As she made her final turn in the 500-yard freestyle Thursday night, Brittany MacLean caught a glimpse of leader Missy Franklin. The Georgia sophomore knew that to beat the four-time Olympic gold medalist for the NCAA title, she would have to swim lights out over the last 25 yards.
MacLean blazed through the water at the University Aquatic Center to catch Franklin and win the race in 4 minutes, 32.53 seconds, breaking the NCAA record of 4:32.71 set by Georgia's Allison Schmidt in 2011. Franklin, a freshman at California, finished second in her first individual event at the NCAA championships in 4:32.66.
The rest of MacLean's team flexed its considerable muscle, too. The Bulldogs roared to the lead in the team standings with 189 points on the first day of competition, winning three of the day's six events. Stanford is second with 136 points, and California is third with 126. The three-day event ends Saturday.
Georgia also got victories from Elk River native Laura Ryan in 1-meter diving and freshman Olivia Smoliga in the 50 freestyle. Ryan, who also will compete in the 3-meter and platform events, earned her first NCAA championship.
McLean said she had no idea she had won, but she was thrilled. "I saw her, and I knew she was still ahead,'' MacLean said of Franklin. "I just put my head down and tried to touch the wall first, and that's the way it worked out.''
Gophers get going
Before the meet, Gophers coach Kelly Kremer noted that his team's best-ever NCAA finish was ninth place in 2011. He hopes to improve upon that this weekend, and he was delighted with Gophers' start Thursday.
They scored points in every event, putting them in ninth place with 51.5 points. The Gophers were led by senior Maggie Keefer, who finished fourth in 1-meter diving, and junior Kiera Janzen, who placed seventh in the 500 freestyle. "This was exactly what we wanted,'' said Kremer, whose team finished 10th at the NCAAs last year.
Though Janzen was a little disappointed with her time and finish in her first career NCAA final, she said the team drew strength from competing in its home pool before a large group of fans.
"It really helped to have home-field advantage,'' she said. "It felt comfortable right off the bat. Our confidence level was huge. It was fun to be part of it.''