Nov. 3, 2012
DENTON, Tex. - The trio of Casey Clark, Erin Flanigan and Chelsea Fong all won two individual events, and both Rice relay squads finished 1-2 in the final event of the night to complete the Owls' dramatic come-from-behind 150-144 dual meet victory over the University of North Texas Friday night in Denton, Tex.
Trailing 142-135 in the team scoring with one final relay race left in the meet's 16-event program, Rice was down but at least had a clear picture of the task at hand. The Owls had to win the relay which scores 11 points and also add the two points for taking third. If North Texas finished in second place (four points) and also third in the relay, then those points combined with the Mena Green's existing lead would be enough to win the meet - 148 to 146 if you're scoring at home.
Rice needed to finish first and third. North Texas saw the value of finishing third and entered a total of four relays (an "A" and a "B", plus a "C" and "D" team) just to be sure. Six relay teams on the blocks for one race may be a little crowded for a November non-conference dual, but with the outcome of the meet hanging in the balance there didn't seem to be any shortage of pressure for each foursome.
Finishing first and third was something the Owls did not do in 200-medley relay to start the swim events. The meet actually began with one- and three-meter springboard diving, which Rice does not compete in, so the Blue & Gray fell way behind in the score before the 200-medley relay had even begun. By the time the Rice teams finished second and third place in the 200-medley relay, the Owls trailed in the team scoring 43-6.
It was a substantial deficit to be sure, but Rice head coach Seth Huston has been in this same position many, many times before.
"The first two events were diving so we were already down 32-0 before we even got in the water," coach Huston said. "When you're down that many points to start you have to win your relays, and we didn't do that in the 200-medley. That was a frustrating beginning, but right after that we began to start stringing some finishes together."
After the 200-medley relay sophomore Erin Flanigan won the rugged 1,000 freestyle with a time of 10:09.75 that is the fastest mark in Conference USA this season. A Rice foursome of Chelsea Fong, Cora McKenzie, Madison Livingston and Stephanie Wei all went 1-2-3-4, respectively, in the 200-freestyle.
North Texas answered with wins in the 100-backstroke and 100-breaststroke, but Rice countered with three-straight 1-2 finishes thanks to Casey Clark and Flanigan in the 200-butterfly, McKenzie and Marissa Konicke in the 50-free, and Fong and McKenzie in the 100-free.
The Mean Green then took the 200-backstroke, but Rice was essentially able to nullify the points from that event by taking second through fifth in the race. The Owls did more of the same in a North Texas win in the 200-breaststroke and then Flanigan came back and won the 500-freestyle. After Clark and Fong went 1-2 in the 100-butterfly that was the 14th event of the night, the Owls had cut the one-time 37-point lead down to only two (130-128) heading into the scheduled intermission.
"(North Texas') backstroke and breaststroke won two events each and we couldn't catch them today, but otherwise we were competing and taking a lot of the top spots," coach Huston explained. "Our butterfly and freestyle, both the sprints and distance, won races and that was big.
"Erin, Casey and Chelsea really stepped-up," he added. "Chelsea was pretty sick and not feeling well all week, but she showed how tough she is by winning the 100 (with a time of 52.33) and the 200 (1:53.00). Erin won the 1000, came back 20 minutes alter and took second in the 200-fly, and then won the 500-free 30 minutes after that. That's a rough, rough, distance-triple. It was a lot of grit from her. The whole team showed it during the meet."
After the intermission North Texas sophomore Krista Rossum won her second race of the night with a 2:06.71 in the 200-individual medley (event 15 of 16). The win in the 200-IM added nine points for the Mean Green, but Rice's ability to take four of the next five spots kept the deficit to seven points, 142-135.
"One of the keys of the meet was that although North Texas won that 200-IM, we didn't let them get out and get away from us," Huston said. "Honestly, our entries in the IM hadn't had a very good meet to that point, but they put that behind them and raced. It's a lesson that even when you are not winning that particular race you still have to push yourself because your teammates need you. When that race was over we were only seven points down, which is a bit of a challenge with only one event left... but doable. If so much as one position in that 200-IM was different, there would then have been almost no way for us to have a chance to win.
With Rice trailing 142-135, it came down to the final relay - the 4x100 freestyle. The head coaches for both teams made some last-minute adjustments to the relay teams that took more than a minute for both skippers to finalize. Knowing that this time Rice needed a third place as much as it needed to win the race, Huston decided to make two new relay orders based on the success the Owls' freestyle sprinters had earlier in the meet.
The new "A" foursome of Konicke, Lilly Marrow, Clark and Karina Wlostowska was on-point and coasted to a win with a time of 3:29.78 that matched the Owls' best mark of the season. The "B" team of Savannah Golson, Shannon Foreman, McKenzie and Stephanie Wei was a little bit more of a gamble with each of the first three legs of the relay being true freshman, but Huston knew that it's easier to go all-in is a veteran senior like Wei.
"The `A' relay was solid, but the `B' was still in fourth place by a second-and-a-half at the halfway point," Huston explained. "Then Cora chased them down. She had already had a great meet winning the 50, and getting second in the 100 and 200. Her leg (unofficially 52.05) was lights-out.
"When Stephanie dove-in on the anchor leg we were still in fourth place, but now it was only like a tenth-of-a-second. I knew that if it was close Stephanie would figure out a way to do it. Stephanie has always had the ability and that spirit to step up and race. It was on her shoulders as much as anyone today. She's a senior, and her teammates have full confidence in her that she can do it. She's a competitor.
"Stephanie moved Rice into second place heading into the final 25 yards, and mind you it's not like North Texas quit," Huson added. "It was very close finish over two North Texas relays (.14-of-a-second over third place and .21-of-a-second over fourth place). She finished it and pulled it through. It came down to the last relay where we had to take first and third, but we ended up taking first and second.
"All things considered we were a pretty tough team to today, and we had to be. It may not have been fastest times we've swam this year, but when it came down to the wire the team stepped up and won the meet."
The Rice swimmers next face nationally-ranked SMU in Dallas on Saturday (Nov. 3) at 12 noon.