Georgia women win swimming and diving national championship

By Wilson Alexander, Grady Sports Bureau

Georgia women’s swimming and diving team captured its seventh national championship and third over the past four seasons with a score of 414 points at the McAuley Aquatic Center on Saturday.

The Bulldogs celebrated with chants of “It’s great to be a Georgia Bulldog” and “o-lay, o-lay, o-lay, o-lay Georgia Bulldogs” before they jumped into the diving well.

Stanford finished as the runner-up with 395 points and California captured third place with 358 points.

“Food’s gonna taste better, the weather’s gonna feel better and music’s gonna sound better,” head coach Jack Bauerle said. “There will be a day in July and they’ll all of a sudden think back and say, ‘That’s pretty neat.’ ”

In addition to the seven titles, the Bulldogs have been the national runner-up eight times. Over the past 18 seasons, Georgia has been first or second at the NCAAs 15 times.

Since the inception of the NCAAs in 1982 for women’s swimming and diving, the Bulldogs won national titles in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2013 and 2014. Only Stanford (eight) has more. Georgia is tied with Texas (seven) for the second-most titles.

As “Georgia on my Mind” by Ray Charles played over the loudspeakers, Bauerle performed a can-opener into the pool.

Bauerle said this title was particularly special to him because it was “unexpected.”

“We didn’t really have a deep team this year,” Bauerle said. “We normally have 18 kids here.”

The Bulldogs had 13 swimmers qualify and swim in the national championship meet, which ran Wednesday through Saturday.

“It’s crazy being a part of a team like this,” said Olivia Smoliga, won her second title of the meet in the 100-freestyle. “I’m am beyond excited for this moment and for us to come (through) as well.”

The fact that Georgia, Stanford and California finished as the top-three schools comes as no surprise. Either the Bulldogs or the Golden Bears have won each of the past six years and Stanford was undefeated prior to this meet.

Entering the day, the Bulldogs lead with 285 points. That was 17.5 points ahead of the Golden Bears and 20 points above the Cardinal.

A second-place finish in the 200-yard freestyle from Brittany MacLean helped extend the Bulldogs’ lead at the beginning of the day, but it was how Georgia performed in the 100-yard freestyle and 200-yard butterfly that helped secure the title.

In the 100 free, Smoliga won her second title of the meet with a time of 46.70 seconds. She controlled the race the entire way. While all other swimmers surfaced from their streamlines at the beginning of each lap, Smoliga stayed in the water halfway down the pool each time.

“One swim in particular stood out, and it was Olivia Smoliga’s,” Bauerle said. “Her 100 freestyle was a game-changer for us points wise.”

Her time broke a McAuley Aquatic Center record. The previous record of 46.85 seconds set in 2011 was held by former Olympian Natalie Coughlin. It also was the fifth-fastest time in NCAA-history.

Smoliga’s individual title gave Georgia a 28.5-point lead over California, but the Bulldogs strongest performance came in the 200 butterfly. With the Golden Bears, Cardinal and Bulldogs all within 43 points of each other, the title was still very much up for grabs.

California, Georgia and Stanford had a combined five swimmers in the race. Ella Eastin was representing Stanford, Megan Kingsley and Hali Flickinger were the two Bulldogs and California had Kelly Naze and Noemie Thomas swimming.

Entering the final 50-yards of the race, Eastin was in second, Flickinger in third, Naze in fourth, Kingsley in sixth and Thomas in seventh. With Eastin in second by a full second, the race was on for third.

Kingsley came from the back of the pack with a final 50-yard time of 29.03 seconds to finished third. Flickinger captured fourth place.

Naze and Thomas finished in fifth and eighth-place respectively. With no divers for California, its national title hopes were finished.

After the race, California and Stanford were tied with 332 points each. Kingsley and Flickinger received a combined 31 points, which gave Georgia a 48-point lead.

Stanford captured 33 points in platform diving to cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 15 points.

With the chance to wrap up the title, Georgia finished second in the 4 x 100-yard freestyle relay which was anchored by Flickinger. Stanford finished fourth in the key race.

In the end, Bauerle had no reason to sweat and the Bulldogs could celebrate another national title.