At the pre-meet press conference for the 75th annual NCAA Men's Swimming and Diving Championships (Mar. 26-28) in Auburn, Alabama, the talk was that the upcoming meet would be the closest-ever championship, a race that would come down to the last night of finals, if not the very last event.
But after the first night of finals, the talk was that the meet would be one of the biggest blow-outs in NCAA history-one in which Stanford had a shot to set a record for points scored. The Cardinal took control from the opening event, smashing the American/NCAA record in the 200 yard freestyle relay. The team of Anthony Robinson (19.66), Sabir Muhammad (18.79), Justin Ewers (19.39), and Scott Claypool (18.92) won in 1:16.76, bettering the mark of 1:16.93 set by the 1994 Stanford squad.
"The first event was a real key because we weren't favoured to win," said Stanford coach Skip Kenney, who was named Swimming Coach of the Year. "Winning that event got the ball rolling. I can't remember having a bad swim. It is one of the most special feelings I've had as a coach."
Stanford parlayed quality and quantity to amass 599 points, the second-highest total and its second-greatest margin of victory. Only the 1992 Cardinal team did better with 632 points and a 276-point margin. This year Kenney's team won eight of 18 swimming events (there are also three diving competitions) and achieved the rare-if not first-ever-distinction of having a finalist in each of 18 races (no official record is kept).
Defending champion Auburn was second with 394.5 points followed by Texas at 362.5.
"They have exceeded everything I expected," added Kenney. "I think it was a combination of our senior class pulling the others and our freshmen pushing them."
In Kenney's 19 years at the university, Stanford has won seven national titles (1985-87 and 1992-94).
Senior captain Tom Wilkens, who had won just one NCAA individual title in his previous three years, led the Cardinal with wins in the 200 IM, 400 IM, and 200 breaststroke.
"We set goals to do what we've done, and we came in here thinking we could pull it off," Wilkens said. "But when you do it-when it actually happens-it's really exciting."
Stanford swimmers upended some defending champions in its route. Wilkens and Blake Holden went 1-2 in the 200 breaststroke ahead of Tennessee's Jeremy Linn. Tate Blahnik upset Lenny Krayzelburg of USC in the 200 back, exploding off the final turn to take the lead and touch out the world champion, 1:41.21 to 1:41.55.
Arizona's Ryk Neethling was the other triple winner, only the fourth swimmer ever to take the 200, 500, and 1650 freestyle events. The sophomore from South Africa joins Iowa's Arthur Wojdat (1991), Roy Saari of USC (1965 and 1966), and Washington's Jack Medica (1934, 1935, and 1936). He won the 1650 unchallenged in 14:32.50, the second-fastest ever behind Tom Dolan's record of 14:29.31.
"I came in here to get three titles and I've achieved my goal," said Neethling. "I'm not ecstatic with the time, but I dropped my personal best by 11 seconds. It's really difficult to swim hard out on your own. I was on pace (for the event record) at 1,000 yards and that would have been a good time to have someone pushing me."
Lars Frolander, a senior at SMU, was named the 1998 NCAA Men's Swimmer of the Year. The Swedish Olympian became the first swimmer ever to break 46 seconds in the 100 butterfly, swimming a 45.65 in the preliminaries to shatter his own NCAA and U.S. Open records (46.18 in 1995). He improved to 45.59 in the final to win the event for the third time, with runner-up Muhammad nearly half a second behind. The next night Frolander repeated as champion in the 100 free (42.12), giving him five titles during his four-year career.
"I never thought I'd swim this fast (in the 100 freestyle)," said Frolander. "I have more confidence in the 100 fly than I do in this race. I came in wanting to defend my championships. That was my goal. I've accomplished more than I could have ever imagined in my career."
Auburn set the last of the three records at the meet. The Tigers' team of Michael Bartz (21.97), Adam Jerger (23.57), Brett Hawke (20.57), and Aaron Ciarla (19.13) won the 200 medley relay in 1:25.24 to surpass the NCAA and U.S. Open record established by last year's Auburn team (1:25.40).
In the 800-yard freestyle relay, three Texas freshmen and one sophomore ended Michigan's five-year-long stranglehold on the event with a winning time of 6:23.78. Bryan Jones (1:36.72) and Scott Goldblatt (1:36.42) kept the Longhorns close early on, and Nate Dusing (1:35.73) gave Texas a slight lead heading into the final leg. Jamie Rauch had to hold off Neethling (1:33.97) in the final leg, and did so with a split of 1:34.91 to seal the win. Arizona was second with a time of 6:24.01.
Texas head swimming coach Eddie Reese summed up the championships following the meet's final event: "As it turned out, we couldn't have beaten Auburn (for second)," Reese said. "Auburn couldn't have beaten Stanford (for the national championship). And nobody could have beaten us (for third). They probably could have handed out the trophies after the first day." Penny Abrahams is Athletics Media Relations Assistant at the University of Texas