MU earn medals at third annual Grand Prix

The third annual meet saw three swimmers earn medals.

Junior Martin Cernansky lunges forward during the 200-meter breaststroke final of the Missouri Grand Prix on Saturday at the Mizzou Aquatic Center. Cernansky won silver in the event, finishing behind Olympian Eric Shanteau.

MU sophomore Lauren Lavigna finished Sunday's 200-meter backstroke final, saw her time and dug her face into her hands.

Her time of 2:13.79 earned her a silver medal and was her career-best by six seconds.

"I didn't believe it," Lavigna said. "I was shocked."

Although the third annual Missouri Grand Prix was a stage for some of the world's best swimmers to show their talent, Lavigna and two other Missouri swimmers made sure they got in the spotlight as well, becoming the first Tigers to medal at the high-profile meet.

"When you see them everyday in the pool and see how hard they work, I don't expect it but I'm not surprised when it happens," coach Brian Hoffer said.

In the previous two years of the Missouri Grand Prix, no Tiger swimmer had even swam in a top final, let alone medaled. This year saw numerous Tiger swimmers in the last heat of finals and Lavigna, joined by junior Martin Cernansky and freshman Lisa Nathanson, cracked the top-three in their respective events.

Although Lavigna's big night came in the third night of finals, Missouri's medal count started with Cernansky's performance Friday.

After resting three weeks to be in top shape for the meet, Cernansky had no reservations going into his final heats this weekend.

"I was ready to go," Cernansky said.

The native Austrian earned a bronze medal in the 100-meter breaststroke in a personal-best 1:02.98. He nearly claimed the silver medal but fell short .14 of a second from Matt Lowe of Longhorn Aquatics.

The junior did one better the next night when he earned silver in the 200-meter breaststroke.

Even though he took home two medals from the meet, Cernansky said he received some intangibles from racing with U.S. Olympians, such as Eric Shanteau and Mark Gangloff.

"Every race you swim with them you learn something new," Cernansky said. "It's a great experience."

Nathanson scored Missouri's second medal of Saturday night when she placed third in the 50-meter freestyle with a personal-best time of 26.04.

In coming up with an explanation for his medal-winner's performances, Hoffer didn't hesitate to cite the home-pool advantage.

"Our team loves this pool, they always perform pretty well here," Hoffer said. "It kind of gets me excited about the Big 12 Championships with what we can do and the energy we can bring and to have more of a team environment."

The Mizzou Aquatic Center will go from hosting some of the world's best to hosting the best the Big 12 Conference has to offer starting Feb. 25.

For the Missouri swimmers both the Grand Prix and conferences championships are opportunities to put up a qualifying score for the NCAA championships in March.

Lavigna's performance in the 200 backstroke gave her a good shot at making the championships and added another reason to look forward to the conference meet.

"This year my first goal when I sat down with Brian was to make NCAA's," Lavigna said. "To be pretty confident that I will go, it just makes conference even better."

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