FEDERAL WAY, Wash. — The kids set the tone from the start. Then the veteran carried the load. And finally on Saturday, Cal had another total team effort that enabled it to keep pace with the school’s women.
Ultimately it was a runaway at the NCAA Division I Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships. Cal totaled 535.5 points, so far ahead of second-place Texas (491) that it could have been disqualified in the final relay and still won comfortably.
The outcome was decided after an almost shocking ending to the 200-yard butterfly, when Cal freshman Will Hamilton, swimming in lane 6, burst past junior teammate Tom Shields, the favorite who was in lane 4, for the victory. After they looked at the scoreboard, the two leaped the lane lines and embraced in lane 5, not far from their ecstatic fans who likely figured out at that point that Cal had clinched.
|2012 DIVISION I CHAMPIONSHIPS|
|Fienswog: Cal uses team effort to capture title | Results Highlights|
|Fienswog: Cal swimmer learns from the best|
|Day 2: Shields helps Cal extend lead|
|Fienswog: Cordes grabs 100-yard breast record|
|Fienswog: Grodzki finally wins 500 freestyle|
|Day 1: Cal takes early lead at championship|
|Fienswog: Feigen takes 50-yard freestyle title|
|Fienswog: Experience leads top programs|
|Fienswog: Going in head-first|
“It was cool because there’s a lot of give and take in Will’s and my professional swimming relationship,” Shields said. “I was able to help him with some underwaters, some things about patience and I was able to give him experience and he was able to give me that supreme maturity that he has, that self-esteem that I’ve lacked in my career.”
You would never had known that about Shields, who was the star of a team that won back-to-back titles at a school where just last week the women did the same, winning for the third time in four years.
“This feels nice,” Shields said. “It feels good to do it in a completely different way. To do it with everybody firing all the time and do it as a complete team and really want it and win it that way is just so cool.”
His dress shirt and slacks still soaked from the post-awards customary swim, fifth-year Cal coach Dave Durden just beamed. His team that lost so many great swimmers from last year’s title team, relied on so many freshmen and sophomores this year.
“You kind of go through the year and you hear from outside sources what your team is without someone asking me what our team is about,” Durden said. “So to come in here with this particular group and have the successes we had is more of an exhaustive sigh with, ‘See guys, we are this good.’ They’re 18- to -22-year-olds. They’re going to hear what everyone says and read what everyone writes. The most difficult part of this year was having them understand how good they were. That took a long time.”
Perhaps, but it didn’t take Cal long to let everyone in the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center know on Thursday night who was open for business. The Bears won the first event, the 200 free relay, with three freshmen and a sophomore.
“I was thinking if they get lucky they’ll get fifth,” Shields admitted. “I wasn’t even going to watch, and then I heard the loud noises and I ran over … that moment stands out.”
And then in the B final of the first individual event, the 500 free, Hamilton not only won to take ninth place, his time would have put him in fourth in the A final.
“I came into that race and said this is mine,” Hamilton said. “I was trying to fire up the guys and it was a good swim.”
In the third event, sophomore Marcin Tarczynski slipped in to win the 200 individual medley. Then in the last event of the night, Cal won the 400 medley relay.
Friday was the Shields show, as he won the 100 back and 100 fly.
Saturday, the Bears of the Pac 12 took care of business, especially in the morning, setting themselves up ahead of Texas with great showings in the prelims. The dagger was the 200 breast, when they took second, fifth and sixth.
Trevor Holt, the junior who last year finished ninth in that event, said simply, “It’s amazing,” after placing second.
Holt echoed his coach.
“The best part is we lost a lot of great guys from last year, a whole bunch of winners, and to come out and just get after it and prove we’re still a good team, that’s just amazing.”
What’s also amazing is the Pac 12. Stanford, which won the conference meet for a remarkable 31st consecutive time, finished third here with 426.5 points, never really in the team race. Arizona, also from the Pac 12, finished fourth with 396, followed by Michigan of the Big Ten at 271 and Auburn of the SEC at 254.5. No one else was close.
“That’s why I love it,” Arizona coach Eric Hansen said. “I’d have it no other way. You come out of this league you’re going to be good.”
He said he wasn’t surprised that Cal won, “but I am surprised at what they put together. That was really special what they did. I have a lot of respect for what they did. That was tough.”
No one was tougher in the meet than Shields, who swam four events Friday and at times seemed to take the Bears in his wake for the ride. He had nothing but praise and appreciation for his younger teammates. Even he was shocked at the performance of his roommate in the 200 fly.
“Will Hamilton, people thought he was going to score six points in the 200 fly and not final in anything else,” Shields. “That guys is ‘Chill Will.’ And I’m not just saying that, he really is.”
“It was a fun race,” Hamilton said. “I tried not to psyche myself out. It was my first A final at NCAAs and just went out and had fun. I had a plan going in, stuck to it and everything seemed to fall into place.”
“That may have been the first time that Will ever beat Tom in anything,” Durden said. “Practice meets, anything. It’s the first time. And he picked the right time to do it, in an NCAA final.”
Texas, which has won 10 times, finished second for the third time in four years and 10th time overall.
“They’re great competitors and great people to be around,” said UT senior Jimmy Feigen, who won the 50 free, was fifth in the 100 fly and Saturday won the 100 free and like Shields will be a strong candidate for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team. “Class acts all the way. They deserved to win and they got it.”
His coach, Eddie Reese, just finished his 32nd season at UT, offered his typically unique but interesting perspective.
“Great racing all night long,” Reese said. “A lot of credit goes to Cal. They did a super job. They stood up and everybody they had swam a super race wherever they were.”
And Reese grinned.
“Personally I hated that, but it was good.”