MANSFIELD, Texas - A year ago, UC San Diego departed the NCAA Division II Swimming and Diving Championships in San Antonio, Texas with four individual titles as well as second (men) and third (women) place team finishes. Through the halfway point of the 2012 Championships, there have been no gold medals but with both teams performing at an exceptionally high level, co-head coaches Corrie Falcon and Matt Macedo are hardly concerned.
"We would have liked to have had a win or two but what we really want is to be consistent and strong, session-in and session-out," said Falcon. "So far, that's what's happened. We're getting it done in the morning prelims and coming back very tough in the evening finals.
"I think our team as a whole is looking like the team we planned and prepared it to be. Our presence has been very strong. In terms of potential, we're out-swimming every team here."
Thursday, that translated into seven swimmers reaching the championship finals, five more in consolation finals, four top-five relay finishes and three new school records. It also resulted in the men sitting second with 205 points and the women third with 216. Defending champion Drury pushed ahead to lead on the men's side with 248 points and Grand Canyon is third at 170. In the women's division, Wayne State remains atop the pack with 261 points followed by Drury, one point behind.
The highlight of the day for the men was a third place finish by junior Adam Rice in the 400 individual medley (3:53.77). The Atwater native crushed his own school record, set at the 2011 Championships, by nearly three seconds when he clocked 3:53.72 in the prelims. That made him the No. 1 seed in the finals, where he broke on top with a 23.68 butterfly split but was unable to hold the lead.
Junior Adam Yen was a finalist in the 100 butterfly, claiming sixth place (48.59), as teammates Dane Stassi and Nick Korth were 11th and 13th respectively. The remaining men's markers came in the relays. The quartet of Reid McCallum, Korth, Blake Langland and Alex Merrill hit the podium, racing to third place in the 200 freestyle relay (1:20.71), an event where they came in seeded ninth. Korth, Yen and Langland were joined by backstroker Eric Owens for a fifth place finish in Thursday's closing event, the 400 medley relay. The squad finished in a school-record time of 3:14.67.
The Triton women got sterling performances from senior Alex Henley and sophomore Anji Shakya. Henley, a three-time individual NCAA winner over the course of her career, copped her second silver medal swim of the meet in the 400 individual medley, going 4:19.29 to easily handle everyone in the field but Southern Connecticut's Amanda Thomas, who swept the two IM races. Henley was just one of four scorers as the Tritons logged big points in this one. Sophomore Bethany Dong continued to have a breakthrough meet, touching two spots behind Henley in a career-best 4:23.22 with junior Emily Adamczyk (10th) and freshman Eva Chen (12th) adding to the haul.
Shakya, meanwhile, missed snagging UCSD's first individual crown of the meet by an eyelash. She was nipped by less than three-tenths of a second in the 200 freestyle, posting her all-time best (1:48.45) while coming up just short of Henley's school standard.
"Last year Anji was 10th in this event," said Macedo. "Not bad, but not what she was capable of doing. This year, she has found her confidence and tonight, after stepping up on the relay earlier, came back in a very tough 200 free with as close to a perfect race as possible."
The third new school mark came in the 100 butterfly where diminutive freshman Jaclyn Amog swam big, snaring fifth place in 55.47. Junior Olivia Fountain pocketed eighth.
The women opened the day's scoring with third place in the 200 freestyle relay. Freshman Sierra Robbins and junior Amber Tan swam the second and third slots behind Fountain's lead off leg and ahead of Shakya's anchor for a time of 1:32.77. Riding strong opening backstroke and breaststroke legs by Henley and Adamczyk, Amog (butterfly) and Robbins (freestyle) brought the 400 medley relay home second in 3:45.05 to conclude the evening's action.
Given the fact that Wednesday's opening night had ended with a disastrous disqualification in the 200 medley relay, Falcon saw plenty of positive in her team's relay outcomes Thursday.
"I'm proud of the way we rebounded from a pretty devastating scenario," Falcon said. "This is the fastest Division II meet in history and to be as high as we are right now is exciting. It feels good."
The men's 1-meter dive was also contested Thursday. UCSD had three competitors diving, with two picking up points. Tyler Runsten placed 12th (439.75 points), while Luke Calkins was 16th (410) and Patrick Cohen placed 17th (396.70).
The 2012 NCAA Division II Swimming and Diving Championships continue Friday at the Mansfield ISD Natatorium. Prelims start at 8:30 a.m. and finals are at 4 p.m., Pacific time. The meet wraps up Saturday.
