KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Auburn senior diver Vennie Dantin won the women’s 1-meter championship, and the men’s 200 medley relay and 800 freestyle relay teams captured titles as the 2012 SEC Swimming & Diving Championships got underway on Wednesday at the Allan Jones Intercollegiate Aquatic Center.
The Auburn men are tied with Tennessee for first place through the first day with 106 points each. LSU and Georgia are tied for third at 73 apiece. Auburn’s women are in second place with 101 points, just behind Tennessee, who leads with 118. LSU is third with 74 points and Georgia is in fourth place with 72.
“Amazing start for us tonight,” Auburn head coach Brett Hawke said. “The divers really set it up for us. We came in with confidence, knowing we were going to be ahead after diving. The relays really did their job; we had some amazing splits.”
Dantin earned her second career SEC title, setting new records for both Auburn and Tennessee’s facility with a score of 332.40. She led from start to finish, never trailing at the end of any round in either prelims or finals. It was Auburn’s third SEC women’s diving title under diving coach Jeff Shaffer and the second by Dantin. It was also the first 1-meter title by an Auburn women’s diver since 1990.
“This meet is one of my favorites of the whole year, and to be able to do this for myself and for the team is great,” Dantin said. “It’s not just an individual event at this meet; it’s the whole team. That’s what I am the most excited for, and since this was the first event I hope it gets all of the swimmers pumped up and the rest of the divers really going.”
Auburn also advanced two divers to the men’s 3-meter finals. Sophomore John Santeiu barely missed the medal stand, earning a fourth-place finish with a season-best score of 386.80. Freshman Fraser McKean took 8th place, scoring a 334.45.
“What a great way to get the championship meet started,” Shaffer said. “Vennie came back after a somewhat-missed fifth dive to finish strong and take the title. She showed so much leadership, leading by example. It was an equally strong performance for Anna, improving from her prelims score.”
The men’s 200 medley relay team got their meet off to a fast start, winning the event for the sixth time in the last seven years. The team of Kyle Owens, Stuart Ferguson, Marcelo Chierighini and Karl Krug posted an NCAA ‘A’ cut time of 1:24.38 to beat Georgia by nearly two seconds. Krug recorded a freestyle split of 18.85 to pull away from the Bulldog team two lanes over.
Auburn closed out the night with a thrilling victory in the men’s 800 freestyle relay, only the second time in the last 12 years for the Tigers to win the event. The team of Kyle Owens, James Disney-May, Allen Browning and Zane Grothe posted an NCAA ‘A’ cut time of 6:20.63 to out-touch Florida’s team by .23 seconds and earn the win.
“We’ve just been working really hard on it all year,” Owens said. “Auburn is notorious for not having that strong of an 800 free relay, and this group decided that was going to change this year. And it has.”
Grothe started on the final leg with a lead of less than a tenth of a second, but saw that lead evaporate after 150 yards. At the turn for the final 25 yards, Florida’s anchor swimmer appeared to have a head-and-shoulders lead. But Grothe found an extra gear in the last five yards and overtook his Gator counterpart for a huge win.
“I’m so proud of the fight we showed in the 800 free relay,” Hawke said. “It just speaks to the character of this team and how much they want it.”
The women’s 200 medley relay team earned a runner-up finish with an NCAA ‘A’ cut time of 1:36.47 from Emily Bos, Lauren Norberg, Olivia Scott and Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace. Vanderpool-Wallace made some history with her freestyle leg; her split of 20.80 seconds was the fastest 50-yard split ever posted by a women’s swimmer at any level.
“Arianna is the first female in history to split 20, that’s huge,” Hawke said. “She blazed past 21 [seconds]; that was awesome. It’s just a matter of getting into the meet for these girls; we started well.”
Auburn’s women took fourth place in the 800 freestyle relay as Katie Gardocki, Becca Jones, Megan Fonteno and Scott posted a time of 7:06.47.