The 2014 ACC Men’s Championship was the most exciting conference championship meet we’ve seen this season.
There were other conferences that had better results (the Big Ten, for example), and there were other conferences that had closer finishes (the CAA, for example), but there was no other conference that had the same combination of the two.
The Virginia Tech Hokies came out on top of the final team standings, with the North Carolina State Wolfpack taking second. This marks a new chapter in the conference’s swimming history (one that perhaps there was a prologue to last season) after 6-straight years of dominance for the Virginia Cavaliers.
This is not only the Hokies’ first ACC Championship in swimming, it’s also the first time that either Virginia Tech team (men’s or women’s) has placed higher than Virginia at the ACC Championships since 2005.
The North Carolina vs. North Carolina State ACC rivalry goes back significantly further, but it’s a similar story: the last time NC State beat North Carolina at the ACC Championships was in 1992 when the Wolf Pack won the title.
There was a lot of talk after the outcome among both Virginia Tech and North Carolina State’s swimmers about “owning their states,” which is an important recruiting concept from two states that are suddenly producing scores upon scores upon scores of Division I-caliber talent every year.
While it’s not yet clear that either program truly owns their states in any long-term sense, they’ve certainly muddled the waters in a big way, and that’s a good thing for ACC swimming. Those rivalries will keep local swimmers engaged, and keep them at home rather than sending them abroad to Florida and California.
This is classic ACC swimming. Historically, there’s been a team that will go on a run for a few years, then there will be a year or a few years of absolute knock-down, drag-out battles, then someone will go on a run again. This is the pattern we’ve seen since 1962, when the ACC had their first men’s swimming conference championship.
NC State went on the first run from 1966-1985, with only a single 1970 title from Maryland (by 5 points) to interrupt. Then there were a lot of back-and-forth meets (from 1986-1990, the meet was only separated by more than 50 points once, and twice it was separated by fewer than 10).
Then from 1993-1998 it was all Carolina. Then Virginia took over, and has won almost every title since, with the exception of 2007. In the transition, the 1999 title was won by just 6.5 points.
North Carolina State’s improvements were wild. It would be quite an effort to calculate the improvements, but they probably averaged a 3-4 second drop on each 200 yard race, at least, at this meet. They had the best swimming team at the meet, but of course this is the swimming & diving championships – and who knows what Virginia Tech would be able to do with swimming if they used less scholarship money on divers.
Both of those teams look healthy for the long-term as well. You can count on Virginia bouncing back, as their recent legacy has been too strong to slip away. North Carolina will continue to be a part of this battle too, and Florida State now under Frank Bradley is headed in a positive direction.
We could be looking at a fun few years ahead in the ACC on the men’s side. Congratulations to Virginia Tech and North Carolina State, along with their head coaches Ned Skinner and Braden Holloway, on a spectacularly entertaining meet that captured the national swimming community’s attention, and held it captive for 4 days of punching and counter-punching. Congratulations to the rest of the conference’s teams, including newcomers Notre Dame, the old stalwarts Virginia and UNC, the sprinters of Florida State (and the swimmer of the meet Pawel Sankovich – for the second-straight year). That meet was good for swimming, and the times bore out that the ACC is reenergized by parity. Streaks are boring, and parity is good for swimming, and the new ACC is good for swimming.