Big final day paves the way to C-USA crown
FROM RICE ATHLETICS
The Rice swim team won the program’s second Conference USA league title in three years Saturday night at the University of Houston Rec Center Natatorium. Rice’s Erin Flaningan and Casey Clark both won individual events, with Clark blazing to a C-USA and school record in the 200-butterfly.
The Owls were hungry to claim the 2013 C-USA Championship and made good on a promise to prove the program’s first league title earned in 2011 wasn’t a one-time fluke. Saturday’s sensational swims capped off a rugged four-day meet where the blue and gray won a total of six event championships, including five individual victories and one in a relay race. Now wrapping up his 11th season at the helm of the program, Rice head coach Seth Huston was named the C-USA Swimming Coach of the Year for the third time in the past four seasons.
The Owls finished the 2013 C-USA meet, the last before league membership changes take effect in 2014, with 739 points. Crosstown rival University of Houston finished second with 694.5 points and defending champion Southern Methodist University was third with 664.5. East Carolina was fourth (605 points), followed by Tulane (373) and Marshall (255).
Rice began the day just a half point out of first place in the team standings but came up big in the morning prelims by sending a total of 10 competitors to evening finals. Flanigan started the scoring barrage in the 1,650-yard freestyle. The Austin, Texas, native led a 1-2 Owl finish in the mile with Quincy Christian, fresh off her own C-USA individual title in the 400-individual medley. Flanigan avenged the second-place finish she posted in the mile as a freshman with a time of 16:29.02, the second-fastest mark in school history.
Freshman Taylor Armstrong then tallied the fifth-fastest Rice time in the 200-backstroke to take fifth in the conference. Michelle Gean was seventh with a season-best 2:01.30.
Clark led a big Rice scoring push in the 100-freestyle, where Owls claimed four of the event’s top eight spots. The Spring, Texas, standout was third with a 49.78, while spots 6-7-8 went to Karina Wlostowska (50.57), Chelsea Fong (50.90) and Cora McKenzie (51.02), respectively.
Freshman Shelbi Ragsdale was the team’s top finisher in the 200-breaststroke with a 2:17.65, the fourth-fastest in school history. Madison Livingston was seventh with a 2:18.01, but the team quietly picked up some critical scoring in the consolation finals. Rachel Moody won the consolation finals, and Lilly Marrow and Kylee Talwar were 10th and 11th, respectively.
By the end of the 200-breaststroke, Rice had built a modest lead of 27.5 points over the Cougars. Clark and Flanigan were then the only two Owls in the meet’s last individual race, the 200-butterly, but the sophomore duo effectively sewed up the championship before closing out the night with the final relay. All Clark did was motor past the field with a time of 1:57.35 and break the C-USA and Rice school record in the process. Flanigan’s 2:00.54 to take fourth, after having won the mile earlier in the day and overcoming an illness that kept her on the sidelines for a full day of the meet, was impressive as well.
Rice locked up the title and didn’t even need to enter the 400-freestyle relay, but in keeping with the competitive theme the team had all week, the foursome of Clark, Flanigan, Konicke and Wlostowska went out and broke the school record with a second-place time of 3:21.03.
For complete meet results, visit www.riceowls.com/sports/w-swim/stats/2012-2013/finalscores.html.