AUBURN, Ala. (CBS/AP) — Caitlin Leverenz won the 200-yard breaststroke for her second individual title and fourth overall to lift California to its second straight NCAA women’s swimming and diving championship.
The Golden Bears, who have won three of the last four championships, secured a 46.5-point victory Saturday night over Georgia, the runner-up two years running.
“Our goal was, can this senior class get out of here and have a trophy every year?” said Teri McKeever, coach of Cal and the U.S. Olympic team for the London Games. “They’re going to have three championship trophies. That sets the bar high.”
California had 412.5 points and Georgia 366, followed by Pac-12 Conference trio Southern California (325.5), Stanford (318) and Arizona (299).
The Lady Bulldogs have collected six runners-up finishes and one championship since a three-year run at the top ended in 1999.
Leverenz, who won two individual and two relay titles, came up big after Georgia trimmed a 64-point deficit to 16. She ran away with the 200-yard breaststroke in a time of 2 minutes, 4.76 seconds, one-hundredth of a second off the NCAA record and more than 2 seconds faster than runner-up Haley Spencer of Minnesota (2:07.24).
“I was going for it,” said Leverenz, a likely Olympian who had already broken American records in the 200 and 400 individual medleys. “I knew what it was. I definitely came into it wanting to get it. The 100 obviously was stingingly close. It still was a good way to finish the meet.”
North Carolina’s Stephanie Peacock upset three-time defending champion Wendy Trott of Georgia in the 1650 freestyle, breaking Janet Evans’ 22-year-old NCAA record. It was easily the longest standing record on the books.
Peacock’s time of 15:38.79 shaved more than 7 seconds off her previous best this season in her first time competing in the event at NCAAs.
“Swimming it this year and getting the record is kind of crazy for me,” Peacock said.
As for breaking the four-time Olympic gold medalist’s mark, “I don’t even have words to say to that,” she said.
Trott was trying to become the event’s first four-time winner.
Host Auburn got its first title when Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace won her second straight 100 freestyle in 46.88.
Southern Cal’s Katinka Hosszu won the 200 butterfly for the second straight year to claim her second individual title of the meet.
Megan Romano gave Georgia its second runner-up finish in the first three events to close the gap with Cal.
Leverenz’s win and Sara Isakovic’s fourth-place finish in the 200 fly helped solidify the lead going into the closing 400 freestyle relay.
Then the Golden Bears added to their margin in platform diving.
Chen Ni of IUPUI won with a score of 343.05. Cal’s Kahley Rowell, only the second Golden Bears diver to qualify for NCAAs, took fifth but by then there was little drama left in the meet.
“What I’m proud of is the competition brought out the best in our group,” said McKeever, barefoot and soaking wet from a celebratory plunge. “As a coach, you couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Stanford won the 400-yard freestyle relay after that with an American-record 3:10.77.
“Our team is so young, losing three great seniors last year,” Georgia’s Romano said. “I’m not disappointed at all. They’re just going to keep getting better and better.”
Florida’s Elizabeth Beisel won the 200 backstroke, but like many of her rivals has her sights on a bigger meet.
“Pretty much this whole year has been based around Olympic trials so we’re sort of just treating this NCAA meet like a grand prix meet, just trying to get in some good racing,” Beisel said. “Obviously, there are some incredible athletes here so we’re going to get a lot of experience racing, but our mindset the whole season has been on Olympic trials this summer.”
Individually, Leverenz was still the meet’s big winner, showing the improvement that has made her a favorite to make the Olympic team. She and Hosszu were the top individual scorers with 57 points apiece followed by Romano (54) and Cal’s Liv Jensen (50).
“Last year I was getting caught in the last 25 and this year I didn’t,” she said. “This week shows how far I’ve come in a year and I still think I have a lot more to come in the next couple of months leading up to the trials.”
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