Minnesota jumps into first at the 2006 Big Ten Championships


COLUMBUS, Ohio - The 2006 Big Ten Championships boasted to showcase some of the nation's most talented swimming and diving competitors, and the conference's elite lived up to its billing on Thursday at Ohio State's McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion. Minnesota, ranked No. 24 in the country, jumped into first place while the rest of the league, including five other nationally ranked squads, battled to catch them on a day of competition highlighted by four champions repeating 2005 titles and a slew of new records.

The records started falling in the morning preliminaries while several swimmers earned qualification marks for the NCAA Championships with "A" and "B" standards.

In the opening preliminary compeition, all of the top 16 finishers advancing to the 500-yard freestyle finals qualified provisionally for the NCAAs. Top-seeded Christine Jennings edged teammate Yuen Kobayashi in the 500-yard freestyle preliminary race by two-hundredths of a second, finishing first with a time of 4:46.68. Jennings owns the third-best time in the country, a 4:43.52 performance that earned her an automatic NCAA qualification and set the McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion pool record in December. Ohio State senior Nicole Maglich finished third, touching the wall at 4:47.17.

In the 200-yard individual medley prelim, the 16 finals-bound swimmers again qualified
 with B-standard times for nationals. Defending champion, Michigan's Justine Mueller finished first with a pool-record finish of 2:00.64. The 2005 Swimmer of the Championships, Mueller eclipsed the previous record of 2:01.69 set by Minnesota's Jennifer Shaughnessy in December and narrowly missed an automatic NCAA qualification by 14-hundredths of a second. Penn State freshmen didn't let first time jitters stunt their speed. Nittany Lion rookie Kelly Nelson finished second, and teammate Kaitlin O'Brien finished six-hundredths of a second behind her for third.

Michigan junior Kaitlyn Brady sprinted to a season-best time the 50-yard freestyle prelim, finishing in 22.54 seconds for first. The reigning champion in the 50-yard event, Brady's time ranks fourth in the nation and earned an A-standard NCAA qualification. She also cruised to a pool record time. Wisconsin's Jackie Vavrek edged the Gopher's Stacy Busack by four-hundredths of a second for the runner-up slot. Northwestern's Andrea Hupman rounded out the top four finishers, all of whom automatically qualified for the NCAA meet. The next 19 swimmers earned B-standard qualifying marks.

In the one-meter spring board diving competition, the 2005 Big Ten title-holder Christina Loukas gave a solid performance to put her in position to repeat as champion. Loukas placed first with a score of 322.20. Purdue's Amanda Miller followed in second with 315.15 while her teammate and the 2005 runner-up, Carrie McCambridge scored 310.80 for third.

From the opening heat in Thursday night's finals slate until, the record-breaking trend continued. The reigning champion in the 200-yard freestyle medley, Michigan led Wisconsin by a foot before pulling away in the final stretch. The Wolverines claimed back-to-back titles with a 1:30.2 finish. Their time reset the conference championships record previously claimed by Northwestern in 1999 by 15-hundredths of a second and crushed the McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion pool record by 2.71 seconds. The Michigan foursome of Brady, Hannah Smith, Abby Seskevics and Lindsey Smith also earned an automatic qualification to the NCAA meet and rewrote several records while claiming first. With the win, the Wolverines skipped past Minnesota in the team standings to second place with 104 points.

Wisconsin's Amalia Sarnecki touched the wall next to put the Badgers' quartet in second at 1:30.27, another A-standard NCAA qualifying mark. The Badgers held on to the team lead by two points, whiel Minnesota finished second and fell to third in the team standings with 102 points. Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota and Northwestern all raced to new school records.

In the 500-yard freestyle, Minnesota's Kobayashi topped her personal best on the season  by almost an entire second. She finished first at 4:43.00, eclipsing her teammate Jenning's pool record of 4:43.52 and moving to third in the national rankings. With her win, the Gophers moved into first, leading Michigan 150-113.

Even though it was an individual race, Penn State showed its team strength in the 500-yard event. With six swimmers advancing to the finals, including four in the championship race, the Nittany Lions claimed 57 points in the event. The performance vaulted the reigning team champions from 10th place to third, pushing Wisconsin out of the top three. Nittany Lions junior Erin Morris claimed second place with a finish of 4:44.82. She was followed by Jennings and teammate Nikki Collins in third and fourth respectively.

In the 200-yard individual medley, the Wolverines' saw another 2005 champion reap first place honors. Mueller turned in a time of 1:59.60 to automatically qualify for the NCAAs and topping the McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion pool record she set in the preliminary race. She also moved to No. 3 in the national rankings. Minnesota's Shaughnessy finished second to build on the Gophers lead, touching the wall at 2:00.60. Nittany Lions' freshman Nelson built on Penn State's momentum with a third-place finish at 2:00.78 followed by O'Brien in fourth (2:00.98), both earning B-standard qualifying marks. Their points put Penn State in second for the first time with 163 points, pushing Michigan into third despite Mueller's win.

The final swimming championship of the evening featured yet another defending Big Ten champion from Michgian. After helping her team to a repeat of first in the 200-yard freestyle relay, Brady claimed the crown in the 50-yard freestyle. She finished with a time of 22.37, narrowly missing a chance to set a new championships record by 5-hundredths of a second. Her teammate Lindsey Smith finished third to give the Wolverines enough points to regain second-place in the team standings, only four points behind team-leader Minnesota.

The Gopher's Busack touched the wall second, punching her ticket to the NCAA Championships with a time of 22.57. Her performance kept the Gophers in the lead with 190 points at the end of Thursday's swimming competition.

In the one-meter diving finals, Loukas claimed first for the second straight year with a new McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion record, stringing together six solid dives for a score of 322.20. Purdue's Amanda Miller and McCambridge finished second and third respectively, followed by Iowa's Nancilea Underwood in fourth and Loukas' teammate weigle in fifth. Indiana's divers propelled the Hoosiers to third place in the team standings.

Minnesota heads into the third day of competition with the team lead over second-place Michigan, 200-193. Indiana edged Penn State by one point, 169-168, for third place with a solid showing in the one-meter diving. After finishing in first after the first two events, the Badgers slipped into fifth place with 147.5 points followed by Purdue with 127, Illinois with 105 and Ohio State with 101. Rounding out the standings are Northwestern with 95.5, Iowa with 74 and Michigan State with 93.

Day three competition gets underway at McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion on Friday at 11:00 a.m. eastern time with preliminary races followed by finals at 7:00 p.m. eastern time.