USC swim ready to start conference championships

The No. 7 USC men’s swim team heads to Long Beach, Calif. today to start competition at the Pac-10 championships.

Similar to the women’s team, the men’s team is focusing on qualifying as many swimmers for the NCAA championships as possible. Thirteen Trojans have already qualified.

“The original plan was to pick up the times we would need to get to the NCAA meet and forge ahead from that point, not looking at the dual meets as critically important,” said USC coach Dave Salo. “We are looking at this [Pac-10s] as a stepping-stone for the NCAAs.”

Leading USC at Pac-10s will be two All-Americans, sophomore Clement Lefert and junior Patrick White, and freshman Vladimir Morozov. The team lost its last two competitions, but has a chance to redeem itself at the Pac-10s against the same two teams it fell to: California and Stanford.

The frontrunners at the Pac-10 championships are the No. 1 Golden Bears and the No. 2 Cardinal, with the No. 6 Wildcats also pushing for a spot in the top three. Although the Trojans will have their work cut out for them, these are the only three teams ranked higher than USC that will be competing.

“We never know what we’re going to get from Arizona at the meet,” Salo said. “If they are true to form, they might bypass their focus on this meet and we could make a run at the top three.”

The Cardinal traditionally prepares for the Pac-10s by resting the majority of its team, resulting in solid performances from the Stanford swimmers year after year. That is motivation enough for the Trojans to want to beat their NorCal rival.

“Everyone wants to see Stanford lose because they are always resting for Pac-10s,” said senior co-captain Dillon Connolly. “Whereas Cal, which is a much better team at NCAAs, is resting for NCAAs. Out-touching Stanford would be great.”

The team’s main focus is also on the NCAAs, but, like Cal, there  are still lofty anticipation for the Pac-10 Championships among the squad.

The competition starts tonight at 6 p.m. with the 200-yard medley and 800-yard free relay and continues through Saturday.

“In different ways, it [the Pac-10 championships] is more intense than NCAAs,” Connolly said. “There’s less pressure on the NCAA qualifiers since we are already set, but everyone still gets pumped up.”