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Rice out-swims new-look AAC at conference, still finishes fourth

Photo courtesy Andrew Hancock - AAC

By Cadan Hanson     2/21/23 11:57pm

If it was only the American Athletic Conference swimming championships, Rice’s would be bringing home a championship trophy. Despite starting 369 points behind first place because they don’t have a diving team, the Owls claimed the most points in the pool and took fourth place overall in the first AAC meet in school history. The Owls tallied 1,136 points, behind first place University of Houston (1,311.5), second place Florida International University (1,300) and third place Southern Methodist University (1208.5). After the meet, head coach Seth Huston was happy with the Owl’s performance.

“Four AAC individual titles is not a bad start for Rice,” Huston said. “The team battled all week and while we scored more points in the pool than every other school, we just didn’t have the firepower and depth to make up the diving deficit.  I am very proud of how our seniors carried and led the team throughout the season.”

Sophomore Arielle Hayon led the Owls’ effort, winning gold in both the 100 and 200-yard butterfly. Hayon’s dominance in the butterfly dates back to her freshman year, when she she swept both fly events at the Conference USA championship. Not only was Hayon able to take home two individual titles, but she was able to reset her own 200-fly school record in a come-from-behind effort, just beating the second-place finisher to the wall. Hayon said that the team’s support and facing off against a worthy opponent helped her push herself to her best. 

“The 200-fly was quite an emotional win because it was such a tough battle for the win,” Hayon said. “I think a lot of growth happens when a win is fought for because it takes a lot of mental strength to push myself to be mentally ready to step up and race no matter what the competition brings. Remembering that I can only control what happens between my two lane lines was really valuable in executing both wins. Also, the team believed in me to pull it off and I really had to convince myself to be confident.”

Senior Zoe Spitz claimed the individual title in the 100-yard backstroke, breaking her own school record in the process. Spitz was also able to complete the double, on Friday by winning bronze in the 200-freestyle. According to Spitz, the title was especially meaningful because her teammate, junior Imogen Meers, was on the podium next to her.

 “It feels great to win an AAC title, and especially going one-two with my teammate and training partner, Imogen,” Spitz said. “I have a lot of love for Rice swimming and I’m glad I was able to put together a solid race for the team. Every time I stepped onto the blocks, I felt the energy of the team behind me and the coaches do a great job of preparing us in training so that we can handle multiple fast swims in a row when we get to a meet-like conference.”

Numerous other Owls were crucial to the team’s success. Senior Lauren McDougall took second place in the 500 and 200-freestyle and junior Imogen Meers finished third in the 100-free, in addition to her second-place finish behind Spitz. Sophomore Amelia Kane won silver in the 400-Individual Medley and freshman Ella Dyson claimed the fourth individual title, winning the 1650-free in the second-fastest time in school history. Rice’s relay teams also picked up five medals, but no golds. After the meet, Huston was pleased with how his team was able to dive in and compete at a high level.

“I loved the level of competition,” Huston said. Arielle [Hayon], Zoe [Spitz], Lauren [McDougall] and Ella [Dyson] have stepped all year. I wasn’t surprised they did it again. Their performances were well earned and deserved.

Due to a lack of swim programs remaining in the Conference USA following conference realignment, Rice swimming was invited to join the AAC a year earlier than the rest of the Rice’s teams. Hayon, who claimed the first AAC title in school history, was excited to set the precedent going into the new conference.

“I am humbled to be able to earn Rice’s first AAC win, not only for the swim team but for all of Rice,” Hayon said. “Our athletes are excited to move into this new conference and step up to the new competition. I cannot think of a better way to start this new era of Rice athletics.”

The meet marks the end of the season for the Owls, however Hayon, McDougall and Spitz all hit NCAA “B cuts,” which opens the possibility of them competing at the NCAA Championships in March.

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