Feb. 17, 2012
By Todd Mounce, Media Relations Graduate Assistant
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Finishing first in three events was exciting last season for the Tennessee Lady Vol swimming & diving team in on day three of the 2011 Southeastern Conference Championships. However, the squad bettered that feat Friday by winning four of the six events on the third day of the 2012 league championships held at the Allan Jones Intercollegiate Aquatic Center.
"I'm incredibly proud of this team," Lady Vol head coach Matt Kredich said. "I'm not just extremely proud of them for this meet, but the entire season. I've told them that I've been a little bit hard on them but this is actually what we expected. This is the kind of competitors and team that they have shown themselves to be."
The Orange and White are in second with 319.5 points, only behind Georgia's score of 409.
History repeated itself for Jenny Connolly, as she defended all three of her SEC gold medals that she won a season ago in Gainesville, Fla., in identical fashion. The West Lafayette, Ind., native notched first in the 100y fly, 100y back and swam the lead leg of the 400y medley relay.
In her first event, the 100y fly, the senior trailed Auburn's Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace at the halfway point, but surged in the final 50 yards to again take first after touching in at 51.49. In 2011 Connolly also had to catch and surpass Vanderpool-Wallace for gold down the stretch.
Three events later, Connolly again took to her home waters, this time in the 100y back. In the event she has been so dominant in, undefeated during the 2011-12 campaign, not losing once, the 16-time All-American took the lead early and neverlooked back, just like a year ago, to finish first in 51.37 seconds.
The event clocking is an NCAA automatic qualifying time and ranks first in the country.
The 400y medley relay was the final event on tap for Friday, as three of the four Lady Volsfrom last season's record setting relay returned. Joining Connolly were junior Kelsey Floyd, sophomore Lindsay Gendron and freshman Molly Hannis, who replaced Martina Moravcikova on the breast leg.
The foursome was again special, touching in at 3:30.36 to register an SEC and Tennessee record, while also punching its ticket to NCAAs with an A-cut readout. Last season's 400y medley relay ended the exact same way, with UT setting a league and school record.
"I think Jenny in some way set the bar so high last year on the third full day, at times she looked at it as only pressure," Kredich said. "We spent a lot of time talking about her definition of success, which is executing her races well, having fun and enjoying being part of this team. Looking at success a little bit differently, she freed herself up to have another fantastic evening."
"I was a little bit nervous that I wasn't going to be able to top last year because it was such an adrenaline rush," Connolly said. "Matt wanted me to just have fun and take it one race at a time and if that happened, the fast swimming will come."
Competing in her first conference championships, Hannis didn't shy away from the bright lights, winning the 100y breast after a readout of 59.60 seconds. That time is the second fastest ever swum by a Lady Vol and is an `A' cut. The Santa Rosa, Calif., product was the only competitor in the field to touch in under a minute, as she did it in both the prelims and finals.
"Molly Hannis was just ice tonight," Kredich explained. "She was really cool. She took off and never looked back and that's a big deal for a freshman."
Showing her versatility, Gendron added another silver to her resume, finishing runner-up in the 200y free after a time of 1:44.51. She registered the same clocking in the event at the league meet a year ago, finishing ninth. On Thursday, she alsograbbed second in the 500y free.
Joining Connolly in the 100y fly final was Floyd, who earned a spot on the podium after a third-place time of 52.08 seconds. It was a career best for the Lexington, Ky., native and ranks her third on the UT performers list.
"We finished really well tonight," Kredich said. "Lindsay had the fastest last 50 in the 200y free and got her hand on the wall just in front of third place. Kelsey finished faster than anybody in the last 50 yards of the 100y fly, so that was really a hallmark of tonight. We had been doing that all season, but haven't done it as well during this meet, so it's nice to see that confidence and ability coming back."
Lauren Solernou added to the list of Big Orange swimmers to grab ahold of a medal, finishing third in the 100y back. The sophomore registered a mark of 52.72 seconds, while improving upon her sixth-place finish in the event in 2011.
Classmate Kate McNeilis also competed in the 100y back championship final, recording a time of 53.99 seconds that was good for seventh. Last season, she swam in the consolation final and claimed 11th.
Seniors Samara Gelb and Kirstyn Colonias were each in action in the 100y breast `B' final. Gelb notched 11th after a career-best time of 1:01.57, while Colonias placed 14th after a mark of 1:01.77. Both marks are NCAA `B' cuts.
The lone Lady Vol in the 400y IM finals was sophomore Kennedy Higdon. Swimming in her hometown, the Knoxville product claimed 16th overall with a B-cut time of 4:18.79.
The conference championships conclude tomorrow, as prelims begin at 10 a.m. and finals start at 6 p.m. ET. Events on Saturday are the mile, 200y back, 100y free, 200y breast, 200y fly, platform diving and 400y free relay.