The third night of men’s Pac-12s has wrapped up from Washington. Here are 6 big things that stood out:
1. A banner night for defending champs: Tonight, 4 of 5 individual swimming event winners were repeat victors from 2014. In fact, the only swimming event with a new champion was the 100 fly, where 2014 winners Giles Smith graduated from Arizona. That’s not to say it was always easy for the title defenders. Sure, Josh Prenot (400 IM) and Cristian Quintero (200 free) made it look easy, but Kevin Cordes (100 breast) had to come from behind to barely touch out Chuck Katis, and Ryan Murphy (100 back) actually only put up the day’s second-best time overall, though he won the conference championship when USC’s Ralf Tribuntsov went slower in the final.
2. Dave Nolan’s big weekend continues: Though Stanford’s Dave Nolan wasn’t able to win the 100 back, he still managed to put up one of the most noteworthy swims of the night… swimming breaststroke. The backstroker/IMer filled in as the breaststroker on breaststroke-needy Stanford’s 400 medley relay. You could say things couldn’t have gone better there for Nolan. Not only did he put up the field’s best split at 51.78, he actually outsplit reigning American record-holder and NCAA champ Kevin Cordes. Yep, you read that right. Granted, it’s far from Cordes’ best split, but Nolan splitting 51 gives Stanford a true top-tier breaststroker for a medley in dire need of a breaststroker.
3. Cordes keeps us guessing: Let’s talk about Cordes, shall we? It’s been a bit of a confusing season for the best breaststroker in college swimming history. Arizona’s move away from a full mid-season rest and shave left Cordes without his usual mid-season assault on the national record books, giving us a lot less clarity on exactly where he is in comparison to previous years. Though it’s hard to find anybody truly betting against Cordes to complete his 4-peat as NCAA champ in the 100 breast, there’s also a lingering feeling that this season is distinctly different than seasons past. Tonight did nothing to silence those doubts, either. In addition to being outsplit in the medley relay, Cordes barely eked out the 100 breast win over Cal’s Chuck Katis, and was almost a full second slower than he was at this meet last year. The major difference was in the back half, where Cordes typically does his biggest damage. He was out nearly identical to last year’s conference time, in 24.4, but came home in 27.7 compared to a 26.8 a year ago.
4. Prenot ahead of pace – and could he do the unthinkable? On the other end of the spectrum is Cal’s Josh Prenot, who crushed the 400 IM field and went almost four seconds faster than he was at this time last year. In fact, Prenot was just three tenths off his lifetime-best. After a year in which Prenot has looked unstoppable both in short course and long course, it’s time we can at least utter a possibility that previously seemed unspeakable: could Prenot actually challenge Chase Kalisz for the NCAA 400 IM title? Kalisz was a half-second faster than Prenot at SECs, and is of course the NCAA and American record-holder way down at 3:34 (both men were 3:38s in the conference rounds). It’s still a longshot that anyone could pass up Kalisz, a machine seemingly created specifically to swim the 400 IM, but if Prenot remains as red-hot as he has, he could actually make things interesting at the national championships in a few weeks.
5. Quintero double three-peats: It’s not quite basketball’s “triple double.” It’s probably far more impressive. USC’s Cristian Quintero won the 200 free tonight, becoming the first man in Pac-12 history to sweep the 200 and 500 frees for three consecutive seasons. Quintero is probably the nation’s best all-around freestyler, with the range to compete from 50 yards to 1650 yards, but he’s clearly most dangerous over the middle distances. He’s the defending NCAA champ in the 500 free, and leads the nation this season with his 1:32.40 from tonight’s 200 free. Quintero has a shot at three event titles at NCAAs, and is actually the fastest returning swimmer in the 100, 200 and 500.
6. Murphy chasing the ghost of Lochte with a new challenger: Last year’s NCAA breakout freshman Ryan Murphy has been chasing Olympic hero Ryan Lochte‘s records for some time now. In tonight’s 100 back, he was chasing Lochte’s NCAA record, which he missed by .03 last season. Murphy, likely not fully rested, didn’t get the mark tonight, but was well ahead of his 2014 pace with a 44.98 to defending his Pac-12 title. But making things more interesting is that Murphy may have his hands full just trying to repeat as NCAA champion in the event. USC freshman Ralf Tribuntsov broke out in a big way today, going 44.95 out of prelims to break the Pac-12 Meet Record in the event. Tribuntsov would finish second to Murphy with a 45.27 in finals, but now looks like a legitimate challenger, both to Murphy’s NCAA crown and the Lochte record that seemed nearly in Murphy’s pocket at the end of last year.