For more info, including photos, videos and blog entries, please visit UCSD's Championship Central.
NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS NOTES
One of the inspiring stories on this year's squad has been the resurgence of sophomore Bethany Dong. After a solid freshman year in 2009-10, the Signal Hill native missed all of 2010-11 stemming from issues that developed in the long term aftermath of a spinal fusion surgery she underwent as a freshman in high school, a consequence of significant scoliosis.
Back problems plagued Dong but there didn't seem to be any answers. Finally, last summer, it was determined that a metal rod placed in Dong's back during the original surgery had caused a bacterial infection. Another surgery was required. Following the procedure, Dong slowly began to feel better, regain her strength as well as her desire to compete. In September, she contacted Matt Macedo in hopes of potentially rejoining the team for the 2012-13 season. Macedo suggested 2011-12 might be an option. As they say, the rest is history.
"I never would have imagined this year and this meet happening," says Dong, who scored in the 1,000 freestyle Wednesday as well as Thursday's 400 individual medley.. "I literally thought I was not going to swim again. Holding on to living was my goal. I'd kind of written myself off.
"This whole thing has given me a new perspective. I've stopped making the little things matter. I'm not bogged down by a lot of things that aren't really important. To be part of this is amazing. It's a miracle, a dream come true-very surreal."
Before the meet is over, Anji Shakya may turn out to be quite a story herself. She feels that having been here before has helped her turn the corner. "I think that having had the experience of an NCAA meet makes it a whole lot easier to deal with all of the things that come along with it," Shakya explained. "I've got a better hold of it this time around. Last year I didn't make finals and that was one of my biggest regrets because I know it was within my reach. This year, I'm a lot more prepared and used that to my advantage."
The 200 free unfolded pretty much as she envisioned. "I know the second half of the race is usually my strongest and looking at the top seed's (Drury's Tiffany Bell) splits from the morning, I knew she would be out fast. I felt that if I kept my speed and stayed at her hip, I could beat her with my back half strength.
"It worked out well since I beat her and got my best time but unfortunately, I didn't see the girl who came up outside of her."
Roughly 12 hours after the UCSD women's team had suffered a stunning disqualification minutes after winning the 200 medley relay, the Triton camp went through some very tense moments in the aftermath of the men's 400 medley relay prelims.
Virtually the entire UCSD staff felt that Adam Yen was in jeopardy of being "tagged" for getting an early start on his 100 butterfly, the third of the race's four legs. The fears turned out to be unfounded and the squad wound up with a fifth place finish in the finals. For his part, Yen was essentially unaware of the hubbub he created on the deck.
"After last night, the coaches had talked to us at length about safe exchanges-about making sure we go to finals," said Yen. "I guess it was kind of an error in judgment on my part but I really didn't think it would be that close.
"I honestly didn't know it was that close and none of my teammates said anything when I got out of the water and I didn't know until after I warmed down and heard from the coaches."
In the other men's relay, the 4x100 freestyle, sophomore Alex Merrill turned out to be somewhat of an unlikely hero. Not necessarily a regular on the squad and typically manning the lead or third leg in the rare cases when he was used, Merrill was inserted as the anchor Thursday night and reacted with a "winning" performance. Handed third place when he left the blocks, Merrill turned in a 20.42 split and held off three opponents that all finished within a second of the Tritons.
"The only thing I was thinking about was timing the start off Blake's (Langland) finish. After that, I just put my head down and went. I knew I had to put everything I had into it and didn't want to have any excuses when I was finished."
Although the Surfside native acknowledge that last week the coaching staff had decided to play with the lineup and order, it wasn't until quite a bit later he got the final word. "It wasn't set until after yesterday's 50 freestyle."
According to Triton junior Tyler Runsten, diving's equivalent to the 50 freestyle is the one-meter board. Runsten, last year's surprising NCAA silver medal winner on the three-meter board, settled for 12th on the one-meter board Thursday with teammates Luke Calkins (16th) and Patrick Cohen (17th) sliding in behind him. Afterward, Runsten discussed the difficulties he associates with the lower board.
"I just missed one dive," the Rocklin native bemoaned. "The one-meter is so close. Everyone pretty much does the same dives so if you make a mistake, that's usually it-you can't make up for it. The three-meter is definitely my favorite of the two. My program has a higher degree of difficulty than most of the other divers, which makes me more confident. As long as I can hit my dives the way I know I can, I feel I will do well."
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