It’s been a whirlwind year for Georgia coach Jack Bauerle, who spent almost a full calendar year under suspension, but returned to win his 300th dual meet on the women’s side with a victory over Tennessee.
The Volunteers fought hard, pushing the defending NCAA champion women for much of the meet and bringing the men’s meet down to just 8 points at the final touch.
Bauerle becomes the second women’s swimming & diving coach in NCAA Division I history to earn 300 dual meet wins, joining Boston College’s Tom Groden, according to the Georgia athletic department. Bauerle’s official record is 300-33-2 over the past 36 seasons.
Celebrating senior night, the Tennessee Volunteers started off hot on the women’s side. It was a pair of seniors who had a big hand in that as well, as senior swimmers made up the first half of Tennessee’s winning 200 medley relay.
Senior Erin Gaeckle led off the relay, and handed the baton to star breaststroker and fellow senior Molly Hannis. It was Hannis who did most of the damage on the relay, splitting 27.1 and bringing her team into a lead of nearly a second and a half.
Anchor Faith Johnson did the rest, splitting 21.9 to give the Vols a 1:38.91 win.
The next event was the upset of the night, as Tennessee overcame the Bulldogs’ dangerous lineup of distance freestylers.
With national champion Brittany MacLean not swimming in the meet, Georgia still had NCAA-leading Amber McDermott in the 1000 free. But Tennessee sophomore Madeline Tegner pulled off a stunning win over McDermott, going 9:49.88. That took advantage of a McDermott who looked to be a bit tired, dying off after 300 yards, which is usually not the case for the star senior.
The two would meet again in the 500 free, and in the shorter distance, McDermott was able to hold Tegner off, going 4:47.96.
It was Hannis and Johnson who came off of the medley relay to do the most damage for Tennessee. Hannis swept the breaststrokes, celebrating her senior night with dominance. The All-American was 1:01.23 in the 100 and 2:12.52 in the 200, beating Georgia’s Emily Cameron in both.
Johnson, meanwhile, swept the sprints with some quick times. Her 22.50 was good to win the 50 free, leading a 1-2 punch in one of Georgia’s softer events of the night. Johnson and Harper Bruens then went 1-2 in the 100 free, with Johnson going 49.65 to lead the way.
Also winning an event was the senior Gaeckle, who took the 100 back in 54.64, leading a Tennessee 1-2-3 over tough Georgia sophomore Olivia Smoliga. That time for Gaeckle is a lifetime-best.
But despite all that, Tennessee had no answer for Hali Flickinger, who rampaged through Knoxville for three wins in dominant fashion.
Right after Tegner upset McDermott in the 1000 free, Flickinger stole all the momentum right back by blasting a 1:46.99 to win the 200 free. That’s a season-best for Flickinger, and she becomes the 6th Bulldog to break 1:47 in the 200 free already this season.
Flickinger would go on to win the 200 back (1:56.77) and 200 IM (1:59.94).
Georgia also got a butterfly sweep from Lauren Harrington. The senior blew out the 200 fly field in 1:57.00, and returned to take the 100 in 53.38.
The cherry on top for Georgia was nipping Tennessee for the 400 free relay win, going 3:18.60 to their opponent’s 3:18.78. That sealed a 166.5-131.5 win for Georgia, coach Jack Bauerle‘s 300th win on the women’s side.
Similarly, the Tennessee men also started out hot, knocking Georgia back early. That started with a nearly full-second win on the 200 medley relay, but was most notable in the 1000 free. There, redshirt Vol freshman David Heron topped Georgia’s twin freshmen, Kevin and Jay Litherland, with a 9:04.42. Kevin Litherland was just behind in 9:05.07 with Jay third.
The teams were pretty close in the non-free strokes. Nic Fink won both breaststrokes for Georgia, giving highly-touted Vol freshman Peter John Stevens his toughest test of the year in the 100. Fink was 53.98 to Stevens’ 54.21 in the 100, and also rolled to a 200 breast win in 1:58.99.
Meanwhile Tennessee swept the backstrokes, courtesy of Sean Lehane. The junior was 47.39 in running away with the 100, and added a 1:43.95 to dominate the 200 later on.
But Tennessee put the pressure on by sweeping the butterfly races. On senior night, senior Jacob Thulin shined, going a season-best 47.87 to pick up the 100 fly win. Then on the other end of the age spectrum, star freshman Sam McHugh blasted to a 200 fly win, going 1:44.30 to crush NCAA star Chase Kalisz by 3.5 seconds.
The Vols limited Kalisz, but the best 400 IMer in NCAA history was still able to put up a good chunk of points. Kalisz was second to teammate Fink in the 200 breast (1:59.06) and saved his best swim for last, winning the 200 IM in 1:46.17.
Second in that race was freshman Gunnar Bentz, who continued his outstanding rookie season. Bentz was also second in the 200 free, roaring to a 1:36.89. That came in just behind teammate Matias Koski (1:36.70). Koski would go on to win the 500 free in 4:23.46, leading a 1-2 punch with Kevin Litherland.
Another great sign for Georgia was the production from sprinter Michael Trice. While the Bulldogs were sorely lacking a true #1 sprinter early in the season, Trice has stepped up in a big way since the mid-season Georgia Invite, and went 19.97 to win the 50 against Tennesse. Getting under 20 at a time when most of the Georgia roster looks somewhat broken down is a great sign for Trice, who was also 44.41 to win the 100 free.
The 1-2 finish from Kalisz and Bentz in the 200 IM officially sealed the meet, so even though Tennessee took 1st and 3rd in the 400 free relay, the Bulldogs came down with a 154-146 win over their SEC foes.