Tennessee freshman David Heron, a budding star in open water, looks to be settling in more comfortably in his second meet for the Volunteers. He knocked 13 seconds off of his season-best time in the 1000 free to go a 9:17.80 and win easily for the Vols. This distance group is one that South Carolina has been doing a great job of recruiting this fall, but in the 2013-2014 season where they’re still lacking a little bit.
Heron also picked up a win in the 500 free in 4:31.98. South Carolina’s Gerard Rodriguez gave him a much better run in that race, taking 2nd in 4:32.45. He was right on Heron’s heels the whole race. Gamecock All-American Michael Flach took 3rd in 4:35.59.
Flach, who took 5th in the 200 fly with a 1:54 (his teammate Matt Navata won that race in 1:52.94) and 4th in the 200 free (1:40.95 – Rodriguez won that event in a 1:39.77) didn’t have great times at this meet; but that’s pretty typical for him. He’s a very heavy taper swimmer, so don’t read too far into these early-season swims for him, though they’re far from where he wants to be in March.
Tennessee sophomore Sean Lehane, who had a massive breakout season last year, is getting round two off to a very good start as well. He won the 100 back in 48.36, ahead of SC’s Sam Lynch, and the 200 back in 1:45.51. That swim in the 200 back rocketed him to 3rd in the country this year behind only Cal freshman Ryan Murphy and Texas freshman Jack Conger (though Conger’s swim, done at an intrasquad, doesn’t show up in the databases, but we count it).
Though the final scores ended up rather lopsided, that was largely because of Tennessee depth. South Carolina got in quite a few strong punches of their own that might not be reflected in the final scoring. The teams split the individual events at 6 a piece, as well as they split the diving. Tennessee won both relays, which made a noticeable difference in the scoring as well.
Among the other victories for South Carolina included Sam Lynch won the 100 fly in 48.98, beating Tennessee’s Jacob Thulin in 49.54.
The Gamecocks also earned an event victory from Kevin Leithold in 44.61. He beat out Sam Rairden, who became quite the sprint ace for the Volunteers as a junior last year, though he swam neither the 100 fly or 100 back at this meet.
Leithold took a unique double, winning the 100 breast as well in 56.27 – that beat Tennessee’s Renato Prono to the wall by just a hair (56.29) as Prono closed quickly.
Where Tennessee was good, though, they were dominant. They took the top 4 spots in the 50 free, led by a 20.61 form Chris Sadsad and a 20.63 from Australian freshman Luke Percy. Percy, you’ll recall, was one of the stars of the Junior World Championships, and one of the fastest long course sprinters to ever sign into the NCAA.
That flat-start swim for Percy was good for a freshman, though nothing really spectacular. His two relay swims, though, show what he could be: he split a 19.4 on the 200 medley anchor, and led off the 400 free relay in 44.4.
Tennessee ended the day with a 3:01.72 in the 400 free relay – Troy Tillman was their best leg, splitting 44.72 – and South Carolina was 2nd in 3:02.40 – with a 44.80 lead-off from Kevin Leithold.
Both teams swam well at this meet in different spots, and both teams have room for improvement in certain spots. Either way, both teams will probably, overall, be happy with a good start to SEC competition.
The women’s affair did not appear nearly as balanced as the men’s did, with the Volunteers winning all-but-two swimming events.
The best early development this fall is coming out of Tennessee’s butterfly group. Remember that with Kelsey Floyd graduating, they’re heavily relying on freshmen and sophomores this season to fill that hole.
Just as they did, though, with their backstroke group last season (after a very similar situation with Jenny Connolly graduating), that hasn’t been a problem for Matt Kredich’s women’s team.
Heather Lundstrom, who has been described as an incredible “worker” by several people we’ve spoken too, has become the star of the class, even though she maybe didn’t come in with the most credentials. At this meet, she swept the 100 fly (55.69) and 200 fly (2:00.08). Sophomore Mary Griffith (56.06) took runner-up honors in the 100 fly, and Junior National Team swimmer and freshman Michelle Cefal took the same in the 200 fly (2:03.72).
Lindsay Gendron also swam very well at this meet. She took wins in the 200 free (1:47.51) and the 500 free (4:49.51) in her two individual swims. Those are both best times of the season for her, and the 200 ranks her 2nd in the SEC so far this season.
The Gamecocks’ two swimming victories both came from senior Amanda Rutqvist in the breaststroke events. She wound up not scoring at NCAA’s last year, after earning All-American nods as both a freshman and a sophomore, but looks to get back on track this year with some early confidence-boosting swims. In the 100, she swam a 1:04.97 to top Tennessee’s Colleen Callahan and her 1:06.28. (No Molly Hannis at this meet – she’s been reported as ill, but nothing serious).
In the 200, her better event, Rutqvist was a 2:21.15, as the Gamecocks took 1st and 2nd (Ellen Johnson was 2nd in 2:22.06).
Back to the Volunteers: they also got double victories from sophomore Faith Johnson, who won the 50 free in 22.96 and the 100 free in 50.97. She and teammate Harper Bruens both swam well at this meet, but aside from this butterfly, this is the area where they most needed someone to step up.
We got a little bit of that, as Kate McNeilis took 2nd in the 100 in 50.97 and anchored one Tennessee medley in 22.86, and Cherelle Thompson anchored Tennessee’s medley relay in 23.23. In toying with some different lineups, Tennessee tried Johnson on the fly leg of their A medley, and she split 24.6 – a solid early-season time.
With those issues shored up, the Volunteers’ focus must now turn to developing Callahan into an A-level breaststroker if they hope to repeat their top 5 team finish from last year’s NCAA Championships.