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Auburn Favored as Men's NCAA Championships Begin Today -- March 25, 2004

EAST MEADOW, New York, March 25. COACH David Marsh's defending men's NCAA Division 1 champs will be after their fourth national crown in the last seven years when the 81st title meet opens at the Goodwill Games Pool here today.

Auburn first won in 1997, came back to score victory No. 2 two years later and then won again last year in resounding fashion. Crowned national collegiate dual meet champs earlier this month for their spotless 9-0 record, the Tigers are eager to emulate the success of their women's team, which won its third-consecutive NCAA Championship last weekend in College Station, Texas

As this is an Olympic year, the NCAAs will be swum in a 25 meter pool rather than the traditional 25-yard configuration. This will mark the second time the meet has been held as a 25-meter competition; the first was four years ago in Minneapolis.

That season Texas won the first of three-consecutive titles to open the new century. This year's Longhorn squad features a pair of world record holders plus a double American record-holder to bolster its line-up, but Auburn is loaded for bear (Longhorn?) too. The Tigers have three defending champs in 50 freestyler Fred Bousquet, a sophomore who's also a fine sprint flyer and who'll likely represent his native France at the Olympics; Trinidadian soph George Bovell, 200 IM winner with his U.S. Open/NCAA record who was also a World Championship finalist and Pan-Am Games gold-medalist (200 free) last summer; and Cesar Garcia, platform winner.

Texas features:
· Aaron Peirsol, defending NCAA 200 back champ who was a double world champion at Barcelona in the backstrokes, and swam leadoff on the U.S.A.'s world record-setting 400 medley relay. Peirsol holds the world record in the 200 meter back and is the only man ever to swim under 1:40 for 200 yards. At the World Championships he won the 100 in 53.61, history's No. 2 performance and a mere .01 off Lenny Krayzelburg's global mark;
· Brendan Hansen, triple- defending NCAA champ in both breaststrokes; and
· Ian Crocker, three-time defending champ in the 100 fly who also struck gold while setting the world record of 50.98 seconds in the 100m fly in Barcelona and swam on the medley relay with Texas teammates Peirsol and Hansen.

Auburn's bid for a repeat is the principal team story of the championships. A Tiger win would tie them with Florida as the only Southeastern Conference squad to score back-to-back wins. The Gators under then-Coach Randy Reese splashed to victory in '83 and '84 but were upended by Stanford in their quest for a three-peat in '85 -- Cardinal Coach Skip Kenney's first win. Although Florida hasn't been back to Victory Circle since, Reese's Lady Gators won the inaugural NCAA women's crown in '82 at (where else?) Gainesville, for the Sunshine state's only distaff title. No other Florida college or university has won either NCAAs.

Randy's brother Eddie has guided Texas' men the last quarter-century. During that span under the Big E, UT has won a whopping nine NCAA Championships, most of any institution. The 'Horns are the only team in the state ever to win the national collegiate swimming and diving championship.

Auburn, Florida and Tennessee are the three SEC schools to have won men's NCAAs, with the Tigers' three crowns ranking No. 1. Tennessee won its championship in '78 at Belmont Plaza under venerable coach Ray Bussard, who mentored current Vol headman John Trembley when he was an NCAA champ/All-America sprinter/flyer at Knoxville in the early '70s.

By virtue of their third-straight women's championship, Marsh's Lady Tigers tied arch-rival Georgia for most NCAA titles among SEC schools. Coach Jack Bauerle's Lady Bulldogs swept to No. 1s in '99-'01 but the 'Dawgs are still hungering for their first men's crown .

Probably the most anticipated individual match-up of this year's men's competition will be the 100 fly, where Crocker will be going for a four-peat. Just two other swimmers -- Pablo Morales and Mark Spitz -- have accomplished this feat in the meet's eight decades. Spitz won from '69 through '72 swimming for the legendary James (Doc) Counsilman at Indiana. He culminated his career with his unforgettable seven-gold performance at Munich.

Morales four-peated for Stanford in the mid-'80s but was beaten in the 100 fly at the Los Angeles Olympics by West Germany's Michael Gross (who, in turn, was beaten by .01 in the 200 fly by Australia's Jon Sieben). Morales ostensibly hung-up his Speedo after finishing his collegiate career on The Farm two year later; however, feeling a sense of "incompleteness" without that gold medal in the 100 fly, he returned to training in the early '90s while attending law school at Cornell, then returned to California to train at Stanford under skip Kenney. At the Barcelona Olympics in ’92, Morales finally won the gold that had eluded him eight years earlier. He is now women's coach at Nebraska.

