Georgia women take early NCAA swimming lead

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ATLANTA (AP) The University of Georgia took an early lead at the NCAA swimming and diving championships Wednesday when Olympic hopefuls Hali Flickinger and Brittany MacLean helped the Bulldogs win the 800-yard freestyle relay with a pool and school record time of 6 minutes, 51.8 seconds.

The relay was the first event at Georgia Tech's McAuley Aquatic Center.

MacLean, one of three seniors for the Bulldogs and the school record holder in the 500, 1,000 and 1,650 freestyle events, rallied Georgia past USC with an anchor leg of 1:41.46. The Bulldogs trailed USC by about a yard when MacLean hit the water, but she turned the first 50 yards in 23.85 and caught USC freshman Kasia Wilk soon after the first turn. By the end, she'd won handily.

MacLean, a Canadian, tore her right rotator cuff in the 2012 London Games and has struggled with a hamstring pull recently. There was no evidence of pain on the first night of a four-day event.

''That's why I think I was a little more celebratory than I usually am, just because the day after day after day that I would lay in bed and cry because I was either in pain or frustrated,'' MacLean said. ''Struggling a lot made me really dislike the sport that I like so much.

''So for me to come back, fall in love with it again, and be able to race best times, faster than I've ever been, was really exciting.''

All four Bulldogs, including sophomores Kylie Stewart and Meaghan Raab, swam personal bests.

Ten teams bettered the pool record of 7:00.93, but only the Bulldogs threatened the NCAA record of 6:50.18 set last season by California. The Bears finished third in 6:55.18 with just one member - senior Elizabeth Pelton - from last season's relay squad.

Flickinger, also a senior with Olympic aspirations for the U.S., gave the six-time NCAA champions an early lead with a personal best of 1:42.80 in the leadoff leg. The medley specialist has been moved into new events like the 800 freestyle relay by coach Jack Bauerle.

''I have loved it. It's something I've never swam before,'' Flickinger said. ''It's really fun to swim something that I don't usually swim.''

Bauerle has a short roster, but he likes the Bulldogs' chance of winning their seventh NCAA title during full days Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Georgia won in 2013 and '14.

This year's championships provide a new challenge - the meet has moved to a four-day format. So far, that's OK for Bauerle, whose Bulldogs got a jump in their quest to stay ahead of pre-meet favorites Cal and Stanford.

''It does set a tempo,'' Bauerle said. ''Winning is important, but swimming well is also important and all four girls swam their fastest times ever and that's what it took to win. ... I was just proud of them because they sort of toughed it out.''