Georgia leads NCAA swimming
INDIANAPOLIS -- Georgia got exactly the start it needed Thursday in the NCAA swimming and diving championships.
Tennessee, Arizona and, yes, two-time defending champ California are lurking just behind.
With a full slate of 19 qualifiers and a couple of American Olympians leading the charge, the Bulldogs pulled out to a 163 to 150.5 lead over second-place Tennessee and held a 61-point advantage over fourth-place Cal -- a lead Georgia knows could vanish quickly on Day 2 of the three-day meet.
"We were hoping to be at about 160 points and that's what we got. We came close to winning the 500 (freestyle) and closing to winning the 50 (freestyle), too," Georgia coach Jack Bauerle said. "Tomorrow's a whole different kind of day because Cal will probably go blowing by us."
If that happens, it would set up an epic Saturday finale when one of three things would happen -- the Golden Bears would take their fourth NCAA crown in five years, the Bulldogs would end a string of back-to-back runner-up finishes or some other school could pull off the surprise of the year.
Things are already looking different in Indy.
Three-time Olympic gold medalist Allison Schmitt didn't dominate the first day as she had hoped. She finished sixth in the 500-yard free and anchored Georgia's 400 medley relay team that also finished sixth.
Tennessee moved into second by winning its first ever relay title, the 200 free relay, in the night's first event with a time of 1 minute, 27.14 seconds. Georgia was second in 1:27.38. About 90 minutes later, the Volunteers did it again, easily winning the 400 medley relay in 3:28.51 ahead of Arizona (3:28.83).
And perhaps strangest of all, no records fell as the winners in all five swimming events had slower times this year than last.
None of it bothered any of the big-name swimmers or teams.
"I don't keep score or look at the standings," Cal coach Teri McKeever said. "We've moved up some points from where we were seeded. ... Tomorrow definitely should be better because we'll have more events."
It wasn't all surprises, though.
Southern California's Haley Anderson, an Olympic silver medalist in the open water competition at London, won her second straight title in the 500 free, finishing in 4:34.66. Georgia's Amber McDermott was second in 4:34.86, followed by Bulldogs teammate and Olympian Shannon Vreeland in 4:35.95. Schmitt finished in 4:36.73.
"It feels great," Anderson said after pumping her first with two fingers extended at the finish line. "I think it feels better the second time because you now the first one wasn't a fluke."
Olympian Caitlin Leverenz repeated as the 200 IM champion but didn't come close to breaking the American record she set at last year's NCAA championships. She finished in 1:53.39, more than 1.5 seconds off last year's mark. Leverenz's teammate, Elizabeth Pelton, was second in 1:53.82.
Arizona's Margo Geer won the 50 free in 21.73, holding off Georgia's Megan Romano (21.88) and Tennessee's Faith Johnson (21.89).
And the Wildcats got their second title of the meet when junior Samantha Pickens beat Minnesota's Margaret Keefer for the 1-meter diving crown. Pickens finished with a score of 348.45. Keefer had 338.2.
For Schmitt, one of the biggest winners in London, it wasn't the day she envisioned. But, as usual, she and her teammates were giddy about the overall results.
"The lead is where you always want to be and we had a great first day. In previous years, it's always been our weakest day," Schmitt said. "I'm excited."