Feb. 19, 2011
By Wes Todd
Assistant Media Relations Director
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Freshman Amanda Rutqvist lowered her own school record in the 200-yard breaststroke, Chris Kelly set the men’s 200 backstroke record, and eight South Carolina swimmers advanced to the finals on Saturday morning at the SEC Swimming Championships at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.
“All in all, it was a good morning,” head coach McGee Moody said. “We did what we needed to do as far as getting people back tonight. We’re starting to see the effects of swimming a 4-day meet; people are getting tired and not as sharp as we’d like. But that’s not unusual. We have to find a way to minimize that and be at our best tonight.”
Rutqvist was the top qualifier in the 200 breast prelims, swimming a 2:09.87 to lower her own school record by almost a second and come within .15 seconds of an NCAA automatic qualifying time. She entered the race as the conference’s top seed and did not lose that distinction as the freshman from Gothenberg, Sweden, posted the eighth-fastest time in the nation this year. She will be joined in the finals by fellow freshman Rachael Schaffer, who swam a career-best 2:13.25 – shaving two seconds off her previous best – to earn the 11th qualifying spot and a berth in the consolation finals.
“This is the fastest conference in the country,” Moody said. “And Amanda Rutqvist is at the top of it in the 200 breaststroke. That’s amazing stuff for a freshman. If she can stay within herself tonight and swim her race, good things can happen.”
Also advancing to his first SEC Championship final was junior Chris Kelly, who earned the seventh qualifying position in the 200 backstroke with a school-record time of 1:44.58. His previous best time was a 1:46.23, set in 2008 in a technical suit at the U.S. Short Course National Championships. He will be the third Carolina men’s swimmer in a championship final this week. Fellow junior James Crawford will also return in the 200 backstroke consolation finals as he swam a 1:46.77 to earn the 14th seed from the morning preliminaries; his time missed an NCAA `B’ cut by .17 seconds.
“That was the time Chris wanted – another school record,” Moody said. “If he can get back tonight and go a little bit lower, he stands a really good chance of making the NCAA Championships. Very solid day for Chris and the rest of our guys.”
Sophomore Michael Flach missed his third championship final of the week by the thinnest of margins, swimming a 1:46.12 to finish 10th in the 200 butterfly prelims, .13 seconds behind the eighth-place time. Flach took a fifth-place finish in both the 200 and 500 freestyle finals earlier in the week; he will look to earn valuable points for the Gamecocks in the consolation final.
Two more sophomores, Bobby Cave and Collin Kaden, will swim in the men’s 200 breaststroke consolation final. Cave recorded a 1:59.02 to finish 10th in the preliminary heats, missing the championship final by just more than half a second. Kaden came within an inch of becoming the third sub-2:00 breaststroker in Carolina history as he clocked a 2:00.04 to finish 12th overall and join Cave in the consolation final.
South Carolina’s other finalist will be sophomore Whitney Avers, who will appear in the women’s 200 butterfly consolation finals after posting a career-best 2:00.73 in the prelims to earn the 14th qualifying spot. Her time missed an NCAA `B’ cut by a scant four-hundredths of a second. Sophomore Lindsey Olson just missed the finals with a 2:01.45, and senior Bridget Halligan was just outside the cut-off for the women’s 100 freestyle finals with a career-best 50.30 that ranks as the fifth-fastest time in school history. Junior Aileen Atzhorn shaved five seconds off her personal-best time in the 200 breast, just missing an NCAA `B’ cut with a 2:17.84.
Timed finals of the 1650-yard freestyle begin at 3:25 p.m. with the fastest heats to kick off the finals session at 6 p.m. Dan Jackson (3:43 p.m.), Matt Columbus and Brooks Ross (4:18 p.m.) are entered for the Carolina men, and Jordan Gibbs (4 p.m.) will swim for the Gamecock women. Finals of the 200 backstroke, 100 freestyle, 200 breaststroke, 200 butterfly and 400 freestyle relay will wrap up the 2011 SEC Swimming Championships on Saturday night. Live results and live video are available through GatorZone.com, and fans can follow @GamecockSwim on Twitter to receive race-by-race updates throughout the night.