COLUMBUS, OH -- The Texas A&M women’s swimming & diving team climbed to third place at the 2008 NCAA Championships after the most impressive day in program history on Friday at the McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion.
The Aggies enter the final day of competition with 227 points, 29 more than they finished with in a school-record eighth place finish last season. The only teams ahead of A&M are Arizona, who looks to be in cruise control towards its’ first-ever NCAA team title, with 361 points and two-time defending national champion Auburn, who is just 17 points ahead of the Aggies at 244.
“We started off really strong right from the first event in the morning and never let up the whole day,” A&M head coach Steve Bultman said. “It was just one outstanding swim after the other. It was a lot of fun to be around and watch. We’re right there in the mix in third place with some of the greatest swimming programs in the country. Who knows what will happen tomorrow. We just need to keep doing what we’re doing and see where that puts us. We have good swims tomorrow but so does everybody else. It’s just a matter of stepping up again tomorrow.”
The Aggies’ punctuated their memorable day by equaling the highest nationals finish in Texas A&M swimming & diving history in the 800-yard freestyle relay. The group of Christine Marshall (Newport News, Va.), Kristen Heiss (Casper, Wyo.), Codie Hansen (Arlington), and Julia Wilkinson (Stratford, Ont.) swam the third fastest time in NCAA history (6:59.50) in grabbing second place behind Arizona who swam the second fastest time ever (6:58.69). Both schools eclipse the NCAA championship meet record of 7:00.89 set by California last season. The Aggies’ time mauled their former all-time Big 12 and school record time of 7:05.89 by an eye-opening six seconds.
On an individual level on the relay, Christine Marshall hit the wall first (1:44.72) on the opening leg ahead of Cal’s Dana Vollmer, who was on the gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic team in 2004. Marshall’s time marked the third instance that she lowered her lifetime best in the 200 freestyle on Friday. Julia Wilkinson anchored the relay in the fastest split of the entire field as well (1:43.38).
The Aggie 200-yard medley relay team of Julia Wilkinson (Stratford, Ont.), Alia Atkinson (Pembroke Pines, Fla.), Triin Aljand (Tallinn, Estonia) and Sarah Woods (Birmingham, Ala.) earned A&M’s highest NCAA Championship relay finish ever, momentarily, by taking third place in 1:37.72. The time also set a new Texas A&M and all-time Big 12 record in the race for the second time in a span of eight hours.
Julia Wilkinson matched Kristen Heiss’ achievement a day earlier of being the highest-finishing A&M swimmer ever at an NCAA Championship by taking third place in the 200-yard freestyle. Wilkinson destroyed her Big 12 and A&M school record of 1:44.86 set earlier in the day by clocking a time of 1:43.64. The time also ranks her as the 11th-fastest swimmer of all-time in the 200-yard freestyle.
Christine Marshall also swam the fastest time of her life in the 200 free, until leading off the relay, placing a career-best fifth in the championship final in 1:44.74. In the consolation final, Kristen Heiss placed sixth in 1:46.32 while Codie Hansen was seventh in 1:46.60.
Junior Triin Aljand earned a sixth-place finish in her first-ever 100-yard butterfly NCAA championship final. Aljand swam a time of 52.13, the second-fastest of her career.
Sophomore Alia Atkinson earned a seventh-place finish in the 100-yard breaststroke in her first-ever individual NCAA championship final appearance. Atkinson finished in a time of 1:01.19.
Two-time Big 12 400 IM champ Melissa Hain (Kingwood) earned the second All-American title of her career by taking eighth in the championship final of that very race in 4:13.49. Senior teammate Jenni Stratton (Portland, Ore.) earned her second career All-American honor by taking seventh in the consolation final of the 400 IM in 4:12.87, the second-fastest time of her life.
The third and final day of action at the 2008 NCAA Women’s Swimming & Diving Championships is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. with finals slated for 7 p.m.
200-Yard Medley Relay Championship Final
3. (Julia Wilkinson, Alia Atkinson, Triin Aljand, Sarah Woods), 1:37.72*#
400-Yard Individual Medley Championship Final
7. Jenni Stratton, 4:12.87
400-Yard Individual Medley Consolation Final
8. Melissa Hain 4:13.49
100-Yard Butterfly Championship Final
6. Triin Aljand, 52.13
200-Yard Freestyle Championship Final
3. Julia Wilkinson, 1:43.64*#
5. Christine Marshall, 1:44.74
200-Yard Freestyle Consolation Final
6. Kristen Heiss, 1:46.32
7. Codie Hansen, 1:46.60
100-Yard Breaststroke Championship Final
7. Alia Atkinson, 1:01.19
800-Yard Freestyle Relay Championship Final
2. (Christine Marshall, Kristen Heiss, Codie Hansen, Julia Wilkinson), 6:59.50*#
* - Texas A&M School Record
# - All-time Big 12 Record