The final night of men’s Pac-12s has wrapped up in Federal Way. Here are 5 big things we noticed:
1. Steven Stumph comes around: Coming out of high school, Steven Stumph was the fastest 100 breaststroker in high school history. But a rocky freshman campaign in Southern California left him well out of the spotlight heading into this season. But Stumph had a breakthrough meet this week, and capped it off with a clear signature swim: winning the 200 breaststroke title over Cal’s versatile star Josh Prenot and Arizona’s American record-holder Kevin Cordes. Stumph’s 1:52.50 will rank him #3 in the NCAA this year and should give him a legitimate shot at a championship final appearance at NCAAs later this month.
2. Cal DQ’s 400 free relay for second-straight season: Although the Golden Bears had fallen out of the points hunt well before the 400 free relay, it’s always worth noting the severe damage a relay disqualification can do to a team’s title hopes. For the second consecutive season, Cal had a swimmer false start on its 400 free relay, knocking the team out of scoring range. This season, the culprit was senior Seth Stubblefield, who otherwise had an outstanding week. The DQ tonight didn’t affect Cal’s place at all, but fans will hope it serves as a warning to the Bears, who could still be hoping to make a run at a repeat NCAA title later on in March. A DQ at the national championships would just about kill any chances the team had at a the big trophy in one single swoop.
3. USC wins first title since 1979: The USC Trojans came up huge on the last day, erasing a 33-point deficit to beat Stanford by just 9 for the title. That marks Southern Cal’s first Pac-12 men’s title in over 30 years. USC last won the conference in 1979 – that team was led by 1972 Olympic gold medalist Steve Furniss and coached by USC and USA legend Peter Daland, who passed away last fall. It’s fitting that the Trojans get to honor Daland’s memory by climbing back atop the conference for the first time since Daland’s crew did it three decades ago.
4. Stanford loses the title – on a swim-off: The flip side of USC’s win is Stanford’s stinging 9-point loss of the team title, which would have put the Cardinal back on top for the first time since their 31-year win streak was snapped in 2013. In a meet of 9 points, the difference could have been made up anywhere, but one notable point swing today was a swim-off for 8th place in the 100 free. Stanford’s Tom Stephens and Cal’s Tyler Messerschmidt showed down for the final championship heat slot after tying for 8th in prelims. It was Messerschmidt who won the swim-off by just .15, relegating Stephens to the B final, where he eventually faded in the final to 15th overall. That point swing (the 2 points he earned compared to the 11 he was guaranteed with a spot in the A final) was 9 points – the exact deficit Stanford lost the meet by. That’s not to say that single swim was the deciding factor – Stanford could have made up those 9 points anywhere during the 21 events of the meet. But it does show just how razor-thin a margin a swim meet title can often come down to.
5. Final call: Who won the Murphy vs Nolan shootout? Two of the best high school prospects of all-time met this week on different sides of the Pac-12. Cal’s sophomore Ryan Murphy and Stanford senior Dave Nolan had each won one head-to-head Pac-12 matchup heading into tonight, and Murphy won the rubber match in the 200 back. But looking at the weekend as a whole, here’s how the two stacked up:
- Murphy: 2 wins in 3 events, 1 Pac-12 meet record (200 back) = 56 points
- Nolan: 1 win in 3 events, American/US Open/NCAA records in the 200 IM = 53 points
- Murphy: 2 wins (200 medley, 200 free), 1 second-place (400 medley) = 114 points
- Nolan: 1 second place (200 free relay), 3 third places (200 medley, 800 free, 400 medley) = 130 points
- 200 medley, backstroke: Murphy 21.21, Nolan 21.13
- 200 free: Murphy 18.94, Nolan 18.63
- Murphy 400 free relay 41.76 (#1 overall) vs Nolan 800 free relay 1:32.49 (#2 overall)
- Murphy 400 medley 45.18 back (#1 overall) vs Nolan 400 medley 51.78 breast (#1 overall)
This is just one person’s take, but I’ve bolded what I felt were the more impressive performances in each category. Though Murphy ultimately won two of the three head-to-head matchups, it still feels like Nolan was the more impressive swimmer overall this week. That’s thanks in large part to the insane national records in the 200 IM (and the fact that Nolan beat the greatest of all-time Michael Phelps, who also swam the 200 IM this weekend), but also aided by some of his outstanding relay splits, including that 100 breaststroke that outsplit Kevin Cordes.