Feb. 18, 2012
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HOUSTON - The Rice swimmers closed out the 2011-2012 season with a second place finish at the Conference USA Championships Saturday night across town at the University of Houston Rec Center natatorium.
The Owls' did not repeat in their quest to win back-to-back C-USA titles in swimming. No. 13 ranked SMU won the meet with 816 team points totaled up over the last four-days. The Mustangs won 16 of 21 events and established 11 new meet records. Rice finished in second place with 718 points, followed by East Carolina (690.5), meet host Houston (553), Marshall (284) and Tulane (195.5).
The Owls started out the final day of action with a big 1-2 finish and a host of points from four in the top ten of the 1,650-yard freestyle. Junior Danielle Spence won the C-USA individual championship in the mile with time of 16:37.80 that is the third-fastest mark in school history. The San Diego, Calif., native finished just ahead of teammate Erin Flanigan, who won her third silver medal of the meet with time of 16:40.79. Sophomore Quincy Christian was fifth (16:49.01) and senior Alex O'Brien was tenth (17:04.88).
After the mile there were just five events left in meet and the Owls were sitting in first place in the standings, but by the narrowest of margins. Rice put together two more individual third place finishes and took second in the 400-freestyle relay. The Owl relay of Casey Clark, Chelsea Fong, Alison Godbe and Shelby Bottoms teamed for an NCAA provisional qualifying 3:21.81 that just missed setting the school record.
Casey Clark's effort Saturday also stood out on a day her teammates needed her. After taking third place with an NCAA B-cut 50.05 in the finals of the 100-freestyle, the Spring, Tex., native quickly returned two events later and placed third in the 200-butterfly with 2:02.15 that is one of the Top 6 times in school history. Clark then came right back and closed out her night swimming as the lead leg on the relay.
Clark was joined in the finals scoring by senior Shelby Bottoms, who was sixth in the 200-butterlfly (2:03.20). Sophomore Chelsea Fong meanwhile was seventh in the 100-freestyle (50.92).
Michelle Gean closed out a solid weekend of swimming with a fifth place in the 200-backstroke (2:00.56). Freshman Faith Hirschi was eleventh in the event with a season-best 2:02.88.
Freshman Madison Livingston scored in the finals of the 200-breaststroke (2:20.27) and sophomore Lilly Marrow won the consolation finals with a career-best 2:18.25. Freshman Rachel Moody, who had never swam that distance in high school, stepped-up with a 2:30.35 for one of the Top 6 marks at Rice.
Not only was Rice head coach Seth Huston was pleased with the team's performance in the meet. The Owls' point total from this meet (718 pts.) was actually better than a year ago when the Blue & Gray won the conference (702 pts.). Huston stated that some members are not yet finished competing this semester.
"We had great races in the mile by both Danielle and Erin, and finished with a pretty good day and meet overall," coach Huston said. "Casey had a really rugged `double,' and did great, and then she turned right around and led our relay. She's a great racer.
"We swam a pretty darn good meet," Huston explained. "SMU did a great job and they are ranked as high as they are for a reason.
"We're not done yet," he added. "We're going to have some go to a last chance meet (to reach NCAA automatic times) and after that we're going to take a shot at some Olympic Trials cuts. Both Casey and Erin already have made those, so Rice will already be represented at that U.S. National meet. We have a lot to feel good about for the future."