Feb. 23, 2008
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - The Auburn swimming and diving team extended its dominance over the Southeastern Conference Saturday night as the men's team won its 12th-straight SEC championship and the women's team earned its fifth team title.
The men's team entered the final day of competition at Alabama's Don Gambril Olympic Pool with a 150-point lead over Florida, its nearest competitor, cruising to a total of 806 points to beat out the Gators by 144 to win the championship.
Auburn's women trailed after the first two days of competition, but took the lead from Florida on Friday night. The Tigers maintained that lead throughout Saturday's finals to come away with the 55.5 win over Florida. Auburn ended the meet with a total of 761.5 points, compared to the Gators at 706.
For head coach Richard Quick, the wins are his first SEC titles, but his 21st and 22nd conference championships. During Quick's tenure at Auburn from 1978-82, the closest he got to a SEC crown was second in 1980 when he finished three points behind Florida.
"It has been an exciting year and I think both the men's and women's teams have done awesome this year with the acceptance of me, coming off of the great coach in David Marsh," said Quick. "Hopefully the transition hasn't been too hard on them."
Quick said he is excited about the attitude of the teams as the Tigers now focus on the NCAA Championships. He said both squads were faced with difficult situations throughout the season and the victories are the product of their decisions.
"I think both teams have grown through the year," said Quick. "Earlier in the season, the men lost a dual meet to Tennessee pretty badly, but at that time we had a decision to make as a team and they made the right decision to work and improve. The women lost to Florida earlier this year, but you can see the competitive attitude they have. Our women have been behind this whole meet until last night, they just have a never give up attitude and it's an honor to be a part of that."
In all, Auburn's men earned 10 SEC individual titles and broke five SEC records. The women's team won nine SEC titles, along with breaking six SEC records. The highlight of the meet for the women came in the opening night as the team of Ava Ohlgren, Caitlin Geary, Melissa Marik and Emily Kukors set a new American and NCAA record in the 800 freestyle relay.
In Saturday's finals, Auburn won three SEC titles as Maggie Bird won the 1650 free, Kukors won the 200 fly and the team of Ohlgren, Marik, Kukors and Kara Denby won the 400 freestyle relay.
Co-head women's coach Dorsey Tierney-Walker was happy with her team's comeback win, especially how it was accomplished with their depth.
"I like how we won this one with all 18 of our scorers," said Tierney-Walker. "I'm thrilled for the seniors and I'm looking forward to NCAAs a month from now. But, we are going to enjoy this one right now, It took us a lot of hard work."
Tierney-Walker was especially pleased with the performance of seniors Denby and Kukors with the leadership and experience they bring to the team.
"They are two individuals that have just gotten better every year," said Tierney-Walker. "They have such a heart for the Auburn program and they are tremendous people with tremendous character and their leadership this year was so important for us."
Bird got things going for Auburn as she won the 1650 free with a time of 15:58.27, earning her first SEC title with a time that ranks third all-time at Auburn. The Tigers have now won the 1650 free the past five years.
"I don't know what to say, I'm ecstatic," said Bird. "I exhibitioned last year as a freshman at this meet so I never thought I would be able to win the mile."
Kukors continued with a victory in the 200 fly, breaking the pool and Auburn record with a time of 1:54.97.
"This is my first time swimming butterfly's at SECs, so it was good to come away with a victory," said Kukors. "It's exciting. It's a battle for the team race so we are just trying to put as many points up on the board that we can."
With the victory already sealed up, the Tiger 400 free relay team of Ohlgren, Marik, Kukors and Denby went out in style with a pool, Auburn and SEC record swim of 3:13.09 to win the title.
"It is amazing, finishing off with a relay win and a team record," said Denby. "I think this meet has been classic Auburn, never say die just keep fighting."
On the men's side in Saturday's finals, the Tigers won two individual titles with Cesar Cielo breaking records in both.
Cielo opened up his day by winning the 100 free, touching in with a SEC record time of 41.78. The junior from St. Barbara, Brazil beat out teammate Alexei Puninski (42.71) for the title as the duo raced head-to-head throughout the event.
"It feels great, I'm just happy to go faster than last year," said Cielo. "Everything is setting me up to go faster than last year."
Cielo then swam the leadoff leg on Auburn's victorious 400 free relay team, and broke his 100 free record set earlier in the night as he swam a leadoff split of 41.25. The team of Scott Goodrich, Steve Scheren and Puninski followed to bring Auburn in with a SEC record time of 2:50.49.
Goodrich, one of the senior co-captains on the team and a member of the record-setting relay, was thrilled to go out with an SEC Championship in his last season.
"I can't really explain how great it feels," said Goodrich. "We have such a great team here. We are young, have a lot of inexperience, but everyone stepped up in a big way this week."
With the SEC Championships complete, Auburn's next official team event will be the NCAA Championships. The women will travel to Columbus, Ohio for NCAAs, March 20-22, while the men will head to Federal Way, Wash., March 27-29.
2008 Auburn SEC Champions
200 Free - Emily Kukors (1:43.47)
1650 Free - Maggie Bird (15:58.27)
100 Breast - Kara Denby (1:00.37)
200 Fly - Emily Kukors (1:54.97)
200 IM - Ava Ohlgren (1:54.97)
400 IM - Ava Ohlgren (4:05.78)
400 Freestyle Relay - Ohlgren, Marik, Kukors, Denby (3:13.09)
800 Freestyle Relay - Ohlgren, Geary, Marik, Kukors (6:57.28)
400 Medley Relay - McCawley, Denby, Ohlgren, Kukors (3:33.40)
Emily Kukors - 200 Free - 1:43.47
Ava Ohlgren - 200 IM - 1:54.97
Ava Ohlgren - 400 IM - 4:05.78
400 Free Relay - 3:13.09
800 Free Relay - 6:57.28 (new American Record)
400 Medley Relay - 3:33.40
50 Free - Cesar Cielo (18.91)
100 Free - Cesar Cielo (41.78)
100 Breast - Michael Silva (53.60)
100 Fly - Alexei Puninski (45.60)
200 Free Relay - Cielo, Puninski, Goodrich, Scheren (1:16.92)
400 Free Relay - Cielo, Goodrich, Scheren, Puninski (2:50.49)
200 Medley Relay - Goodrich, Silva, Puninski, Cielo (1:24.81)
400 Medley Relay - Norys, Silva, Puninski, Cielo (3:08.57)
1-Meter Diving - Kelly Marx (352.20)
Platform Diving - Dan Mazzaferro (444.65)
Cesar Cielo - 50 Free - 18.91
Cesar Cielo - 100 Free - 41.25 - relay leadoff
Alexei Puninski - 100 Fly - 45.60
400 Free Relay - 2:50.49
Dan Mazzaferro - Platform - 444.65