After winning the NCAA women's swimming championship last year, Georgia said goodbye to two of its top athletes, seniors Allison Schmidt and Megan Romano. That left some wondering if the Bulldogs could repeat — a question they answered emphatically as they won the sixth title in program history Saturday at University Aquatic Center.
Georgia rolled up 528 points to score back-to-back championships for the first time since winning three in a row from 1999-2001. The six titles are third most in NCAA women's swimming history, behind Stanford's eight and Texas's seven. Stanford outdueled California for second place, winning four of five relays to amass 402.5 points to Cal's 386.
Georgia's Brittany MacLean won the 1,650 freestyle Saturday for her second title of the meet, smashing the American, NCAA and U.S. open records with a time of 15:27.84. Bulldogs senior Laura Ryan of Elk River finished third in platform diving to end her college career. She won the 1-meter and 3-meter events, her first NCAA titles, earlier in the meet.
Stanford, powered by seniors Felicia Lee and Maya DiRado, surged to second a year after the worst NCAA showing in its history. The Cardinal, eighth last year, won three individual events to move back into the top three for the 24th time in the meet's 33-year history. Lee won the 100 butterfly and was part of four winning relays. DiRado won the 200- and 400-yard individual medleys and joined Lee on the victorious 400 medley and 400 freestyle relay teams.
"I don't think we had any doubt [that they could repeat],'' said Amber McDermott, who finished second to MacLean in the 1,650 free to get Georgia out to a strong start in Saturday's finals. "Other people did. We missed Megan and Allison, but we knew with our incoming freshmen and the improvements people from last year's team made that we could go as fast as we did last year or even faster.''
Georgia qualified 17 swimmers and one diver for the meet, the largest contingent of any team. Associate head coach Harvey Humphries compared the meet to the NCAA basketball tournament, emphasizing that any one of several teams could win. He liked the Bulldogs' chances, but he noted that their numerical advantage would not matter if they did not maximize their scoring opportunities.
Humphries was in charge because Georgia coach Jack Bauerle has not been allowed to coach at meets since Jan. 4 and was not permitted to accompany the team to Minneapolis. The university has said his absence is related to an "academic eligibility review.'' Chase Kalisz, a star on the men's team, was briefly suspended from competition in January, but his eligibility was restored three weeks later.
Bauerle has 507 career victories, the sixth-highest total in college swimming history. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the school said its investigation of Bauerle is ongoing but has provided no other information. Though Bauerle is allowed to coach in practice, he is prohibited from being on the pool deck during home meets or traveling to away meets.
"We all wish he was here,'' McDermott said. "He's here in spirit.''
McLean and McDermott gave the Bulldogs a 1-2 finish in the 1,650 to begin Saturday's session, adding 37 points to their total. Ryan kicked in 16 more, and they also got top-eight finishes from Melanie Margalis, Shannon Vreeland, Hali Flickinger and Annie Zhu. The Bulldogs also finished fourth in the 400 free relay.
Cal freshman Missy Franklin, the four-time Olympic gold medalist who was competing in her first NCAA meet, finished third in the 100 freestyle Saturday to close her first college season.