Lady Vols win first SEC Swimming, Diving Championships

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- The Lady Vols Swim Team has won the 2020 SEC Swimming and Diving Championships.

Erika Brown continued her impressive run at the 2020 SEC Championships as she broke the 100 butterfly American Record en route to winning her third consecutive SEC title in the event.

Brown entered the 100 fly final having already broken legendary Olympian Natalie Coughlin's pool record with her swim in the preliminaries and followed up by taking down Olympian Kelsi Dahlia's American Record with a time of 49.38 in the finals.

"I never want to take a swim like that for granted," associate head coach Ashley Jahn said. "That was an incredible performance that has been built on her consistency and her drive to get better and mindset. She continues to look for all the little things, she relies on her teammates and her teammates rely on her. She gives so much to other people and I feel like that performance came out of all those little things."

Brown is now the third-fastest performer in the event's history. She also lowered her own SEC and school-record time with her swim.

By winning her third-straight 100 fly gold medal, Brown joins Auburn's Mimi Bowen and Mary DeScenza of Georgia as the only women to win the event three consecutive years.

The electric night got started with Tess Cieplucha's gold medal-winning swim in the 400 IM. The Toronto, Canada native won her first individual medal at SECs with a nation-leading time of 4:01.08. Cieplucha now owns the nation's two-fastest swims in the event, swimming a 4:03.06 earlier this season.

"I really thought she was going to have a great swim tonight," Jahn said. "She didn't disappoint. Tess does a great job of preparing and communicating and she continues to do the little things to get herself to this point."

Cieplucha now has four total SEC medals in her career.

At the end of night three, The Lady Vols lead the field with 632.5 points, ahead of Florida in second at 585.5. The men's squad is fifth with 422 points, while Florida leads at 694.5.

Women's 400 IM

Along with Cieplucha's gold medal win, the Lady Vols posted several strong swims in the event. Alexis Yager swam a 4:10.54 to finish sixth in the A-final. In the morning's prelims, Yager turned in a 4:05.75, setting the school's third-fastest time in history.

Amanda Nunan and Danika Katzer also returned for second swims, finishing with times of 4:15.25 and 4:16.26, respectively. Nunan's time is a new personal best.

"That pack of 400 IMers of Nunun, Katzer, Alexis and Tess work together so well," Jahn said. "They got themselves prepared for tonight and it was very much a team effort. It was really fun to see them swim tonight."

Men's 400 IM

The men only had two swims in the 400 IM, coming from Ethan Sanders and Nathan Murray. Sanders posted a personal best in prelims, touching the wall in 3:51.08. Murray turned in a 3:52.64. Sanders earned a second swim Thursday and hit the wall in the C-final at 3:52.21.

"Ethan has made a commitment to continual improvement," associate head coach Lance Asti said. "He keeps getting better and is learning how to compete at a high level. I mentioned this the other night, but I think it speaks volumes to the team he has built around himself and the team has built for him. Nathan Murray has guided Ethan in that 400 IM, he didn't get the swim he wanted, but Nathan's impact is all over this evening's session because of his influence. That is what our team is all about, it's about helping each other."

Women's 100 Butterfly

Six Lady Vols earned second swims in the 100 fly Thursday night and helped bring in a large haul of points for Tennessee. Joining Brown in the 100 fly finals were Trude Rothrock, Mallory Beil, Megan Sichterman, Stanzi Moseley and Carrie Johnson.

Rothrock swam a 51.60, placing fourth in the A-final. Beil set new personal best with a swim of 52.33 to win the B-final. Sichterman placed 3rd, touching the wall in 52.62, and Moseley finished 8th with a 53.48 in the B-final.

Johnson swam a 53.67 in the C-final, finishing eighth.

In prelims, Rothrock set a new personal best with a 51.53, moving to fifth all-time in school history. Beil's final time of 52.33 is 10th in Lady Vols history.

"All of our athletes rallied together," Jahn said. "They all stopped by as an event group to talk to us before going behind the blocks and each had the goal of scoring points. They did a great job of that tonight."

Men's 100 Butterfly

The men had a strong performance in the 100 fly, earning three swims in the finals. Kayky Mota placed fifth in the A-final at 45.76 and in the B-final, Braga Verhage won as he hit the wall in 46.07. In the C-final, Oskar Hoff came in eighth with a time of 47.61.

The top swims were not limited to the finals as Parker Kaye (49.31), Joel Giraudeau (48.42), Benjamin Blevins-Boor (48.01), Mota (45.65), Hoff (47.27) and Marc Hinawi (47.73) all set personal bests in prelims. Mota's time of 45.65 is now the second-fastest in school history.

"The 100 fly group showed a lot of attention to detail," Asti said. "The guys were watching video in-between sessions and you could tell. They made adjustments in their races and it was a great night overall."

Women's 200 Freestyle

Meghan Small and Tjasa Pintar swam in the 200 freestyle A-final Thursday night, earning a fourth and seventh place finish, respectively. Small swam a 1:43.55 and Pintar posted a 1:45.30. In the B-final, freshman Abby Samansky placed seventh at 1:46.20.

Earlier in the day, Samansky and McKenna Morello set new personal bests as Samansky swam a 1:46.02, while Morello touched the wall in 1:49.55. Samansky's time is the eighth-fastest in school history.

"The 200 freestyle group did a great job," Jahn said. "They led one of our freshmen, Abby Samansky, this is her first SEC swim in finals and they helped lead her through that process. It was great to see that. Having two people back in the A-final was awesome, Tjasa had herself a race and found a way to get her hand on the wall and so did Meghan. She had races all around her, but got her hand in there and she is excited to keep working on things and getting better."

Men's 200 Freestyle

Much like the 100 fly, the 200 free was another strong event for the men. UT had three finals swims with Josh Walsh in the A-final, Seth Thompson-Bailey in the B and Alec Connolly swimming in the C-final. Walsh posted a 1:34.35 to finish seventh, setting the program's sixth-fastest 200 free all-time.

Thompson-Bailey scored a fifth-place swim in the B-final, hitting the wall in 1:35.21. Connolly won the C-final with a time of 1:34.69.

UT's 200 free top 10 underwent several changes Thursday, including Walsh's 1:34.35, Thompson-Bailey went 1:34.44 in prelims which is now tied for seventh in program history. Connolly sits ninth with his 1:34.69.

"We've made some changes this year and really attacked the 200 strokes," Asti said. "Those 200s are the best we've had in many, many years. Josh was really composed and moved up and scored points for his team. He did it in a way that showed he trusted his process, trusted the pacing and the aggressive nature we're trying to swim 200s."

Women's 3-Meter Diving

It was a tough day for the women on the 3-meter board as they did not bring anyone back for the evening's finals session. Sophomore Grace Cable placed highest for the Lady Vols, scoring 290.20 and finishing 11th overall.

Freshman Kara Holt was 23rd at 250.55 and junior Ana Celaya Hernandez placed 27th with 241.30 points. Holt scored two points for the women's team, her first time scoring at the SEC meet.

"We were not super sharp today," diving coach Dave Parrington said. "I say that, but I am really, really proud of Kara. She put some points on the board and had never scored at SECs before. As a freshman, she got up and did a really nice job. I am really proud of her."