The Triton men, ranked No. 3 nationally, concluded tonight's final session with an even 100 points while defending team champion Drury is in second place with 84, a reverse of the two rivals' final positions in the standings last March. Grand Canyon (69), Grand Valley State (67) and Incarnate Word (64) round out the top five.
On the women's table, Wayne State, buoyed by 47 points in three-meter diving, has the upper hand early with 134 points. Drury, last year's titleist, follows with 105 while UCSD and Grand Canyon are deadlocked in third with 61 points each. UCSD is ranked No. 1 nationally on the women's side.
The UC San Diego men built their early lead by putting four swimmers in finals, two more in consolation finals and setting a pair of school records. Senior Matt Herman, defending NCAA champion in both distance freestyle events, was not able to go back-to-back in the 1,000 but captured third place, posting the second best mark (9:07.02) of his career. Junior teammate Jeremy Smith finished eighth in the same race, dropping more than 14 seconds off his qualifying number (9:16.79).
UCSD went fourth and fifth in the 200 individual medley with junior Adam Rice erasing a school record (1:47.38) while narrowly out-touching sophomore Nick Korth. In the 50 freestyle, sophomore Reid McCallum won the consolation final to get ninth place in 20.38 and senior Blake Langland took 12th.
After qualifying first, the men's 200 medley relay quartet of Eric Owens, Korth, Rice and Langland was relegated to fourth in the final despite setting a new UCSD standard by clocking a 1:28.56. They trailed winner Bridgeport by just 0.18 seconds.
Surveying the performance of the UCSD men, co-head coach Matt Macedo was pleased and optimistic.
"We're swimming incredibly," said the rookie head man. "As a team, we did a lot of things well and anytime you can come out of the day in first place, it says a lot. It's going to be exciting to see what we can do over the next three days."
The one downside to an otherwise highly-positive opening night was that the Tritons left the building knowing a good night could have been great for the women. Following the 200 medley relay, the final women's event of the night, the mood went from euphoria to despair as Sandy Hon, Neda Nguyen, Olivia Fountain and Sierra Robbins were disqualified after finishing first by one second - a relative romp by swimming standards. It was ruled that Robbins, handling the freestyle anchor leg, had left five one hundredths of a second too soon. The DQ not only robbed the Tritons of first place hardware but put a 40-point dent in their team total (relays counting double).
Co-head coach Corrie Falcon looked at it philosophically.
"The real challenge is to see if the women can summon the strength and courage to move forward and believe in what they can still do," said Falcon. "If they can come together and pick each other up, they can still do what they've been training all year to do - win a national championship. Overall, we had a very solid night."
The aquatic definition of that word, three-time NCAA individual champion Alex Henley got the Triton women off to a quality start, snagging second in the 200 individual medley with a school record performance of 2:01.41. It was her third consecutive runner-up finish in the event. Overall it was a high volume race for UCSD as junior Emily Adamczyk garnered seventh while freshman Eva Chen reeled in the consolation final for ninth and Nguyen was 14th.
Earlier in the program, sophomore Beth Dong capped a feel good comeback from persistent injuries with a ninth place effort in the 1,000 freestyle (10:13.57). In the last individual event of day one, Fountain (23.41) and Robbins (23.53) were 10th and 13th respectively in the 50 freestyle.
The meet continues Thursday with three individual events on both sides, men's one-meter diving and two relays. Prelims start at 8:30 a.m. and finals at 4 p.m. (Pacific).
For more info, including photos, videos and blog entries, please visit UCSD's Championship Central.
NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP NOTES
Herman, who wore the national crown in the event last March, had a few regrets following his third place finish in the 1,000 freestyle. After leading early in the race, he began losing ground to eventual winner Iaroslav Denysenko of Wingate from about the 400 yard mark to the wall. "I kind of rushed my stroke a little and maybe put a little too much pressure on myself," said the San Anselmo native. "I over swam it some in the beginning. I think I could have gone out in the same time but done it easier. It's okay, though. I think I'll just swim into the meet from here. I'm happy that at least I was able to score some points for the team. Hopefully, it will just keep getting better."
Henley, by any measure one of the all-time UCSD greats, was still a bit shaken an hour after her silver medal outcome in the 200 IM. "I really wanted that race, I've been chasing it for four years," she lamented after recording her third straight second place finish following a third place result her freshman year. "I knew I had a good shot going in and looking back on it, there were no blatant mistakes so I wouldn't have really changed anything I did. I'm not pleased with the result, but there's more to come." It probably didn't help that personal nemesis, Amanda Thomas of Southern Connecticut, took top honors, but Henley's school record time out-distanced the rest of the field by nearly a second and a half.
Macedo was particularly pleased that in several events his charges were able to better their expected point totals based on what happened in the prelims. One such spot was the men's 50 freestyle, where McCallum collected nine points instead of the one he would have picked up according to seeding. "Reid only dropped his best time by one one-hundredth of a second, but it's a whole different ballgame in the finals," said Macedo. "In the morning you swim for time and at night you swim for place. That was a nice effort." McCallum likely benefited from being in lane one with its minimum turbulence, particularly in a race where every millisecond counts.
The only senior on the ill-fated relay squad, Nguyen took the disqualification in stride. "It was the happiest moment of my life and the saddest," she said of the emotional rollercoaster. "It was a lot of points, but we could still win the meet. Who knows, maybe this will inspire us to come back. I know that in the future, I won't remember the DQ as much as I will remember that we walked away knowing we won the race."
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