MINNEAPOLIS, Minn., March 23. LOOKING to join elusive company, Auburn begins its quest for a third consecutive team title Thurday, when the NCAA Men's Championships get under way at the University of Minnesota.
If the favored Tigers can duplicate their crowns of the past two seasons, it would mark the 12th time in history that a team notches a championship trifecta. Auburn is also seeking its fifth overall title, a total hit or exceeded by only Texas, Stanford, Indiana, Southern California, Michigan and Ohio State.
California, Stanford and Arizona are expected to be the top challengers to Auburn. Meanwhile, Texas is chasing its 26th straight finish in the top-five.
A number of defending event champions will be after repeats this weekend, including Auburn's Fred Bousquet in the 50 freestyle and Texas' Rainer Kendrick in the 200 butterfly. The winner of the 400 and 1,500 freestyles last year, Michigan's Peter Vanderkaay will try to take the 500 and 1,650 freestyles this year.
Three reigning champs are not expected to defend their victories of a year ago. Stanford's Jayme Cramer (200 free), Auburn's George Bovell (200 I.M.) and Florida's Ryan Lochte (400 I.M.) have opted for different schedules.
Several Olympic medalists will also be in action, including California's Duje Dragnja (silver, 50 free), Lochte (silver, 200 I.M.), Bovell (bronze, 200 I.M.) and Southern Cal's Larsen Jensen (silver, 1500 free).