Auburn edges Georgia, thanks to Arizona record
ATHENS, Ga. -- Auburn coach David Marsh will always appreciate the American and NCAA records that Arizona set in the 400-yard freestyle relay Saturday night.
When Jenna Gresdal surged past Georgia's Tricia Harm in the second leg of the meet's final event at raucous Gabrielsen Natatorium, Arizona had enough energy to finish the relay in 3 minutes, 12.77 seconds.
The Wildcats' victory kept Georgia, which ended the season 11-1, from narrowly beating Auburn in the NCAA women's swimming and diving championships.
"I never have experienced anything that thrilling," Marsh said of the Tigers' fourth national team title in the last five years. "That's the best day we've ever had in Auburn swimming."
Auburn had 418.5 team points, three more than Georgia, which missed a chance to repeat as national champions despite another outstanding night for Mary DeScenza and Kara Lynn Joyce.
With a time of 1:53.78 in the 200-yard butterfly, DeScenza became the first woman to win the event in four consecutive years. California's Mary T. Meagher took first in the 200 butterfly in 1983 and from 1985-87.
DeScenza, a senior from Naperville, Ill., won her third straight national title in the 100 butterfly on Friday night.
Joyce earned her sixth NCAA individual championship by swimming the 100-yard freestyle in 47.41 seconds. The junior from Ann Arbor, Mich., broke the pool record that Martina Moracova set for Southern Methodist in 1999.
Ultimately, the combined success of DeScenza and Joyce wasn't enough to overcome Auburn's strength in numbers.
The Tigers used momentum from Hayley Peirsol and Adrienne Binder, a junior tandem from California that began the night with first- and third-place finishes in the 1,650-yard freestyle, to start chipping away at Georgia's 53-point lead.
Auburn was the only team at the NCAA meet to qualify all 18 of its athletes.
"It's huge for us, but at the same time we can't focus on any team other but ourselves," Peirsol said. "If you get too wrapped up in that, you lose sight of what you're really here for."
Auburn never relinquished the lead, its first of the three-day meet, after Southern Cal's Rebecca Soni won the 200-yard breaststroke in 2:09.37. The Tigers earned 27.5 points from Alicia Jensen, who finished third in the event, and Lauren Duerk, who tied for seventh.
Combining their efforts with six points from Nanou Amardeilh in the consolation round pushed Auburn 22 points ahead of the Lady Bulldogs.
DeScenza helped cut the lead to just five points with her win in the 200 butterfly. UCLA's Kimberly Vandenberg finished in second place.
Besides DeScenza's 20 points, Georgia earned 14 from Elizabeth Hill's fifth-place finish.
The two rival Southeastern Conference schools have challenged each other for the top spot in women's swimming over the last eight years.
Georgia won three straight NCAA titles from 1999-2001, but the Lady Bulldogs were runners-up to Auburn over the next three years. Last month at the SEC meet in Knoxville, Tenn., Georgia beat the Tigers by 19 points.
Finishing second in the 400 freestyle relay, however, doomed the Lady Bulldogs when Auburn took third.
Joyce, who swam the final leg for Georgia, had an event-leading time of 46.92, but she couldn't catch Arizona freshman Lacey Nymeyer on the last lap.
Gresdal and Whitney Myers combined to distance the Wildcats past Harm and Jessica Cole in the second and third legs.
"We knew it was ours to take if we just stepped up," Gresdal said. "It's a really cool feeling. We knew it would really be a fight and we had to be ready."
For Harm, taking second place in her home pool was difficult for the senior to accept, even though the Lady Bulldogs' time of 3:13.38 was an improvement over the 3:13.47 Georgia set last year for American and NCAA records.
"We knew Arizona was the team to beat," Harm said. "We had a chance to win, and that's all you can ask for."
Cal's Helen Silver won the 200 backstroke in 1:53.01, and Kentucky's Taryn Ignacio took the platform diving title with a score of 335.30.
But Auburn got the prize all of the teams wanted.
"We didn't have that great a morning, but we just came alive," said Marsh, the Tigers' 16th-year coach. "Our passion paid off. One after another, we performed."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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