The Swim That Won Men’s NCAAs
Disclaimer: Swim of the Week is not meant to be a conclusive selection of the best overall swim of the week, but rather one Featured Swim to be explored in deeper detail. The Swim of the Week is an opportunity to take a closer look at the context of one of the many fast swims this week, perhaps a swim that slipped through the cracks as others grabbed the headlines, or a race we didn’t get to examine as closely in the flood of weekly meets.
During the NCAA Championships, we like to use our Swim of the Week to zero in on the swim that turned the momentum of the meet – which swim was the ultimate turning point for the NCAA champions?
Heading into day 3, the momentum was on the side of California. The Golden Bears had gained 44 points from seed on Thursday, winning two events and carrying a 27-point lead, even after a Texas diving onslaught.
But Friday’s events shaped up to be Texas’s best shot to fire back. And that morning’s prelims started with a mad scramble for spots in the 400 IM – arguably a strength for both top programs.
Texas came in with the top seed in freshman phenom Carson Foster, along with 5th-seeded Jake Foster and 12th-seeded Braden Vines. Cal had #2 seed Hugo Gonzalez along with 9th-seeded Sean Grieshop.
And yet it was none of those five that flipped the meet on its head.
It was Texas freshman David Johnston, a standout miler, who entered college with a career-best of 3:49.1 – well outside of NCAA scoring territory.
Johnston had cut to 3:43.91 at Big 12s – an excellent freshman-year drop, but still plenty shy of the 3:42.77 it took to score at the last edition of NCAAs in 2019.
Turns out, Johnston had plenty left in the tank, though. He blasted a 3:40.80 in an inspired prelims showing. Even bigger: Johnston’s swim came in an outside lane of the final circle-seeded heat. He jumped in the water shortly after Cal’s Gonzalez had a disappointing 3:41.9, four-and-a-half seconds off his seed time.
Johnston’s big swim netted him 8th place. And it bumped Gonzalez into the B final in 10th.
Texas came out of prelims with four A finalists to Cal’s one. And that night, even when Gonzalez put up the fastest time of any swimmer in the field, he was capped at just 9 points in 9th place. Texas outscored Cal 55-25 in the event and took over the team points lead.
Texas would never trail again.
That 400 IM flipped the meet on its head, and completely reversed momentum. The rest of Friday prelims were a smash for Texas, and the Longhorns cruised from there to a dominant team title – their 5th in the last 6 NCAA meets.