(Picture above of the Cal men celebrating in the University Aquatics Center Pool after winning. Thanks to Tim Hochradel for taking this great shot).
The 2011 Men’s NCAA Championships are in the books, and for the 2nd time in two weeks, the Cal Golden Bears are National Champs. This was sort of a funny meet. Texas outswam scoring expectations, but still had an up-and-down meet at points. None-the-less, they actually had a lead of .5 points with 3 events to go, one of which was diving where they had an A-finalist and Cal had nothing. Yet I don’t know if Cal ever got nervous. The biggest “nerves” came simply in confidence in the math that should’ve put them safely in winning-position. The math of numbers of finalists and relay placings. In the end, this meet did in fact come down to the last relay. It wasn’t quite like the women’s meet, where Cal simply had to finish the relay legally, but it was almost to that point. This was an excellent meet by both sides, and in all reality Texas was the better team on the final day of competition. But it’s a 3-day meet, and so Cal took the win. Kudos to both sides for some excellent swims and keeping the meet interesting.
(Interestingly, men’s and women’s teams winning championships in the same year isn’t that uncommon. Arizona did it in 2008, and Auburn did it in 2007 and 2006 [it happened many times before that]. It is, however, unusual for programs with totally separate men’s and women’s teams to do it. As far as I can tell, this hasn’t happened since Stanford in 1998.)
Third-place Stanford, though there was little drama in their finish, needs to be commended for the job they’ve done. There’s a lot of focus on the freshman class that they have coming in next season, and this year had the potential to be a slip-up year. They extended their streak to 20-straight years in the top 4 at NCAA’s, and should be lined up for at least four more.
For the second-straight year, illness played a major roll in the men’s NCAA Championship meet. Last year, it caused the entire schedule to be delayed for a day, and this year it caused defending Swimmer of the Year Conor Dwyer of Florida to make only one A-final, when he was expected to win at least two events. His teammates, however, ended up having a pretty great meet which allowed the Gators to hold onto the top 5. This also left the awards wide open this year, which took some serious thinking.
There were several other battles that came down to the final relay. Arizona over Florida for 4th, and USC over Virginia for 7th. The final finish of team order wasn’t really that surprising (we pegged the top 7 exactly, and were pretty close on 8-10).
We know who did well at the top of the scoring order, but lets highlight those teams lower down who did a fabulous job. I thought that Georgia had a fantastic meet, which was punctuated by Mark Dylla’s 200 fly title on the last day, to push them into the top 10. Texas A&M was a team that was disappointed by only getting two relay invites (after having 5 last year), but they made the best of those two relays to finish in 13th place, which is only 1-spot off of where they were last year. Better yet, they’re a young team that only loses 1 off of their Championship roster. It was their senior, Balazs Makany, who carried the swimmers, and their diver Grant Nel put up 3 huge performances to lift the team up.
Louisville also well-exceeded expectations to finish 17th. They’ve got a great breaststroker in Carlos Almeida who will be back in 2012 to challenge for two NCAA titles. But they’ve done a lot more than that. They had freshman freestyler (Joao De Luca) out of the great Brazilian program, and return full medley relays that should A-final next season. This program is on the rise and should bring some amount of focus back to Big East swimming next year.
And finally, the Clemson men finished in the top 25, which is impressive for a program receiving little-to-no institutional support. They have the foundations of a great program, with sophomore sprinter Eric Bruck, who tied for 14th, and junior Chris Dart, who led them to a 10th-place finish in the 200 free relay. Everyone knows that great sprinters are the fastest way to the top 15. Well, everyone except for the Clemson administration. The Tigers return that entire relay next season, and could be a top 15 team, which would really put a ton of pressure on the administration.
Here’s a few notes about the final scoring:
- It took almost exactly the same number of points to make the top 10 (125.5 vs. 123 last season) to make the top 10 this year.
