For where car geeks discuss Lamborghini v Ferrari, comic book fans argue Marvel v DC, and kids debate between Coke v Pepsi, the swimming community has its own classic debate in Texas v California. The two universities have joined a list of rivalries that can never be agreed upon by a nation in the past few college seasons. Every year as our calendars turn to March, swimming fans like clockwork begin their discussion as to who will win the NCAA men’s team title, generally with both teams deep in the conversation.
On the one side of the equation, you have the University of Texas.
Eddie Reese, statistically the greatest college swimming coach in the history of the sport, leads his Longhorns into the state of Iowa this weekend looking to add an 11th national title to the University of Texas trophy room. Over the course of his 37-year career in Austin, Reese has captured 10 national championships, 11 national runner-up finishes, and an astounding 28 top three finishes at these championships. At the beginning of the new millennium, Reese captured his first national championship since 1996 and sent a record 8 male Olympian swimmers to the Games in Sydney. Reese and the Longhorns followed up the impressive summer winning two consecutive national championships, out-dueling Stanford and Skip Kenney in the process. Nate Dusing, Ian Crocker, Brenden Hansen, and Aaron Peirsol all greatly aided Reese in sparking the beginning of his dynasty bringing international recognition and Olympic hopefuls to Austin.
On the other side of the discussion, you have the University of California Bears. A former assistant to both Dave Salo at Nova Aquatics and David Marsh at Auburn University, head coach Dave Durden has learned from two of the most decorated coaches in the history of the sport. In his first season in Berkeley, Durden would lead the Bears to a 4th place finish behind eventual NCAA champion Arizona and Frank Busch. The following season the Bears would make their mark on the championships led by a skinny sophomore by the name of Nathan Adrian, who would sweep the 50 and 100 freestyle events in American record time as well as qualify for the World Championship team that very summer. Although the Bears would again finish fourth no one could further deny the imminent threat to the powerhouses of Auburn, Stanford, and Texas.
While Texas took home the 2010 National title, the Bears seem to now be the new swimming dynasty of the decade. Durden and Cal have won three of the last four national titles producing multiple Olympians such as Adrian, Damir Dugonjic of Slovenia, Martin Liivamagi of Estonia, and Graeme Moore of South Africa at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. When Cal has won, it is worth mentioning the Longhorns have not been far behind adding three of their 11 runner-up finishes in these last four years.
Texas enters this week as the heavily favored team to win with Cal, USC, and Florida all looking to play spoiler. Where Texas has an incredible butterfly group led by sophomore Jack Conger, the Bears showcase a deep backstroke group led by NCAA record holder Ryan Murphy. Where the Texas sprint group is led by Matt Ellis and John Murray the Bears answer back with seniors Seth Stubblefield and Tyler Messerschmidt. The talk across the country of Texas sophomore Will Licon‘s emergence as a perennial dark horse in the individual medleys as well as the 200 breaststroke is matched by Cal junior Josh Prenot coming off an impressive summer at the National Championships (and let us not forget the friendly shout-out at the Big 12’s from Licon to Prenot). While Texas super freshmen Joseph Schooling and Brett Ringgold look to make their mark on the championships Berkley’s Justin Lynch and Connor Green look to end their freshman campaign as Murphy did a year ago, with a National Championship banner added to the Spieker pool.
The Texas Longhorns have built this year’s NCAA roster around a deep sprint and distance group as well as their aforementioned quartet of butterfliers and a trio of divers. The California Bears bring a NCAA roster to Iowa City loaded with a majority of points looking to be scored by their IM’ers, breaststrokers, and the trio of Murphy-Pebley-Green in the 200 backstroke. Then again, one can never neglect the sprinters of Berkley who have seemingly dominated the 200 freestyle relay race since the freshman year of their now-senior sprint men.
Eddie has, in the minds of some, his best team since the 3-peat of the early 2000’s with another incredible recruiting class expected on campus in the fall. Durden finds his roster in a similar position loaded with his most talented team since the big 3 of Adrian, Shields, and Dugonjic led the men of Cal. That, combined with the Texas’ lead in the college swimming poll going into this weekend, leaves the NCAA championships with the potential to out-do last year’s battle for the NCAA title in Austin. One thing is for certain, when Saturday night of the championships has closed, we will find these familiar foes in yet another battle for the crown of the NCAA.