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Columbia Missourian

Missouri women win freestyle swimming relay at Big 12 championships

By Caitlin Swieca
February 23, 2012 | 11:19 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — The Missouri women's swimming team made sure its last trip to the Big 12 Championships would be remembered.

Swimming in the 200-yard freestyle relay, the Tigers set a school record at 1 minute 28.34 seconds to claim its first relay title in Big 12 competition. The team's time qualified it to compete in the NCAA Championships next month.

Team standings through Thursday

Women's standings
1. Texas A&M — 342
2. Texas — 296
3. Missouri — 225

Men's standings
1. Texas — 371.5
2. Texas A&M — 267
3. Missouri — 222.5

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The team, composed of senior Shara Stafford, junior Cassie Cunningham, freshman Emily Doucette and senior Lisa Nathanson, out-touched Texas by 14-tenths of a second.

Missouri coach Greg Rhodenbaugh said the win was special but  the group has room for improvement.

"It wasn't a mistake-free relay, but they sure stepped up," he said. "We had some slow takeovers; we had one blown turn; and we got two people that aren't rested on the relay."

Rhodenbaugh noted that the victory was a result of a much deeper sprint team than last year's team. Both Doucette, who is a freshman, and Stafford, who transferred this year from Florida, are in their first season with the Tigers.

"It always helps to have one really fast 'horse' to ride, and Shara is certainly that," Rodenbaugh said of Stafford.

Nathanson, who anchored the relay, said the win was a sign of Missouri closing the gap between its elite Big 12 competitors, Texas and Texas A&M.

"I'm really proud of the fact that throughout my four years, we've always been on the upswing," she said.

The win turned out to be Missouri's only victory of the night. Stafford finished third in the 200-yard individual medley, and Nathanson took fourth in the 50-yard freestyle.

On the men's side, freshman Eegan Groome finished fourth in the 500-yard freestyle, and freshman Ramom Melo took third in the 50-yard freestyle, finishing in just under 20 seconds.

The Big 12 swimming championships will continue through Saturday at the Mizzou Aquatic Center.