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Commentary by Jeff Commings
AUSTIN, Texas, March 29. THERE’S a saying in swimming circles that goes “Last one, fast one.” I’m not a fan of that phrase, mostly because it implies that someone has reserved their energy to put everything into a much faster effort at the end of a swimming set than prescribed. But “last one, fast one” seemed to be the motto today at the NCAA Men’s Division I Swimming and Diving Championships.
Several swimmers had not been on their game this week, but found the motivation to make their final swims of the week special. Take Connor Jaeger, for example. Before the meet started, no one would have believed he would place third in the 500 freestyle. But that’s what happened. Most would have counted him in the final of the 200 freestyle. But he didn’t make the top eight.
Cue today’s 1650 freestyle. If there’s an event that Jaeger did not want to lose, it was that one. He beat Jeremy Bagshaw by 10 seconds to end his college career on a (fairly) good note.
Marcelo Chierighini had been the prohibitive favorite to win the 50 freestyle. Even after Brad deBorde broke 19 seconds at the SEC championships and Brad Tandy got his clearance to race in Division I, I still picked the Auburn senior to win. But Chierighini swam in the consolation final of the 50 free.
On Saturday, the Marcelo Chierighini I saw in the 50 freestyle was not the Marcelo Chierighini who showed up in the 100 free prelims. A 41.52 took some of the bite out the 50 free, perhaps, and definitely “last one, fast one” his mantra.
Plenty of others rallied on the third day to salvage rocky performances at the meet. Andrew Gemmell. Marcin Tarczynski. Nick McCrory.
Did you notice that all the names I’ve mentioned so far are seniors? Perhaps it’s no surprise that the biggest turnarounds of the meet were done by those wrapping up their collegiate careers. No one wants to make their last college race a bad one. My last college race was about as terrible as it can get, and it soured many of the great memories I had of college swimming. But Jaeger, Chierighini and others can move on to the next chapter with smiles on their faces.
A chance to gloat. Allow me a moment to praise myself for accurately picking the top nine teams at this meet. I didn’t accurately pick the order, but I did get the schools correct. While DQs and subpar swims radically jumbled around the order I had predicted (Michigan winning, Florida placing second with California third), I kind of feel good about my first year of publicly making college ranking predictions. I follow in the footsteps of John Lohn, who was pretty accurate for many years in Swimming World Magazine. I wasn’t sure I was a worthy successor to Lohn’s prognostications, but this year was a good start. If Indiana (10th) and Louisville (11th) had switched places, I would have had a perfect 10-for-10.
My picks, found in the March issue of Swimming World Magazine:
9. Southern California
It’s never too early to start talking about next year. California loses four seniors, while Texas loses just two. Cal gets national age group record holders Justin Lynch (butterfly) and Connor Green (backstroke) next season, along with utility player Nick Silverthorn. Texas will have one-man powerhouse Joe Schooling on the roster next year. On paper, Cal has the advantage for a repeat. But Texas will be hungry to win after getting a whiff of a national title this week.
Overheard: “Jeremy Bagshaw deserves a parade of his own in Berkeley next week.”