Theo Lozano | Contributing Writer
FIU Swimming and Diving made its first ever appearance in the American Athletic Conference Championships from February 13th to 18th in Dallas, Texas.
With 1300 points, the Panthers concluded just short of Houston’s first place, with 1311.15.
The first two days were reserved for 1-Meter and 3-Meter Diving.
FIU secured 72 points in the first discipline, with graduate Maha Gouda barely missing the podium with 283.95 points. Third place was taken by FAU’s Alicia Mora with 287.5. All Panthers scored points.
In 3-meter diving, Gouda secured a silver medal on her final attempt with a 60-point dive. Freshman Ruska Lethonen also added points to the Panthers with a third place finish on the B-Final. The two athletes added 49 points for FIU, concluding the second day with 121.
The Panthers dominated the third day. Starting with the 200-medley relay, graduate Kelsie Campbell, sophomore Christie Chue, freshman Oumy Diop and sophomore Jessica Sphilko took first place with a solid time of 1:37.64.
Gouda broke an AAC record with a 296.10 score in the platform dive, winning the second gold medal for FIU.
The day concluded with the 800-freestyle relay, in which the Panthers proved triumphant once again.
The fourth day of competition saw another excellent performance by FIU.
Curthoys-Davies scored 23 points in the 500-freestyle to start the day. The 200-individual medley saw two Panthers leading the podium: Chue, with a time of 1:58.40, and Zahab, with 1:58.86.
Sphilko and Campbell placed in third and fifth place for the 50-freestyle. The 200-freestyle relay team was just short of third place by 0.12 points.
In total, the Panthers accumulated 581 points, maintaining their second place.
Five events took place on the fifth day: 400-individual medley, 100-butterfly, 200-freestyle, 100-breaststroke, 100-backstroke and 400-medley relay.
Freshman Nicole Frank took gold in the first event, with teammates junior Ellie Maradyn and Zahab placing sixth and seventh. FIU scored 80 points in the second one, with Diop and Campbell finishing fourth and seventh.
A difference of .04 kept Curthoys-Davies from reaching the podium in the 200-freestyle event. Chue, freshman Ingrid Huzsar and senior Delaine Goll took second, fifth and sixth place in the 100-breaststroke.
Senior Lamija Medosevic added 22 points to the Panthers in 100-Backstroke.
Finally, the Panthers dominated the 400-medley relay, as they have been doing this event. This put them at only 15 points from the defending champions, Houston.
For the final day, FIU competed in six different events.
The first was the marathonic 1650-freestyle, a finals-only event in which Maradyn placed seventh with a time of 2:15.49.
Sophomore Anelis Roque added four points to the Panthers in the 200-backstroke event. 100-freestyle saw a fourth, sixth and seventh place by the Panthers Curthoys-Davies, Campbell and Sphilko.
In 200-breastroke, Chue managed to break the pool record with a time of 2:08.73, with fellow Panthers Huzsar and Doll taking the bronze medal and a close follow-up.
To conclude the event, the Panthers competed in the 400-freestyle relay, with Chue, Curthoys-Davies, Campbell, and Sphilko taking the final gold of the championships home.
FIU ended the championships with 14 medals: eight golds, four silvers and two bronzes – the highest-medaling team in the conference.
Seven of those were won by Chue, who also broke pool records in 200-breastroke.
Diving-wise, Gouda led the team by taking a gold and a silver home while also breaking an AAC record in platform diving.
Frank, who took gold in the 400m-individual medley, was named Women’s Swimming and Diving Freshman of the Year.
Despite their applaudable efforts, FIU ended up just short of conquering the conference. Still, it is undeniable that the Panthers made a strong entrance in their first year ever competing in this event.
The squad now gears up for a trip to Knoxville, Tennessee, to compete in the NCAA Zone B Diving Championships starting March 6.