KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (release) -- The Tennessee swimming and diving program celebrated the careers of 11 seniors, and they led the way for the Big Orange, earning a Senior Day split of SEC-rival Florida at the Allan Jones Intercollegiate Aquatic Center.
The No. 12 women (8-1,4-1 SEC) bounced back from their loss in Athens, Ga., last week to earn a second consecutive Senior Day upset win. Tennessee upset the No. 8 Gators (5-3, 3-2), 152-148, thanks to a come-from-behind victory by the 400-yard freestyle relay team in the day's final event.
Despite a hard-fought effort, the No. 2 Florida men (8-0, 5-0) earned the dual meet split, defeating No. 18 Tennessee (5-3, 3-2), 179-121.
"Until two years ago, the team had never beaten Florida in a dual meet," said head coach Matt Kredich. "One of the things I sensed today was an attitude of expecting to win, or at least expecting to compete. To have that competitiveness and that confidence is huge for the program."
In her final home dual match, Lindsay Gendron collected four victories, including her crucial anchor leg in the 400-yard freestyle relay to help Tennessee clinch the victory. In total, the UT women won 10 out of the 16 events en route to the victory.
The UT men were led by senior Sam Rairden, who won a pair of races, including the 200 medley relay and the 100-yard backstroke. Mauricio Robles led the male divers with a sweep of the 1m and 3m diving events.
INSIDE THE WOMEN'S RACES
After Florida's women's team took the lead late in the meet, the final result came down to the final race of the day. In the 400-yard freestyle relay, Tennessee's top team of Faith Johnson and seniors Kate McNeilis, Lauren Solernou and Gendron came from behind to defeat Florida's top team and take the victory for the Tennessee.
Gendron, who swam the final leg for Tennessee, had already won three events of her own before helping to win the final event. Earlier on, the native of Bloomington, Ill., won the 200-yard freestyle (1:45.59) over Olympic champion Elizabeth Beisel. She then went on to win the 500-yard freestyle (4:44.63), only to jump back in the pool minutes later to capture the 100-yard butterfly (53.60).
"We've kind of set a tradition here to win senior meets, so I wanted to give it everything I can in my last competition here," said Gendron. "I think it's even better that it came down to the last relay. We've really had a lot of girls step up."
"The kinds of things that she does are things that people will be talking about for years," said Kredich. "The gift that she's given to our team is the idea that there's nothing that is impossible. She lives it every day, she lives it in meets. She does it all for the team. It's not about her, it's about the team."
Gendron was just one of several UT athletes to have a successful meet against Florida. Her relay partner and fellow senior Solernou started off the meet by putting UT ahead early in the 200-yard medley relay. Teammates Molly Hannis, Harper Bruens and Johnson finished off the job and UT got off to a great start.
The senior from Connecticut also won the 100-yard backstroke with a time of 54.28. Erin Gaeckle (54.71) came in third, while McNeilis (56.79) finished in sixth place.
Hannis and Johnson also helped put Tennessee in a position to win. Hannis won a pair of races, starting off with the 100-yard breaststroke (1:00.86) and then clinching the 200-yard breaststroke (2:12.48). Johnson, meanwhile, won two of her own, helping UT by winning the 50-yard freestyle (22.65) and the 100-yard freestyle (49.97).
There may have been just four swimming seniors on the women’s squad, but their leadership has not gone unnoticed.
"The group of senior women are as unified of a group of women as I've ever seen," said Kredich. "They know each other's strengths and weaknesses. They count on each other. Man, they gave us some incredible performances today. We're going to miss them tremendously in terms of performance, but also in terms of leadership."
INSIDE THE MEN'S RACES
The UT men managed to secure six race victories against the reigning SEC champion Gators. Along with Rairden's pair of wins, senior Renato Prono and sophomore Sean Lehane each picked up a victory to wrap up the swimming events.
The Richmond, Va., native had a nice day for the Tennessee, winning two races early. After clinching the 200 medley relay with fellow seniors Oystein Hetland, Prono and freshman Luke Percy (1:27.83), Rairden also won the 100-yard backstroke, thanks to a time of 47.85.
"I really wanted to go out with a bang," said Rairden. "I think we did amazing. This time last year, we kind of got blindsided by Florida when we went down there. I think we went head-to-head with them in a lot of races.
"It really shows that we should have a great championship season."
In the 100-yard breaststoke, Prono raced out to an early lead and held off Florida's Matt Elliott to win with a 55.16 time. Ross Dibblin (57.30) placed third, while Austin Hirstein (58.53) placed sixth.
The other Vol victory came in the 200-yard backstroke, where Lehane won the event for the second straight week. His time of 1:44.15 was .06 shy of the time he recorded down in Athens last Saturday. Lehane also was the top finisher in the 200-yard freestyle, touching in third place (1:38.40).
Oystein Hetland led four Vols in the 50-yard freestyle. Tennessee took spots two through five, with Hetland coming in at 20.30, a time which beat out his prior high time. Percy (20.47), Chris Sadsad (20.69) and Gustav Aberg Ledjstrom (20.72) followed. The Norwegian senior also took third place in the 100-yard butterfly with a time of 49.22.
The men finished off the day with some tight races in the 200-yard individual medley and the 400-yard freestyle relay. Tristan Slater led UM in the 200 IM, placing second at 1:48.74, one second behind the winner. Meanwhile, the team of Percy, Rairden, Troy Tillman and Lehane (2:55.99) swam hard against the Gators, finishing just .67 behind the first-place UF relay team
"I thought our guys raced really tough," said Kredich. "They're one of the top three teams in the country and our guys did not give them anything. The guys stepped up and took some punches at them. I'm really proud of our men's team for the way they competed."
Knoxville native Tori Lamp, the lone senior diver, added to her winning career in the 3m event, edging out Kahlia Warner of Florida. Her score of 315.68 led the way. Samantha Lera came in fourth place with a score of 268.35, while Gaffney Taylor earned sixth place (215.55).
In the women's 1m dive, Lera led the way for Tennessee, earning second place with a score of 282.90. The second place points proved to be crucial in helping the women earn a four-point team victory.
"We really needed Sam to step up," said head diving coach Dave Parrington. "If Florida goes 1-2 at that point in the meet, it really hinders our chance of winning the meet overall."
On the men's side, redshirt sophomore Mauricio Robles dominated the field for the second straight dual meet, earning a score of 364.73, 72 points higher than second place. Michael Howell (289.35) earned a third place result, while Lee Fullam (226.50) came in sixth place.
The native of San Francisco, Mexico, also captured the 3m springboard victory. His score of 407.70 is a season-high and also led the way for the Vols, while Howell (280.95) and Fullam (228.98) came in fourth and sixth place respectively.
"Anytime you break 400 on the 3-meter, you're doing a really good job," said Parrington. "(Robles) was under the weather today. He couldn't train yesterday because he had some sinus issues going on, so that really showed his true sense of competitive spirit. He was a warrior out there today.”