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FIU Wins Conference USA Swimming & Diving Title Friday; Will Be Crowned Saturday


FIU should walk into Saturday's final day of the Conference USA Swimming & Diving Championships one behind another, all doing the all-wrist, no-fingers royal wave to the crowd.

Because Saturday's now Coronation Day after defending champion FIU did to its 117-point lead what an Afro Sheen Blowout Kit did for Afro's in the 1970s --- blew it out to stupid big. A 233-point gap leaves second place Rice and everybody else swimming for personal gain.

Which, also, is what's left for FIU.

"Obviously, one of our goals is to win it," FIU coach Randy Horner said. "We told them at dinner tonight, 'You've done what you had to do to secure a title. Now, go out and achieve individual goals and and personal bests.' It kind of takes the pressure off and they can swim more freely."

FIU's water women took three individual swimming events, the 100 backstroke (freshman Naomi Ruele), 100 butterfly (senior Valeri Inghels leading a podium sweep plus fifth) and 200 freestyle (sophmore Kyna Pereira leading a 1-2); the lone diving event, the 1-meter (sophomore Rebecca Quesnel); and, again, the relay of the day, the 400 Medley (Ruele, sophomore Chase Harris, Inghels, Periera).

There's no special teams in swimming. That's (Arnold Schwarzenegger voice) "Total domination."

Rice's best chance to close the gap on FIU came in Friday night's first event, the 400 individual medley. And while Rice picked up 50 points and took second, fourth and sixth, FIU freshman Ilari Manzella (4:18.90), senior Becky Wilde (4:22.60) and sophomore Chase Harris (4:25.73) neutralized the Rice effort with a third, fifth and 10th for 37 points.

After that glancing blow, FIU landed the Sonny Liston left in the 100 fly. Inghels reset her FIU record from Friday morning a little lower with a 53.47. The rest of the podium spots went to FIU freshman Mari Lauridsen (53.72) and sophomore Letizia Bertelli (54.13). Junior Jenny Deist's fifth (54.69), sophomore Ally Mayhew's ninth (55.58) and sophomore Maria Lopez's 12th (56.54) completed an 83-point event for FIU.

The 200 free follow up shot saw Periera break Johanna Gustafsdottir's FIU record of 1:46.90, set at this meet two years ago with a 1:46.46. Skye Carey's 1:47.83 brought her home in second. Senior Jessica Piper's seventh in 1:50.96 gave FIU 51 points to Rice's 31 and expanded the lead to 191 over Marshall and 195 over Rice.

Rice could cut the gap only to 176 points in the 100 breast. FIU's only swimmer in the top flight, sophomore Chase Harris, got home fifth in 1:02.97, but a 10th and 15th freshman Nicole Hunnewell (1:04.31) and junior Jessica Chadwick (1:05.32) kept the blowout rolling.

Rice doesn't dive. FIU does. Well. Quesnel's been the Stirling Moss of Conference USA diving over the last two years, the best diver without a conference title. Until Friday, when she took the 1-meter with junior Lily Kaufmann third, Natalia Coronado 11th and Laura Coronado 12th.

Ruele continued her bid for CUSA Swimmer of the Year in the 100 back, winning in 53.09. Junior Jenny Alfani, fourth in 54.04, and sophomore Ally Mayhew, eighth in 56.21.

Horner felt the 400 Medley Relay would be the toughest for FIU and the Panthers did trail Rice by 1.62 seconds after two legs. Inghels chopped that down to 36 hundredths of a second with a 52.75 breaststroke leg, then left it to Pereira's free. FIU's ace sophomore smoked Rice's ace sophomore, Jaecey Parham, by 1.05 seconds in 49.80 and FIU won by 69 hundredths of a second in 3:39.66.

Saturday starts with the 200 back prelims at 10:30. Let the coronation begin.

A little ditty I've sung in many a press box with many a peer when the sporting event being covered is over before it's officially over.










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