March 18, 2014
ATHENS, Ga. --- Armed with 17 swimmers and one diver, the Georgia Lady Bulldogs will compete this week in the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships and will be trying to defend their 2013 title.
The national meet will take place Thursday through Saturday at the University Aquatic Center on the Minnesota campus. Prelims will begin each day at noon, followed by finals at 8 p.m.
"The numbers really help," said Harvey Humphries, Georgia's Senior Associate Head Coach. "Let's put the word `opportunities' in place of `numbers,' and everybody gets it. The more opportunities we have, the more shots we can take, the more points we can score. The more times a football team gets in the red zone, the more opportunities it has to score touchdowns. Every time we swim an A or a B final at the NCAAs, we're in the red zone and we want to score points."
The Lady Bulldogs have won five NCAA titles, including last year's crown after being the national runner-up three of the previous four seasons. The Lady Bulldogs also have won five straight Southeastern Conference crowns.
"It's rugged every year," Humphries said. "This is why we put our kids through as many tough and adverse situations as we can during the season. If anything pops up during the three days of this meet, it's going to be business as usual and we're going to keep on going."
The Lady Bulldogs will have a lineup this week of seniors Jessica Graber, Melanie Margalis, Laura Ryan and Shannon Vreeland; juniors Lauren Harrington, Maddie Locus, Jordan Mattern, Amber McDermott, Shannon O'Malley, Courtney Peters and Nicole Vernon; sophomores Hali Flickinger, Brittany MacLean, Chantal Van Landeghem and Annie Zhu; and freshmen Emily Cameron, Olivia Smoliga and Rachel Zilinskas.
"This is biggest meet of the year for us, and we've got the opportunity to do something really great," Vreeland said. "We're focused on what we need to do, and we need to keep that focus for three days."
Margalis holds the nation's top time in the 200 individual medley and she is second in the 400 individual medley and third in the 200 breaststroke. MacLean ranks first in the 1,650 freestyle, third in the 500 freestyle and sixth in the 200 freestyle. Smoliga is No. 1 in the 50 freestyle, No. 3 in the 100 backstroke and No. 5 in the 100 freestyle. Vreeland is second in the 200 freestyle, fourth in the 500 freestyle and sixth in the 100 freestyle. Flickinger is No. 3 in the 200 butterfly; Locus is No. 3 in the 50 freestyle; McDermott is No. 5 in both the 500 and 1,650 freestyle and No. 9 in the 400 individual medley; Zhu is No. 6 in the 200 breaststroke; and Zilinskas is No. 7 in the 200 backstroke.
Georgia also has the fastest times in the nation this year in the 200, 400 and 800 freestyle and 200 medley relays.
There will be live streams from all sessions on Thursday and from the prelims on Friday and Saturday on Minnesota's website, GopherSports.com. The Friday and Saturday finals will be aired on ESPN3. The highlights show from the NCAAs will air April 2 at 9 p.m. on ESPNU.
Georgia boasts several past NCAA champions at this year's meet. Vreeland has been on four victorious relays, including the 400 and 800 freestyle relays a year ago. Van Landeghem and MacLean were on winning relays in 2013, while Mattern and McDermott were on one in 2012, and Margalis was on one in 2011. All-time, the Lady Bulldogs have accumulated 69 NCAA titles (45 individuals and 24 relays).
Ryan, Georgia's lone diver in the meet, is a native of Elk River, Minn., and honed her diving skills in the University Aquatic Center. Said Ryan, "I can't imagine a more appropriate place for me to end my collegiate career. This is where it all began for me, so this will really be special."