By John Lohn
CRANBURY, New Jersey, March 19. THE collegiate season officially went into the books over the weekend, with the University of Minnesota serving as the host to a competition that generated some serious speed. Such were the times produced at the NCAA Division I Men's Championships. Here's a look at what unfolded in the Midwest.
**One week after guiding Auburn to the women's title, David Marsh guided the school's male program to a fifth consecutive championship. On his way out of The Plains, in order to take command of the Mecklenburg Aquatic Club, Marsh earned the 12th NCAA championship of his career. That number ties him with Richard Quick, set to take over at Auburn, for the most crowns in history.
While the ladies used a come-from-behind finish to win their title, a fourth in five years, the guys were in control throughout the three-day event. The Tigers finished with 566 points, 169 more than what Stanford accumulated for second place. Meanwhile, Auburn established three NCAA records, taking down standards in the 200 (1:14.71) and 400 (2:46.56) free relays, along with the 200 medley relay (1:23.37).
Individually, the Auburn sprinters paced the school's title run, with Cesar Cielo setting an NCAA record of 18.69 in the 50 freestyle – twice. On four occasions, Cielo broke the 19-second barrier, once thought to be an unreachable point. More, the Tigers had five guys go 19.42 or quicker in the 50 free. Yes, a guy with 19.4 speed in the 50 free was left off the 200 free relay.
Marsh, with the help of sprint coach Brett Hawke, has certainly proved himself to be master over the years at getting his athletes to perform at their peak at the right time. Now, he's moving on, to head up a United States Olympic Committee Center of Excellence. How that role will pan out remains to be seen. Undoubtedly, though, Marsh left Auburn on top.
**While Auburn stole the show, the times in Minneapolis were difficult to fathom across the board. From Albert Subirats (Arizona) going sub-45 in the 100 back and 100 fly to Mike Alexandrov (Northwestern) going 51.56 in the 100 breaststroke to Arizona going 6:14.14 in the 800 free relay, the spectators at the University Aquatic Center were given a treat.
But, the fast times also raised a couple of questions: How much faster can these guys get? Will there ever be a point where the human body hits a wall? Let's hope not, and with the continued developments in training and suit technology, it's likely the sport will continue to get faster. Still, it's difficult to wrap the brain around the possibility that faster times are out there.
**Not if, but when. At some point in the near future, look for the University of Michigan to win its first NCAA title since 1995. There's no doubt that Bob Bowman is molding the Wolverines into championship contenders. And, with such starpower in Ann Arbor at the club level, watch as the nation's top recruits continue to flock to the school.
Heading into the weekend, Michigan wasn't expected to make significant noise. A youthful roster, coupled with the graduation of Peter Vanderkaay and Davis Tarwater, had the Wolverines staring at a tough road into the top-10 of the team standings. Saturday night, however, Bowman had the seventh-place finisher with 207 points, only 14 shy of sixth-place Northwestern.
Led by Alex Vanderkaay's win in the 400 individual medley, the Wolverines quietly piled up the points, a more impressive feat considering that only one relay – the 800 free unit – finished in the top eight. Expect Michigan to continue to build and, sooner than later, hang another NCAA championship banner in Canham Natatorium.
**Like Michigan, the University of Florida packaged a finish higher than what was expected in the leadup to the NCAA Champs. The Gators clicked all weekend, a fourth-place effort the reward. With the likes of Shaune Fraser, Bradley Ally and Lucas Salatta all slated to return to the lineup, the Gators can make an argument that they'll be championship contenders the next couple of years.
**Taking titles in the 500 and 1,650 freestyles, Southern California's Larsen Jensen showed he's ready to make a run for his first gold medal at the World Championships. Jensen posted times of 4:09.80 and 14:26.70, with the latter just missing Chris Thompson's NCAA and American standard of 14:26.62. Look for Jensen to give Grant Hackett, chasing a fifth straight world title, all he can handle in Melbourne in the metric mile.