Cal wins back-to-back titles
Win gives Golden Bears fourth title in school history
FEDERAL WAY, Wash. -- Will Hamilton and Tom Shields looked at each other and knew they could finally enjoy a California repeat at the NCAA championships.
Hamilton and Shields clinched California's fourth NCAA title — and first consecutive titles for the school in 30 years — on Saturday night with a 1-2 finish in the 200-yard butterfly as the Golden Bears held off Texas for the second year in a row. The result gave the Bears an insurmountable lead with two events remaining.
California finished with 535.5 points, while Texas was second with 491 and Stanford was third with 426.5. A year ago, the Bears needed a victory in the final event of the meet, the 400-yard freestyle relay, to hold off the Longhorns. This time, the Bears were able to enjoy the final two events with the title already in hand and win back-to-backtitles for the first time since 1979 and 1980 when they claimed their first two NCAA titles.
"I know the projections were all over the place, but we knew it and I think we finally showed that's all that ever mattered," said Shields, who was named swimmer of the meet. "It's nice to come back and do it and do it in a completely different way."
|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|
The title for California was a bit of a stunner compared to what the Bears pulled off in 2011. Last year's group at California was a veteran squad led by sprint champion Nathan Adrian and coming off a runner-up finish in 2010. This group of Cal swimmers featured just four seniors and a host of underclassmen that made contributions during the three-day event.
The capper to the week was Hamilton swimming home with the points that clinched the title for Cal. Making a charge over the final 75 yards, Hamilton overtook early race leader Neil Caskey of Texas, then managed to hold off Shields at the wall and deny Shields his third individual title of the event. Shields won the 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke on Friday night.
During the three-day event, California picked up a total of six titles in individual races and relays. But the one that set the tone came in the first race of the meet when Cal won the 200 freestyle relay from an outside lane.
"Everyone looks at our youth or looks at what we lost and we tend to focus on what we have. With 11 returning guys that swam in this meet last year, that brought enough experience to the group and brought enough learning how to navigate this meet but also how to be successful at this meet," Cal coach Dave Durden said. "They just did a great job, particularly our seniors ... in guiding our guys over the last three weeks to be successful."
Texas finished second for the fourth time in the last five years. James Feigen of Texas also doubled during the championships, winning the 100 freestyle on Saturday to go with his victory in the 50 free on Thursday, then anchored the winning 400 freestyle relay by holding off Shields over the final 25 yards.
The finals started with a brilliant record-setting duel in the 1,650 freestyle. Georgia's Martin Grodzki overtook Stanford's Chad LaTourette went back-and-forth during the lengthy race where someone usually pulls away. Instead, Grodzki and LaTourette went down to the final few yards with Grodzki holding on for the victory in record time. Grodzki's time of 14:24.08 set championship and U.S. Open records, while LaTourette's time of 14:24.35 set an American record.
LaTourette said he knew a special race was in process by how violently his lap counter was shaking the number board as each lap ticked off. All three records were previously held by Chris Thompson of Michigan set in 2001.
"I just tried to stay with him and have a great last 150 because I knew he's got speed and I've got speed and that it was going to come down to the finish," LaTourette said. "... I had a feeling we were doing pretty well. "
Arizona, who finished fourth in the team race, picked up two titles on the final night. Cory Chitwood became a three-time champion in the 200 backstroke as he held off a final kick from Stanford's David Nolan to claim the title. Chitwood's time was slightly slower than the previous two years, but he became the first three-time winner in the event since Rick Carey won three straight 200 backstroke titles for Texas from 1982-84.
Ben Grado later won platform diving by scoring 91.80 on his final dive to overtake Missouri's David Bonuchi.