MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – California captured the national title in the 800-yard freestyle relay to cap off a winning night at the NCAA Championships that also saw freshman Missy Franklin smash the American record in the 200 free Friday.
Cal picked up its first NCAA crown in the 200 free as Franklin burst from the starting blocks and never eased up on her way to the vicotry. She led by nearly a second after the first 50 yards and continued to build on her advantage throughout the race. By the time she touched the wall in 1:40.31, she was two seconds ahead of the field and almost a full second under the old American, U.S. Open, NCAA and championship mark of 1:41.21 set by Megan Romano of Georgia in 2012.
Standing at the top of the podium for the awards ceremony, Franklin wiped away tears of joy from her cheeks, as she received a standing ovation from the crowd at the University Aquatic Center.
“I am so excited,” Franklin said. “I feel relieved. But when I use the word relieved, you may think that it means I’m glad for it to be over, but I am definitely not glad for it to be over. I absolutely loved every second of it. It was an awesome heat and I just wanted to get out there for my girls.
“I felt pretty good the whole way through,” Franklin added. “I knew that if I wanted to go for 1:40, which is what I really wanted to do, I was going to have to take it out really fast and then hold the best that I could.”
The 800 free relay closed out Friday’s events and produced perhaps the most exciting finish of the meet so far. Georgia rushed out to an early lead with Stanford in a solid second. Cal maintained third place through 600 yards, but the Bears were behind by 2.5 seconds when Franklin hit the water for the anchor leg. Her split of 1:40.08 gave Cal the crown in 6:54.94. The Bears, Georgia and Stanford all finished within .68 seconds of each other, and relay teammates Rachael Acker, Caroline Piehl, Elizabeth Pelton and Franklin had plenty to celebrate.
“There’s nothing better than an awesome 800 free relay,” head coach Teri McKeever said. “We were toying with the order that we wanted to go in and working with the girls. Things worked out pretty well for the Golden Bears. We’ll take it.”
Senior Cindy Tran qualified for two finals for the first time in her career and nearly captured her third national title in the 100 back. Winner of the event as a freshman and sophomore and fifth in the race last season, Tran placed second in 50.81, just behind winner Paige Miller of Texas A&M’s 50.77. Earlier in the night, Tran claimed sixth in the 100 butterfly in 51.64.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the way she stepped up today,’ McKeever said.
In all, the Bears qualified for 12 individual swims on Friday night, including junior Caroline Piehl, who was seventh in the 200 free in a lifetime-best 1:43.98. Cal also had three entries in the 200 free consolation final – Acker (11th, 1:44.47), Pelton (12th, 1:44.59) and junior Camille Cheng (13th, 1:45.05).
Freshman Farida Osman reached the 100 fly final along with Tran and was eighth in 52.25, while freshman Sophia Batchelor was 16th in 53.08. In the 100 back, junior Melanie Klaren was timed in a career-best 51.32 for sixth place, which moved her up to fifth all-time at Cal, and sophomore Rachel Bootsma came in third in the consolation race (11th overall) in 51.85 with a more than 0.70-second improvement from her morning qualifying swim.
One night after finishing third in the 200 individual medley, freshman Celina Li reached her second championship final and came through with an eighth-place showing in the 400 IM in 4:08.02.
The Bears lost a great opportunity for big points when the 200 medley relay was disqualified during prelims. It took away a time of 1:36.51 which would have been the second fastest of the qualifying heats.
The NCAA Championships conclude on Saturday with prelims at 11 a.m. CT and finals at 7 p.m. PT. Prelims will be streamed live at gophersports.com and ESPN3.com will show the finals.