Bears capture early lead at NCAAs

Updated: March 16, 2012, 4:16 AM ET
Associated Press

AUBURN, Ala. -- California's Caitlin Leverenz set an American and NCAA record in the 200-yard individual medley to help the defending champion Golden Bears take a first-round lead at the NCAA swimming and diving championships.

Leverenz posted a time of 1:51.77 to top the 2-year-old mark (1:52.31) held by Julia Smith of Stanford and edge Southern California's Katinka Hosszu on Thursday night, and closed by helping the 400 medley relay team set another record.

"She's an incredible athlete and there's no way I would have broken an NCAA and American record without her there," Leverenz said. "It's one of those rivalries that we make each other so much better."

Defending champion Hosszu, who won three titles last year, took second and also was under the old marks at 1:51.80. She had won the head-to-head matchup in the Pacific-12 Conference championships, and they'll have another duel in Friday's 400 IM.

"Caitlin and Katinka have been dueling it out for more than a few years and had an awesome race at Pac-12s," said Cal and U.S. Olympic coach Teri McKeever.

Seeking its third title in four years, California built a 132-118 lead over Stanford and USC. Arizona finished the day with 107 points, Auburn had 94 and 2011 runner-up Georgia is in sixth with 91.

Leverenz, who won the 400 and 200 IMs at the U.S. Winter Nationals, is a favorite to make the U.S. Olympic team for the London Games.

She set the stage for Cal teammate Liv Jensen to reclaim her 50 freestyle crown. Jensen won two years ago before getting beaten in 2011 by Auburn's Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace, who took third in her home pool behind Arizona's Margo Greer

"I've been thinking about it for a long time," said Jensen, who finished in 21.71 after a strong start. "People say she was the defending champion but no one had won this race yet. I knew I could do it and I had the motivation.

"Caitlin is obviously a great racer and her race really inspired me," she added.

Cal closed by setting the NCAA and U.S. Open record in the 400 medley relay for the second time on the day, at 3:28.10.

Cal topped its prelims record by .04 even with Jensen sitting out the finals to swim the 200 freestyle on Friday.

Aiming for its seventh straight top-five finish, Stanford opened the championships with a win in the 200 freestyle relay at 1:26.85, edging defending event champion California (1:27.22).

McKeever will take No. 2. in an event where Cal came in ranked ninth.

"If you would have told me we would have gotten second, I would have thought you were on drugs," she said. "That was kind of cool."

USC's Haley Anderson won the 500 freestyle in 4:34.48. Georgia freshman Amber McDermott, who came in with the fastest time in the NCAA this year, led a big charge by the Lady Bulldogs at second.

Teammates Shannon Vreeland and Wendy Trott took fourth and fifth, respectively.

"That's what we're known for," McDermott said, referring to the distance events, "and it's nice to live up to our expectations."

USC's Tory Ishimatsu won the 1-meter diving with 354.10 points.


Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press