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Analysis by Jeff Commings
AUSTIN, Texas, March 29. TODAY’S preliminary session at the NCAA Men’s Division I Swimming and Diving Championships is the hardest session of the meet. It’s also the most important for those fighting for the right to hold the championship team trophy later tonight. Getting swimmers into prime scoring positions is key every day, but in a team race as close as the one we have now, it’s crucial.
Texas led after last night’s competition by six points over California, and after today’s swimming, the race is likely to be decided in the final event, the 400 free relay.
On the surface, Cal has the advantage going into finals with six swimmers in the championship final. Texas only has three. But the Longhorns have four divers who have the potential to earn team points in platform diving today. That will likely even things out.
Florida, sitting in third about 33 points behind Cal, could make a push tonight as well and make it a three-team race going into the relay. Florida has no divers, and they only have three swims in the championship final. To Florida’s credit, the Gators could score big in the 1650 freestyle with Mitch D’Arrigo and Arthur Frayler for a boost to start the finals session.
As for Michigan, they are out of the battle for first. Only three Wolverines in the championship final tonight and no consolation finalists. Three swimmers in the 1650 freestyle timed final could help, but not making the championship final of the 400 free relay will make it very tough.
The key event for California today was the 200 breast. Dave Durden will be eternally grateful that Chuck Katis transferred from Harvard. Katis scored big in the 100 breast last night and will be vital for the Golden Bears in the longer race. This brings back memories of 2011, when Damir Dugonjic got into the A final of the 200 breast and the Cal team went ballistic. They knew the team title was theirs at that point.
Unfortunately for Cal or Texas, nothing is secured yet. This will be one of the closest team battles we’ve seen on the men’s side in 12 years. Texas beat Stanford by 10 points in 2002, and it could be that close or closer. Eddie Reese is on the cusp of sharing the honor of being the winningest college coach in NCAA men’s swimming. An 11th title tonight would tie him with Ohio State’s Mike Peppe. It would be the third NCAA title for Dave Durden at Cal to go along with the many he enjoyed as assistant coach in his years at Auburn.
Cumulative up/down placings of top four teams (not counting diving, 1650 free or 400 freestyle relay):
California: six up/two down
Texas: three up/three down
Florida: three up/three down
Michigan: three up/zero down