Miller Claims First Team All-America Honors with Top-8 Finish
ATLANTA – Clark Campbell hasn’t been this excited about an NCAA Swimming and Diving Championship final in years – 23 to be exact. The Kansas head coach looked on as Chelsie Miller completed her ascent in the 400-yard individual medley, earning First Team All-America honors for the first time with an eighth-place finish at Georgia Tech’s McAuley Aquatic Center Friday evening.
Miller wasn’t able to improve her season-best time or position from preliminaries, but she did turn in KU’s first finals swim since 1993, Campbell’s first year in collegiate coaching as an assistant for the Jayhawks when Frankie Hanson finished seventh at the NCAA Championship in the 1650-yard freestyle. Miller turned in KU’s 23rd, top-eight swimming effort since 1978.
“That was my first year of coaching and I got a chance to work with Frankie and the rest of the distance group all year,” Campbell said. “When she got top eight in the mile, I thought this was cool and it must happen all the time. Since then I’ve had coaching stints at other places and one things as you get older, you realize how special those championship finalists are at this meet. It’s such a fast competition, I’ll never take it for granted again.
“I’m so proud of Chelsie – hopefully it wont take another 23 years. To see her achieve that, it’s always something she’s wanted and she did it.”
Miller still has another swim left with the 200-yard butterfly on Saturday, but her 400 IM performance caps one of the most decorated Kansas swimming careers with an elusive All-America honor. The Houston, Texas native was 15th in the event in 2014 as a sophomore after becoming KU’s first ever Big 12 Champion, and then placed 13th at last year’s NCAA meet.
“The ultimate goal was to make top eight, and although it wasn’t the time I wanted, it was really cool to be top eight and be able to stand up on the podium,” Miller said. “It was surreal just standing there, you don’t get a medal, its a full trophy. Honestly it was really cool to see my parents in the stands, (assistant coach Jen Betz) and Clark, and even some of my teammates – everyone was so happy for me. It’s cool to be able to say I was able to do this, not just for myself but everyone who has been supporting me.”
Reached Friday evening, Hanson said she still remembers what it felt like to be an NCAA finalist.
“I was thinking about it and it’s been 23 years – I wasn’t even 23 years old at the time,” Hanson, who also shared a political science class with Campbell, recalled, “but I totally remember being on that podium, it was incredible. That will last a lifetime, being one of the top eight in the country. It’s quite an honor. All those days of following the black line – it’s a phenomenal feeling once you reach one of those high end goals.
“The swimming Jayhawks – men and women – are very proud of Chelsie, we know what an honor and how much hard work that is.”
Friday there were only two swimmers faster after the first 100-yards with Miller swimming a 56.26 in the butterfly, but the field caught up by the midpoint after the backstroke. Miller turned in one of the faster splits over the last 50 yards in freestyle, but couldn’t make up any lost ground.
“She used a little too much energy (early), it was her first ‘A’ final,” Campbell said. “She over swam the last 50 of her fly a little bit. With the IM you want to save your legs for the back half, and it wasn’t quite there like it was yesterday. But, you have to get your job done in the morning, she did that and she’s super excited to be an All-American.”
Stanford freshman Ella Eastin captured the 400 IM title after also winning the 200 IM title Thursday night. She flirted with the NCAA and American record at times during the race, but settled for a McAuley Aquatic Center-best 3:58.40, nearly five seconds faster than runner up Lindsey Clary of Ohio State (4:03.61).
Georgia’s Emily Cameron finished third in 4:03.66 and a trio of Texas A&M swimmers – Sydney Pickrem (4th), Bethany Galat (5th) and Lisa Bratton (7th) – wrapped around Minnesota’s Brooke Zeiger in front of Miller. 2016 Big 12 400 IM Champion Madisyn Cox of Texas won the consolation final in 4:05.78 to place ninth.
Known as the decathlon of swimming, the 400 IM is one of the most difficult events and nobody has been better at Kansas. Miller closed her career as the school record holder in the event with a time of 4:05.67 – a mark that would’ve put her in the top five in Friday’s final. She holds four other program marks, including KU’s top time of 1:58.37 in the 200-yard butterfly, which she’ll look to top in her final swims on Saturday when preliminaries begin at 9 a.m. (CT).
With three of next year’s leaders in the stands and the rest watching on ESPN3 and across a multitude of social media platforms, Campbell hopes future Jayhawks are inspired.
“We need to keep aspiring to do this,” Campbell said. “It’s one of the fastest and deepest events in the world, such a fast, deep meet across the board. It’s nice to get back (to the finals), we want to appreciate it and at the same time challenge our current and future athletes that this is the level we aspire to and train for every day.”
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