.

Chierighini was named SEC Men’s Swimmer of the Year. Owens was the runner-up for the Commissioner’s Trophy, awarded to the high-point scorer of the meet. Owens had 91 points in his three individual events, just a half-point behind Missouri diver David Bonuchi.

“We came out and got the ball rolling early tonight,” Hawke said. “What an outstanding swim from Zane in lane eight. You don’t see too many guys win from out there. He just wanted it from the very first stroke, and it’s great that we can come to a meet like this and win the fastest event and also the mile. We’ve got the full spectrum there and we feel really good about it.

“It’s hard when you’re out on the end of the pool and you can’t see what’s going on. He had to set his own pace. He got into a rhythm early, and that was the key to his success. He’s been runner-up a few times, and I think that really got to him. He was ready to win.”

Chierighini’s performance, Hawke said, came as no surprise.

“Marcelo is just in another league right now,” Hawke said. “He won that (100 free) by a full body length. That’s just unheard of. We haven’t seen that since Cesar (Cielo). He’s swimming outstandingly, and we’re hopeful he’ll swim faster at NCAAs. And Kyle, just an amazing performance from him. I think he’ll be SEC Swimmer of the Meet. He won the 100 and 200 (back), was third in the 200 IM, and won all the relays he’s been on. He’s had an outstanding meet and led this team by example.”

Grothe started the night off on a high note as he captured Auburn’s second all-time SEC title in the 1,650-yard freestyle with a time of 14:41.45, the second-best swim of his career. He was the wire-to-wire leader with splits in the high-26 range for most of the race. With about 400 yards to go, Georgia’s Will Freeman started gaining on him and got within six-tenths at the 1400-yard split. But Grothe’s final four splits put the race out of reach and he won by nearly three seconds.

Senior Chris Kramer swam to a 20th-place time of 15:25.00, and sophomore Tommy McKee finished 23rd in 15:26.54; both times were personal-bests. Antton Haramboure finished 28th in 15:39.56.

One event later, Chierighini won his second individual title of the week and his second straight in the 100 free, blazing to a time of 41.60 to win by more than a full second. It was the fastest time in the country this year and fourth-best in Auburn history, just .05 behind Matt Targett’s SEC record of 41.55 from 2009. It also marks the 10th consecutive SEC title for Auburn in the men’s 100 freestyle.

Junior James Disney-May took third in the consolation final with a 43.69, Arthur Mendes was 14th in 43.95, and TJ Leon won the C-final with a 44.00.

Owens gave Auburn its third win of the night with a school-record time of 1:39.69, successfully defending his 2012 title in the 200 backstroke and giving him his fourth individual SEC title in two years. He becomes the first Auburn swimmer to win back-to-back titles in both the 100 and 200 backstroke, and his time broke Pascal Wollach’s record of 1:39.91 from 2009. Brandon Siemasko was 12th in the consolation final with a 1:45.29, and Jacob Siar won the C-final in 1:44.66.

Junior diver John Santeiu won his first SEC title in the platform diving event, scoring a career-high 426.05 points to finish 44 points clear of runners-up Bonuchi and Texas A&M’s Ford McLiney. It was the 11th platform diving title for Auburn in the last 13 years. Sophomore Fraser McKean turned in a fourth-place finish with a 365.65, and Michael Beran took sixth place with 344.00. Freshman Andrew Laing narrowly missed the finals with a score of 328.30 to finish ninth overall.

“They did a great job,” Auburn diving coach Jeff Shaffer said. “The key tonight was going back to our philosophy – if you can minimize mistake, you can maximize your opportunity for success. We live by that every day. John may not have been the best diver in the contest, but tonight he made the fewest mistakes. And that’s why he stepped up and won first place. I couldn’t be more proud of all four of them – Andrew, our freshman coming in to end up ninth, and fortunately he didn’t knock John out! Fraser didn’t even train last week, and he was really gutsy and did a great job. Mike, with a personal-best, was outstanding.”

And the men’s 400 freestyle relay team of Chierighini, Mendes, Disney-May and Owens finished off the night and the meet with a winning time of 2:50.12 to give Auburn its eighth straight title in the event. Chierighini led off the race with a split of 41.92 and Owens put down a 42.04 anchor split to clinch the title, Auburn’s fourth relay win of the meet.

Auburn won a total of six individual events and four relays during the five-day meet at Texas A&M. It marks the most event victories for the Tigers at an SEC meet since also winning 10 titles at the 2010 SEC Championships.

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