March Swimming Madness: NCAA Champs Coming Down to the Wire

Cal's Andrew Seliskar -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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By David Rieder.

Two events into the final day of prelims at the NCAA championships, the Texas Longhorns looked golden. Locked in a tight team battle with Indiana and Cal, it appeared that Texas had finally done enough to put themselves in position for a fourth straight team championship.

Needing a big performance in the 200 back, they got it with John Shebat qualifying first, Jonathan Roberts third and Austin Katz fourth, with Ryan Harty joining them in the consolation final. One event later, Townley Haas and Tate Jackson finished seventh and eighth, respectively, in the 100 free, and Brett Ringgold made the B-final.

Indiana, currently 19 points up on Texas in the team race, had Blake Pieroni in the 100 free A-final and two B-finalists out of the first two races, but Cal had a massively disappointing 100 free. After Bryce Mefford made the A-final of the 200 back, no Bears scored in the 100 free, with Justin Lynch ending up 17th and Ryan Hoffer 18th.

That was it—or so it seemed. Texas would surely not score in the 200 breast, but with Joseph Schooling and Sam Pomajevich both seeded among the top six in the 200 fly, surely that would be two more A-final swims for Texas—and a total of seven for the night.

The 200 breast proceeded as expected for Texas, with no one scoring. Indiana’s Ian Finnerty claimed the top seed, while his teammate Levi Brock fell a few spots to the B-final. But the big surprise came when Cal’s Connor Hoppe, seeded 32nd, qualified seventh to join teammate Andrew Seliskar in the final.

Hoppe gave the Bears desperately-needed hope, and his teammates in the next event turned that hope into a fighting chance. In the 200 fly, Cal had Zheng Quah seeded second, Mike Thomas 10th, Matthew Josa 14th and Trenton Julian 21st. The actual results? Josa faded to 33rd, but Thomas took fifth, Julian exploded to finish sixth, and Quah snuck into the final in eighth.

Indiana got Vini Lanza into the final, but Texas faltered badly. Pomajevich fell to 10th, and Schooling, in a major stunner, faded all the way to 26th. The Longhorns had missed their chance to ice the meet.

All three contenders made it back into the final of the 4×100 free relay with no drama, leaving only the 1650 free and platform diving to go. Cal is projected to score 20 points in the 1650 with Nick Norman and Sean Grieshop, while neither of Texas’ two milers, JohnThomas Larson and Chris Yeager, are projected to score.

And in diving? Texas has two entrants, Jacob Cornish and NCAA record-holder Jordan Windle, and Indiana has one, Andrew Capobianco. As has been the case all week, Cal has no divers in Minneapolis.

So where does that leave the team competition? Extremely close. Here are the latest projections, courtesy of Price Fishback (with the top three teams independently verified by several sources). These projections include seedings for the 1650 but nothing for diving, meaning Texas and Indiana could have even more points coming.

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Yes, you read that correctly: three teams within 1.5 points. Even if Texas and/or Indiana end up getting a diving boost, Cal is not out of it yet, with all but one of the Bears’ six A-finalists seeded fifth through eighth, with room to move up.

For anyone wondering, there has never been a tie for the NCAA title, and the meet has only three times been decided by one point: Michigan’s win over Ohio State in 1938, Yale’s win over Michigan in 1944 and USC’s win over Indiana in 1974.

That Trojan win in 1974 snapped a six-year Indiana win streak that began in 1968—yes, during the Doc Counsilman and Mark Spitz era. Those remain the only six team championships the Hoosiers have ever won.

In more recent years, the closest finish in the 21st century came back in 2002, when Texas beat Stanford by 11 points, 512 to 501. Only one other time has the margin been less than 30 points, when Cal beat Texas in 2011, 493 to 470.5. No men’s title has been decided by less than 50 points since 2012.

Since 2010, Texas has won four team titles, and Cal has finished second on all of those occasions. Also in that span, Cal has won three championships, each time finishing one spot ahead of Texas. The only year in that stretch where the Longhorns and the Bears did not finish as the top two teams was 2013, when Michigan won—with Cal second and Texas third.

The Hoosiers can break up that two-team dominance, or perhaps Cal gets back on top, or perhaps it’s Texas maintaining their reign on top. We’ll all find out soon enough.

DIVING UPDATE: In platform diving prelims, Texas had Windle qualify first for finals and Cornish was 11th. Cornish also finished 11th in the consolation final, locking in those five points for Texas. For Indiana, Capobianco. If seeds hold, Texas finishes on top of Indiana by ten points, with Cal third.

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Author: David Rieder

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David Rieder is a staff writer for Swimming World. He has contributed to the magazine and website since 2009, and he has covered the NCAA Championships, U.S. Nationals, Olympic Trials as well as the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and the 2017 World Championships in Budapest. He is a native of Charleston, S.C., and a 2016 graduate of Duke University.

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