Yesterday's momentum carried into today for the Bulls at the MAC Women's Swimming and Diving Championships. Sitting in a first-place tie at the start of the day, UB flashed its talent in the morning preliminaries and carried it through to three individual titles before finishing the day in third place with one-third of the meet's events completed.
I'm not really sure the preliminaries could have got any better for UB, as Bulls finished each of the 500 free, 200 IM, and 50 free atop the qualifying lists, along with a second finalist in each of the freestyle races. Two more Bulls were set to earn points in the consolation final of the 500 free.
In the evening, Buffalo turned those top seeds into 30 team points, but weren't able to match Akron and Eastern Michigan on the diving boards and now sit 31 points behind Akron and 10 behind EMU heading into the meatiest final two days of the Championships.
The midday races were a sign of what we've known all season: UB's best can take on anyone in the conference. Buffalo came out of the first heat with an incredible four Bulls in line to score points in the evening finals of the 500 free. Defending champ Jess Powers, naturally, was the top qualifier in 4:49.89, and Paula Stoddard finished 3rd in qualifying just a few seconds behind. Freshman Hannah Miller and sophomore Brittney Walters qualified for the consolation final.
The top seeds continued - along with a pair of NCAA "B" Cuts - in the 200 IM and the 50 free, where Spencer Rodriguez and Megan Burns, respectively, claimed top seeds. Burns swam a blazing 22.66, nearly a full half-second faster than her season-best, and third-best all time in UB history, while Rodriguez claimed the top spot in the shorter medley race on the strength of all four strokes; not one of her splits was the fastest in the field, but she was the steadiest through the whole race, finishing in 2:01.46, a full second faster than the rest of the field.
Taylor Steffl also joined Burns in the championship heat of the 50 free following a swim-off for the final spot with Bowling Green's Kayla Effinger.
If the prelims were an affirmation of season-long results, the finals were a coronation. In the span of about 35 minutes UB turned all those top seeds into MAC Champions.
Powers came first, taking the 500 free in 4:47.32. It was a full second off her championship time last year, but it was still two full ticks ahead of #2. The Buffalo senior broke the race open shortly after the halfway point; a .09-second advantage at 300 meters turned into .90 at 400 and 2.3 at the wall.
Awards for the 500 free. pic.twitter.com/YRTkZdcBXB— Lauren Baisden (@UBCoachBaisden) February 27, 2015
Then, it was Spencer Rodriguez, who if there is any right in the world will make a run at Swimmer of the Year with this meet. Rodriguez took the 200 IM title in 2:01.14, improving by more than a quarter-second from the prelims and doing it in much the same way as her afternoon swim. Only one of Rodriguez' legs was the fastest in the race, but the senior was steady enough to be the first in. It's nice that she did, too: 2nd-through-4th places were separated by just .05 seconds.
Enter Megan Burns. Freshman. Undefeated in the 50 free on the season. Head to Head with reigning MAC champ Hanna Raspapovich of Akron.
The more they race, the further Burns pulls away, as she continued her undefeated season by nearly matching her prelim time - winning in 22.69 - and ekeing past Raspapovich by a larger margin of victory than either seeding or the prelims would have predicted.
Buffalo got much-needed points from other sources, as well. Stoddard (7th), Miller (11th), and Walters (13th) added 22 UB points in the 500 free. Steffl made good on her swim-off win to eke into the finals by moving all the way up to fourth in the 50 free, and Abbey Croce (7th) and Mackenzie Moss (15th).
I personally didn't have high hope for the night-capping 200 free relay, in which UB held only the sixth seed, but the quartet of Burns, Steffl, Eve Kosten, and Rodriguez surged to second, only .06 behind the winning Akron squad.
In an extremely tight race, the fifth-place finishers from Ohio came in only just over a half-second after the Zips, so I'm less lamenting the .06 separation from first as I am glad the Bulls didn't slip further down the results.
After Day Two, UB sits in third place with 211 points. Despite three first-place finishes in three individual events, and a strong 1-2-6 set of finishes in three relays, the Bulls were unable to build any cushion over the Zips in their wins, and are being hurt by Akron's (242 points) depth and EMU's (221 points) success on the diving boards.
There's certainly plenty of events left, but the current third-place standing comes on four wins that you almost had penciled in for the Bulls already. Rodriguez, Burns, and Powers will almost certainly combine for three more wins, perhaps five, but it's the depth swimmers who can move up - like Steffl did today in the 50 free.
Tomorrow, we'll crown champions in the 400 IM, 100 fly, 100 back, 100 breast, 200 free, 400 medley relay, and 3-meter diving. Look for Rodriguez to win the 400 IM and maybe the 200 free, and Steffl to finish high in 100 fly, but otherwise I'm not sure any points are a sure thing.