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Liberty Swimming & Diving Set for NCAA Championships

March 14, 2018  Lynchburg, Va.  RSS
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Ohio State's McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion will serve as the host site for the 2018 NCAA Division I Women's Swimming & Diving Championships.

Ohio State's McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion will serve as the host site for the 2018 NCAA Division I Women's Swimming & Diving Championships.

NCAA Championship Central

Two Liberty swimmers are set to compete at the 2018 NCAA Division I Women's Swimming & Diving Championships, hosted this Wednesday through Saturday at Ohio State's McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion.

Junior Alicia Finnigan will compete in the 100 fly on Friday before contesting the 200 fly on Saturday, while freshman Payton Keiner will swim in the 100 backstroke on Friday and the 200 backstroke, Saturday.

How to Follow the Lady Flames
All sessions for the 2018 NCAA Championships will be streamed and/or televised live. Each day's morning prelims will be streamed live on Buckeye Vision. Friday's finals will air live on ESPNU, while Saturday's finals will air on ESPN3.com. Live results will also be available.

This is the fifth time in eight years of program history that at least one Lady Flame will compete in the NCAA Division I Women's Swimming & Diving Championships. The Lady Flames have had two All-America honorable mention finishers, in Brye Ravettine (13th in 50 free, 2012) and Jess Reinhardt (10th in 100 fly, 2014).

Keiner is the second Liberty freshman to be selected to the NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships, joining Reinhardt (2013). Finnigan earns her second straight nationals appearance, joining Reinhardt (2013-14) as the only two Lady Flames to date to compete in multiple NCAA Championships. In 2017, Finnigan placed 31st in the 200 fly and 50th in the 100 fly at the NCAA Championships.

The 2014 NCAA Championships marked the only other year prior to now that Liberty sent multiple athletes to the national meet. That year, Reinhardt picked up an All-American award, while Emilie Kaufman compete in two individual events. Liberty also sent its 200 medley relay to nationals in 2014, the first CCSA relay to be selected to compete at the NCAA Championships.

What's at Stake
Each of the final three days (Thursday through Saturday) of the 2018 NCAA Division I Women's Swimming & Diving Championships begins at 10 a.m. with preliminary heats. Finals sessions will begin at 6 p.m. each evening,

The NCAA Championships will feature a four-day meet format. The top 16 times from each event in morning prelims qualify for evening finals, with the top eight swimming in the A Final. Those who complete races in the A Final earn All-America first team status, while B Finalists are named honorable mention All-Americans.

How They Got Here     
Both Finnigan and Keiner earned their spot at nationals at the Liberty Last Chance Meet, Feb. 24-25 at Liberty Natatorium.

Finnigan punched her ticket to Columbus, swimming a conference and program-record 1:55.33 in the 200 fly while breaking her own previous record of 1:56.15. Finnigan swam a B cut 53.53 in the 100 fly at the CCSA Championships.

A native of Sugar Land, Texas, Finnigan is a seven-time CCSA medalist, including wins in the 200 fly as both a sophomore and a junior. She participated in the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, and also earned a 10th-place finish at the 2017 Phillips 66 Nationals in the 200-meter fly.

Keiner, the 2018 CCSA Most Outstanding Freshman of the Meet, earned her spot at NCAA's with a conference and program-record 200 backstroke time of 1:53.29 at the Liberty Last Chance Meet. Her record swim came on her literal last chance to qualify for the season. She has also posted B cuts in the 100 back (53.58) and 100 free (49.73). Keiner earned two podium finishes at the 2018 CCSA Championships, winning the 200 back and finishing second in the 100 back.

Hailing from Cincinnati, Ohio, Keiner is the program record holder in the 50 back (24.96) and 200 back (1:53.29), while ranking second in 100 back (53.58), third in the 100 free and sixth in the 500 free.

Friday, March 16
Friday's action features the 100's of each stroke, along with the 200 freestyle and 400 IM. Finnigan and Keiner both earned inclusion in the meet on their merits at the 200-yard distance, but both will also compete in the 100 on Friday based on earning B cuts in the 100 fly and 100 back, respectively.

