By John Lohn
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn., March 28. EACH season, graduation takes its toll on the NCAA swimming scene. That’s the nature of the collegiate ranks. Last year, the men’s side was nailed, as several standouts moved on. We’re talking about Ian Crocker, Brendan Hansen, Aaron Peirsol and Peter Marshall, among others.
So, this year was primed to be a down season, right? Ah, no way. Last weekend served as major proof, as record-breaking swims were aplenty at the NCAA Championships at the University of Minnesota. As always, the collegiate ranks delivered in a big way. Here’s a quick recap of the three-day competition and what it told us.
**Behind Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte may be the second-best swimmer in the world. Armed with tremendous versatility, the Florida sensation broke his own 200 individual medley American record (1:41.71) and nearly eclipsed his American standard in the 200 backstroke. For good measure, he placed second in the 100 back to Northwestern’s Matt Grevers.
What can we expect from Lochte at this summer’s World Championships in Montreal? Well, that depends. Lochte is slated to swim a plethora of events at the Trials in Indianapolis and it’s uncertain as to which he’ll actually attack. What is known is this: Lochte is a medal contender in a number of disciplines and could be considered the fastest rising star on the American circuit.
**The NCAA Championships absolutely belonged to the sprinters, most notably Fred Bousquet (Auburn) and Duje Draganja (California). Both men put on dazzling exhibitions and walked away from the weekend with NCAA records.
Bousquet provided the highlight of the weekend, as he blistered 18.74 (prelims) and 18.90 (finals) in the 50 freestyle to become the first man in history to crack the 19-second barrier. Draganja, meanwhile, recorded the third-fastest time in the history of the 50 free, popping a 19.01 mark in the final.
Although Draganja was topped in the two-lap free, there was no touching the senior in the 100 free, where he registered a record performance of 41.49. For good measure, the Olympic silver medalist (50 free) helped Cal to an NCAA record in the 400 free relay (2:47.70) and won the 100 butterfly (45.39).
**By capturing its third consecutive team title, Auburn has officially earned the distinction of dynasty. Dave Marsh’s squad faced its biggest challenge in the last three years, but delivered in the clutch to defeat Stanford, 491-414. Combined with his women’s team, Marsh has now led Auburn to eight NCAA crowns.
While the Tigers received splendid efforts from their swimmers, Auburn also benefited from 86 points from its divers. That scoring proved to be the difference, as Stanford actually outscored Auburn in the swimming events, 414-405. Then again, it’s called the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships.
**In finishing in third place, Arizona packaged a spectacular competition, wrapping up with 388 points. The Wildcats were solid in the relays and rode the efforts of Simon Burnett, the 200 free champ, and Lyndon Ferns to their best placement since ending up third in 2000. Stacked with returning talent, Arizona should be in the mix to win it all next year.
**The program at Northwestern, although small in NCAA scoring talent, could be considered the fastest growing in the nation. The Wildcats placed eighth and boasted an NCAA champ in Matt Grevers (100 back). Grevers also reached the finals in the 50 and 100 free events while Mike Alexandrov was second in the 200 breast and third in the 100 breast.
Meanwhile, freshman Kyle Bubolz is destined to be a major point-scorer in the future. If Bob Groseth can develop some more depth, look for Northwestern to continue to soar up the team standings.