FEDERAL WAY, Wash. – Auburn sophomore Zane Grothe recorded the best-ever time by a Tiger swimmer in the 1650-yard freestyle, and sophomore Marcelo Chierighini won the silver medal in the 100 freestyle to highlight the final day of the 2012 NCAA Men’s Swimming & Diving Championships on Saturday night.
Auburn coach Brett Hawke
Auburn finished in sixth place with 254.5 points as the three-day meet wrapped up at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center, just a few miles outside Seattle. The Tigers were 16.5 points behind fifth-place Michigan, who finished with 271 points.
“I’m happy with some swims tonight and the way the guys came together,” Auburn head coach Brett Hawke said. “We would have loved to have found our way to the top of the podium, but we got a bunch of second- and third-place finishes throughout the meet. It’s disappointing (to finish sixth), but at the same time it’s encouraging. It keeps us hungry and focuses us for the future. We know we’re close, we just want to take that next step and find our way (back to the top).”
California won the national title for the second straight year, finishing with 535.5 points. Texas also took runner-up honors for the second year in a row with 491 points. Stanford (426.5) and Arizona (396) rounded out the top four. Among other SEC schools, Florida finished eighth, Georgia was 11th, Kentucky took 21st, Tennessee 22nd, Alabama 25th and LSU 31st.
Grothe, a sophomore from Boulder City, Nev., broke two school records during his mile swim. His time of 14:37.59 shattered the previous Auburn record of 14:47.09 – which he set at last year’s NCAA Championships – to give him a fourth-place finish in the race. It was the best-ever finish by an Auburn swimmer in the mile at the NCAA Championships. He also broke the Auburn record – also his own – in the 1000 freestyle as he took the mile out in 8:52.58, knocking more than four seconds off his pace from last year’s NCAA Championship mile swim.
“I’m pretty happy,” Grothe said. “I don’t like to set my goals as times, just as effort or strategy, but when I originally threw a number out there, I said I’d like to go into the 14:30s, and maybe take about 10 seconds (off my previous best). And it worked out that way, exactly 10 seconds.”
Grothe, who was swimming on the outside in lane eight, hovered around sixth place during the early part of the race, but steadily made up ground. Swimming in the lane next to him was Texas’ Michael McBroom – the defending NCAA Champion in the event – and when Grothe passed him, he knew it could be a special race. And from there he took off, consistently splitting in the mid-26 range while some of his competitors fell off the pace.
“I did know that when I passed Michael McBroom, who was right next to me, it got me going,” Grothe said. “I could see some open water next to me. It was exactly what I’ve been working on, the kick on the second half (of the race). It felt good, and I pushed it hard.”
Grothe scored 30 individual points for Auburn with his fourth-place finishes in both the 500 and 1650 free. Both were the best-ever finishes by an Auburn men’s swimmer in those respective events, and he set the school record in both.
“Having a sophomore break school records in the 500, 1000 and the mile is awesome,” Hawke said. “It bodes well for the future, and it goes to show that Auburn’s not just a sprint school. We know we have distance swimmers, and we welcome swimmers of all sorts. Zane is one of those guys that’s leading the way for us.”
The first NCAA record of the meet fell during the mile. Georgia’s Martin Grodzki broke an 11-year-old NCAA and U.S. Open record with a time of 14:24.08, and Stanford’s Chad La Tourette set a new American record in 14:24.35.
Another highlight of the night came two events later. Chierighini took second place in the 100 freestyle with a time of 42.34, earning 17 crucial points for the Tigers. He earned his fifth All-America honor of the meet as he out-touched Southern Cal’s Vlad Morozov by .10 seconds and finished just behind Texas senior Jimmy Feigen, who picked up his second individual title with a time of 41.95.
“I would have liked to break 42 (seconds),” Chierighini said. “I was not really happy with my time. But at that point in the meet, the last day, we are so tired. I was just really glad to score a lot of points to help Auburn.”
Chierighini would pick up a sixth All-America certificate as he anchored the 400 freestyle relay, which powered its way to a tie for second place with California. The team of Karl Krug, James Disney-May, Drew Modrov and Chierighini stopped the clock in 2:50.34 as Disney-May and Chierighini posted splits of 42.21 and 42.00, respectively, to battle back from fifth place at the 200-yard mark to overtake Southern Cal and Stanford to share the silver.
“I love swimming relays,” Chierighini said. “There’s just a lot of energy, and I wanted to score a lot of points for Auburn. I’m really excited to know that I have two more years here, but I know I have a lot to improve.”
Senior Max Murphy went out in style, earning an eighth-place finish and All-America honors in the 200 backstroke in his final collegiate race. He posted a time of 1:44.19 in the final to earn 11 points for the Tigers; his prelim time of 1:42.14 tied a career-best in the post-technical suit era.
Krug, Modrov and Murphy, the three Auburn seniors, combined for nine All-America honors in the meet. For their careers, Krug finished with eight All-Americas while Modrov and Murphy had four each.
“It’s nice when the seniors can get swims on the final night,” Hawke said. “That’s a great way to send them off and let them finish off their careers. I know those guys really put in everything they had tonight into racing.”
Auburn’s lone diving entry, sophomore John Santeiu, did not score during the meet but picked up valuable experience in his first trip to the NCAA Championships. He wrapped up the three-day meet with a 23rd-place finish in platform diving, scoring a 303.95.
“Obviously it was not what we had anticipated in coming to NCAAs,” Auburn head diving coach Jeff Shaffer said, “but the experience in being here and competing at this level should really help him prepare for the years to come. Again, it wasn’t what we hoped for, but it was what it was.”
Junior Kyle Owens was the high point scorer for the Tigers in the meet. He contributed a total of 26 points in individual events (100 back and 200 IM) and added 24 more as part of three relays, giving him a total of 50 for the week.
Auburn has now finished in the top six in the country at the last 11 NCAA Championships, and this marked their 20th consecutive top-10 finish.
The Tigers will now turn their focus to the long-course season and the upcoming 2012 London Olympic Games. Various countries have either already held or are about to start their Olympic Trials, and the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials are set for June 25-July 2 in Omaha, Neb.