100 Butterfly Preview
Finnigan will get Liberty's participation under way on Friday, competing in morning prelims on the 100 fly. Her qualifying time of 53.53 is ranked 56th on the pre-scratch psych sheet. In 2017, it took 52.12 to make the B Final, and 51.45 to qualify top eight. Finnigan will be joined in both butterfly events by CCSA rival Christina Kaas Elmgreen on Florida Gulf Coast.

Sophomore Erika Brown of Tennessee has had a breakout season, winning the 50 free, 100 free and 100 fly at the 2018 SEC Championships. She is the only woman to break 50 seconds in the 100 fly this season, at 49.85. She is also the only woman seeded in the top seven in this event who has not competed in an individual event at NCAA's before. Sophomore Louise Hansson of USC is second at 50.17 after finishing third in this event last year. Ohio State senior Zhesi Li will swim in front of her home crowd as the third seed, 50.48, followed by Auburn senior Haley Black (50.68) and Cal senior Noemie Thomas (50.77).

100 Backstroke Preview
Keiner opens her NCAA's by swimming the prelims of the 100 back. She is ranked 57th on the psych sheet with an entry time of 53.58, although she did go 53.42 for the first 100 of her 200 back at the Liberty Last Chance Meet. Last year, 51.73 was the 16th fastest qualifier, while 51.10 was the last A Finalist.

The top seed for the 100 backstroke is breakthrough swimmer, sophomore Beata Nelson of Wisconsin (49.78). Nelson, who placed just 27th in this event last year, set the Big Ten record, 49.78, at the 2018 conference meet. Senior Janet Hu of Stanford, 2017's fifth-place finisher, is the only other swimmer to break 50 second in 2017-18, at 49.93. Another top contender is 2017 CSCAA National Swimmer of the Year, Cal junior Kathleen Baker (50.13), who won the 100 back last year. Baker won two medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Stanford senior Ally Howe, who placed third in 2016, is seeded fourth at 50.21. Last year's third-place finisher, senior Hannah Stevens of Missouri, is the seventh seed at 50.91.

Saturday, March 17
On Saturday, the Liberty swimmers will have their best chance to make finals, as both are ranked within the top 30 in their respective races.

200 Backstroke Preview
Keiner contests the 200 backstroke on Saturday. She is ranked 30th in the nation with her conference-record 1:53.29. She will likely have to break 1:53 to make the finals, as last year's last B Finalist swam 1:52.52 in prelims and it took 1:50.86 to make the A Final.

Keiner will face an experienced field, as each of the top 12 seeds, and 29 entrants overall, in the 200 back competed in the event at the 2017 championships. Defending champion and 2017 CSCAA National Swimmer of the Year, Kathleen Baker of Cal has the top seed by over a second, 1:48.27. Stanford senior Janet Hu (1:49.49) and sophomore Beata Nelson of Wisconsin (1:49.59) have the next two fastest times, while fourth-seeded sophomore Asia Seidt of Kentucky (1:49.65) placed third last year.

200 Butterfly Preview
Finnigan will take on a challenging field in the 200 fly, Saturday. However, she sits 26th on the psych sheet with a conference-record 1:55.33. That time would have qualified for last year's B Final, as 1:55.52 was the 16th fastest qualifier and 1:54.41 was the last person's time to make the A Final.

In the 200 fly, top-seeded junior Ella Eastin of Stanford (1:49.51) is a four-time individual national champion, and defending champ in this event. She won in 1:51.35 last year, and her time in the 2018 Pac-12 Championships broke the NCAA and American record. USC sophomore Louise Hansson (1:51.13) and Stanford sophomore Katie Drabot (1:51.74) are seeded second and third after competing in other events as freshmen at last year's NCAA Championships. Georgia senior Megan Kingsley, a third-place finisher in 2016, is seeded fourth in 1:52.62. Last year's second (Cal junior Katie McLaughlin) and third place (senior Jennifer Markkand of Virginia) finishers are also entered but with lower seeds.