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Backstrokers lead eight finals performances

Tyler Maland, Athletic Media Relations
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The University of Arkansas swimming and diving team had seven athletes and one relay team score in the finals session of day three at the SEC Championships inside the Jones Aquatic Center on Friday evening.

Through three days of competition, Arkansas is in eighth place with 162 points. The Razorbacks trail seventh-place South Carolina by just three points, and sixth-place Alabama by 21.

"We had a great evening session tonight," said Arkansas head coach Jeff Poppell. "We had a lot of athletes that improved on their performances this morning, and that's always what you want."

After a morning in which junior Kelsea Vance set the school record in the 100 backstroke, Arkansas was once again led by its backstrokers in the evening session. The Razorbacks had two swimmers in the consolation finals in Vance and sophomore Liz Braun. Braun started the race trailing much of the field, but had a spectacular final 25 yards to pick up a third-place finish in the heat and 12th overall with a time of 55.35. Her mark was a career-best. Vance finished eighth in the heat and 16th overall with a time of 55.99.

"Liz Braun has had a fantastic meet," Poppell said. "She has had lifetime bests in every event so far, and Kelsea had a great morning as well to earn her first ever final swim at the SEC Championships."

Senior Katie Whitbeck swam the fourth-fastest time in school history in the consolation final of the 100 fly, touching the wall in 54.40. Whitbeck, who holds the five fastest times in school history in the event, took fifth place in the heat and 13th overall.

Freshman Nikki Daniels swam a stellar 100 breaststroke in the consolation finals, stopping the clock in 1:01.64, a career-best and the fastest time for any Razorback this season. Daniels sprinted to second place through the first 50 yards, and held a strong pace to finish fifth in the heat and 13th overall in the event.

Arkansas had two scorers in the 200 freestyle consolation final, as junior Chelsea Franklin finished 14th and junior Sigrun Sverrisdottir was 15th. Franklin swam a season-best 1:49.08 to improve on her time of 1:49.38 in the preliminary morning session. Sverrisdottir also improved and swam a season-best, clocking 1:49.15 after a 1:49.37 in the preliminaries.

Sophomore Julia Kucherich finished sixth in the consolation final of the 400 IM, finishing in 4:15.36, her fastest time of the season. Kucherich swam out to an early lead with her best strokes, the butterfly and backstroke, and held on against the late push of the freestyle-heavy field to place sixth.

Arkansas grabbed a sixth-place finish in the 400 medley relay behind strong swims from Braun, Daniels, Whitbeck and freshman Susanna White. The group finished in 3:42.00, good for the fastest swim in the event this year for an Arkansas relay team.

The Razorbacks traditionally excel in distance freestyle and platform diving, and have the 1,650 free and the platform diving competition to look forward to on the final day of competition.

"We've got one more day, and it's a really big one for us tomorrow," Poppell said. "The last day of this meet is always our best day. We're looking forward to finishing tomorrow off strong."

Saturday morning's preliminary sessions begin at 9 a.m., with platform diving scheduled to start at 11:30 a.m. For more information about Razorback swimming and diving, please log on to ArkansasRazorbacks.com.

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