One year after finishing fourth overall at the NCAA Championships, the USC men’s swimming and diving team had a slightly more difficult time putting together the kind of team effort it would have taken to top last year’s performance. After only dropping one head-to-head meet during the regular season and finishing second in the Pac-12 Championships, the Trojans finished 13th overall at the NCAA Championships in Atlanta, Georgia.
Texas, the winner of last year’s national championship, repeated this year with a dominant collective effort. Led by junior Will Licon and sophomore Joseph Schooling, who each set NCAA records in their respective events, the Longhorns never trailed on their way to the national title. With their win in this year’s championships, Texas ties Michigan for the most all-time men’s swimming titles with 12.
At 13th overall, the Trojans were the second-highest finisher of all Pac-12 competitors. Cal, last year’s Pac-12 champions, finished second overall at the meet with 351 points. USC edged out Stanford — this year’s conference champion — by 4.5 points; the Trojans scored 117 to the Cardinal’s 112.5.
The Trojans began the tournament on Wednesday with a ninth-place finish in the 800-yard freestyle relay to match their ninth overall ranking in the nation. Freshman Patrick Mulcare, junior Michael Domagala, senior Morten Klarskov and junior Reed Malone turned in solid times in their individual legs, but collectively they were not quick enough to repeat their title-winning performance from last year.
On Thursday, the Trojans saw strong efforts from Malone and their two star divers, seniors Collin Pollard and Deon Reid. Malone placed third in the 500-yard freestyle with a time of 4:12.55; Malone also reached the podium at the 2015 championships with another third-place finish.
Pollard, last year’s Pac-12 swimmer of the month, was an NCAA “A” Finalist for the first time this season with a seventh-place finish on the 1-meter. Last year, Pollard scored twice to become a “B” Finalist for the first time, but his score this year was good enough to make him a first-time All-American, a fitting finish to his stellar collegiate career. Reid finished ninth on the 1-meter for his first-ever “B” Final.
“I am so pleased with the first diving event [Thursday],” diving coach Hongping Li said. “Collin and Deon really opened it with a super performance. The key success for both divers was to dive with fun and to meet a personal target score, which they did.”
Malone continued his strong showing on Friday, finishing 5th overall in the 200-yard freestyle. His time of 1:32.54 is USC’s second-best time in the event in school history, and his new personal best time in the event. Sophomore Ralf Tribuntsov also placed fifth in his event, the 100-yard backstroke, after finishing 8th last year as a freshman. Mulcare also scored points for the Trojans on Friday, finishing seventh in the “B” Final in the 100-yard backstroke.
Several USC swimmers scored on Saturday, the final day of the meet. Sophomore Pawel Furtek was the first swimmer to contribute with a personal-best time in the mile, good enough for 10th overall. Mulcare, swimming in his first NCAA “A” Final, finished 8th in the 200-yard backstroke, an event he has dominated all season. Tribuntsov scored again with a 15th overall finish in the 100-yard freestyle.
Two Trojans scored in the 200-yard breaststroke: junior Steven Stumph, who has won the past two conference titles in the event, won the “B” Final with a ninth place overall finish, and freshman Carsten Vissering scored his first-ever NCAA points with a 16th overall finish in the event. Tribuntsov, Mulcare, junior David Morgan Jr. and Malone placed seventh in the “B” Final of the 400-yard freestyle relay to close out the meet for the Trojans.
Despite not matching last year’s top-four finish, the future looks bright for USC. All of this year’s scoring swimmers, with the exception of Klarskov, will be returning next season, and the young core of talent now has one additional postseason under their belts. The diving team will have a difficult time replacing Pollard and Reid, but whoever steps in to replace those divers will look up to rising junior Dashiell Enos and the rest of the veteran squad.