Feb. 21, 2004
MINNEAPOLIS - All week long, the Women's Swimming and Diving Championships has been building to a thrilling finish. And at Sunday night's final session, the athletes didn't disappoint. For the second time in three years, the team title came down to the 400-yard freestyle relay, as Penn State held a two point advantage over Michigan before the final event. It was ultimately the Wolverines who would prevail, in one of the fastest and most exciting championships ever in the Big Ten.
Michigan finished with 604.5 team points, followed by Penn State (590.5), Indiana (563.5), Wisconsin (503), and host school Minnesota (412.5).
For the first time in her Big Ten Championships career, Wisconsin junior Carly Piper was challenged in the 1,650. A pair of seniors, Indiana's Sarah Fiden and Emily Clare Fenn of Michigan gave the Conference record holder all she could handle for the first 1,000 yards. But the veteran miler picked up her pace, distancing herself from the field. Fiden made a push over the final four laps, but Piper held on for her third consecutive win in the event in 16:06.90 to Fiden's 16:08.14.
However, it was Penn State that made the biggest splash in the 66 lap race. The Nittany Lions scored 65 total points in the event, moving them solidly into first place with 461.5 points.
In the 200-yard backstroke, Susan Johnson of Wisconsin separated herself from the pack with a dominating final 100-yards. The freshman lowered her own school record and swam the third fastest time in Big Ten history, 1:55.93. Jennifer Skolaski finished second with a NCAA automatic qualifying time of 1:57.51, and Michigan's Sara Johnson finished third (1:58.59).
Amy McCullough (49.34) of Michigan broke-up Wisconsin's bid for a possible trifecta when she and teammate Lindsey Smith (49.36) out-touched Bethany Pendleton (49.59) in the 100-yard freestyle. All three swimmers earned NCAA 'A' times. The Wolverines' one-two sweep in the event pulled them within 17 points of team leader Penn State.
In a championship final that featured six seniors, it was a sophomore that stole the show in the 200-yard breaststroke. Amalia Sarnecki gave the Badgers their third individual win of the night with her time of 2:12.37. The mark is the fifth best ever in Conference history, and the fourth fastest in the country this year. 2003 event champion Kelli Stein turned in a gutsy swim for the Wolverines, finishing second in 2:12.78, which is also a national championship qualifying time.
Amberle Biedermann duplicated her 2003 performance in the 200-yard butterfly, winning the event and lowering her own meet record, and swimming the second fastest time ever in Big Ten history (1:57.97). The sophomore won the event from lane six, unleashing cheers from the Penn State crowd. Northwestern's Christy Olin finished second in 1:58.87, just ahead of Hoosiers Sarah Bugden and Lauren Lubus.
Biedermann's win widened the margin between Penn State and Michigan with two events remaining.
Carrie McCambridge completed a perfect championship meet, winning her third event, platform diving, Saturday night. The sweep secured McCambridge Diver of the Championship honors. Freshman Lindsay Weigle of Indiana finished second, and another rookie, Minnesota's Holly Jakits came in third.
However, it was Michigan's 32 points in the diving event that had the greatest impact on the overall meet. The showing put the Wolverines in an even tie with Penn State in the team race.
The 400-yard free relay proved to be the perfect ending to a fantastic meet. As they have done all meet long, the Michigan and Wisconsin freestyle specialists battled from beginning to end. McCullough and Pendleton went head-to-head in the final leg, with McCullough pulling it out for her team in the end in 3:18.95, to Wisconsin's 3:19.11. Her efforts not only won the relay for Michigan, but secured the team championship for the Wolverines. Penn State finished seventh in the 400 relay.