March 10, 2010

By Marty Gitlin
Special to NCAA.com

CANTON, Ohio - Chris Jacobsen did a lot of staring before hitting the pool Wednesday evening.

The Drury University (Springfield, Mo.) freshman bore a visual hole through the first-place platform at C.T. Branin Natatorium before he swam the 1,000-yard freestyle in the NCAA Division II Swimming and Diving Championships.

It appeared that Jacobsen would need all the inspiration he could muster. After all, he boasted only the seventh-fastest seed time among those who had qualified for the finals of his event. He wasn't exactly considered a favorite.

He will be next year. Why? Because Jacobsen blitzed the field, taking the lead a bit more than halfway through the race and pulling away to win with a personal-best time of 9:00.90.

Talent played the primary role in the upset. But Jacobsen admitted after his triumph that psyching himself up and convincing himself he could win certainly helped.

"There were a few times when I was in the ready room when I thought I could win," said Jacobsen, who helped Drury sneak into the lead after the first day of the four-day event. "I kept staring up at that No. 1 podium the whole time and kept saying, 'I've got this. I can do this. I got a shot.'"

He was a bit more optimistic than Drury coach Brian Reynolds, whose confidence in Jacobsen was tempered by the rugged competition. But little that Jacobsen does these days surprises Reynolds, who became aware of his freshman when he was tearing up the competition last year at Conway High School in Arkansas.

Jacobsen won the 500 freestyle in that state's high school meet last year and led his team to a second-place finish. Reynolds figured Jacobsen would improve dramatically after arriving at Drury, but this is ridiculous.

"I got to watch him growing up swimming and I knew he was full of potential," Reynolds explained. "I knew if we could get him to our program with some consistent training and good coaching he would have some big-time drops (in time). But I didn't think those drops would be as big as they've been this year."

And he didn't think Jacobsen was ready to swim away with the 1,000-yard freestyle crown. After all, Jacobsen had established a seed time of 9:28.40, which lagged far behind those of premier swimmers such as Delta State (Cleveland, Miss.) freshman Adam Dajka, who also had the top time of the year among Division II swimmers in that event.

"I wasn't disappointed with my prelim time," Jacobsen said. "I thought I could get at least into the top three. I was just going to go out there and swim. I needed to go out and be controlled instead of going hard and being uncontrolled. I needed to pace myself."

The strategy definitely paid off, which explained the smile on Reynolds' face.

"What he did was very well deserved," said the Drury coach. "We expect kids to drop time, but to drop as much time as he has is not in the normal range. And knowing what the other (swimmers) could do and had done before, what he did was amazing. It's hard to really express something so significant."

Jacobsen was happy to express it for him.

"At about 600 (yards) when I saw (San Antonio's Incarnate Word University freshman) Conrado Chede out in front and I was catching up to him, I thought to myself that I could do it," he said. "At 800 yards I knew I had it and I started going even faster. I got even more excited."

And soon, he was visiting that first-place podium. He certainly knew where to find it. He'd spent plenty of time staring at it.