- It took quite a bit more to make the top 15 this season, which points to how tight that middle-group was this season (115 this year versus 76.5 last year).
- USC was the only new team in the top 10 (supplanting Ohio State), and Tennessee was the only new team in the top 15 (supplanting Purdue). This shows that it’s a long, slow process to build a top 10 or top 15 team, so don’t underestimate the difficulty of that feat.
- Indiana scored 57 more points this season than last season, which led to an improvement of 13 places. That’s huge.
- There are two more teams that scored this year than last year. The new scorers this year: West Virginia (7), Iowa (4), South Carolina (2), and Columbia (1). Big congrats to those programs for getting in on the fun with finals swims this year.
1. California 493
2. Texas 470.5
3. Stanford 403
4. Arizona 302
5. Florida 291
6. Auburn 269.5
7. Southern Cali 206
8. Virginia 200
9. Michigan 181
10. Georgia 125.5
11. Ohio St 115
12. Tennessee 106.5
13. Texas A&M 99.5
14. Unc 97
15. Minnesota 91
16. Purdue University 88
17. Louisville 73
18. Indiana 61
19. Unlv 56
20. Duke 50
21. Arizona State 48
22. Missouri 44
23. Florida St 32
24. Wisconsin 21
25. Clemson 16.5
26. Louisiana St 14
26. Penn St 14
28. Virginia Tech 11
29. Alabama 10
30. West Virginia 7
30. Northwestern 7
32. So. Methodist 6
33. Brigham Young 5
33. Wyoming 5
35. U of Iowa 4
36. South Carolina 2
37. Columbia 1
Swimmer of the Meet-Nathan Adrian, Sr., Cal-This was by no means a clear-cut decision. There were only two double-winners: Adrian and Stanford’s Austin Staab. Adrian was less surprising than Staab, arguably, but still just as good. He took individual titles in the 50 and 100 free, the latter of which was the 3rd-fastest swim ever. He was also a part of 3 National Championship winning relays, and earned the maximum 7 All-American awards. The big tie-breaker, though, is that his team won the meet. That’s not always a factor, but when the award is this close, it’s a great tool.
Honorable Mention: Austin Staab, Jr., Stanford- Staab took wins in the 100 fly, in the most anticipated battle of the meet, and the 200 IM, where he broke a Ryan Lochte pool record. He also had a great swim in his 3rd event the 100 free, where he was 5th. It’s now a wait-and-see game whether or not Staab will continue his career professionally.
Honorable Mention: Tom Shields, Jr., Cal- Out of his 3 individual events, Shields won the one that was least expected (the 100 back). He also had some outstanding relay swims (1:32.7 leadoff in the 800 free relay).
Coach of the Meet-Eddie Reese, Texas– This was a really tough pick to make. I could’ve taken the easy way out and given the award to the winning coach, but that sort of defeats the purpose of the award. I give this award to Eddie Reese for keeping his young swimmers engaged in a meet where nobody besides them really believed they had a chance. Their impressive performance on the final day showed the fortitude that this team had developed. But he gets this award for some of his individual coaching jobs as well. Specifically, Dax Hill’s 200 free. They changed Hill’s strategy on the fly (in between sessions) and had him take out the first 100 much, much slower than he did in prelims, or ever does for that matter. The result was him crushing his personal best by 7-tenths of a second. It’s those sort of in-meet adjustments that make an awesome coach, not to mention his 26 top-3 finishes in 33 years.
Honorable Mention: Dave Durden, Cal- Sure, Durden had a huge wealth of talent on his team. But he did a wonderful job of molding that talent into a perfect storm this year. He led Cal to their first NCAA Championship in 31-seasons, which is hard to believe given the high-profile of this Cal program.
Honorable Mention: Mark Bernadino, Virginia- The Cavaliers well exceeded expectations this season, which is not something they always do at NCAA’s. It started with Matt McLean upsetting everyone in the 500 free, and continued into four A-final relays (which is way more than seeded). This included a 2nd-place finish in the 800 free relay, which is the highest they’ve ever placed.
