BOWLING GREEN, Ky. - Hilltopper swimmers Heitor Rodrigues, Adam Dajka and Billy Kunkel each won individual events and the Western Kentucky University men moved into first place on the third day of the 2012 Sun Belt Conference Swimming and Diving Championships at Rockwall Aquatics Center of Excellence in Rockwall, Texas.
"I thought the guys, coming off that really disappointing disqualification yesterday, they could have really just packed it in and said it was over, but they just came out with a vengeance this morning and had an awesome morning and just set themselves up for success," WKU coach Bruce Marchionda said. "Now they are holding a slight lead heading into the last day, where they've got to do it. The opportunity is there so we will see what happens."
The Hilltoppers lead with 625.50 points, followed by Denver in second with 600.50 points and FAU in third with 442 points. Denver remains atop the women's standings with 571.50 points with the Lady Toppers in second with 491.50 points. North Texas is third with 483.50 points.
"The women did a solid job today," Marchionda said. "North Texas is right behind us so we are going to have to have a great day tomorrow to hold our position but we had some great, great swims."
Rodrigues recorded an SBC meet and conference record time of 47.14 seconds in a 100-yard butterfly qualifying heat, breaking the previous conference record of 47.96 set by Nick Slattery in 2011. The time is the fastest in WKU history and represents an NCAA provisional qualifying mark. Rodrigues returned in the finals to claim first place with a time of 47.29. Teammate Kevin Knezevich finished runner up with a mark of 47.75.
Six different Hilltoppers finished among the top 10 in the 100 butterfly event. Behind Rodrigues and Knezevich, junior Tyler Groneck (49.53) placed sixth, Jordan Vorst (49.62) seventh and Chris Housden (49.81) eighth. Senior Cameron Watkins rounded out the top 10 with a time of 50.41.
Dajka claimed the men's 200 freestyle event with a time of 1:38.08 while Kunkel finished first in the 100 breaststroke with a school-record time of 54.28. WKU junior Luke Musser finished second in the 100 breaststroke as he touched in at 54.55 while Groneck placed seventh in 55.97.
"Those were all big wins for us," Marchionda said. "We were counting on Heitor to win the 100 fly and Billy to win that breaststroke. This is the first year that he swam breaststroke because he always swam the 200 free, but we had faith in Adam Dajka and he came through for us today. That got everybody charged up and was a big momentum shift for us."
In the 200 freestyle, sophomore Neal Rushing (1:39.22) place third while junior David Rayner (1:41.65) took seventh. Junior Tom Gasnick won the "B" final with a time of 1:40.43 followed by Elliott Lorson in 11th with a mark of 1:42.46.
On the women's side, freshman Hannah Runyon-Hass was the top finisher for the Lady Toppers in the 400 individual medley. Runyon-Hass placed fourth with a time of 4:17.19 followed by Alex Van Oost and Ashley Forsyth in sixth and 12th, respectively.
WKU senior Kristiana Feeser finished runner up in the 100 butterfly even, stopping the clock in 54.28.
In the women's 100 breaststroke, freshman Claire Conlon took second with a time of 1:02.62, just shy of the school record. Senior Stephanie Martin (1:03.18) was third with Whitney Spain (1:04.61) in seventh and Paige Drazga (1:06.28) in 12th.
Another runner-up finish went to junior Hilary Mishler in the 100 backstroke. Mishler clocked in at 54.28 to take second while Allie Duff finished second in 55.36 and Laurel Chaney placed seventh in 56.03.
Hilltopper senior Chris Housden was the top finisher for WKU in the 100 backstroke event. Housden finished third with a time of 49.12. Freshman Seth Musser finished fourth in 49.17 with Drew Cato (50.08) fifth and Cameron Watkins (50.11) sixth.
In the men's 400 individual medley, sophomore Sam Dalton posted a time of 3:58.33 to claim fifth place followed by freshman Loui Little in sixth with a time of 3:28.64. Sophomore Lucas Zelehowsky rounded out the "A" final with a time of 4:07.07 to finish eighth.
The men wrapped the evening with a first-place finish in the 400 medley relay. The quartet of Chris Housden, Luke Musser, Knezevich and Rodrigues touched in at 3:15.05. Lady Toppers Mishler, Conlon, Feeser and Drazga finished in second place with a time of 3:41.43.
"That was a great way to close out the night to get that momentum for the next day," Marchionda said.
Saturday begins with the preliminaries in the 200 backstroke at 11 a.m., followed by the 200 breaststroke, 100 freestyle, 200 breaststroke and the 200 butterfly. The men's 1-meter diving preliminaries are scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. The evening session will feature finals in all five events and the 1,650 free before concluding with the 400 freestyle relay.
"Tomorrow is going to be a difficult day for us," Marchionda said. "North Texas is going to be very good across the board in the 200s of the strokes and so we're going to have to really get moving tomorrow, which I know we can. On the men's side, what we've got to do is hold even and let our depth shine tomorrow. Basically, it is a one-day meet now."
Live results from both sessions Friday and post-race videos will be available at SunBeltSports.org.