2013mncaaKyle Whitaker prepares for the prelims of the 400 IM.
Courtesy of: Peter H. Bick
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Commentary by Michael J. Stott

AUSTIN, Texas, March 27. AT the NCAA championships, swimmers and spectators have a message for everything. And usually that message is found on a T-shirt. Some years ago my high school team at The Collegiate School unveiled a T-shirt with the slogan "Championships are won by the little things." That may prove true at this year's men's Division I swimming and diving championships.

At any NCAA meet, positive results are contingent on little things. North Baltimore coach Bob Bowman, here in Austin to watch some of his former swimmers, listed "starts, turns, and underwaters" as the essence of good technique that produces second swims. Though Kyle Whitaker will go into the final of the 200 IM as the second seed, he said in a post-race interview that he knows he'll have to improve on a big "little thing," namely the back-to-breast turn.

Failure to execute those "little things" proved fatal this morning for three 200 free relay teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference (Florida State, Virginia and North Carolina State) as well as six -- yes, six -- 400 medley relay teams. In the final event of the morning, quartets from Virginia, Wisconsin, Notre Dame, North Carolina and top seeds Auburn and Arizona were disqualified for early takeoffs. A review of timing sheets and video upheld the DQs, which will have a significant impact on final team standings come Saturday.

As big as this meet is, and as congested as the deck is, this NCAA meet always runs quickly. It's well-organized and well-structured with a timeline most governmental bodies would envy. The meet shows off the best college aquatics has to offer. Most impressive, other than the blazing pace of the swims themselves, is the fluidity of the individual efforts themselves. Invariably there is a flow to a stroke, leaving even the uninitiated to marvel at the form and function of the performers. This is a meet where parents and coaches come to watch butterflyers glide effortlessly from stroke to stroke, and breaststrokers maximize stroke length (Kevin Cordes, six strokes per 25) creating hardly a ripple. All of it is the result of years of training and attention to detail.

That's not to say there isn't maelstrom in the water. The 200 free relay, especially by the third length, is reminiscent of four-year-olds sharing a bathtub with waves cascading up and down porcelain walls. All of it displays excellent strokes, but all created by testosterone-fueled males bent on finishing first. Still, when all is said and done such thrashing is done with excellent form and purpose. And attention to the little things.