KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Auburn won its 16th consecutive Southeastern Conference Championship on Saturday night at the Allan Jones Intercollegiate Aquatics Center on the campus of the University of Tennessee. The Tigers finished with 730.5 points while Florida was the runner-up with 700 points.
“This is the third straight SEC meet where it’s come down to the last relay,” Auburn head coach Brett Hawke said. “It’s a really competitive conference. We had a lot of great swims. We had to dig deep tonight because it’s not easy. This is a great group, and they know how to respond on the last day when it counts the most.”
Hawke was named SEC Coach of the Year for the first time.
It marked the 18th title overall for the Auburn with all 18 coming in the last 19 years. Saturday’s result also marked the 11th consecutive year that Auburn and Florida have finished first and second, respectively, in the conference meet.
Auburn’s 30-point margin of victory was its largest in the last three years after a 17-point win last year and a 19-point margin at the 2010 meet. Georgia took third place in the competition with 521 points, and Tennessee took fourth with 459.
The 400 freestyle relay team of Drew Modrov, James Disney-May, Kyle Owens and Marcelo Chierighini gave Auburn its ninth title in the last 10 years in the race with a time of 2:51.66, missing an NCAA `A’ cut by just .40 seconds. Auburn won all five relays during the week.
Owens earned two wins on the night. In addition to his relay victory, he took gold in the 200 backstroke with a time of 1:41.67, coming within .14 seconds of an NCAA `A’ cut. Owens led a 1-2 finish as senior Max Murphy clocked a 1:42.59, to finish runner-up. Brandon Siemasko added four points with a 13th-place finish, posting a 1:46.83 in the consolation final.
With the 1-2 finish, Auburn took a lead it would not relinquish.
“We get in there — Brandon, Max and me — and we train together every day,” Owens said. “We said back in September that it was going to come down to this. We know Auburn needs to have the best backstroke in the country, and we wanted to prove something here.”
Owens was the star of the week for the Tigers, winning six gold medals and a silver during the week. He was part of four winning relays as Auburn won all five relay events in the meet, a feat not accomplished since the 2009 championship.
It was one of two individual wins on the night for Auburn. With five championship finalists in the 100 freestyle, Marcelo Chierighini led the Tigers with his first individual SEC gold medal in a time of 42.45. Drew Modrov took third place in 43.10, James Disney-May tied for fifth with a 43.38, and Chris Manning (44.00) and Karl Krug (44.41) were seventh and eighth, respectively. Auburn took a 97-point lead after that race, putting the championship nearly out of reach.
“Last year I got fourth and this year I got first,” Chierighini said. “It’s my favorite race, so I feel really great. (Having four teammates in the race) was great; it was like a practice. We always race against each other in practice, so I love it.”
Zane Grothe provided an early spark for Auburn, winning the silver medal in the 1650 freestyle. His time of 14:50.86 was an NCAA `A’ cut and just shy of a school record. Sam Parker (15:33.72) earned 11th-place points while Chris Kramer was 15th with a 15:34.23.
Stuart Ferguson scored the other points of the night for Auburn with a fifth-place finish in the 200 backstroke, clocking a 1:57.26.