Feb. 21, 2009
The final day of the Southeastern Conference Swimming and Diving Championships turned into a race for second place between Eastern Division rivals Tennessee and Florida. As a fierce three-way battle for the women's championship raged, Auburn ran away with men's title as the competition drew to a close, leaving Florida in second and the Vols in third.
"This was a great team performance," UT head swimming coach John Trembley said. "We let Florida edge us today for second, but when you score 600 points in a meet, losing by 50 is like a free throw in basketball. However we did generate a lot of momentum for the NCAA championships."
Things started well for the Vols as sophomore Geoff Sanders shattered the school-record in the 1650 freestyle. The Raleigh, N.C.-native placed third (14.59.50) with a career-best performance and became the first Vol to swim the mile freestyle in less than 15 minutes. Previously set by Lars Jorgensen in 1992, the record (15:04.58) was tied as the second-oldest in UT history. After starting slow, sophomore Carl Jones came back to finish fifth (15.14.90).
Next, Florida's Rexford Tullius set a new American-record winning (1:39.88) the 200 backstroke. Fellow Gator Omar Pinzon finished second (1:40.15). Senior All-America Nolan Morrell placed sixth (1:43.66). Morrell's preliminary time (1:42.05) was his career best and the second fastest all-time at Tennessee. Sophomore Michael Christy finished 14th (1:45.82) and freshman Ricky Henehan rounded out the consolation final in 16th (1:46.73). Henehan had his career-best performance during the preliminary rounds with a 1:46.21 mark. Freshman Anders Storvik placed 18th in the preliminary round (1:47.23), just missing the final heats.
In the 100 freestyle, Auburn's Matt Target won as his Tigers swept the top three spots. Tennessee's senior co-captains Jonas Persson and Barry Murphy finished fifth (42.60) and sixth (43.00) respectively. Murphy's time was his career best performance and places him third all-time in UT history. Sophomore Michael DeRocco placed fourth (43.94) in the consolation heat. All-America senior Jimmy Dabney came in 18th (44.39) with his season-best performance. Senior Scott Wherry placed 41st (44.52).
Four Vols made the final heats of the 200 breaststroke. Senior Stephen Fortney qualified for the consolation finals while sophomores Mattias Kahlin and Brad Craig and freshman Jake Epperson all made it into the championship heat. Georgia's Neil Versfeld set a new NCAA record (1:52.07) with Auburn's Adam Klein in second (1:53.84) and defending champ Clark Burckle of Florida in third (1:54.42). Kahlin led the Vols finishing fourth (1:57.51) and close behind was Craig in fifth (1:58.56). Kahlin's performance moves him to fifth all-time in the Big Orange record books. In his first championship appearance, Epperson finished seventh (1:59.46). Epperson's preliminary time (1:59.36) was his career-best and places him ninth all-time in Vol history. After posting his career-best time (2:00.61) in the preliminaries, Fortney improved in the consolation finals placing fourth (2:00.29). Fortney now ranks 13th all-time in UT history in the event.
Greg Houchin was the lone Vol to compete in the 200 butterfly. The senior placed 25th (1:51.64) and did not qualify for the final heats.
Juniors Michael Muscari and Michael Wright both had their career-best performances in the preliminary rounds of the platform diving competition. In the finals, they continued the trend both finishing with a career best performance. Muscari placed fifth (333.60) and Wright finished sixth (327.05). Muscari now ranks eighth all-time in UT history and Wright moves to ninth. Freshmen Ryan Helms and Brent Sterling finished 14th and 15th respectively. Neither made the championship round of the platform.
The final event of the 2009 Southeastern Conference Swimming and Diving Championships was the 400 freestyle relay. Representing Tennessee were Murphy, Persson, DeRocco and Morrell. The team beat a school record finishing second (2:50.34) to Auburn (2:46.03).
As the championships ended, the Vols take third place back to Knoxville with some great experience that will prove vital at the NCAA Championships. This is Tennessee's ninth third-place finish at the SEC championships, which gives the Vols 31 all-time top three championships. Only Florida has more top three finishes with 58. Auburn is third with 26.
Georgia will host a Last Chance NCAA Qualifying Meet Feb. 28- March 1, and Tennessee will host the Zone B Diving Championships March 13-15. The NCAA Championships are March 26-28 at Texas A&M University.
Live results can be found on auburntigers.cstv.com.