2022 AAC Championships: Houston Wins Sixth Straight Title by Half Point

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Photo Courtesy: Houston Athletics

2022 AAC Championships: Houston Wins Sixth Straight Title by Half Point

Houston’s sixth consecutive American Athletic Conference title couldn’t have been any narrower. The Cougars bested SMU by .5 points at the 2022 AAC Championships, scoring 866.5 points to nudge just past the Mustangs’ 866.

The Cougars surged ahead on Day 3 of the meet and trailed briefly on the final day after the 1,650 free. But claiming five of the top eight spots in platform diving neutralized a 1-2 by SMU in the event, which was enough to withstand a late charge.

Houston led by 6.5 points entering the concluding 400 free relay. That meant a finish of second would be good enough to matter what SMU did, which is exactly what the finishing foursome of Kathryn Power, Emma Wright, Alyssa Bloser and Mary Catherine Jurica did.

In the two-team men’s race, host SMU won the title with 1,258 points, well ahead of Cincinnati.

2022 AAC Championships Team Standings

Women - Team Rankings - Through Event 41                     
 
  1. University of Houston           866.5   2. Southern Methodist University     866
  3. Tulane University                 641   4. University of Cincinnati          571
  5. East Carolina University        236.5
 Men - Team Rankings - Through Event 42                      
 
  1. Southern Methodist University    1258   2. University of Cincinnati         1079

The men’s race had one most outstanding swimmer of the meet per team, with Michael Balcerak of Cincinnati and SMU’s Caleb Rodenbaugh splitting the honor. Peter Smithson was the diver of the meet, with Cotton Fields as the freshman of the meet.

On the women’s side, the top individual swimming award went to Lilly Byrne of Tulane. Jurica was voted the standout freshman, and SMU’s Nicole Stambo took home the diver of the meet.

Houston, which has ruled the AAC with an iron fist the last half-decade, didn’t win an individual swimming event until the meet’s penultimate day. But the Cougars went on a run on Friday night. Adelaide Meuter won the 100 fly in 53.50, with teammate Abby Jackson third. Jurica followed with a silver medal in the 200 free, then Henrietta Fangli claimed the 100 breast in 1:00.02. Power capped the evening by finishing second in the 100 back.

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SMU, the 2022 AAC men’s champions; Photo Courtesy: SMU Atheltics

Houston then hung on to win the 400 medley relay, with Power building a lead of more than a second on the leadoff leg and Fangli, Meuter and Jurica hanging on to win by .27 seconds in 3:37.91. It completed a medley relay sweep for the Cougars.

On Saturday, Wright was second in the 100 free, Fangli was third in the 200 breast and Hackson and Meuter went 1-4 in the 200 fly to build the cushion it took into the concluding relay. Stambo and Johanna Holloway went 1-2 in platform diving, but 3-meter champ Chase Farris finished third to lead five Cougars in the top eight.

“It was a team win. We told the girls last week that we had an opportunity to win and would need every member to accomplish their team goal,” coach Tanica Jamison said in a team statement. “The team believed in themselves and believed in the process.”

SMU built its title chase on its freestyle depth. Johanna Gudmundsdottir swept the sprint events, winning the 50 in 22.74 and the 100 in 49.44. Ilektra Lebl finished second in the 500 free, and Frederica Kizek won the mile to go with third in the 500 free. Gabi Grobler, the 200 individual medley and 200 breaststroke champ, joined Gudmundsdottir on both winning free relays. Stambo won platform and 1-meter diving for the Mustangs.

Tulane lacked the depth to contend for the team title but delivered plenty of wins. Byrne led the way, winning the 500 free (4:47.03) and the 200 free (1:47.25). She was also second in the mile and turned in the fastest split in the Green Wave’s winning 800 free relay, vital in edging out Cincinnati by .34 seconds.

Danielle Titus did the backstroke double for the Green Wave, winning the 200 in a 1-2 with Gianna Spremullo, who won the 400 IM. Christina Williams was the runner-up in both breaststroke races.

Cincinnati’s Camryn Streid finished second in both IMs. Teammate Erin Shema was third in that event and both backstroke swims.

What the men’s side lacked in teams, it made up for in records, with three meet and two pool records set. SMU started it out in the 200 medley relay, the team of Cole Bruns, Rhodenbaugh, Riley Hill and Justin Baker going 1:24.64 to set meet and pool marks.

Rhodenbaugh set a pool and meet record in the 200 breast in 1:53.13, taking down his own winning time from last year. Rhdoenbaugh also set a meet mark in the 100 breast at 52.42.

Colin Feehery set a pool mark to win the 400 IM in 3:44.20, narrowly besting Fields. Fields had outkicked him in the 200 IM with Feehery third. Feehery was also second in the 200 breast. Fields added a win in the 200 fly.

Smithson was the 3-meter and platform diving events. He set meet records in both, 424.40 in the 3-meter and 419.50 on platform. Parker Hardigree was second on 3-meter after winning 1-meter.

Balcerak won the 500 free, 200 free and finished third in the 200 fly for Cincinnati. He swam fly on the only Cincinnati relay win, the 400 medley, in which the squad of Blake Hanna, Dominic Poling and Hunter Gubeno set a meet record of 3:08.56.

Gubeno was second in both backstroke events, finishing behind Hanna in the 200.