Guess who’s back – back again. Tanja’s back – tell a friend.
Two of the buzziest teams early in the 2013-2014 NCAA swimming season matched up on Thursday at the Ralph R. Wright Natatorium in Louisville, Kentucky, where the Louisville Cardinals played host to the cross-border rivals Tennessee Volunteers.
As we’ve seen from both teams this year, there was a lot of good racing on Thursday and some fantastic times, and the Tennessee women walked away with a 170-130 victory, while the Louisville men won by a similar margin of 167-132.
Tanja Kylliainen, who was the talk-of-the-town last weekend at the SMU Classic, was in fine form again on Thursday. She won the 200 fly in 1:57.12, which gives her two out of the three fastest times in the country so far this year. That also breaks her own pool record of 1:58.27 set in February of 2012.
The win was not an easily-taken one, however. Tennessee freshman Heather Lundstrom, who has been a great surprise early in her NCAA career, took 2nd in 1:58.63. She actually had the lead at the halfway mark, and kept things very close through 150 yards, but Kylliainen’s closing speed was just too much for Lundstrom to hang with on the home-stretch.
Kylliainen didn’t have quite the same impressive staying power as she did in a back-to-back at the SMU Classic, but she did add a win later in the meet in the 200 IM in 2:01.53, though she finished only 5th in the 200 back.
For Tennessee, the stars of the meet where their freestyle group, as they swept the 5 freestyle events. Beginning with the shortest race, Tennessee sophomore (and defending SEC Champion) Faith Johnson won the 50 in 22.98. That’s the second time she’s broken 23 seconds already this year (only 10 women have done it total) in her only event of the meet.
Her teammate Harper Bruens took 2nd in 23.52, and a Tennessee 1-2-3 was completed with a 23.86 from sophomore Cherelle Thompson for 3rd.
Louisville didn’t enter Kelsi Worrell in that race, and with Krissie Brandenburg still working her way back from an injury, that leaves them pretty thin in the sprint races.
So, Tennessee’s Kate McNeilis won the women’s 100 free in 51.05, followed by Bruens again earning a runner-up nod in 51.16. Louisville freshmen Andrea Kneppers (51.29) and Alex Sellers (52.68) do give the Cardinals a little bit of rounding-out for their relays, at least, in taking 3rd and 4th in that 100 free.
That showed up when the meet closed with the 400 free relay, where Louisville won 3:24.87-3:25.72. The two best splits of the relays were a 50.14 lead-off from Worrell and a 49.7 anchor from Gendron, though Kneppers had a solid split of 50.82 for the Cardinal to really break things open early.
The 200 and 500 freestyles both went to versatile Volunteer senior Lindsay Gendron, with marks of 1:48.15 and 4:53.58, respectively. Kneppers was second in the 200 in 1:50.48, and Louisville’s Abbie Houck was the runner-up in the 500 in 4:57.19.
The Vols topped off the freestyle sweep with a 10:01.16 from transfer Lauren Driscoll in the 1000, with freshman Camryne Morris taking 2nd in 10:05.34.
The two squads split the backstroke races on Thursday. Tennessee’s Lauren Solernou won the 100 back in 55.48 ahead of Kelsi Worrell (55.60) and Erica Belcher (55.90). Belcher turned around and won the 200 back in 1:59.85 ahead of Tennessee’s Amanda Carner in 2:00.41.
Again feeling the loss of Brandenburg in the backstroke group, Louisville has had to look for someone to step up. Belcher has done a phenomenal job there, and one might suspect that putting Worrell in the 100 here, where she beat her lifetime best by well over a second, was a bit of a test just to see what their options might be for medley relay purposes.
Speaking of relays, Tennessee won the meet-opening 200 medley relay in 1:42.00, just ahead of Louisville’s 1:24.40.
In that race, Brandenburg held her own on the lead-off leg, but Louisville couldn’t match the 27.8 breaststroke split from Molly Hannis. The Cardinals came back even thanks to a 23.4 from Worrell on the fly leg, but McNeilis was a hammer at the end for the Volunteers with a 22.85.
Hannis swept the individual breaststroke events as well with little challenge. She won the 100 in 1:00.94, almost a three-second margin over Louisville freshman Andee Cottrell, and then tagged on a win in the 200 breast in 2:13.66, a six-second win over Gisselle Kohoyda.
In the men’s meet, things were very back-and-forth early. Louisville started with a win in the 200 medley relay, touching in 1:28.96 to Tennessee’s 1:29.46. Louisville did not use Joao de Lucca on that relay – and still got a 20.10 from Caryle Blondell; with Blondell swimming very well, there’s a good chance that this is the strategy the Cardinals will use at NCAA’s to save de Lucca for the other four relays.
