Cal title could hinge on Shield
Bears trail Michigan headed into Day 3 of championships
INDIANAPOLIS -- The emotions of a second consecutive national championship in the 100-yard butterfly hit Tom Shields as soon as he reached the touch pad Friday night.
Shields, a senior at California, popped out of the water and pumped his fists into the air.
He had begun the event by encouraging teammate Marcin Tarczynski with a shout before they jumped onto the starting platforms. He finished the race with the third-fastest time in championship history: 44.59 seconds.
And that was just a part of Shields' busiest night at the Division I Men's Swimming and Diving Championships at the Indiana University Natatorium at IUPUI. He swam in four championship finals Friday, winning the 100 fly, finishing runner-up to Stanford's David Nolan in an explosive 100 backstroke, and swimming a 50-yard butterfly leg in the 200 medley relay and a 200-yard leg in the 800 freestyle. When the championships end Saturday, Shields will have particpated in the maximum-allowed three individual events and four relays.
"He's awesome," Cal head coach David Durden said. "I mean, for four years we've asked him to do this event schedule. His freshman year, it was a little bit worse; he had another 200 freestyle in there. We haven't been very kind to him on this middle day and then we turn around and ask him [Saturday] to give us a great swim."
Shields will swim in two more events Saturday: 200 fly and the meet-ending 400 freestyle relay. On Friday, he scored 37 individual points for Cal and helped score another 64 points in the relays. The Golden Bears, two-time defending champs, trail Michigan by 34.5 points entering Saturday's final day and night of competition. Including Thursday's opening day, Cal has finished no lower than fourth in any of the events Shields in which has participated.
Not only is Shields the busiest Golden Bear, but the most highly decorated among the team's current swimmers. The victory in the 100 fly was his 10th career national championship in combined individual and relay events. He is a two-time Pac-12 Swimmer of the Year and holder of school records in four individual events.
He is a swimmer the younger underclassmen look up to. Indeed, this is not a team of seniors. In the 800 relay, his fourth event Friday night, Shields swam the opening 200 yards in 1:34.30 and he was followed by freshman Trenton Williams and sophomores Ben Hinshaw and William Hamilton.
At first, there is a sense of awe.
"Looking up to Tom as a freshman was something eye-opening for me," said Hamilton, remembering the 2011-12 season. "Tom is someone who is extremely dedicated in whatever he does. When he puts his mind to something like swimming, it's really unbelievable what he can accomplish."
"Our guys love seeing him up on the blocks," Durden said. "You know you're going to see something special in most cases or he is going to try his darndest to make it something special."
His victories in the 100 and 200 fly, and 100 backstroke, plus two relay teams at the Pac-12 Championships helped Cal halt Stanford's conference championship streak at 31.
In addition to the workhorse-like schedule Shields has taken on this year, he also has emerged as bit of a senior leader.
"In a unique way," Durden said. "We don't quite ask Tom to be a vocal leader amongst our group. We have another senior who has that role. I think our guys appreciate what Tom's schedule looks like and what we ask him to do."
What Hamilton noticed this year was a deepened sense to details that Shields has displayed. An Olympic hopeful in 2012, Shields finished fourth in the 100-meter butterfly and ninth in the 200 fly at the U.S. Olympic Trials. That was not good enough to make the team. He also failed to make the team at the 2008 Olympic Trials.
Shields took the fall semester off to compete in the international World Cup series. When Shields arrived back at Cal, a different swimmer showed up.
"He came back in the fall and just had this unbelievable attention to detail," Hamilton said. "Competing with pros, it just gave him that extra edge, the difference between a high-end amateur and a professional athlete. He just came back with this focus and this detail to every little thing. Stuff that you wouldn't even think about."
Even after Friday's long day and night of preliminaries and then championship finals, Shields stuck to his details. Immediately after the 800 relay, he was back in the water for 30 minutes of cool-down laps nearly 12 hours after the day began. He politely declined interviews. The routine was the thing.
"It's tough," Durden said. "In years' past, the NCAA has kind of allowed guys to kind of get subbed out for awards. You're really not doing any of our athletes any favors by making them go up on the award stand, come back down and not really letting them rest and recover. It's gotten harder to do what he does."