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By Dan D’Addona.
The Texas Longhorns put a dominating stamp on a dynasty.
With no team within striking distance on the final day of the NCAA Division I men’s championship, the Longhorns capped a week of stellar performances by capturing their third consecutive national championship on Saturday in Indianapolis.
The Texas three-step was accomplished dominating fashion, winning by more than 200 points — so many that the meet was wrapped up before the final night began.
The win gives Texas 13 national championships, breaking the tie with Michigan for the most all time, all coming under Eddie Reese, who has the most all-time and has won at least three titles in each of the past four decades. It is the third three-peat in Texas history.
“It is pretty special,” Texas senior Will Licon said. “It is something that I could have never dreamed of happening. It is pretty crazy. We are just almost in disbelief. I remember setting foot on campus with these guys. We felt like we had assembled the best recruiting class in the country. I feel like no one else really thought so and I think that has been driving us, just always having something to prove.”
Texas scored 542 points, dominating a meet in which Cal finished second a 349, Florida was third at 294.5, NC State was fourth at 272.5 and Stanford was fifth at 242.
The Longhorns finished the meet in record-setting fashion.
As Joseph Schooling surged ahead anchoring the 400 freestyle relay to an NCAA and American record (2:45.39), the Longhorns surged to their 11th event title in the meet, tying the all-time record.
“We don’t ever come here to win. I have three seniors that set four American records. Those are seniors who got better,” Reese said. “That is the name of the game. Look at their faces when they go fast. Winning is good, but fast is where it is.”
Senior Clark Smith, who pulled a groin muscle during his winning 500 freestyle on Thursday, surged to a record-setting performance in the 1,650 freestyle, winning in 14:22.41 in one of the greatest mile races in history as the top four swimmers finished ahead of the NCAA and American record.
“I didn’t want to make any premeditated excuses,” Smith said. “I have never been in a race that close that long. I usually use my arms mostly. The push-offs really hurt. Around the 800, it got really bad, but my ego kind of finished the race for me. The last 10 lengths, I just sucked it up because I knew no one would feel bad for me, so I had to put it together on my own.”
Smith got out of the water and had to be helped to the team area. The pain was so bad that he didn’t go up to the podium for the trophy ceremony.
“We pulled him out of the 200, and I didn’t even want him to swim (the 1,650),” Reese said. “But I had no idea he would do that.”
Licon then put his individual stamp on a stellar career by winning the 200 breaststroke in another American and NCAA record of 1:47.91, his third individual victory of the meet.
Licon won the 200 breaststroke for the third consecutive year and is the fourth swimmer in history to ever win four different individual events during a career.
“All that means is that coach didn’t know where the heck to put him,” Reese said.
Senior Jack Conger followed that up with his first individual NCAA title, in an American record of 1:37.35.
“I was really happy for Jack to win the 200 fly,” Smith said. “He had that coming.”
Conger also was on the final relay, the lone senior — along with Brett Ringgold, Townley Haas (200 free champ) and Joseph Schooling (100 butterfly runner-up), putting the exclamation point on the national championship.
“It never gets old,” Conger said. “This has been our goal all year. I definitely wanted to end things on the right note. We kept the momentum going through the entire meet.”
Texas will look to continue that momentum, but it will be tough to replace this senior class’s legacy.
“It is huge. We thought our senior class last year was huge, but I think this is even bigger,” Schooling said. “That is going to be hard to replace. Next year, we have to really step it up. I think it will be a fight, but I am looking forward to it.”