KNOXVILLE, Tenn. –The University of Arkansas swimming and diving team scored 105 points on the final day of competition at the Jones Aquatic Center on Saturday, climbing from eighth place to finish sixth at the SEC Championships with a score of 267.
Arkansas started the final day in eighth place with 162 points, but rallied for 55 points in the 1,650 free alone and stormed past Alabama and South Carolina for its sixth-place finish. Georgia won the championship with a total of 781 points, while Tennessee finished second and Florida third.
"We made a big run today," said Arkansas head coach Jeff Poppell. "Overall we had some great performances. We showed resiliency with some athletes who started the meet sluggishly but didn’t quit, and came back to have great swims."
Knowing it had its top athletes and top events coming up in the final day, Arkansas got a standout performance from All-American junior Chelsea Franklin to lead the charge in the 1,650 freestyle. Franklin recorded the second-fastest time in Arkansas program history, clocking 16:08.27 to finish fourth overall. The junior was in sixth place for much of the first half of the race, but continued her powerful pace to pass two competitors and nearly a third in the final stretch to finish fourth.
Nicole Menzel was in the same heat as her junior teammate and narrowly trailed Franklin for most of the mile race. Menzel placed seventh in the heat, and seventh overall, with a time of 16:17.94, also a career-best. Senior Alison Templin did not compete in the fastest-seeded heat, but proved herself worthy with a top-eight performance. The senior used her endurance and smooth turns to stay just ahead of Florida’s Angelina Ballatore for a time of 16:21.25 to win the early heat of the mile race and place eighth overall.
Sophomore Julia Kucherich swam a career-best 16:31.56 in the same heat as Templin, finishing third in her race and 10th overall after coming from behind early on. Junior Sigrun Sverridsottir finished eighth in the final heat and 12th overall with a time of 16:41.08, and freshman Allison Boyle was 14th overall with a career-best time of 16:45.67.
"The mile swims were huge for us," Poppell said. "This is one of the best distance freestyle groups in the country, and I think they proved that here this weekend. They got us back in the meet."
Sophomore diver Kesha Naylor made the platform finals for the second straight year after placing third in preliminaries, and scored a 179.40 to finish in eighth place. Seniors Alex House and Liana Bugslag also each scored in the event after placing 12th and 14th respectively in the preliminaries.
"It was a tough contest," said diving coach Dale Schultz. "Kesha had a great prelim performance, and went after the first couple dives and went long. She’s disappointed, but she had a really solid meet."
Arkansas had two athletes score in the 200 backstroke, led by sophomore Liz Braun, who set the school record with an eighth place finish in the preliminary heat and held that spot in the final, finishing eighth with a time of 1:57.33. Senior Jillienne Schilling raced in the B heat and clocked 2:01.05 to finish 16th overall.
Braun also scored in the 200 butterfly, following a great morning swim with a 16th place finish and a time of 2:05.12. Senior Katie Whitbeck has paced Arkansas all year in the butterfly, and was the Razorbacks’ top finisher in the event with a 15th-place finish and a time of 2:01.81.
The Razorback relay team of freshman Susanna White, sophomore Aubrey Hertzler, Templin and Menzel swam the last event of the meet, the 400 freestyle relay, and placed ninth with a time of 3:26.08. White highlighted the performance, swimming her leadoff leg in 49.89 seconds, the second-fastest 100 freestyle time in school history.
Arkansas improved from sixth to eighth not only on the final day, but from last year’s meet. The Razorbacks finished eighth at the 2011 SEC Championships with a score of 210. For more information about Razorback swimming and diving, please log on to ArkansasRazorbacks.com.