What makes the 100 fly a unique race -- besides Crocker's quest for a four-peat -- is that the Longhorn star is the American/NCAA record-holder (44.72) in addition to his world record. He swam that collegiate record at last month's Big 12s in Austin, breaking his old mark of 45.44 from NCAAs two years earlier. Apparently not content with just one record for the weekend, that Sunday Crocker returned to the Texas pool and proceeded to swim the 50m fly in 23.30, breaking the world-record of 23.43 set by Australia’s Matt Welsh in Barcelona last summer, a race in which Crocker was runner-up.

So Crocker ranks No. 1 going into the championship.

No. 2 is Cal sophomore Milorad (Michael) Cavic, who represents Yugoslavia internationally and who happens to be world short-course meters record-holder (50.03) from last December's European Championships in Dublin. Similar to Crocker, the 6-4, 200-pound Cavic 's win and world record in Ireland was his first major international triumph.
But hold on. The story gets even better. During Pac-10s at Belmont three weeks ago, Cavic splashed to a 45.44 100 yard fly win, the exact time Crocker swam while setting the old record!

Never before in collegiate swimming history have the lcm and scm world record holders matched up in a short-course meters race, a race that could well be a preview of the Athens final. Of course, a certain Mr. Duje Draganja, the Cal junior from Croatia and defending NCAA 100 free champ, may have a few thoughts of his own on the race's outcome. He went a pr 45.72 at Pac-10s for runner-up to Cavic and ranks third nationally. The "Croatian Comet" has the talent to pull an upset and his Pac-10 50-100 free wins rank him No. 1 here.

Unfortunately, both Cavic and Draganja came down with the flu yesterday and, reportedly, were very sick. Cal Co-Coach Mike Bottom, however, had hopes last night that his two sprint stars would be recovered enough to swim well today, where they both are entered in the 50 free.

Similar to Crocker, Texas senior Brendan Hansen is going for a four-peat of his own, only it’s a double. Hansen has won the NCAA 100-200 breaststrokes his first three seasons in Austin, an unprecedented double. Another pair of individual golds and he'll become the first man to four-peat.

Southern Methodist's Steve Lundquist was the first (and, so far, only) man to win four-consecutive NCAA 100 breast titles, doing the deed from '79 through '82. He won the 200 in his junior and senior seasons. Nobody has won four-straight 200 breast titles.

"Lunk" coupled his collegiate success with the 100 breast gold at the Los Angeles Olympics (with a then world record 1:01.65) and won a second gold on the medley relay.

Hansen was World Champion in the 200 breast in '01 at Fukuoka. He finished runner-up to Japan's Kosuke Kitajima last year in Barcelona but it took a world-record effort to defeat him. Hansen is tied with former Virginia NCAA champ Ed Moses as American record-holder (lcm) in the 100 breast and is sole AR-holder in the 200.

Moses won both breaststrokes at the '00 NCAAs, setting world records en route to his victories. He's still double wr-holder today with his 57.47 (100) and 2:02.92 (200). Moses set his 100 mark at a World Cup meet in Sweden a couple of years ago; he broke his 200 record at the Berlin World Cup in January with that truly amazing performance.

On the all-time yards ranking list, Hansen stands second to Tennessee's Jeremy Linn (100) and Moses (200). However, Hansen has both NCAA Championship records. Linn swam the current American/NCAA record in the 100 (51.86) at the '97 Southeastern Conference Championships, then went 52.32 several weeks later at NCAAs. Moses splashed to a 1:51.88 200 clocking in an exhibition swim during a collegiate dual-meet at his alma mater (Virginia) last year for the American record.

Hansen's NCAA Championship records are 51.96/1:52.62, done last year at his home pool in Austin. Moses' scm collegiate records, which Hansen will be after, are 57.66/2:06.40. Moses' U.S. Open record in the 200 is 2:04.61, done at the World Cup meet here the end of January. His 57.66 is still the U.S. Open record.

Moses turned pro following his sophomore season at Virginia in '00 and thus never got a chance to swim against Hansen at NCAAs. They've raced each other numerous times at U.S. Nationals and international meets but this will be the first time Hansen will have an opportunity to find out how close he can come to "The King" in short course.