Tigers cling to slim swimming lead

COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Auburn’s Marcelo Chierighini earned two titles Wednesday night, winning the 50-yard freestyle and helping the 200 freestyle relay to a win at the SEC Swimming & Diving Championships.

Marcelo Chierighini celebrates 50-meter freestyle title/Todd Van Emst photo

The Tigers held on to the team lead through two days by a narrow margin with 417 points to Florida’s 412.5. Georgia won two events to vault into third place with 327, and Tennessee is fourth with 300.5.

“We knew we were in for a fight,” Auburn coach Brett Hawke said. “Florida is swimming really well on the men’s side. It’s going to go all the way to the wire. We stayed in it tonight and competed well. We didn’t swim beyond our expectations, but we swam to our potential. I’m really happy with that. Tomorrow we’ve got to come in and fight. It’s going to be a battle. We’ve got to be mentally prepared to perform at their best to get back to finals.”

On the women’s side, the Tigers sit in seventh place with 263 points after one of their lightest competition days of the week. Georgia leads with 500 with Texas A&M second (464), Florida third (443) and Tennessee fourth (429).

Chierighini, who had posted the nation’s fastest time this morning in prelims with a swim of 18.92 seconds, went even lower in the finals with an 18.88, the fastest time at an SEC Championship meet since 2009.

“I was not expecting to go 18 in the morning,” Chierighini said. “I was expecting to go 19-low, so I was a little surprised with the 18. But after the 18.9 in prelims, I just wanted to go a little bit faster, and that’s what I did. I just focused a little bit more.

It was Chierighini’s second individual SEC title and his first in the 50 free; the junior from Sao Paulo, Brazil, won the 100 free last year.

“He continues an amazing tradition of sprint dominance here at Auburn,” Hawke said. “What a fantastic individual, and with so much potential in him, he could end up being the best sprinter we’ve seen come through this place. I’m really happy for him.

In the consolation final, junior James Disney-May clocked the fifth-fastest time in the country this year with a 19.60 to win the B-final and claim ninth place overall. It was just shy of his career-best mark of 19.57. Junior TJ Leon was third in the consolation with a 19.88.

Chierighini came back to help lead the 200 freestyle relay to a win with a time of 1:16.23, finishing more than a second ahead of the nearest competitor. Chierighini posted a leadoff leg of 18.85, lowering his nation-leading time by another .03 seconds, while the team of Disney-May, Leon and Kyle Owens finished off the victory, capped by Owens’ anchor split of 18.83.

“The 50 is kind of weird,” Chierighini said. “The more relaxed you are, the better you will perform. You have to enjoy it and not be nervous at all, be as relaxed as possible. Again, I was not expecting to go faster (in the relay). I just wanted to have fun with my buddies on the relay and try to win.”

Owens also claimed the bronze medal in the 200 individual medley with a time of 1:43.45, just .15 shy of his personal-best and only .03 behind the second-place finisher. Owens and the rest of the field moved up a spot when race winner Marcin Cieslak of Florida was disqualified for an illegal kick on his breaststroke leg. Sophomore Alex Hancock finished third in the consolation final with a time of 1:45.61, shaving a half-second off his personal-best from this morning, and senior Stuart Ferguson was the runner-up in the C-final with a time of 1:47.12.

Zane Grothe missed his own school record in the 500 free by a mere .02 seconds as he swam to a bronze medal-winning time of 4:15.44. It was the best Auburn time in SEC Championship history in the event and trails only Grothe’s own 4:15.42 at the 2012 NCAA Championships as the fastest in school history. Sophomore Tommy McKee won the C-final in 4:21.61 for an overall 17th-place finish, and Antton Haramboure went 4:22.81 in the C-final to finish 6th in the heat, 22nd overall.

Olivia Scott led the Auburn women on the night with a win in the consolation final of the 200 IM. Her time of 1:58.31 was a career-best and the sixth-fastest time in Auburn history. In the women’s 500 free, senior Katie Gardocki had the best swim of her career to finish 10th overall and second in the consolation final with a 4:38.75, her personal-best by almost a full second and a half and the third-fastest time in Auburn history.

Four Tigers scored in the women’s 50 free. Junior Emily Bos led the way with an 11th-place time of 22.51, and senior Hannah Riordan was right behind her teammate in 22.53. Haley Krakoski finished 20th overall with a 22.88 in the C-final, and Aubrey Peacock was 21st with a 22.90.

The women’s 200 free relay team of Riordan, Bos, Krakoski and Peacock wrapped up the night with a sixth-place finish in a time of 1:29.27.

Auburn also picked up six points in women’s 1-meter diving as Shanna Schuelein earned a 17th-place finish with a score of 252.05.

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