COLUMBUS, Ohio- The Texas A&M swimming & diving team ended its best weekend in program history by earning fourth place at the 2008 NCAA Championships at McCorkle Aquatic Center on Saturday night.
The Aggies finished the meet with 315 points, 117 more than the previous school record set a year ago. A&M had only finished in the top 10 one time in its history at the NCAA meet heading into this week, an eighth-place effort last season, but managed to halve that finish with more than a handful of the most outstanding individual and relay performances in the school and Big 12 history.
The University of Arizona stormed to its’ first-ever NCAA Championship with a walloping of two-time defending champion Auburn, 484-348. Stanford had a strong day on Saturday to climb one spot to third. California-Berkeley finished behind the Aggies with 291 points, followed by Florida (277.5), Georgia (198) and Tennessee (179.5).
“I’m just so proud of the girls,” A&M head coach Steve Bultman said. “They kept stepping up every session and taking care of business. They just kept coming up with outstanding swims up and down the line up, session after session. It’s exciting and rewarding for all of us because we’ve worked very hard to do this, but it’s something I knew was possible. It was just a matter of getting the girls to believe in what we’re trying to do and in themselves. We have great facilities and great support at A&M. Our motto is ‘Building Champions’ and that’s something we’ve done and will continue striving to do.”
A hard-charging Julia Wilkinson (Stratford, Ont.) came within .06 of becoming Texas A&M’s first-ever national champion in swimming & diving after a command performance in the 100-yard freestyle. Wilkinson swam a time of 47.56, becoming the sixth-fastest performer in the history of the event, to finish in second-place. Wilkinson’s performance equals the highest individual performance by a Texas A&M swimmer or diver in the history of the NCAA Championship meet.
The A&M 400-yard freestyle relay team capped the most successful meet in school history with a Big 12 and A&M record time of 3:13.08. The Aggies finished third behind national champion Arizona, who set a new American record of 3:11.34, and California (3:13.08).
Junior Kristen Heiss (Casper, Wyo.) equaled the highest NCAA finish of her career with a third-place effort in the 200-yard backstroke. Her time of 1:53.52 was the third-fastest of her career.
Sophomore Alia Atkinson (Pembroke Pines, Fla.) earned the highest NCAA finish of her career, third, with an A&M and all-time Big 12 record swim of 2:09.48.
In the 100 free consolation final, junior Triin Aljand (Tallinn, Estonia) swam her way to a second place time of 48.77, the highest finish of her nationals career in the event.
Senior Jenni Stratton (Portland, Ore.) ended her collegiate career with a 30th-place finish in the 1,650 freestyle in a time of 16:36.67.
The Aggies will compete in the Post-NCAA Long Course Qualifier on Sunday in Columbus in an effort to get more athletes qualified for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials.
30. Jenni Stratton, 16:36.67
200-Yard Backstroke Championship Final
3. Kristen Heiss, 1:53.52
100-Yard Freestyle Championship Final
2. Julia Wilkinson, 47.50*#
100-Yard Freestyle Consolation Final
2. Triin Aljand, 48.77
200-Yard Breaststroke Championship Final
3. Alia Atkinson, 2:09.48*#
400-Yard Freestyle Relay Championship Final
3. (Christine Marshall, Triin Aljand, Codie Hansen, Julia Wilkinson), 3:13.08
* - Texas A&M School Record
# - Big 12 Record