Freshman of the Meet-Kyle Whitaker, Fr., Michigan- Whitaker’s biggest finish was in his best event, the 400 IM, where he was second overall. His 3:41.69 was an awesome time in an event that is typically dominated by juniors and seniors. He also made an A-final in the 200 IM, where he placed 7th. This is a great jump-start to his career. He has a ton of potential for his 3rd events as well, but he and coach Mike Bottom need to work together to really nail down which event is going to work best for him.
Honorable Mention: Marcin Cieslak, Fr., Florida- Cieslak was the only freshman in the country to qualify for three individual finals. His greatest success was in his primary event, the 200 fly, where he finished 4th in 1:42.13. But he also finished 6th in the 200 IM and 15th in the 100 fly. No other freshman, (not Whitaker, not Morozov not even Friedemann) can boost that accomplishment.
Honorable Mention: Vlad Morozov, Fr., USC- With all of the talk about Morozov’s potential on the international level, he sometimes seems older than a freshman. While he did not have his best meet at NCAA’s, he still has plenty of time to win titles. He placed in A-finals in both sprint events, with a 4th in the 100 free and a 6th in the 50.
Diver of the Meet-David Boudia, Jr., Purdue – In his last collegiate meet before turning pro, David Boudia didn’t exactly go out with the absolute flash that he had hoped for. He won the 1-meter and 3-meter competitions, but only after stumbling early. However, this weekend is why he will go down as a great champion and one of the best college divers ever. Though he won 6 individual National Championships in his 3-year career, this weekend he proved that he’s a fighter, and has the competitive fire to win when challenged.
Honorable Mention: Grant Nel, Jr., Texas A&M- Nel was one of only four divers to make the A-final in all 3 diving events, and one of only two (along with Boudia) to place in the top-3 on all 3 diving events. That’s something that, surprisingly, doesn’t happen all that often, and for it to happen twice in the same season is incredibly rare. He took 2nd on the 1-meter and 3-meter, and 3rd on the platform. With Boudia going pro and McCrory likely to go pro or redshirt for Olympic training, Nel has a legitimate shot at becoming the first diving 3-peat next season since the 80’s.
Honorable Mention: Nick McCrory, Jr., Duke- McCrory put up the single best performance of the entire meet, swimming or diving, on the platform. He posted huge score of 548.90 that broke his own Championship Record set last season, and recorded the only two dives of the meet over 100 points. All of that with an injured shoulder. He simply nailed dive after dive after dive, and put away even the great David Boudia very early in this competition. In addition to this victory, he placed 4th on the 1-meter and 3rd on the 3-meter.
Perseverance Award-Mark Dylla, Sr., Georgia- This is everybody’s favorite story from the 2011 NCAA Championship meet. Dylla has been disappointed in the 200 fly so many times throughout his career (in the 3 previous seasons, he was runner-up twice and DQ’ed in a victory once), but he released all of those years of frustration on the final 25 of this race and his collegiate career. He blew by the field, including NCAA Record holder Tom Shields, to finally earn his spot among individual NCAA Champions. He could’ve easily become disappointed in how last-season ended, with a one-handed touch derailing this race, but Dylla’s just not that kind of guy. He used that disappointment to motivate himself to become even better.
Honorable Mention: Mike Joyce, Sr., Florida- In his previous three seasons at Florida, Mike Joyce was unable to even crack the Gators’ SEC Championship roster. But this year, he really demonstrated the definition of perseverance by breaking through and qualifying for an A-final in the 400 IM. Who would’ve thought at the beginning of the year that Mike Joyce would be the only A-finalist in the 400 IM at NCAA’s? This is an absolutely incredible turnaround for Joyce, and shows what can happen if you stick to a program and continue to fight hard for every inch in every practice.