Maggie Mac Neil top point-getter, female swimmer of meet at SEC Championships
Maggie Mac Neil is winding down her collegiate swimming career doing much more than winning races.
On Saturday, the Canadian Olympic champion delivered another star performance for Louisiana State University, helping the Tigers to a record fifth gold medal at the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Championships in College Station, Texas.
Mac Neil played a major role in LSU winning the 400-yard (366-metre) freestyle relay with a 100 (91.4m) split of 45.26 seconds, the fastest in NCAA history and eclipsing Simone Manuel's 45.45 effort for Stanford at the 2015 NCAA Championships.
It marked the Tigers' second relay victory of the week after not winning a SEC relay title since 1986, With eight medals overall, the team finished fifth, its highest since the 2014-15 season.
Mac Neil piled up 96 points through the event to become LSU's first recipient of the Commissioner's Trophy since 1997. The native of London, Ont., also was named female swimmer of the meet.
The 22-year-old and her teammates will compete at the March 15-18 NCAA Championships at the University of Tennessee. Mac Neil was a two-time NCAA champion with the Michigan Wolverines.
She joined the Baton Rouge school this season, reuniting with LSU head coach Rick Bishop, her primary coach for three seasons at Michigan.
On Thursday, Mac Neil became the first woman in LSU's history to win three gold medals in the same SEC meet since Lucy Findlay in 1993. She took the 100-yard butterfly (91.4m) at Texas A&M's Rec Center Natatorium a day after swimming the second leg for the victorious 200 free (183m) relay team and 50 (45.7m) free.
3 gold at short course championships
MacNeil's time of 48.99 seconds in the fly broke not only the school record by nearly three seconds but also the meet and facility marks.
Two months ago, the Canadian swam to her second world record and third gold medal on the final day of the world short course championships in Australia.
Her records Melbourne came in the 100m butterfly final (54.05) and 50 backstroke (25.25) as Mac Neil took home best female swimmer honours for two fly gold, three relay bronze and individual gold in the 50 backstroke.
WATCH | Mac Neil captures 3rd gold at short course worlds:
She chose not to compete individually at worlds last summer in Budapest, Hungary, citing anxiety and pressure to succeed making it difficult to compete.
"I always thought I was invincible. I was completely normal and fine in high school and most of college. But I think this year was a little more difficult for me," Mac Neil explained last April, speaking to CBC Sports' Devin Heroux at Canadian swimming trials in Victoria.
"I've come across some post-Olympic struggles and it's been really challenging. That was a really big challenge for me."
For several years, Mac Neil had won just about everything in swimming but the pressure to perform at an elite level at each meet became too much.
WATCH | Mac Neil wins Canada's 1st gold of Tokyo Olympics:
"I try to keep a level head and not let my emotions get too high or too low," she said. "But I think sometimes the nerves get to me and I get really quiet and reserved and overthink things."
She returned to individual competition last July at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, where she won five medals (gold, two silver, two bronze).
In her 2020 Olympic debut, Mac Neil won a medal of every colour, including gold in her specialty event, the 100 butterfly. She followed that up with four gold and a silver at the 2021 short-course world swimming championships in Abu Dhabi.
Mac Neil was named Swimming Canada's female swimmer of the year and best female athlete of the Tokyo Games by the Association of National Olympic Committees.