Athens, Ga. --- Texas A&M junior diver Ford McLiney became the Aggies’ first male Southeastern Conference champion in swimming and diving with a come-from-behind win in the three-meter springboard to highlight A&M’s first day at the SEC Championships at the University of Georgia.
McLiney, who was the top seed after prelims, never led until his final dive, but he closed out the competition with a stunning 82.20 score to grab the win. McLiney trailed Tennessee’s Maurcio Robles Rodriguez by nearly 11 points after five rounds and needed a score of 75.10 to catch Robles Rodriguez. McLiney finished his six-dive list with a career-best 424.95 points, more than six points ahead of Robles Rodriguez (418.10). Also scoring points for the Aggies in the event were senior Adam Ruiz (12th, 330.65) and freshman Colton Haffey (22nd, 262.40).
“This is a huge surprise and I don’t think it’s hit me yet,” McLiney said. “To be honest, this was a complete shock. I was expecting third…everyone else was hitting 8’s, but like (coach) Jay (Lerew) says, I just took it one dive at a time and it paid off. The gainer-twister is my best dive so Jay likes for me to save it for last. To be the first SEC Champion for the men’s team is a huge honor and I’m happy I was able to do that for Texas A&M.”
McLiney wasn’t the only Aggie shining bright on the first day of the SEC Championships. Both the men’s and women’s 800-yard free relays shattered their respective school records in the race.
The women’s foursome of junior Liliana Ibanez, sophomore Meredith Oliver, junior Kelli Benjamin and junior Sarah Henry lopped nearly a second off the old school record with a time of 6:58.80 while finishing second to Georgia (6:53.04). The foursome became the second 800 free relay to break the 7-minute barrier in school history.
“It was an impressive swim, especially considering that three of the legs weren’t shaved,” women’s head coach Steve Bultman said. “It shows me that they have a great chance of swimming faster at the NCAA meet.”
For the men, the quartet of senior Paul-Marc Schweitzer, junior Luke Shaw, sophomore Mateo Muzek and sophomore Hunter Funk took nearly two seconds off the old school record, touching the wall in 6:21.20 and placing sixth. Another school record fell with Schweitzer leading off the relay with a strong 200 in 1:34.39, which took down the old mark of 1:34.63 by Balazs Makany in 2011.
“Paul-Marc wanted that lead-off spot and he’s been our go-to guy in the 200 free all year,” men’s head coach Jay Holmes said. “He did a tremendous job and turned in the fastest time in school history, and it’s a time that historically gets to the NCAA Championships. I was proud of this group because we graduated half of last year’s relay that finished eighth at NCAAs, and we found a way to be faster this year.”
In the 200-yard medley relay, the women’s foursome of Benjamin, senior Breeja Larson, senior Paige Miller and junior Sammie Bosma took fourth with a time of 1:36.40. It was a season best for the Aggies and the foursome became the third-fastest relay in school history. On the men’s side, the Aggies had a season best by over two seconds while placing eighth in a time of 1:26.12. The foursome of sophomore Alexandros Theocharidis, senior Jack Burley, senior Henrik Lindau and senior Kyle Troskot became the fourth-fastest 200 medley relay in program history.
The Aggie women received 27 points from a pair of freshman divers in the one-meter springboard. Madison Hudkins took seventh with a score of 303.30 and Zoe Alaniz was 21st with a 256.60 total.
After day one at the SEC Championships, the Aggie men’s team stands in second place with 142 points and the women’s squad is in fourth with 135 points.
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