The Arizona Wildcats women won a very close meet over in-conference foes UCLA, giving an exciting start to Arizona’s homecoming weekend. The final score was 151-149, with the battle coming down to splitting-hairs, as a tie for 3rd place in the meet-closing 200 free relay decided the outcome.
Fast-forwarding to that exciting end, the Bruins held a lead going into the relay 139-144. Arizona needed a win, and then it would be up to the “B” relays to decide the outcome of the meet.
The Wildcats’ A did their part and took the win in the 200 free relay in 1:32.16, topping UCLA’s 1:32.46. Both teams had some spectacular legs (Arizona’s Gracie Finnegan anchored for them in 22.74, while UCLA’s star Ting Quah was a 22.77 on their second leg), but it was the Wildcats’ sprint depth that won that relay: their #3 and #4, Taylor Schick and Alana Pazevic, were better than UCLA’s #3 and #4, Kathryn Murphy and Jessica Khojasteh.
The key then became the “B” relays. If Arizona’s B took 3rd, then the Wildcats won the meet. If UCLA’s relay took 3rd, then it was a tie.
But the ever-elusive option C happened, and the two teams tied for 3rd in 1:35.10, with UCLA’s Monica Dornick (23.42), chasing down Arizona’s Leticia Lelli (23.66) for a dead-heat.
That was good enough for the Wildcats, though, as it locked up their overall team win, and a hard-fought one at that.
Arizona sophomore Bonnie Brandon has a strong meet; she now ranks second in the Pac-12 this season after winning the 1000 free in 9:55.74 (just jumping ahead of Missy Franklin in that event).
Brandon also won the 200 backstroke in 1:58.67, beating UCLA’s impressive group that includes freshman Madison White (1:59.16), Anna Senko (2:00.86), and Katie Kinnear (2:01.29), who took the 2-3-4 spots.
She would cap her individual events with a third win, this one coming in the 500 free in 4:53.12. That again tipped UCLA’s Lauren Baker, who was 2nd in both distance races, but the Bruins kept things tight by taking the 2nd-5th place spots (which actually outscores Brandon’s win by one point).
The breaststrokes saw not only wins, but it was where the grandest event domination from Arizona came into play. In the 100, Arizona sophomore Emma Schoettmer led a Wildcat 1-2-3 with a 1:01.63, followed by freshman Sara Borendame in 1:03.61 and Eve Sarris in 1:04.22.
UCLA’s top finisher was freshman Jo Jo Winkler in 4th with a 1:04.66.
Schoettmer came back again to win the 200 breaststroke in even more dominating fashion; she was a 2:12.50 to place 5 seconds ahead of anyone else.
Depth was a key at this meet, as the coaches made the unusual decision to score four per team, instead of three, which meant that the team who won a race was not guaranteed to earn the most points from it. That’s where UCLA benefited. Where they won, they won big, and often where Arizona won, the Bruins took up a lot of the 2-5 scoring positions to still make up ground in the scoring. The breaststrokes were a big exception to that.
Where Arizona did well in the freestyle and breaststroke races, UCLA did well in the butterfly events. Ting Quah, who was 7th at NCAA’s in the 100 fly last year, won that same race here in 54.41. That’s a season-best for her, and puts her 6th in the Pac-12 so far this year.
She was followed by Katie Kinnear (55.29) and Noelle Tarazona (55.55), both Bruins, in those rankings.
Tarazona, more of a 200 fly specialist, won that race in 2:00.03, just ahead of Kinnear’s 2:00.14. Arizona’s Elizabeth Pepper, a Florida State transfer this year, was the only Arizona swimmer to break up the UCLA stranglehold in that race, as the Bruins took the other four scoring positions.
UCLA had a big push at the end in the 200 IM, the last individual race of the meet, with another 1-2-3 (and 4 out of 5 scoring positions) finish, led by Senko in 2:03.98 and Tarazona in 2:05.47. They also did well in diving, with Annika Lenz sweeping the springboard titles.
But in the end, the power of the Arizona stars was just too much. Margo Geer won three individual races: the 200 free in 1:49.04 (over Quah’s 1:49.9); the 50 free in 22.89 (over UCLA’s Murphy in 23.42); and the 100 free in 49.26 (again over Murphy, who was 50.87).
Interim head coach Rick Demont made the gutsy decision to put Geer in three individuals instead of that last 200 free relay, and the move paid-off perfectly.