Swimming takes second at C-USA Championship meet
After a season filled with exciting finishes, impressive performances, and promising contributions from the entire team, the women's swim team headed to the University of Houston Recreation Center Natatorium in order to defend its Conference USA title. On the first day of competition, not only did the Rice swimmers set new school records in the 200-yard medley relay and the 800-yard freestyle relay, but the Owls also posted a pair of marks that qualified for next month's NCAA Championships in those events. Rice's 200-yard medley relay team of sophomore Michelle Gean, sophomore Lilly Marrow, sophomore Karina Wlostowska and senior Shelby Bottoms finished in second, tying a new school record time of 1:41.31. The foursome broke the previous school mark set three years ago by more than six-tenths of a second and reached the "B" cut for a possible trip to the NCAA meet in March.
Head Coach Seth Huston switched up his 200-yard medley team in order to set up the Owls for scoring opportunities in later events that weekend. "It was a very good first day for us," Huston said. "We wanted to conserve some people and ended up making some changes on the 200-medley. It worked pretty well and got us started on the right foot. Everybody had a good swim for what we had showed over the course of the year. Michelle had a good start, and Lilly's 27-second split was maybe our best [50-yard breaststroke] in two years. Karina was solid in her fly, and Shelby brought it home with a great anchor leg."
Another school record fell in the 800-yard freestyle relay as freshman Casey Clark, freshman Erin Flanigan, sophomore Chelsea Fong and senior Alex O'Brien had a Rice-record time of 7:13.91 for a second-place finish behind SMU's 7:11.27. Clark led of with a time of 1:47.45 on the first leg with her split registering as the second-fastest 200-freestyle in school history.
"The change [in the opening relay] allowed us to use Casey in the 800," Huston said. "Casey's a freshman, but she's calm, and I wanted someone who could keep their wits about them in a big meet - someone on the front end of the relay I could trust. She had a great swim, particularly on the back half and put us in a great spot. Erin went a fast 1:48 on the second leg, and Chelsea did a nice job reeling in the leader and getting us close. Alex is a senior with a lot of adrenaline for her last meet, and I knew she would be excited to go race. It was two new school records tonight, and something we can build on the rest of the meet."
The second day of the meet saw Bottoms break a 17-year-old school record in the 200-yard individual medley. Flanigan and Fong also finished second in their events to account for all three Owls who took home silver medals in their respective events on Thursday night. With a big day of qualifying in morning prelims and a solid day of scoring up and down the Rice lineup, the Owl swimmers posted the most points Thursday night of any team in the meet. Bottoms swam a 2:00.48 in the morning prelims of the 200-IM to shatter the oldest Rice women's swimming record in the books, a time of 2:01.55 that was set in 1995 by Ginny Farmer (Baker '98), an Owl who later went on to compete in the Olympics. Bottoms then won the C-USA silver medal in the event with a second place finish in the evening finals. The Houston native from nearby Lamar High School almost broke her own school record with a 2:00.64 in the evening session for second-place behind SMU senior Therese Svendsen (1:58.08). The Owls weren't finished in the team scoring either. Gean placed fourth with a 2:02.49 after a 2:01.84 in the morning prelims. Quincy Christian was fifth with a career-best 2:03.83, Kylee Talwar was sixth with a 2:04.02 (and a 2:01.65 in prelims) and Madison Livingston was 10th (2:05.26).
"How about Shelby Bottoms?" Huston said. "That record has been there a lot of years, and she almost broke it her freshman year. Then, she just missed it last year and still had a chance to get it, but her goggles came off in that race. Today it was, just go get it and get it out of the way,' and she pretty much did just that. She's stayed focused her whole career, and today she got that 200-IM. She did a great job swimming a really good race."
The Owls also delivered a big scoring punch in the 500-yard freestyle. Flanigan finished second overall among a field of 30 entrants with a 4:49.19, the fourth-fastest time in Rice history and best by an Owl in four years. Junior Danielle Spence placed third with a season-best 4:52.07, O'Brien was sixth (4:56.61) and Alison Godbe seventh (4:59.44). Rice had only one finalist in the 50-freestyle sprint, but Fong came up with a big second-place finish among a field of 31 entrants. The Cupertino, Calif. native qualified at sixth in the prelims with a 23.56 but came back with a career-best 23.21 for second place in the finals. The freshman tandem of Marissa Konicke and Rachel Moody scored in the consolation finals with new Rice bests. Konicke won the consolation race (23.44), while Moody was 3rd in the consolation final (23.62). Gean, Marrow, Clark and Fong closed out the night's action with a second place in the 400-yard medley relay. The foursome's time of 3:43.11 touched in with the second-fastest time in Rice history in the event and provisionally qualified for next month's NCAA Championships.
On the third day of competition, the duo of Quincy Christian and Bottoms finished first and second, respectively, in the 400-yard individual medley. Though just a sophomore, Christian is no stranger to winning the C-USA individual championship in the 400-IM. The Granite Bay, Calif., native won the league title in the event as a true freshman last season, and she defended her crown with a season-best time of 4:18.67 that provisionally qualified her for next month's NCAA Championships. Fresh off the new school record in the 200-IM she set on Thursday, Bottoms made it a 1-2 finish for the Owls in the 400-IM with career-best time of 4:40.64. The 400-IM proved to be one of the Owls' strongest scoring events of the meet as O'Brien finished fourth (4:24.64,) and Talwar took fifth (4:25.98).
Entering the final day of the championship, Rice was placed second, with a mission to finish the day on top. The Owls started out the final day of action with a 1-2 finish and a host of points from four in the top 10 of the 1,650-yard freestyle. Junior Danielle Spence won the C-USA individual championship in the mile with time of 16:37.80 that is the third-fastest mark in school history. Spence finished just ahead of Flanigan, who won her third silver medal of the meet with time of 16:40.79. Christian was fifth (16:49.01) and O'Brien was 10th (17:04.88). After the mile there were just five events left in the meet and the Owls were sitting in first place in the standings. Rice put together two more individual third-place finishes and took second in the 400-freestyle relay. The relay of Clark, Fong, Godbe and Bottoms teamed for an NCAA provisional qualifying 3:21.81, just missing the school record.
The Owls did not have enough in the end to outlast SMU for first place, but they were able to stave off East Carolina University, which finished in third place. The Owls in the 200-yard medley relay and 800-yard freestyle relay will continue to compete this semester at the NCAA Championship in Auburn, Ala. March 15-17.
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