Tigers ride relays, diving to 1st-day lead at SEC Championships - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Tigers ride relays, diving to 1st-day lead at SEC Championships

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COLLEGE STATION, Tex. - Auburn's men's 200-yard medley relay swam the fastest time in the nation this year, and two divers advanced to the 1-meter finals to put the Tiger men in first place after Tuesday's opening session at the 2013 SEC Swimming & Diving Championships.

With 196 points, Auburn's men hold a 40-point lead over LSU after the first day; both teams were buoyed by a strong performance in diving. Florida is third with 149, and strong diving and relays from Tennessee have the Vols in fourth place with 147.

On the women's side, Auburn is in fifth place with 132 points. Tennessee leads with 185, followed by LSU and Georgia, who have 151 each. Missouri is fourth with 141 points.

"I thought it was a really strong day," Auburn head coach Brett Hawke said. "We set it up well with diving today, really happy with the way they performed. They gave our swimmers a lot of confidence. It takes the weight off your shoulders when you're going in with a lead before the swimmers even start. Coach Shaffer and the divers did a phenomenal job. We came out in that men's (medley) relay and got a win. All of our splits were good, but we still need to clean up a few details. But overall, men and women performed really well today."

The Auburn 200 medley relay team of Kyle Owens, Stuart Ferguson, Marcelo Chierighini and James Disney-May posted the nation's fastest time this season with a 1:24.11 to kick off the night of swimming. The Tigers were trailing Tennessee at the halfway point, but a butterfly leg of 20.07 from Chierighini and a 19.09-second freestyle leg from Disney-May gave the Tigers the victory with the Vols in second place.

"It was a good way to start off the meet," Owens said. "It's right where we should be with how much rest we've been getting. It's exciting to start off with a bang and hopefully finish off the rest of the meet really well. I slipped on the start, so I started out a little behind, but I was able to catch up and make up some ground. Marcelo's split was huge for us. He's known for his freestyle, but to be able to put him on the fly and know that he's going to do his job is huge."

The men closed out the night with a third-place finish in the 800 free relay as Zane Grothe, Alex Hancock, Tommy McKee and Disney-May posted a 6:22.22. The top four times in the race ranked as the four fastest times in the country so far this year, and the top seven teams earned NCAA automatic qualifying times. Grothe's leadoff split of 1:34.14 was a personal-best and tied for the second-fastest 200 freestyle in Auburn history.

For the Auburn women, the team of Emily Bos, Lauren Norberg, Olivia Scott and Hannah Riordan narrowly missed a school record in the 200 medley relay with a time of 1:36.26, good enough for fourth place and the fifth-fastest time in the country this year. The Tigers were just .15 seconds shy of the all-time Auburn mark, set in 2011 by three of the same four swimmers.

The women's 800 free relay of Becca Jones, Scott, Alex Merritt and Katie Gardocki closed out the night with a fifth-place finish in 7:07.86, earning an NCAA automatic qualifying mark as well.

On the diving boards, it was a strong day for the Tigers as sophomore Fraser McKean earned a fifth-place finish in the 1-meter final with a score of 351.70, and junior John Santeiu finished seventh in the final with a 341.15. It was the first career championship final appearance for McKean and the third 1-meter final in three years for Santeiu.

"It was a good first day for us," Auburn diving coach Jeff Shaffer said. "The guys got us off to a great start. I look at that men's 1-meter final, and if we're just a little sharper, then Fraser is probably in contention for third (place). But the progress that he's made is very encouraging as we look to the rest of the meet. John competed well; we need to finish our dives a little sharper. But we get better as we move higher, so to get off to a good start on 1-meter is very encouraging."

McKean posted a score of 337.40 to finish sixth in the 30-man preliminary, securing a spot in his first SEC championship final. Santeiu was just behind his teammate with a 320.00, earning high marks on his final dive to jump from 11th to seventh. Sophomore Michael Beran recorded a career-best score of 306.20 to finish 11th in the preliminaries, just eight points shy of the eighth-place score. And freshman Andrew Laing earned 13th place in his first postseason competition with a score of 290.60.

On the women's side, sophomore Cinzia Calabretta led the way with an 12th-place finish, scoring 293.60, and freshman Carly Scheper scored for the Tigers in her first SEC meet with a 285.15 to finish 13th. Shanna Schuelein also factored into the scoring for Auburn with a 24th-place total of 254.60.

"Mike really performed really well in the morning, and Andrew was 13th, so I couldn't be more pleased with them," Shaffer said. "Carly and Cinzia were really consistent, but they still need to work on being a little more competitive and finishing dives. But 12th and 13th is a good start to the meet for them."

Individual preliminaries get underway Wednesday as the second day of the 2013 SEC Championships kicks off at 10 a.m. CT. Prelims will take place in the 500 free, 200 IM and 50 free, along with women's 1-meter diving.

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