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Brenau University swimming places third at NAIA Nationals
From left, the Golden Tigers backstroke titlist Talia Sola of Madrid, Spain, junior breaststroke All-American Mary Katherine Jabbia of Slidell, Louisiana, and All-American breaststroke swimmers senior Michelle Billeaud of Lafayette, Louisiana, and freshman Alisha Hodgetts from Perth, Australia, show off their second-place finish in the 200-yard medley relay, which set a new team record of 1:44.7. - photo by For The Times

Propelled by four individual national champions and a strong team showing, the Brenau University Golden Tigers swim team finished third at the NAIA Swimming and Diving National Championship Meet on March 3-7, the highest ranking in school history.

The Golden Tigers amassed 439 points during the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics championship meet, missing second place by 42 points.

Brenau closed to within eight points at the end of day two of the meet, but Savannah College of Art & Design pulled ahead in the finals to earn the No. 2 spot with 481 points.

Host and defending champions Oklahoma Baptist University dominated the meet for its third straight title with 745 points. Concordia Nazarene (Irvine, California) and University of the Cumberlands (Williamsburg, Kentucky) rounded out the top five.

Brenau’s Courtney Hayward, a sophomore from Townsville, Australia, continued collecting All-American honors by capturing three national titles in the meet, including her win in the 1650 freestyle in 16:58.36. Teammate Ella Kleinschmidt, a freshman from Hervey Bay, Queensland, Australia, added to the team score with a fifth-place finish in 17:49.20.

In the 200-yard backstroke, Talia Sola, a sophomore from Madrid, Spain, who previously won a national title in the 100 backstroke earlier in the meet, narrowly missed a second title on Saturday touching just .07 seconds of a second after Oklahoma Baptist’s Ines Remersaro of Uruguay, a competitor in the 2011 Pan American Games and the 2012 Olympics.

Brenau junior Mary Katherine Jabbia of Slidell, Louisiana, took second place in the 200 breaststroke in 2:24.29 Saturday to earn All-American honors, while the 400-freestyle relay team of senior Shelby Rumker from Douglas; freshman Alisha Hodgetts of Perth, Australia; senior Michelle Billeaud of Lafayette, Louisiana, and Hayward finished in fourth place with a time of 3:31.44.

“It was exhilarating to watch our women go stroke for stroke with the fastest in the NAIA and beat many of them in the process,” Brenau coach Blaire Bachman said. “We had several individuals find the spotlight and our relays brought us some big points.”

Following the team’s fourth-place national ranking after the 2014 meet, the NAIA preseason coaches poll picked the Golden Tigers to improve to third this year, and that is exactly where they finished. They moved into third place in the coaches’ end-of-season rankings last month after an impressive win in the Appalachian Swim Conference championship meet.

The team last month also won the top spot in another national coaches poll: the NAIA women’s swimming team with the best overall academic performance.

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