The drought is over.
Stanford men’s swimming hadn’t won a Pac-12 title since 2012, when it claimed its 31st consecutive conference championship before a stretch of oh-so-close years marked by three straight runner-up finishes for the Cardinal — twice behind Cal, once behind USC.
But last weekend in Federal Way, Washington, No. 11 Stanford finally got over the hump and re-staked its claim to the Pac-12 crown, blowing away both second-place USC and third-place Cal for the 63rd conference title in program history behind a pair of first-place finishes from sophomore Sam Perry and consistency and depth across the board.
“The team showed great respect for the process needed for this week’s performance,” said head coach Ted Knapp. “They were determined to send the seniors off with a championship and convey a message to our alumni that we are striving to compete as they did for so long.”
Stanford started off the meet in third place after the first day by getting bested in the relays, but once the individual finals started on Day 2, the Cardinal staked a lead and never looked back, with their final team score of 808 eclipsing USC’s 700 and Cal’s 628. Arizona, Arizona State and Utah rounded out the six-team meet.
Although Stanford only claimed four individual titles out of the 21 events at the championship meet, Stanford’s superior depth in all strokes and strong performances in the qualifiers saw it consistently qualify multiple swimmers for the “A” and “B” finals in most of the events, setting the Cardinal up for lots of team points, regardless of whether their swimmers could claim first-place finishes or not in the finals.
Perry led the way by sweeping the freestyle sprint titles, winning the 50 free on Day 2 in 19.30 and the 100 free on Day 4 in 42.72, just barely out-touching Arizona junior Renny Richmond by a 0.06-second margin in the latter event.
However, in both of those events, the Cardinal’s team-wide depth was just as important — if not more so — than Perry’s victories, as the fact that Stanford qualified three swimmers for the “A” final of the 50 free and two more for the “B” final meant that it would be nearly impossible for any other school to take away more team points for the event, with no other school matching Stanford’s five competitors in the two finals contributing to team scoring.
This was a consistent pattern throughout the meet, making it difficult for other schools to keep up with the raw number of scoring contributions Stanford was getting from its swimmers in nearly every event.
“I’ve never been part of a team with such an even point spread, top to bottom,” Perry said. “Everyone did their job, and in the end it was enough to get the win. Pac-12s were a big motivator for us throughout the year, and we knew we could do it, so it was really satisfying to make our supporters and ourselves proud.”
Stanford’s dominance in the freestyle wasn’t just in the sprint events; sophomore Liam Egan also won a Pac-12 title in the 1,650 free with his 14:44.85 in the final, besting the second-place finisher by nearly five seconds and becoming the only swimmer in the event to meet the NCAA’s “A” standard.
Egan also contributed a second-place finish in the 500 free, as Reed Malone of USC blew past the field in 4:11.80 to distance himself from the pack but Egan and senior Danny Thomson gave Stanford a 2-3 finish in the event to round out the podium. Thomson also finished third in the 1,650 free.
“[Egan] and [Thomson] are among those with the absolute best workout ethic and you love to see the payoff like we did tonight,” Knapp said.
Even with the departure of IM guru David Nolan to graduation, the Cardinal still asserted their dominance in the IM events, with Stanford finishing 2-3-4 in the 200 IM on the second day and 2-3 in the 400 IM on the third day.
Freshman Abrahm DeVine was the consistent force behind the Cardinal’s IM success, finishing third in the 200 and second in the 400. He was joined in his success by senior Gray Umbach, junior Max Williamson and sophomore Curtis Ogren — all earned invitations to the 200 IM at NCAAs as well.
The divers also had a lot to do with Stanford’s team success, with junior Bradley Christensen taking home the 1-meter title and finishing third in the 3-meter. Senior Connor Kuremsky edged Christensen in the 3-meter for a second-place finish in the event, but both were edged by USC sophomore Dash Enos, whose 419.35 was more than 50 points ahead of Kuremsky’s final tally of 367.25.
Sophomore Ted Miclau rounded out the Cardinal’s diving depth with a second-place finish in the platform diving finals on the last day of the meet, narrowly finishing second to USC’s Collin Pollard by a 7-point margin. Sophomore Tarek Abdelghany also qualified for the “A” final and finished in eighth.
“A very big thank-you to our diving coach Patrick Jeffrey and his four divers is also in order,” Knapp said.
With the Pac-12 title now back at its rightful home, the Cardinal will next seek their first national title since 1998 at the NCAAs in Atlanta from March 24-26. Meanwhile, the divers will first head to Flagstaff, Arizona for the NCAA Zone E Diving Championships from March 7-9 to determine their qualifiers for NCAAs.
Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dhpark ‘at’ stanford.edu.