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Auburn edges Georgia, thanks to Arizona record

ATHENS, Ga. -- Auburn coach David Marsh will always
appreciate the American and NCAA records that Arizona set in the
400-yard freestyle relay Saturday night.

When Jenna Gresdal surged past Georgia's Tricia Harm in the
second leg of the meet's final event at raucous Gabrielsen
Natatorium, Arizona had enough energy to finish the relay in 3
minutes, 12.77 seconds.

The Wildcats' victory kept Georgia, which ended the season 11-1,
from narrowly beating Auburn in the NCAA women's swimming and
diving championships.

"I never have experienced anything that thrilling," Marsh said
of the Tigers' fourth national team title in the last five years.
"That's the best day we've ever had in Auburn swimming."

Auburn had 418.5 team points, three more than Georgia, which
missed a chance to repeat as national champions despite another
outstanding night for Mary DeScenza and Kara Lynn Joyce.

With a time of 1:53.78 in the 200-yard butterfly, DeScenza
became the first woman to win the event in four consecutive years.
California's Mary T. Meagher took first in the 200 butterfly in
1983 and from 1985-87.

DeScenza, a senior from Naperville, Ill., won her third straight
national title in the 100 butterfly on Friday night.

Joyce earned her sixth NCAA individual championship by swimming
the 100-yard freestyle in 47.41 seconds. The junior from Ann Arbor,
Mich., broke the pool record that Martina Moracova set for Southern
Methodist in 1999.

Ultimately, the combined success of DeScenza and Joyce wasn't
enough to overcome Auburn's strength in numbers.

The Tigers used momentum from Hayley Peirsol and Adrienne
Binder, a junior tandem from California that began the night with
first- and third-place finishes in the 1,650-yard freestyle, to
start chipping away at Georgia's 53-point lead.

Auburn was the only team at the NCAA meet to qualify all 18 of
its athletes.

"It's huge for us, but at the same time we can't focus on any
team other but ourselves," Peirsol said. "If you get too wrapped
up in that, you lose sight of what you're really here for."

Auburn never relinquished the lead, its first of the three-day
meet, after Southern Cal's Rebecca Soni won the 200-yard
breaststroke in 2:09.37. The Tigers earned 27.5 points from Alicia
Jensen, who finished third in the event, and Lauren Duerk, who tied
for seventh.

Combining their efforts with six points from Nanou Amardeilh in
the consolation round pushed Auburn 22 points ahead of the Lady
Bulldogs.

DeScenza helped cut the lead to just five points with her win in
the 200 butterfly. UCLA's Kimberly Vandenberg finished in second
place.

Besides DeScenza's 20 points, Georgia earned 14 from Elizabeth
Hill's fifth-place finish.

The two rival Southeastern Conference schools have challenged
each other for the top spot in women's swimming over the last eight
years.

Georgia won three straight NCAA titles from 1999-2001, but the
Lady Bulldogs were runners-up to Auburn over the next three years.
Last month at the SEC meet in Knoxville, Tenn., Georgia beat the
Tigers by 19 points.

Finishing second in the 400 freestyle relay, however, doomed the
Lady Bulldogs when Auburn took third.

Joyce, who swam the final leg for Georgia, had an event-leading
time of 46.92, but she couldn't catch Arizona freshman Lacey
Nymeyer on the last lap.

Gresdal and Whitney Myers combined to distance the Wildcats past
Harm and Jessica Cole in the second and third legs.

"We knew it was ours to take if we just stepped up," Gresdal
said. "It's a really cool feeling. We knew it would really be a
fight and we had to be ready."

For Harm, taking second place in her home pool was difficult for
the senior to accept, even though the Lady Bulldogs' time of
3:13.38 was an improvement over the 3:13.47 Georgia set last year
for American and NCAA records.

"We knew Arizona was the team to beat," Harm said. "We had a
chance to win, and that's all you can ask for."

Cal's Helen Silver won the 200 backstroke in 1:53.01, and
Kentucky's Taryn Ignacio took the platform diving title with a
score of 335.30.

But Auburn got the prize all of the teams wanted.

"We didn't have that great a morning, but we just came alive,"
said Marsh, the Tigers' 16th-year coach. "Our passion paid off.
One after another, we performed."