Firsts all around (Swimming)

Everything’s going swimmingly for the U in Oklahoma City.

The Ute women expanded their 11-point day one lead to a massive 47-point margin over second-place BYU on Thursday, while the men continued to surprise with an 11-point lead over defending champions UNLV at the Mountain West Conference Swimming and Diving Championships at the Oklahoma City Community College Aquatic Center.

“Things are going really well for us,” U head coach Michael Litzinger said, “The men are a pleasant surprise. Everybody’s working very hard to support each other and come out ready to race right now. I’m cautiously optimistic.”

Junior Amber Walter qualified for the NCAA Championships with her time of 22.79 in the 50-yard freestyle, narrowly missing out on the conference record by .01 seconds.

“We’re so glad that she transferred from Maryland (last year),” Litzinger said. “She’s swimming her best for us right now.”

The Ute women received a standout performance from their 200 freestyle relay team as well, setting a new conference and school record on their way to first place. The 200 free relay team is comprised of Walter, Amy Barefield, Jennifer Fredsall and Alison McInturff.

Sterling Richards won the 3-meter springboard for the third consecutive year, solidifying his status as one of the great Ute divers of all-time, and giving Richards another first-place finish in 2006 to go along with the one-meter title he captured on Wednesday.

The Utes had a couple of near-misses on Thursday, also.

Junior Rachael Curci took second in the 500 free, losing by just .16 seconds. A team of Curci, McInturff, Shannon McQueen and Adrienne Coburn also barely missed out on first, but coach Litzinger is hardly upset with his swimmers.

“Our goal was to get second in the 500 free, just to stay within BYU’s team was great for us,” Litzinger said. “And Rachael’s 500 was the best time of her life. We can’t ask for any more than that.”

Friday’s action holds few opportunities for the Utes to gain ground, with mostly weaker events on the slate until Saturday.

Today’s first major shot at a podium finish comes in the women’s 100-yard butterfly, in which freshman Jennifer Fredsall has the third best time in conference this season. Sophomore Michelle Blair could also contend for a top-three spot.

Junior Alison McInturff has an outside chance at a win in the 200-yard freestyle, trailing BYU’s Leilani Roberts by .49 in top times this year.

There is little question that Walter will add the 100-yard breaststroke title to her accomplishments, as her fastest time is 1.9 seconds better than that of her closest competitor in the Mountain West.

Both Kelsey Patterson and Anna Braszkewiecz will vie for a win on the women’s three-meter springboard, as the Utes try to continue their dominance of the diving events.

Other events on Friday include the 400 individual medley, the 100 backstroke, and the 400 medley relay, in which the Ute women have both an “A” and a “B” team with a shot at winning.