Hogs up against the best at SEC Championship

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – With a program-best 10 wins under its belt, the No. 18 University of Arkansas swimming and diving team heads into this week’s Southeastern Conference Swimming and Diving Championship to face its biggest challenge of the season, competing against four top 10 swimming and diving teams in the country.

One of five SEC squads currently ranked in the top 25 by the College Swimming Coaches of America Association, the Razorbacks (10-1, 3-1) will be in the pool the week against No. 1 Georgia, No. 5 Florida, No. 6 Auburn and No. 7 Tennessee.

Reigning NCAA champion Georgia started the season ranked No. 2 behind Arizona but moved into the top slot on Nov. 13 and hasn’t budged since, ending the regular season with a 9-0 record.

Last year’s SEC champion, Auburn, enters this week’s championship meet in the No. 6 slot, the Tigers’ lowest ranking of the season. Auburn distanced itself from the field in a hurry at the 2008 SEC Championships, finishing with 761.5 points. The second-place Gators scored 706 points.

Tennessee, the Razorbacks’ only loss this season, came in fourth last year behind Georgia who place third.

The Kentucky Wildcats, who finished in fifth place at last year’s championship meet, have received votes in each of the seven polls put out by the CSCAA and were ranked No. 19 at one point this season.

LSU edged Arkansas for sixth place at the 2008 meet, the Tigers earning 238.5 points to the Razorbacks’ 229. Arkansas’ seventh place finish tied the program-best finish.

This year, with the additions of Yi Ting Siow and Leah Pierce in the pool and freshmen Alex Roman and Liana Bugslag on the boards, the Razorbacks are aiming to close the gap with the top four this year.

In her first three meets with Arkansas since transferring from Wisconsin last January, Siow is eight-for-eight, winning all of her events with an average margin of victory of 2.81 seconds. The three-time Olympian also set a school record time of 1:01.68 in the 100 breast against Kansas on Jan. 22.

Junior Leah Pierce, a transfer from Purdue, has also made an impact this season, setting a school record in the 200 breast with a time of 2:10.96 at the Minnesota U.S. Grand Prix in November. Pierce’s time is over six second faster than the previous record of 2:17.17 set by Helen Gorman in 1994.

Bugslag, a native of Victoria, Canada, was a 2008 Canadian Olympic Trials Finalist and is a force on the 10-meter platform.

For her part, Roman has improved with each meet in her first season with the Razorbacks and head diving coach Dale Schultz is looking to her to take All-American Madison Palmer’s place when Palmer graduates at the end of this season.

Palmer, who owns Arkansas records in one-meter dual and championship diving, isn’t the only All-American back from last year’s squad. Senior Stephanie Carr, who holds Razorback records in the 1,000- and 1,650 free events and sophomore Katie Kastes, who holds six school records (200 free, 500 free, 100 fly, 200 fly, 200 IM, 400 IM) will also be competing this week.

The SEC Swimming and Diving Championship begins Wednesday Feb. 18 at the James E. Martin Aquatics Center with the 200 medley relay, women’s three-meter diving and the 800 freestyle relay. For updated coverage from the SEC Championship meet and for complete Razorback swimming and diving coverage, visit ArkansasRazorbacks.com.