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Swimming takes third in final home meet of season

By Louis Lesser     11/1/11 7:00pm

Throughout two days of exciting competition, the Rice women's swim team was able to come through with a third place finish at the first annual Rice-Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Medical Center Fall Invitational held Friday and Saturday on Oct. 28-29. Showing strong efforts across the board, the Owls were able to set several individual records during the meet and proved that they are a force to be reckoned with as the season continues.

After the first five events of the two-day, 18-event swim meet hosted by Rice at the Rice Aquatics Center, the University of Arkansas led the elite five team field after winning three of the day's five events with three new facility records. However, sophomore Chelsea Fong was able to hold off a late charge from Arkansas' Susanna White for a victory in the 200-yard individual medley. The Cupertino, Calif., native posted a winning time of 2:06.26, which was just about three-quarters of a second faster than White's 2:07.03. Fong also swam the lead leg of the Owls' 400-medley relay, along with teammates freshman Madison Livingston, freshman Casey Clark and senior Shelby Bottoms, who finished fourth with a time of 3:55.44. Rice head coach Seth Huston was pleased with the team's overall performance.

"(The team) came in a little tired after having meets in each of the last two weekends," he said.

That did not prevent the Owl foursome of Clark, Erin Flanigan, Fong and Livingston from placing fourth in the 800-yard freestyle relay with a season-best mark of 7:39.17. Flanigan was also Rice's top individual finisher in the 500-yard freestyle with a collegiate-best 4:58.93. Fellow Owl freshman Clark had the quickest finish in the 50-yard freestyle with a season-best 24.58.

"Chelsea did a nice job to win that 200-IM," Huston said. "It was good to see Erin improve on her previous time in the 500."

On Saturday, Fong followed up a solid win Friday with a brisk 1:51.81 to win Saturday's 200-freestyle over a field of 25 entrants. Not only did the standout Wiess College sophomore claim her second victory in as many days, she was also second in the 100-backstroke (58.88) by just three-tenths of second behind event winner Jessica Bottelberghe of Boise State University (58.58). Fong finished third in the 100-yard freestyle (51.83) and swam on three of the Owls' relays, including twice as the lead leg on second place finishes in both the 200- and 400-yard freestyle relays.

"Chelsea had an awesome meet," Huston said. "She swam well in every single race she was in from start to finish. That was exciting to see. There were a lot of events and a lot of heats for each event, and I almost found myself saying, ‘Oh good Chelsea's in this heat; let's see what she's going to do now.'"

By the end of the meet, the Owls finished third overall as a team with a total of 656 points. Arkansas won the meet with 1,135 points, while Boise State was second in the team standings (838 points). The University of Nebraska was fourth (575) and the University of Houston was fifth (459).

"We were a little more ‘on' in the afternoon session than this morning," Huston explained. "It was a pretty early start and colder in the morning session, and I felt we came back stronger in the second half of the day and finished up looking a little better." Sophomore Lilly Marrow had a great race in the 200-yard breaststroke (2:24.25 for fifth place), and Clark had a nice 100-yard freestyle individually (52.68, seventh place). She was top three in the 100-yard butterfly (57.97). Flanigan took third in the 200-yard butterfly (2:05.63).

"We had nice swims all across the board on all the ‘A' relays," Huston said. "It was the first time our 400-yard freestyle relay was under 3:30 so that was good to see. We got better as the meet went on. Clear skies can do wonders for you."

Clearly, the Rice team is only getting better, and looks forward to their next challenge. The swimmers don't have much of a break, though. They will be in the pool again next weekend, as the Owls head to Fort Worth and Denton, Texas, for dual meets at Texas Christian University and the University of North Texas on Nov. 4 and 5, respectively.

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