The seed times of the Sun Belt Championships' 800 freestyle relay set the event up as a duel between FIU and meet host North Texas. FIU won the duel in 7:12.70, a school record almost nine seconds faster than the Panthers previous best time of the year, 7:21.54, and dusting the Sun Belt championships record of 7:16.10 set by Denver last year. North Texas finished in 7:15.57.
"We're all really even," sophomore Johanna Gustafsdottir said of FIU's foursome. "I think that's what brought the time down so much."
Gustafsdottir's analysis wallows in understatement as much as a swim team does chlorine. Gustafsdottir dropped a 1:48.02 on the first leg, setting a school record for the 200 free. Junior Sonia Perez took over and swam a 1:48.01 (only opening relay legs can count as records for that legnth). Gustafsdottir said she felt FIU would take the race when she saw freshman Danielle Albright take the lead on the third leg, which was 1:48.65. Senior Marina Ribi brought the lead home with a 1:48.02.
So, the four legs varied by 64 hundredths of a second. Take out Albright's leg and they vary by one one-hundreth of a second.
"Nobody thought we were going to win, but we knew, we knew we were going to win and we did it!" Perez said by phone from Texas, sounding almost as if she was still pumping adrenaline about an hour after the race.
FIU finished fourth behind Western Kentucky, North Texas and FAU in Wednesday's first event, the 200 medley relay. Gustafsdottir, Klara Andersson, Valeriia Popova and Kelly Grace swam a school record 1:42.16.
"We were disappointed by our placing in the 200 free relay, although our time was a second and a half under our school record," FIU coach Randy Horner said. "We're not as good a sprint team as we were in the longer events and it showed in the 800 free relay. We broke three school records and a Sun Belt record (on the first day). You can't ask for much more than that."
FIU's two points behind Western in the overall standings going into Thursday, when FIU should pick up a win from defending champion Sabrina Beaupre in the 3-meter diving. Day 2 also will have the finals of the 500 free, in which Sonia Perez set a school record this year; the 200 individual medley, won last year by Gustafsdottir, who has the fastest seed time this year; the 50 free; and the 200 free relay, in which FIU has the second fastest seed time.
"I feel better than I did last year (at this time)," said Gustafsdottir, the 2012 Sun Belt Swimmer of the Year after a stunning coming out party at the conference meet.
Also, FIU should pick up points tomorrow from Ribi in the 200 IM and Klara Andersson in the 50 free. Perez is seeded eighth in the 200 IM and could pick up points for FIU there.