USC places second in Pac-12 championship

Up against some of the toughest competition in the country, the men’s swimming and diving team came up just short of winning its second consecutive Pac-12 conference championship

The ninth-ranked Trojans, looking to defend their 2015 Pac-12 team championship, were led by several outstanding performances but couldn’t keep pace with Stanford over the course of the four-day event.

“I think Stanford took a page from our playbook last year,” USC head coach Dave Salo said. “They saw how we came together as a team and came to compete in the absence of one of their top swimmers from last year.”

The conference championships were a three-team race from the beginning: USC and Stanford finished the diving championships tied for the lead, but Cal — the second-ranked team in the nation — came storming back to take the lead after the first day of swimming. The Golden Bears won the 800-yard freestyle relay after coming in third in the 200-yard medley relay on Day 1, but USC wasn’t far behind: The Trojans took second place in each event, putting themselves in good position to compete for the rest of the championships.

On Day 2, Stanford found themselves on the podium six times over the course of four events, good enough to take the lead in the meet. USC junior Reed Malone, runner up in the 500-yard freestyle the last two years, won the event for the first time, posting the NCAA’s second-best time in the event with a 4:11.80 finish. Malone’s victory was USC’s only top-three finish on the day, and the Trojans remained in second place heading into the second half of the meet.

USC had a strong Day 3 as well: Malone won his second race of the championships in the 200-yard freestyle, an event the Trojans have not lost since 2009. USC sophomore Ralf Tribuntsov won the individual title in the 100-yard backstroke, ending California’s three-year win-streak in the event. Freshman Carsten Vissering took second in the 100-yard breaststroke, and the Trojans finished second in the 400 medley relay.

Despite only making it onto the podium three times on Day 3, Stanford held a 59-point lead going into the final day of the competition. USC freshman Patrick Mulcare won the 200-yard backstroke and junior Steven Stumph won his second consecutive 200-yard breastroke; Mulcare’s time of 1:39.64 was good enough to break Trojan Olympian Lenny Krayzelburg’s school record set back in 1997. Still, their individual victories would not be enough to pass Stanford, which finished the competition with 808 total points.

“We had so many outstanding efforts,” Salo said. “The maturity of the freshman class was a pleasant surprise.”

USC finished second with 700 points, followed by California with 628. With their runner-up finish, the Trojans have finished in the top two in the conference for consecutive years for the first time since 1997-1998.

“I think our guys experienced winning last year and the feeling of coming up short this season will drive their performance next year,” Salo said. “They found out that they like winning a lot more.”

The Trojans now look ahead to the NCAA Championships, which will be held at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center in Atlanta later this month.