Christina Bechtel Wins SEC Title, UK's First Since 2007
AUBURN, Ala. - University of Kentucky swimmer Christina Bechtel won her first career Southeastern Conference championship with a win in the 200 butterfly on the fourth day of the SEC Swimming and Diving Championships Friday in Auburn, Ala.
Bechtel's title, her second medal in as many days at the championships and the third of her career, was UK's first SEC title since 2007 and the first under second-year head coach Lars Jorgensen. Bechtel becomes the first Wildcat to win a swimming title since 2006 and the first female swimmer from Kentucky to win gold at the conference meet since 1999.
"I feel like I'm on a high right now, I'm so excited and proud to be a Wildcat and represent my team," Bechtel said. "My approach tonight was whatever it takes to win. I knew this morning in the prelims I went out a little bit too fast, so I wanted to back off a little bit in the finals. When I noticed I started to catch up in the last 150 meters, my mentality was to keep kicking out of that last turn and I can win. I feel so lucky and honored to be on this team."
The senior from Franklin, Tenn., becomes the 13th Wildcat in program history to win a conference title. Bechtel is the third UK swimmer to win a title in the 200 butterfly, after Rachel Komisarz won in 1998 and Daniel Cruz claimed the title in 2005.
Bechtel's SEC-winning time of 1:52.78 was 0.10 ahead of Georgia's Hali Flickinger, who held the lead for the majority of the race. Bechtel led by 0.13 seconds after 50 yards, but trailed by 0.49 seconds at the halfway point and by 0.41 seconds with 50 meters to go. That's when Bechtel turned it on, swimming a 29.11 in the final 50 meters ahead of Flickinger's 29.62.
"Christina swam a great race, that really was a tight 200 butterfly," Jorgensen said. "She was tough as nails to come away with the victory, and I'm really proud of her. It was Christina's win, but everyone enjoyed it and it was great for UK swimming and diving."
Along with Bechtel, four more Wildcats advanced to A finals on Friday and recorded top-eight finishes, while two school records were broken. Sophomore Danielle Galyer tallied a program-best time in the 100 backstroke, while the women's 400 medley relay team notched the seventh program record of the championships for Kentucky.
The divers had another strong day, with seniors Christa Cabot and Lindsay Keahey advancing to the platform finals and placed fourth and sixth, respectively. Cabot became one of three women's divers to advance to the finals in all three events. Kentucky is one of two schools to send two divers to the finals in all three women's events.
"Across the board it was another great day for UK," Jorgensen said. "It was our best day so far. Our divers, Christa getting fourth and Lindsay making the finals and finishing sixth was fantastic. Danielle was phenomenal, breaking another school record and just missing the podium with a fourth-place finish."
Through the first four days of the SEC Championships, the UK women are seventh with 499 points, while the men are 10th with 301 points. Georgia leads the women's standings with 1,082 points, while Florida's 980 is tops among the men.
The Championships concludes Saturday at Auburn's James E. Martin Aquatics Center. Fans can follow along with live swimming results at AuburnTigers.com. Diving results can be found on DiveMeets.com. Both the prelims and finals will be broadcast live on the SEC Network+. Additional updates and behind-the-scenes notes and photos can be found at @UKSwimDive.
Galyer's record time came in the finals of the 100 backstroke with a 52.17. The sophomore finished fourth, just 0.05 seconds shy of a spot in the top three and her first career SEC medal. Freshman Bridgette Alexander finished second in the consolation final and 10th overall with a time of 53.33, the second-fastest time in program history.
The seventh school-record time of the championships came in the final event Friday, in the women's 400 medley relay. UK won the opening heat with a 3:34.71 to break the old mark by over two seconds. Galyer led off with a 52.29 backstroke, followed by a 1:01.63 breaststroke by Sam Shaheen. Bechtel's butterfly time of 51.40 set up Myers' anchor swim of 49.39. The Wildcats finished sixth overall.
Cabot, who made her third finals appearance of the SEC Championships, placed fourth overall with a 298.60. Keahey earned a sixth-place finish with a 270.45.
"I was really excited that both Christa and Lindsay got into the final," UK diving coach Ted Hautua said. "It's never easy to get into the top eight at SECs, and I thought both were very aggressive in the final, which was great. It was awesome to have two girls in each final this week, and Christa to make it in each event. Today they were great off the tower and great in the air. Our entry was a bit off going into the water, so that's something I can work on with them heading into our NCAA qualifying meet."
Sophomore Kyle Higgins was the first of five Wildcats to make an `A' final appearance on Friday. Higgins placed eighth in the 200 butterfly with a 1:43.36, the second-fastest time in UK history. Junior Matt Roman finished 16th overall in 1:46.18, while sophomore Drew Aviotti also advanced to the finals and finished 23rd and recorded a time of 1:46.62, ninth-fastest in school history.
Senior Abby Myers also advanced to the evening's finals in the 200 butterfly and placed second in the consolation final and 10th overall with a season-best time of 1:56.48.
In the men's 100 breaststroke, senior Brent Dillon advanced to the finals and recorded 54.90, the seventh-fastest time in program history. Dillon placed third in the `C' final and 19th overall. In the women's 100 breaststroke, Shaheen posted a 1:01.67, the third-fastest time in UK history to finish 19th overall.
For complete news and updates on the Kentucky Swimming and Diving program, go to UKathletics.com/SwimmingDiving. Breaking news, behind-the-scenes updates, photos and more can be found on Twitter at @UKSwimDive and Facebook at Facebook.com/UKSwimDive.