By Kevin Noth, SwimInfo Special Correspondent
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn., March 26. RYAN Lochte kicked off the final day of competition at the 2005 NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships by setting a new pool record in the prelims of the 200 backstroke.
Lochte, the American record-holder, swam a very controlled race but still dominated the field in a time 1:40.60, 1.29 faster than Nate O’Brien of Texas, who will be seeded second for tonight’s finals after clocking a time of 1:41.89. Chris DeJong of Michigan was .02 behind in 1:41.91.
Meet leader Auburn qualified two among the top five, as Chad Barlow will be seeded fourth and Doug Van Wie fifth. Hongzhe Sun (Stanford), Adam Mania (Wisconsin) and Kris Wiebeck (Florida) complete the field of eight.
Fred Bousquet of Auburn and Duje Draganja may have set the stage for a follow-up to the incredible duel the pair had in the finals of the 50 freestyle on Thursday night. Facing off in the final heat of the 100 freestyle prelims, the pair qualified for tonight’s finals within .08 of each other. Draganja clocked a 42.53 and Bousquet touched in 42.61 seconds.
But remarkably, the pair is seeded third and fourth, respectively, behind Simon Burnett of Arizona and Rolandas Gimbutis of Cal who swam together in heat six and touched in a tie at 42.49 seconds.
The championship field is very tight and extremely quick as the top seven swimmers qualified within .15 of each other and a swim of 42.75 seconds was required to make the finals.
Auburn once again qualified a pair for the finals as the Tigers George Bovell tied Lyndon Ferns of Arizona for the sixth seed in a time of 42.64 seconds. Ben Wildman-Tobriner (Stanford) and Matt Grevers (Northwestern) took the fifth and eighth spots, respectively.
Gary Marshall of Stanford positioned himself to possibly capture both breaststroke titles. Fresh off his victory in last night’s 100 breaststroke final, Marshall swam 1:56.56 in the 200 prelims, taking the third seed in the finals. The Stanford senior entered the meet having popped the fastest 200 breaststroke this year by more than two seconds (1:52.71).
But it is Vladislav Polyakov of Alabama that is seeded No. 1 for tonight’s finals, having touched in 1:55.35. Mike Alexandrov of Northwestern kicked in the final 50 split at 29.65, recording a mark 1.2 faster than his meet qualifying time to secure the second seed.
Dave Rollins of Arizona took the fourth position in 1:56.77 and Vanja Rogulj of Virginia is seeded fifth after recording a 1:56.81. Scott Usher (Wyoming) was .01 behind in sixth. Eric Shanteau (Auburn) took seventh and Henrique Barbosa (Cal-Berkeley) was eighth.
There was a tie for the top seeding in the 200 butterfly between Davis Tarwater of Michigan and Daniel Cruz of Kentucky. Both individuals now hold the pool record time of 1:43.30. Cruz took third in last year’s event, while Tarwater captured fourth.
The field is loaded with five other competitors returning from last year’s event final, including the defending champion Rainer Kendrick of Texas who is seeded third after clocking a time of 1:43.94.
Adam Sioui of Floirda took the fourth position in a time of 1:44.17 and Michael Raab placed fifth recording a 1:44.38. Stanford grabbed the sixth and eighth qualifying positions as Jayme Cramer, last year’s event runner-up, touched at 1:44.59 and Matt McDonald followed in 1:44.67.
Nate O’Brien of Texas is the only newbie to the field of eight after securing the seventh position.
Cal-Berkeley takes the top seeding into the finals of the 400 freestyle relay. The Golden Bear foursome of Rolandas Gimbutis, Milorad Cavic, Garrett Wagner and Jonas Tilly swam away with the final prelim heat in a time of 2:51.73.
Auburn was staked to a full second lead over Florida after the opening leg and though the Gators chipped away at the Tigers advantage, Adam Sioui couldn’t chase down Fred Bousquet on the anchor leg. Auburn touched out for the second seeding in 2:52.12, while Florida was .34 behind in 2:52.46, qualifying third. Both Sioui and Bousquet popped 42.53 seconds on their anchor legs.
Arizona seized the fourth position (2:52.46) and Stanford took fifth (2:53.26). Northwestern, host Minnesota and Kentucky round out the relay field in sixth through eighth, respectively.
Entering tonight’s finals with a 38-point lead, Auburn looks poised to capture its third straight team title via its team depth. The Tigers have qualified five swimmers for the championship finals and three for the consolation round, while second-place Stanford also has five competitors in tonight’s finals, but no Cardinal will swim in the consolation round. The tally does not include finalists in the 1650 freestyle or the platform diving competition.