FEDERAL WAY, Wash. – Eddie Reese, 71, has been at this a while. So when the three-time Olympic coach and patriarch of the Texas swimming program says the NCAA Division I Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships is “shaping up now to be a meet like I’ve never seen before,” it ought to be something.

The competition begins Thursday at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center and the prevailing thought is that if they hit on all cylinders, Texas, Cal, Arizona and Stanford are the teams to beat.

“I would think so,” Reese said. “Actually, Michigan had the best conference meet of all of us.”

Michigan coach Mike Bottom said simply, “We’re not even in the contention area. If we get top five, we will be doing great. I’ll be so happy.”

Perhaps, but from looking at the heat sheets you can see that Reese is going to be right. He thinks the top teams have been waiting to peak for the first time season at this meet.

“Oh, my goodness. This has been the strangest year I’ve ever seen,” Reese said.

“So the way I look at it, it’s going to be a lot like [last weekend’s] women’s meet. Real fast times to make the top eight, fast times to make the top 16. But it’s shaping up now to be a meet like I’ve never seen before.

Psych sheet
Swimmers by team

“Really by now Stanford and [Cal] Berkeley go real, real fast. They just waited to do that. We’ve waited to do that. Mine wasn’t intentional,” he said with a laugh. “They just worked too hard and they were not very good at conference.”

Stanford won the Pac 12 meet for the 31st consecutive time. But the Cardinal coach, twice an assistant and the 1996 Olympics head coach, wasn’t offering any prognostications.

“I’ve been doing this a long time,” said Skip Kenney, whose 33 years at Stanford includes seven of Stanford’s eight national titles, the last in 1998. “There’s no way you’re going to get me to talk about that.”

Cal coach David Durden would. His team, which has 18 swimmers here, the most of anyone, is trying to defend the national title. What’s more, the Cal women won their third title in four years last weekend in their meet at Auburn.

“What we’ve established over the last four years is swimming our best performance at this meet,” said Durden, a fifth-year coach whose team finished second to Texas in 2010. “What I like about this team in particular is that even though we have some youth, we have some very experienced, seasoned veterans who are coming off a national title from last year who know how to get that done. There’s nothing like having guys on your team who know how to navigate this meet and can lead others in doing that. That’s nice for us. Texas has that as well and you can really feed off of that experience.”

Cal, which won in 1979, ’80 and last year, will be led by junior Tom Shields, who last year won the 100 backstroke and two years ago won the 100 butterfly. He’s swimming the 200 fly, too, an event in which he holds the NCAA record.

“He’s an absolute hammer for us on our relays,” Durden said.

Seniors Mathias Gydesen and Nolan Koon also figure to loom large, the coach said.

Bottom of Michigan offered that “Texas has been hiding all year. Arizona only rested first semester. They didn’t even shave for second semester and you see where they sit. Cal, they show a little bit here and there but they’re going to be powerful and based on what Cal did last week they’re going to be good. And Stanford always has the best of the best.”

Texas will be relying on a strong 500 free contingent that includes senior Jackson Wilcox and juniors Michael McBroom and Nick D’Innocenzo, and junior Austin Surhoff in the 200 individual medley.

“We’ve got good guys in the 50, we’ve got good divers,” Reese added. “So does everybody else.

Stanford, which finished third last year, is the only program to finish fourth or better in every championship since 1981. Among those figuring to make impacts are senior Chad La Tourette, senior Bobby Bollier and junior Aaron Wayne and freshman diver Kristian Ipsen.

Arizona coach Eric Hansen returned to his alma mater last spring. The former head coach at Wisconsin was playing it close to the vest Wednesday.

It seems like almost everybody is holding back all year long for this meet.
-- Texas head coach Eddie Reese

“We’re just focusing on the things we’re capable of and doing the things we can do and we should do and be at our best for this meet,” Hansen said. “Anything else that happens we can’t control.”

The Wildcats expected to be in the forefront include senior Cory Chitwood, freshman Kevin Cordes, junior Carl Mickelson and senior Austen Thompson. They all are in multiple events. Senior Ben Grado figures to be a big factor, too, in all three diving events.

“I think it’s going to be one of the most exciting meets we’ve had,” Reese said. “There are a lot of teams in it and it’s going to be won by about that much,” he said, holding his hands about three feet apart. “It’s going to be won by a half second.”

Florida coach Gregg Troy hopes his young Gators do well here – “We’re going to get a lot of experience here this weekend” -- and but Troy is also the U.S. Olympic coach this summer and has a double vested interest in the happenings here.

“This is one of the best fields ever,” Troy said. “It’s deep. A lot of new faces and I don’t think it’s as clear cut as you would think. There are four whole, complete teams and then a whole bunch of the rest of us, kind of chasing. We don’t have all the pieces.”

As Troy pointed out, there’s another training cycle between now and the Olympic Trials in Omaha the last week of June.

“You hope that in their preparation for this meet they left a little in the tank so they can start real quick getting ready for the next one,” Troy said. “You’ve got a pretty decent cycle if you get started right away.”