COLUMBUS, Ohio - Wednesday night marked the opening night of the 2006 Big Ten Conference Women's Swimming and Diving Championships, but the record-breaking results looked reminiscent of 2005. After last year's championships saw records rewritten as early as the first heat, the 2006 competition reset the standards again in both the 200-yard medley relay and the 800-yard freestyle relay. Wisconsin, ranked 11th in the country, powered to an early lead in the 200-yard medley, and after two events holds a narrow lead in team points ahead of 24th ranked Minnesota, 72-70.
The opening event of this year's championships at McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion saw a young record fall quickly. In the second heat of the 200-yard medley relay, the Badgers took hold of the race quickly on junior Susan Johnson's opening leg of the relay and never relenquished the lead.
The quartet of Johnson, Amalia Sarnecki, Sarah Hernandez and Jackie Vavrek reached the wall first at 1:38.89 for an automatic qualification in the NCAA Championships. The group's performance also topped a number of records set by Penn State in last year's championships by 17-hundredths of a second, setting a new Big Ten Conference record and Big Ten Championships record. Their time crushed the previous McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion pool record of 1:42.89, which also belonged to Penn State, by exactly four seconds.
Johnson, Sarnecki and Hernandez were together in the runner-up spot to Penn State in the 2005 championships, and blew past the defending champions in the second heat. The Badgers' winning crew eclipsed its previous provisional qualifying time by nearly two seconds, and Wisconsin coach Eric Hansen said puts his team closer to achieving its biggest postseason goal.
"Our medley relay team did a phenomenal job," Wisconsin coach Eric Hansen said. "Our main goal is to qualify as many women as we can. It was great how our team came together at the same time. It was something special. We want to get as many NCAA 'A' qualifying times. It's great to be leading, but that is not what's important right now."
At the end of the first event, Wisconsin led all teams with 40 points. Rounding out the top five after the 200-yard medley relay were by Michigan with 40, Indiana with 32, Minnesota with 30 and Purdue with 28 - all of which earned provisional qualifications for the NCAA meet. Defending champion Penn State saw its 200-yard medley relay team disqualified in heat two, and Michigan State's squad was disqualified in the first race.
In the 800-yard freestyle relay, the host team Ohio State took heat one with a school record finish 7:19.76. The time earned the Buckeyes a B-standard NCAA qualification, but the time couldn't hold the lead for long. In heat two, Minnesota charged to the second-fastest time in Big Ten Conference history, claiming first with a time of 7:09.76. The finish was a little more than two seconds short of the Big Ten Championships record set in 2003 by Wisconsin but erased the McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion record by more than 11 seconds.
The Gopher squad of Jennifer Shaughnessy, Yuen Kobayashi, Kate Hardt and Christine Jennings punched its ticket for the NCAA Championships is March while slicing more than eight seconds off of the school record set in 1999. Penn State made up for it's disqualification in the 200-yard medley relay with a second place finish at 7:11.59, marking the third-best finish in conference history. The Nittany Lions also earned an A-standard qualifying spot in the NCAA meet.
The Badgers finished a little more than a second behind the Nittany Lions for third place, earning 32 points to hold onto the team lead while the Gophers leapfrogged Indiana and Michigan for second with its win in the 800-yard freestyle relay. Minnesota is showing strides of improvement after finishing in sixth and seventh place in the 800-yard freestyle relay and 200-yard medley relay, respectively, in 2005.
"We got off to the start we wanted," said Minnesota co-head coach Kelly Kremer. "We had a great night of swimming and we want to keep it going."
The rest of the top eight teams after the first day of competition are Michigan in third place with 64 points followed by Indiana with 56, Purdue with 54, Ohio State with 50, Illinois with 46 and Iowa with 40. Rounding out the standings are Northwestern with 36, Penn State with 34 and Michigan State with 12.
Day two of conference championships action at McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion kicks off at 11:00 a.m. eastern time on Thursday with preliminary races followed by finals at 7:00 p.m. eastern time.