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Swimming finishes 1-2

By Louis Lesser     2/1/12 6:00pm

After hours of practice and competition, the women's swim team has only the Conference USA Championship meet to look forward to as the Owls finished their regular season this past weekend in a quad meet against University of Houston, Louisiana State University and Tulane University. The meet lasted from Jan. 27-28, and featured strong efforts from all members of the team. As the meet was over two days at the University of Houston Recreation Center Natatorium, each of four teams competed in three dual meets simultaneously. On the first day, the Rice foursome of sophomore Michelle Gean, sophomore Lilly Marrow, freshman Casey Clark and sophomore Chelsea Fong took second in the 200-yard medley relay to pace the Owl swimmers. While Rice has finished faster this year in the 200-yard medley than its 1:46.42 on Friday, the three-sophomore/one freshman crew held off the challenge from six other entries. In the 1,000 meter race, freshman Erin Flanigan finished in second place with a time of 10:20.32. Rice junior Danielle Spence came in fourth in the event with a 10:31.34 time, while senior Nicole Delaloye posted a season-best 10:32.42 for fifth. Flanigan came back later and notched Rice's best finish in the 200-free with a 1:56.43 for ninth place. Also notable was Fong, who, although she was not entered in Friday's 200-freestyle, had a steady third-place finish in the 100-yard butterfly (56.67). In addition, senior sprinter Shelby Bottoms had not raced in the 200-breaststroke previously in her Rice career, but her 2:20.95 for fourth place was the Owls' second-fastest time of the season.

The Rice freshmen tandem of Rachel Moody and Marissa Konicke recorded the team's top spots in the 50-free with a fourth (24.39) and sixth, (24.44) respectively, and Gean swam a 58.20 for fifth place in the 100-backstroke. Junior Kylee Talwar was sixth in the 200-individual medley (2:09.99). The Owls' relay team of Clark, Konicke, Alison Godbe and Moody closed out the action with a fourth place finish in the 400-freestyle (3:35.32).

"The team got off to an OK start, but we could have helped ourselves more than we did as the meet went on," Head Coach Seth Huston explained Saturday night after the first day's action. "We had some really good training heading into this meet, but we didn't show that was the case tonight. We have another full day tomorrow. We need to step up and be ready to race better than we did today."

Although Friday provided Rice several accomplishments, Saturday allowed for another strong showing by the Owls. Fong led a series of solid Rice efforts up and down the roster. Though normally a sprinter with a specialty in the 200-freestyle, Fong made the most of her first distance race in more than a full year Saturday in the 500. The sophomore from Cupertino, Calif., built a commanding lead through the first 200-yards and finished in first place with a career-best time of 4:55.81. She led a 1-2 Rice finish in the race as freshman Erin Flanigan placed second with 5:01.73. Senior Alex O'Brien was fifth (5:04.02) and sophomore Quincy Christian (5:07.51) was seventh among a field of 18 entries.

Fong wasn't done there. She came back later in the meet to win the 100-freestyle over a field of 23 competitors with a time of 51.44, alongside Konicke (53.22) and senior Alison Godbe (53.32), who chipped-in a pair of top-10 finishes in the 100 in sixth and eighth place, respectively. Fong was in gear, but she still wasn't finished. She closed out the meet in her familiar spot as the lead leg on the Owls' 4-x-50 freestyle relay. She swam a steady 23.83 off the blocks, and a young trio of Clark, Konicke and Moody closed out a victory with a time of 1:36.08, a narrow tenth-of-a-second over second place power LSU (1:36.18). This was a strategic move by the Owls. In fact, Rice Head Coach Seth Huston had made a last-minute change to the lineup by putting Moody on the anchor leg, and she responded with a 23.89 split.

"It was a good finish winning that relay and going out on a good note," Huston said. "Chelsea swam really well. We hadn't entered her in a 500 all year and we knew we wanted to at some point. This was going to be our last chance [before the Conference USA Championships next month]. It was her first time going from 200 to a 500, and it was a good swim for her."

Rice claimed four of the top-seven spots in the 400-individual medley. Senior Shelby Bottoms posted a season-best 4:29.06 to take third while Christian was fifth (4:32.19), Talwar sixth (4:33.34) and freshman Madison Livingston seventh (4:33.55).

Bottom and Talwar were also valuable in the 100-yard breaststroke. Bottoms swam a 1:06.07 for second place while Talwar took fourth with a season-best 1:06.56. The freshmen tandem of Flanigan and Clark were third (2:07.79) and fourth (2:07.98), respectively, in the 200-butterfly. Gean was Rice's top finisher in the 200-backstroke with a fifth-place 2:07.72.

After the two days of competition, Rice finished with a 1-2 record in its three dual meets. The Owls defeated Tulane 201.5 to 140.5, but lost to national power LSU 228.5 -125.5 and to Houston 212-151.

"Overall, [Saturday] was a better day [than Friday]," Coach Huston explained. "The team raised their own expectations and made good on it from event-to-event. That was good to see. I was really happy with our 400-IMs and thought we did some good things in the stroke events that we can build on before conference."

Looking forward for the Owls, the C-USA meet is set for Feb. 15-18 at U.H.'s Recreation Center Natatorium, where Rice will look to defend its title from last year.

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