Conference USA is in a huge swing of transition. The league still hosts a “Conference USA Invitational” for the men’s teams, but give no official league championship. In the women’s meet, there are so many teams moving in and out, that the conference seems basically unrecognizable every season. SMU and Houston are both joining the Big East next year. Eastern Carolina will be gone soon after. Next year, 7 new schools will join the league, with a few very solid mid-major programs like North Texas among them.
But for this year, there’s still a lot of good racing to be had, and like everywhere else we’ve seen, the racing was fast on night 1. We saw the women from Rice, Tulane, and Houston teams all broke school records in both relay events on night one.
Women’s 200 Medley Relay Final
SMU, the big favorites to win the conference, didn’t start out on that path as they DQ’ed their 200 medley relay after winning the race by three seconds (though they stopped the clock in a very fast 1:37.5). That left Rice in first place with a School Record of 1:40.52. Their breaststroke (Lilly Marrow in 27.94) and freestyle (Karina Wlostowswka in 22.60) legs were the top performers for the Owls as they pulled away from runners-up Tulane (1:41.29) on the last leg.
In third were the Houston Cougars, the host team, in 1:41.80. Perhaps using his old connections, second-year Houston coach Augie Busch, who formerly worked in Arizona under his father Frank Busch, managed to pull in freshman Maggie McCord: a former Tucson Ford junior. She anchored this relay with the fastest (legal) split of 22.52.
Men’s 200 Medley Relay Final
SMU’s men swam an NCAA provisional time with a 1:27.35 win in this men’s 200 medley, including a 19.47 anchor from Ramon Melo: a transfer from Missouri. That’s a good swim considering they didn’t use their top freestyler Mindaugus Sadauskas in the race. The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers were just behind in 1:27.50 in a very closely-matched relay, breaking a school record in the process.
Florida Atlantic took 3rd in 1:30.19, with East Carolina 4th in 1:31.07.
Women’s 800 Free Relay Final
The SMU women recovered well from their DQ with a 7:09.28 in this women’s 800 free relay. In past years, that time that included a 1:45.75 leadoff from Nina Rangelova might have been on the edge of NCAA qualification, but this year, with so much fast swimming in this relay specifically around the country, it’s likely out. They have three really good legs, but a 1:50.55 from junior Alice McCall put them off of qualifying pace; she’s capable of a much better split than that, too.
Rice took 2nd, in another school record, with a 7:11.57. Sophomore Casey Clark led off in 1:45.78. Houston was 3rd in 7:16.67.
Men’s 800 Free Relay Final
SMU crushed the Meet Record in this men’s 800 free relay, a record they owned from 2008, with a 6:26.18, which moves them to 11th in the country through the SEC Championships. That gives them a good shot at NCAA qualifying. The aforementioned Sadauskas was a 1:34.92 on the second leg – reasserting himself as probably most valuable mid-major relay piece in the country.
Western Kentucky took 2nd in 6:29.40, showing great consistency with a leadoff 1:36.59 from senior Adam Dajka followed by a trio of 1:37’s.
Women’s standings after day 1
1. Rice University 74
2. University of Houston 64
3. Tulane University 62
4. East Carolina University 60
5. Marshall University 54
6. Southern Methodist University 40
Men’s standings after day 1
1. Southern Methodist University 136
2. East Carolina University 101
3. Florida Atlantic University 99
4. Western Kentucky University 88