MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. ‚Äî The first night of the NCAA swimming and diving championships opened with a patriotic light show.
The Georgia women‚Äôs swim team kept the show going.
The Lady Bulldogs kicked off the NCAAs on the Minnesota campus with three individual national champions in diver Laura Ryan and swimmers Brittany MacLean and Olivia Smoliga. Georgia also rolled up 189 points and leads second-place Cal by 53 heading into Friday’s competition.
“We are so proud of the effort put forth tonight by our ladies,” senior associate head coach Harvey Humphries said in a release. “It is so hard to win an NCAA title, and it takes everyone on the roster to pull it off. We got off to a good start today because everyone did her job. We’re happy with today, but we know we’ve still got a long way to go.”
Ryan became Georgia’s first-ever NCAA champion in diving as she scored 338.60 points. Ryan is a native of nearby Elk River, Minn., and grew up training in the University Aquatic Center.
“I am honestly still in shock,” Ryan said. “Coming into that event, I had no expectations, so to come out on top like that in my old home pool, I can‚Äôt even describe how that feels. That was the greatest cheering section I have ever had. Not only from all of the swimmers, but all of my family was here. They all live in Minnesota, so to be able to win it in front of them in my senior year just feels so special.”
MacLean won the 500 freestyle with a time of 4:32.53 to set the NCAA record previously held by Georgia’s Allison Schmitt (4:32.71 in 2011). MacLean ran down Cal freshman Missy Franklin in the final 25 yards as Franklin touched in 4:32.66.
“I had no idea,” MacLean said. “I saw Missy and I knew she was still ahead of me, but I just knew that I was going to give it everything I had in the last 25 yards. I just put my head down and tried to touch the wall first, and it worked out.”
Also for the Lady Bulldogs, Amber McDermott came in third in 4:33.97 and Shannon Vreeland was eighth in 4:37.30. In the B final, Jordan Mattern took 14th in 4:39.69 and Rachel Zilinskas was 15th in 4:41.64.
Smoliga opened her NCAAs career by winning the 50 freestyle in 21.59, holding off Southern Cal’s Kasey Carlson (21.72). Maddie Locus placed fifth in 21.87.
“I went in kind of early to the ready room,” Smoliga said. “I wanted to clear my mind of everything. It was really nerve-wracking, but I love finals and thrive off of that and was pumped up.”
In the 200 individual medley, Melanie Margalis came in second with a time of 1:52.64.
Georgia placed third in the 200 freestyle and 400 medley relays. The team of Smoliga, Locus, Jessica Graber and Chantal Van Landeghem touched in 1:27.19 in the 200 freestyle relay. Smoliga, Margalis, Lauren Harrington and Vreeland stopped the clock in 3:29.43 in the 400 medley relay.
The NCAA championships will continue on Friday and will conclude on Saturday. Georgia is seeking its second straight national title.