March 28, 2010

Doug Bean, Special to

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Swimming is a race against time. Fastest man to the wall wins. The focus tends to be on the clock and the guys in the other lanes. But when your team is contending for the national championship and every point counts, you keep an eye on the standings and your closest competitors.

California and Texas never took their eyes off each other Sunday night in the final session of the NCAA Division I Men's Swimming and Diving Championships at Ohio State University's McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion. In the end, the eyes of Texas were looking back at the rest of the field.

The Longhorns turned on the jets and overcame an 18.5-point deficit with their depth in the final seven events to claim their first NCAA championship since 2002.

Texas concluded the marathon week that began with a one-day delay with 500 team points. Cal totaled 469.5 points as its bid to end a 30-year title drought fell short.

"If you're going to win an NCAA championship, you have to have people make good effort on days when they're not feeling well," Reese said.

Arizona took third with 387 points. Stanford (369) and Florida (364) rounded out the top five. Defending champion Auburn (277.5) finished a distant sixth.

A disqualification at the start of the meet-ending 400-yard freestyle relay only delayed the celebration for Texas. Cal won the relay and Texas came in second in a fitting finale.

The Longhorns did not win any of the final seven events but gained an advantage over Cal throughout the weekend in the distance races and diving. The Golden Bears were shut out and the Longhorns picked up valuable points in platform diving and the 1,650-yard freestyle.

After the trophy presentation, the Longhorns jumped in the pool and sang "The Eyes of Texas" while their burnt-orange-clad fans serenaded them from the stands.

"It's one of our best last days ever," Reese said.

The championship was Reese's 10th at Texas. He also became the only NCAA swim coach to win a title in four different decades.

"The whole NCAA meet is a roller coaster," Texas senior Ricky Berens said. "We went into the last day pumped. We had a meeting and said we're tired of getting second place and we're going to get it done."

Cal dominated the five relays spread over the three days and had three individual winners but could not overcome the determined Longhorns.

"We won four relays and we're hands down the best swim team here," Cal's Joshua Daniels said. "We came up a little short, but we'll be back next year."

Stanford's Chad La Tourette opened the night by winning the sport's equivalent of the mile, the 1,650 freestyle, in a pool-record 14:42.87. Texas' Jackson Wilcox picked up a third in the longest race of the meet and closed the Longhorns to 2.5 points of the team lead.

"I felt pretty good," La Tourette said. "My race wasn't as fast as I would have liked, but it feels great to be an NCAA champion. I was worried after the first 500, but I felt OK and I was able to progress from there and bring it home."

In the 200 backstroke, Cory Chitwood of Arizona exploded through the final 50 yards to upset defending champion Tyler Clary of Michigan with a time of 1:39.29. The race impacted the team battle as four Texas swimmers earned points to propel the Longhorns ahead of the Golden Bears, 365-353.5.

American record-holder Nathan Adrian handed Cal its first victory of the night with a pool-best 41.50 in the 100 free. Adrian's contributions over three days included three winning relays and a second in 50 free.

"I'm proud of our guys," Cal coach David Durden said. "You can't control how fast the other teams are going to swim."

Clark Burckle (200 breaststroke) gave Arizona its second individual championship in the session, edging Scott Spann of Texas at the wall, 1:53.19-1:53.21. Spann's second extended the Longhorns' lead.

"I just looked over and saw I was with someone," Burckle said. "I like to race and so I told myself, `I didn't come all this way not to try to win.' I'm just super-happy right now."

The 200 butterfly went to 2009 winner Shaune Fraser of Florida in a controversial ending when Georgia's Mark Dylla, who reached the wall first, was disqualified for one-handed touch on a turn. Freshman Tom Shields wound up second and kept Cal within striking distance of Texas.

Texas then dealt its closest pursuer a damaging blow in platform diving. Matt Cooper and Drew Livingston combined for third and seventh in a competition won by Duke's Nick McCrory.

At that point, the Longhorns only had to make it through the 400 free relay and they were home free.

"An NCAA championship is what every college athlete dreams of," Berens said. "We worked so hard for this."