IRVINE – Golden Bear junior Rachel Bootsma repeated as the U.S. champion in the 50-meter backstroke Friday, touching in 28.35 seconds in a race where half a second separated the top five finishers.
In addition, junior Elizabeth Pelton took fifth in the 50 back in 28.85 and alumna Caitlin Leverenz was seventh in the 400 individual medley in 4:42.70 on day three of the Phillips 66 National Championships.
Bootsma had the best reaction off the wall at the start among all the finalists to give her an early edge., She nipped runner-up Cheyenne Coffman by a mere 0.07 despite hugging the left lane line for much of the race and even admitted to touching hands with third-place finisher Olivia Smoliga, who was in the next lane.
“This morning it hit (the lane line) four or five times,” Bootsma said of her prelim swim. “I wanted to stay close but not as close as I was. I actually high-fived Olivia, so I’m just pleased that I finished.”
Bootsma, holder of the American record in the 50 back when she went 27.68 last summer, became the second Bear to earn an individual national title this week after sophomore Missy Franklin, who captured both the 100 freestyle and the 200 back.
In the night’s final event, the North Baltimore Athletic Club, featuring incoming freshman Cierra Runge on the second leg, claimed the 800 free relay, as the Cal quartet of Caroline Piehl, Rachael Acker, Kelly Naze and Kaylin Bing took second in 8:07.74.
First-place finishers in each of event earn automatic berths on the U.S. team that will compete at the Pan Pacific Championships in Australia later this month. Second-, third- and fourth-place finishers may be added later in the week, pending swimmers qualifying in multiple events.
The Pan Pacs team is just one of five international teams being selected this week in Irvine. Also at stake are spots on the 2014 Junior Pan Pacific Championships team, the 2015 World Championships Team, the 2015 World University Games Team and 2015 Pan American Games team. Those rosters will be released at a later date.
Racing at the national meet continues through Sunday. For complete results and coverage, visit usaswimming.org.