By Phillip Whitten
AUSTIN, Texas, March 27. THE first day of prelims at the men's NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships are underway.
Stanford goes into this meet as the unanimous favorite after just getting beaten out by Texas last year. But don't count out Texas or Auburn. The Longhorns are riding a string of three straight titles, they've got some very big guns, and you should never count out an Eddie Reese-coached team, especially one playing before the home crowd.
Then there's third-seeded Auburn. Everything flowed for their women's team last week as they marched through the opposition and tallied the most points and the largest winning margin in the last 10 years.
There will be standouts from other teams to watch here as well: USC's Erik Vendt, last year's NCAA Swimmer of the Year; and Cal's Anthony Ervin, American/NCAA record-holder in the 50 and 100 free who did not begin training until January, head the list.
We're about to get underway…
200 yard freestyle relay
Stanford, the defending champion and American/NCAA record-holder at 1:16.49, qualified first. The team of Randall Bal (19.71), Peter Marshall (18.88), Andrew Schnell (19.47) and Bobby O'Bryan (19.79) clocked 1:16.85.
Cal, anchored by Anthony Ervin's 18.72, was second in 1:17.31, followed by Auburn at 1:17.65. Texas A&M was the surprise fourth-place qualifier (1:18.32) while Texas was seventh.
Cal's Mike Cavic had the fastest leadoff split at 19.49. There were four sub-19 second relay splits — the three mentioned earlier and the Aggies' Matt Rose, who split 18.92.
500 yard freestyle
Last year's champion, USC's Klete Keller, turned pro a year ago and is not here to defend his title, but there are quite a few pretenders to his throne.
This field is fast all the way through, and it will take well under 4:20 to make A finals, 4:22.0 or so to make B….
Georgia's Robert Margalis was top qualifier in 4:15.73, two-hundredths ahead of USC's Erik Vendt, second to teammate Keller last year. Texas' Chris Kemp, who was fastest through 400 yards, was third in 4:16.06, one-hundredth ahead of USC frosh sensation Ous Mellouli from Tunisia.
It took 4:18.20 to make the big final, that place taken by Auburn's BJ Jones at 4:18.20.
Texas has one swimmer in the A final, one in the B; Auburn has Jones, while Stanford placed one swimmer in the B final. USC has two and one. Michigan's Justin Drake qualified 16th in 4:21.42.
200 yard individual medley
Uh, oh… There's a pattern developing here. The Auburn Tigers — easily the liveliest and noisiest team here — qualified two men in the A final and three in the B. Stanford has two and one, Texas one and one.
Auburn actually took the top two spots, led by freshman George Bovell's 1:44.12 — more than a second ahead of the rest of a tightly bunched that saw only four-tenths of a second separate second from eighth place.
Bovell, a native of Trinidad and Tobago looked very impressive, especially in his breaststroke pull-outs where he gained huge chunks of yardage on his opponents. Bovell seemed to cruise the final 50 and may be able to challenge Nate Dusing's NCAA record of 1:42.85.
Bovell's splits: 23.43 49.58 1:19.06 1:44.12
By 50s: 23.43 26.15 29.48 25.06
Teammate Mark Gangloff, better known as a 200 breaststroker, was second.
Stanford has a powerful twosome in defending champ Markus Rogan (third this morning in 1:45.37) and last year's runner-up, Dan Trupin (eighth today in 1:45.59).
It took 1:47.36 to make B finals, with 22 men swimming under 1:48.
50 yard freestyle
Sprint, Tigers, sprint. Like their female counterparts, Auburn's men swimmers can sprint. The Tigers placed four — count 'em, four — swimmers in the A final.
What's more, their number one guy — Frenchman Fred Bousquet — came through number one, edging Cal's Anthony Ervin, the Olympic champion and co-American/NCAA record-holder, who was swimming in the next lane. Bousquet clocked 19.24 to Ervin's 19.25, setting up a dramatic final tonight.
Stanford's Randall Bal was third in 19.52, while Cal put two men in the Big final — Ervin and Mike Cavic (19.62). One Bear who did not make the final –either A or B — was Duje Draganja, second last year in the 100, who managed only a 17th (19.80) this morning.
It took 19.72 to make the A final, 19.79 to make B. Twenty-four men swam under 20 seconds.
400 yard medley relay
Auburn and Texas, swimming in the same heat next to each other, tied for the top qualifying spot at 3:09.34. Minnesota is third (3;10.49) with Stanford fourth (3:10.53).
It took 3:13.20 to make A finals, with Florida taking the eighth spot, and 3:18.74 to make B finals.
Two teams that would have made the A final, Arizona (3:11.30) and Alabama (3:12.36), were DQ'ed — for the same offense. In both cases, a swimmer crossed under the lane lines and exited the pool from another lane.
Cal's Alex Lim had the fastest backstroke split, 46.55; eight other swimmers swam in the 47s, with Auburn's Bryce Hunt turning in the second fastest prelim dorsal split, 47.05.
Texas' Brendan Hansen split 52.16 for the breaststroke, well ahead of the three other sub-53 splits.
Five men swam 46s for the fly leg, led by Texas' Ian Crocker at 46.10 and Stanford's Dan Wescott, 46.17.
Stanford's Peter Marshall and Wisconsin's Dale Rogers both split 43.10 for the freestyle. Nine other men swam in the 43s.
How The Finals Shape Up
We may have a major upset in the making here. Excluding diving, the prelims for which won't be finished for several hours, Auburn is in a very strong position.
If everyone finishes in the same position he occupied in prelims, Auburn will have 192 points after Day One. Stanford projects to 123, Texas to 100.
Now it's unlikely that Auburn will do quite as well this evening, if only because they occupy so many of the top spots and can't go any higher. Still, it appears that the Tigers will end the day in firm command of first place.
Diving may play a factor, but definitely will not help Stanford. Auburn and Texas each have two divers in the 1-meter springboard. Stanford has none.
No one's saying anything, but Auburn coaches Dave marsh and Kim Brackin may be thinking of sweeping both the women's and men's crowns.
Stay tuned tonight.