March 1, 2014
Casey Clark, Erin Flanigan and Cora McKenzie all won individual events, to go along with another impressive relay victory, to lead the Owl swimmers to 1,000 points and the program's second-straight Conference USA league title (and third in the last four years) Saturday night in Atlanta.
Rice was focused on the challenge of winning the 2014 championship in C-USA's new-look nine-team swim league. The Owls finished the meet with exactly 1,000 points, the most the program has ever scored at a conference championships.
Saturday's sensational swims capped-off a rugged four-day meet where the Blue & Gray won a total of eleven event titles, including six individual victories and each of the five relay races. Now wrapping-up his twelfth season at the helm of the program, Rice head coach Seth Huston was named the C-USA Swimming Coach of the Year for the fourth time in the past five seasons. Owl junior Casey Clark was named the C-USA Swimmer of the Meet. Florida International's Sabrina Beaupre earned the league's Diver of the Meet.
FIU was second with 740 points while East Carolina placed third (700) and Western Kentucky fourth (686). North Texas (571), Tulane (463), Florida Atlantic (438.5), Old Dominion (415) and Marshall (328.5) rounded-out the final team standings.
Rice began the day with a comfortable 188 point lead in the standings and came up big in the morning prelims by sending a total of 12 competitors to evening finals.
The 1,650-yard freestyle was a final by time where Flanigan started the title drive. The Austin, Tex., native knew going into the finals she would need a personal best in order to catch FIU's Sonia Perez Arau who swam a 16:28.63 in the morning races. With her target cut out for her, Flanigan won her second-straight C-USA title in the mile with a personal best time of 16:24.94 that is the second-fastest mark in school history.
Sophomore Taylor Armstrong then broke the Rice school record in the 200-backstroke to take fourth in the conference with a time of 1:59.31. Senior Michelle Gean made the championship final and was ninth with a 2:04.31.
McKenzie led a big Rice scoring push with the individual title in the 100-freestyle. The Tuscaloosa, Ala., native won with an NCAA provisional 49.76, and the Owls claimed five of the event's top eight spots. Karina Wlostowska (50.29) was fourth, Chelsea Fong placed sixth (50.92), Marissa Konicke seventh (51.03) and Kim Steinhouse eighth (51.11).
Junior Rachel Moody broke a 12-year old school record on the way to winning the C-USA silver medal in the 200-breaststroke. Her 2:13.46 made the NCAA provisional mark and gave her the Rice record at both the 100- and 200-breaststroke distances. Shelbi Ragsdale finished seventh (2:18.83) and Madison Livingston was tenth (2:20.95).
By the end of the 200-breaststroke Rice was now sitting with a lead of 242 points over FIU. Clark and Chelsea Fong were then the only two Owls in the meet's last individual race, the 200-butterly, but the veteran duo continued the team's scoring punch. Clark held off a late charge to win the event with a time of 1:59.20, her third individual championship of the weekend. Fong's 2:03.56 to take ninth was another laurel on impressive individual collegiate career that now includes three C-USA team titles in her tenure.
Rice didn't even need to enter the 400-freestyle relay, but in keeping with the competitive theme the team had all week the foursome of McKenzie, Clark, Konicke and Wlostowska went out and broke the school record with a winning time of 3:19.32.
For the final C-USA tally, the Owls set six new event school records at the meet. A total of eight Rice swimmers made NCAA provisional times in 15 events.