Pierce Leads Noles with Championship Effort

Natalie Pierce / Photo Jeremy Esbrandt
Photo: Jeremy Esbrandt/Seminoles.com

Sophomore Natalie Pierce finished fifth in the 100 breast with a career best time on day three of the ACC Championships.

By Christa Salerno

GREENSBORO, N.C. – Racing in her second career ACC Championship final, sophomore Natalie Pierce swam a personal best time of 1:00.70 for fifth place in the 100 breast on the third night of the 2016 ACC Swimming and Diving Championships at the Greensboro Aquatic Center.

The Birmingham, Mich. native held her place in third on the FSU all-time top 10 list with that performance.

“Anytime we can get one of those swims, I’ll take it,” FSU head coach Frank Bradley said. “She was solid today. She went out and did what she needed to do and got a best time. I was happy with the effort.”

The Seminoles had nine swims in Friday’s finals following the morning’s prelims.

“It was great watching those ladies compete tonight,” Bradley said. “They were excited to swim and they raced hard.”

Junior Caroline Neil produced the highlight of the day by qualifying for the C final of the 400 IM, clocking a career best time of 4:20.00 in the morning swim.

At night, Neil made her move during breast, hauling from eighth to second behind a 1:09.10 split, which was the fastest of any third leg in the event.

The Winston-Salem native, N.C. native would lower her time to 4:18.54 for 21st place, clocking the ninth fastest time in school history.

“That race was just awesome,” Bradley said. “Especially since she had to make up so much ground on breaststroke. Everyone was going crazy watching her pull that off. She really connected with it and had a great swim. Just a good day for her.”

Following Neil in the B final was freshman Meg Brown, who qualified in 11th place after posting a 4:15.26 in prelims.

Brown closed the gap on her backstroke leg after Virginia’s Jen Marrkand jumped to a huge lead in fly. She finished the race in second for 10th overall ewith a faster time of 4:12.42.

Freshman Lelia Johnson was scratched into the C final of the 100 fly after swimming a time of 54.94 in prelims. At night, she placed 24th with a time of 55.16.

In prelims, senior Sami Pochowski competed in the 200 free, clocking a time of 1:47.56, qualifying her for the C final in 17th place. Less than 10 minutes later, she was back on the block for the 100 breast, touching with a time of 1:02.76 for 22nd place.

Pochowski would scratch her 200 free for finals, moving classmate Josie Cuda into the C final after she swam a 1:48.68 in prelims. Cuda touched in eighth in the heat at 1:49.32.

Focusing on the 100 breast for finals, Pochowski swam a 1:02.61 for 22nd place. Neil followed in the B final in her second race of the night, touching in 16th at 1:03.53 after swimming a personal best of 1:02.49 in prelims.

“Sami had a tough double this morning,” Bradley said. “But she raced hard. Had a great attitude and came back and improvedtonight. She overcame a lot in the past month and today she stepped up and gave a great effort.”

Senior Bianca Spinazzola raced in the 100 back, scoring 16th place points with a time of 54.58.

In the last event of the night, Spinazzola, Pierce, Johnston and Pochowski turned in a time of 3:38.37 in the 400 medley relay for seventh place.

In diving, sophomore Blaire Mulka finished 14th with a score of 306.20 as three of her six dives scored 50 points or more. Freshman Cassidy Gebhart was 17th at 293.80.

“Blaire was on fire today,” FSU head diving coach John Proctor said. “She didn’t miss and she absolutely smoked two dives. It was awesome to see her score points for the team. Cassidy was solid. Both ladies came in and did what they needed to do in order to contribute.”

Florida State moved up to ninth place in the team standings with a total of 293 points, just nine points ahead of Pittsburgh (284).

Saturday’s prelims will begin at 10 a.m. and will feature the 200 back, 100 free, 200 breast 200 fly and platform diving. Heats of the 1650 free will begin at 4 p.m. and finals will follow at 6 p.m.

“Today was a better day for us,” Bradley said. “But we need a total team effort tomorrow. Everyone needs to step up.”