Feb. 18, 2011
By Wes Todd
Assistant Media Relations Director
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Three Gamecock swimmers – all freshmen – set school records on Friday morning, and eight will return Friday night to swim in the finals at the SEC Swimming Championships at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center Natatorium.
Amanda Rutqvist, Rachael Schaffer and Jay Warner all broke the South Carolina records in their events, with Rutqvist and Schaffer earning a spot in the championship finals of the 100 breaststroke and 400 individual medley, respectively. Warner will swim the consolation final in the 100 backstroke after missing the championship by .10 seconds. In addition, sophomore Michael Flach will swim in his second championship final in as many nights, earning the fifth seed in the 200 freestyle.
“This was a great morning,” head coach McGee Moody said. “We’re breaking records left and right, so it’s hard to be disappointed about that. I think I can say that this has been our best performance as a program in the four years our staff has been here. We’ve got to keep the momentum going, keep doing what we’re doing with our athletic training and massage therapy routine, and stay really positive these last two days. And this is a very young team – we’ve got big things coming.”
Warner, a freshman from Moore, S.C., broke the school record in the 100 backstroke with a time of 47.36, shaving a full three seconds off his career best and earning an NCAA provisional qualifying mark. He snapped a two-year-old Carolina standard, previously held by Nick Walkotten, who swam a 47.56 at the 2009 NCAA Championships. Warner earned a spot in his first SEC final as the ninth overall seed from the morning’s preliminaries. His leadoff split of 22.66 was the fifth-best among the entire field, and he closed strong to write his name in the Gamecock record books.
“I wasn’t really expecting that,” Warner said of breaking the school record. “I was just trying to go as fast as I can and keep swinging my arms. When I flipped, I was feeling really good, so I just tried to keep it up.”
Two Gamecock women who already held the Carolina records in their respective events bettered those times this morning and will return to the championship finals tonight. Rutqvist, a freshman from Gothenberg, Sweden, shaved another second and a half off her 100 breaststroke record, posting a 1:00.20 to come within .21 seconds of an NCAA automatic qualifying time and earn the fourth seed in tonight’s championship final. Her previous best was a 1:01.77, and she could be in position to earn a spot on the medal stand on Friday night.
Also in contention for an SEC medal is Schaffer, a native of Baltimore, Md. She earned the seventh seed in the 400 IM finals with a 4:11.67, a three-second improvement over her previous career-best and school-record mark. Schaffer, who took fifth place in Thursday’s 200 IM final, will be the only swimmer not from Florida or Georgia in the championship. Another freshman, Abby Galbreath, earned an NCAA `B’ cut and the first alternate position in the 400 IM, swimming a 4:16.10 to post the third-fastest time in school history and barely miss the consolation final.
Flach, the two-time bronze medalist in the 500 free, will swim the 200 freestyle championship finals tonight as a 1:35.43 earned him the fifth overall seed from the preliminaries. He shaved .10 seconds off his previous career-best, and will take on three swimmers from Florida, two from Tennessee, and one each from Georgia and Auburn in the finals. Also swimming the 200 freestyle will be freshman Gerard Rodriguez of Spain, who swam a 1:36.60 in prelims to finish 11th overall and secure a spot in the consolation final.
Other finalists for the Gamecock men include junior Chris Kelly, who swam a 3:52.94 in the 400 IM to earn an NCAA `B’ cut and the 16th seed in Friday’s consolation final. Sophomore Bobby Cave will swim the B-final in the 100 breaststroke after a time of 55.06 in the preliminaries earned him the 13th overall seed. His career-best time is 54.88, set at last year’s SEC Championships.
For the Gamecock women, senior Bridget Halligan will compete in her second consolation final in as many nights as she earned the 14th seed in the 100 butterfly. Her time of 54.59 was a career-best and an NCAA `B’ cut, and it also ranks as the fourth-fastest time in South Carolina history. In addition, senior Megan Sparks barely missed the finals for the second straight year in the 100 backstroke, clocking an NCAA provisional time of 55.11 to finish 18th and earn the second alternate position.
Friday’s finals get underway at 6 p.m. at the O’Connell Center Natatorium, with the 400 IM, 100 butterfly, 200 freestyle, 100 breaststroke, 100 backstroke and 400 medley relay. Live stats and live video are available through GatorZone.com, and fans can receive periodic updates via Twitter by following @GamecockSwim.