All in all, the short first night of the MAC Championships went about as we expected for the UB Women yesterday evening: a solid win in the 800 freestyle relay, and a lower-half showing in the 200 medley relay. For the most part, it's a repeat performance of last year's Championships Day 1, which isn't a bad place to be given the squad's improved depth across the non-freestyle disciplines.
The 200 Medley Relay of Mallory Buha, Holly Olsen, Julia Box, and Megan Burns finished 7th, a spot lower than in 2015, and needed Burns on the anchor freestyle leg to pull out of last place after UB was slowest or second-slowest in the field in each of the first three legs. Burns' 21.92 50 split is likely faster than we'll see from her in the standalone 50 free later this week, but was a full second faster than Ball State's closer to bring the Bulls to 7th and was fastest of any freestyle leg in the race by nearly half a second.
The overall relay time of 1:41.70 is a clip faster than last year's showing - the field as a whole was faster, as Akron even hit an NCAA 'A' cut in taking the title - and sits as the 8th-fastest time in the even on UB history. On one hand, that's exciting, but on the other it's important that literally 90% of the UB top ten lists have been rewritten in Andy Bashor's tenure, and "8th-fastest in UB history" also means "8th-fastest since 2009." I think the more realistic way to be positive about this result is to see that it's two years of improvement, and this year with 3/4 of the group either freshmen or sophomores.
There was little surprise in the evening's other relay, the 800 free, where UB dominated, winning by nearly two full seconds, a wider margin than their seed time. Newcomers Sarah Baxter and Kerry Giovanniello stepped in to join established swimmers Jess Powers and Burns, and while Buffalo was in third place after the opening leg, Jess Powers was one of two swimmers in the whole event to go sub-1:47.50 in her split, putting UB in front for good. Already working with the lead, Burns was again the fastest split in the entire event, bringing the Bulls home in 1:46.92.
The final time of 7:13.83 was a school record by a full second, and the second straight year UB has lowered the school mark. Most impressively, only Powers returned from the previous group, and once again, the Bulls will return 75% of this relay for the next two years. Both Burns and Powers stand a good shot of hitting the NCAA 'B' cut in the standalone 200 free later this week.
After just these two events, UB sits third with 64 points, just a hair behind Eastern Michigan (66) while Akron has a slight lead (74). Last year at this time the three teams shared the top spot with 66 points.
Today's competition sees prelims and finals in the 500 and 50 frees, the 200 IM, the 1 meter dive, and the 200 free relay. While I realize now that I haven't offered any preview of diving, expect the freestyle-heavy slate to work in Buffalo's favor this evening.