Tennessee, though, will be very pleased with their anchor as well. Australian freshman Luke Percy came home in a 19.53, though he was left a bit too much room to make up.
Tennessee bounced back in the second event with a win from freshman David Heron in the 1000 free. He swam a 9:20.17 and was followed by Louisville’s Jake Schultz (9:30.71), though Tennessee wound up with four of the top five spots.
De Lucca got wet for the first time in the men’s 200 free. He went 1:37.44 to win, which is just .01 seconds slower than he was against Xavier a week ago. He does, though, now sit with the fastest two-swim composite time in the country in the 200 free, showing that good early-season speed we’re used to from the defending NCAA Champion.
Louisville’s 800 free relay continues to be exciting, as freshman Trevor Carroll took 2nd in 1:39.92, freshman Matthias Lindenbauer took 3rd in 1:40.07, and sophomore Ruben Izarra was 4th in 1:41.35.
Tennessee ‘s highest finisher was Sam Rairden, who finished 5th in 1:41.63.
The pendulum swung back in the 100 backstroke, where Tennessee sophomore Sean Lehane won in 48.75 – another good swim, though a hair slower than he was in his last swim against South Carolina a week ago.
But Louisville’s backstroke group, while very young overall, is deep, and they took the 2-4 positions. Freshman Grigory Tarasevich, a Junior European Champion, was 2nd in 48.96, senior Evan Noble was 3rd in 50.34, and another freshman Aaron Greene was 4th in 50.36.
That swim for Tarasevich is a lifetime best (he did spend a couple of years living and training in Florida before college, though he’s from Russia so his focus was always long course).
The Louisville depth continued to show up in the next race, the 100 breaststroke, where a more veteran group went 1-2-3. That was led by senior Kameron Chastain (54.43), with Thomas Dahlia (55.42) and Addison Bray (56.25) behind him.
Louisville started to pull away in the 200 fly. Yet another rookie, Josh Quallen, won in 1:48.94, which is a season-best for him by two seconds. Tennessee’s Tristan Slater was 2nd in 1:50.35, but placing in four out of the top five positions was a big swing for Louisville, besides being their second-straight event win.
The sprint freestyles had the best battles of the day. Percy picked up a win in the 50 free, going 20.38 to hold off de Lucca’s 20.47 and Blondell’s 20.48. Then after a diving win from Tennessee’s Mauricio Robles on the 1-meter, De Lucca returned the favor and took an incredibly-tight 100 free in 44.02 to Percy’s 44.03.
Blondell was 3rd in that race in 44.30.
In the next event, Tennessee’s Lehane won the 200 back in 1:45.43, another season-best for him as he now holds two of the three fastest (official) times in the country in that event this season.
Despite a stretch with three wins in four events, Tennessee on paper was still about out after that point. Louisville took 2-5 in the 200 back (led by a Tarasevich 1:47.03), leaving the margin too big to make up, even though the Volunteers would get the majority of the wins closing out the meet.
That included a second win for Heron, this one coming in the 500 free in 4:32.08 with Carroll 2nd in 4:33.15.
Another 1-2-3 for Louisville in the 100 fly, led by Quallen’s 49.23, negated-and-then-some the prior Tennessee win.
Robles wrapped a sweep on the boards with a 390.22, and the junior Slater gave them another win with a 1:50.69 in the 200 IM.
In maybe the biggest upset of the meet, Tennessee showed a bit more freestyle sprint depth than Louisville to win the 400 free relay in 2:57.86 to the Cardinals’ 2:58.39. That time ranks Tennessee 4th in the country and 2nd in the SEC, with Louisville’s placing them right behind at 5th in the country.
Tennessee had all four swimmers under 45 seconds, including a lead-off from Luke Percy in 44.12, tailed by a Sam Rairden 44.9, a noticeable 44.12 from Troy Tillman, and a 44.68 anchor from Sean Lehane.
Louisville got big bookends on their relay – Blondell led off in 44.55 and de Lucca anchored in 43.09, but had some 45’s in between to give the final race to Tennessee.
It’s not much of a surprise that both teams swam very well at this meet, as they have all year, but the margin was decided by Louisville’s depth. As the Cardinals continue into this progression to what they hope will see them as a perennial top-10 team, that depth is sort of a new phenomenon for them, and is thanks largely to the success of a very good freshman class.
Remember that at this same meet last year, Tennessee won by 37 points. That makes this a nearly 70 point scoring swing.
The Tennessee Vols are back in action in a tri-meet with Indiana and Kentucky on November 1st, while Louisville will have a two-day dual that same weekend with North Carolina.