Unable to battle back from Michigan’s hot start, the second-ranked Cal men’s swimming team saw its dreams for a third consecutive NCAA title evaporate.
The Wolverines led the meet from the very first race from last Thursday, and they never looked back in the three-day competition. Despite the star performances of Josh Prenot and Tom Shields, the Bears finished second with 406.5 points — 73.5 points shy of Michigan’s lead.
At the Indiana University Natatorium at Indianapolis, the meet started out as a tight team race, then Michigan emerged from the pack. Cal (7-0) was within striking distance to overtake Michigan’s spot after the first day, but their chances were crushed after a lackluster team performance on Friday.
At the end of Friday, No. 3 Michigan had a Cinderella-like run and exceeded pre-tournament expectations. With a distinct advantage heading into Saturday’s mid-distance and long-distance races, the Wolverines had a comfortable 34.5-point cushion with more swimmers left for the last day than the Bears. Michigan’s Connor Jaeger won the 1,650-yard freestyle Saturday night to wrap up the Wolverines’ magical run and their first NCAA men’s swimming and diving team title since 1995.
“We didn’t have a real confidence that we would win this,” Michigan coach Mike Bottom said. “By the second day I looked at our team, and I said, ‘All right we’ve gotten in the top three, now what do you want to do?’
“They looked at me like I was crazy. They looked at me and said, ‘We came here to win.’”
Even though the Bears fell short of the title, they still had spectacular individual performances throughout the meet.
The freshman Prenot became a collegiate All-American in his first NCAA Championship final, timing at 1:42.62 to place fifth in the 200 IM. Shields ended his remarkable career with another all-around performance. On the second day of the meet, Shields blew away the field to become the national champion in the 100 fly for the third time with a time of 44.59 seconds.
He improved his own school record set at last year’s NCAAs by almost two-tenths of a second. Shields’ victory in the 100 fly is the first national title for the Bears at this year’s national meet.
Shields followed up his 100 fly performance with a national runner-up finish in the 100 back, getting bested by only two-tenths of a second by Stanford’s David Nolan.
In third day, Shields continued his dominance by securing a national title in the 200 fly, tying Michael Phelps’ American record time of 1:39.65.
In his illustrious Cal career, he is an 11-time NCAA champion, winning six individual titles and part of five national championship relays.
“Perhaps one of the most versatile college swimmers in the sport today, Tom is the absolute backbone of our program,” coach David Durden said.
“His name will definitely be among the greatest swimmers who have ever competed for Cal.”
Hunter He covers men’s swim. Contact him at [email protected].