In his heart, Max McHugh knew his chances were slim. The Gophers swimmer didn't think anyone was going to beat Leon Marchand, the record-setting sophomore from Arizona State, in Saturday's 200-yard breaststroke.
McHugh was right, but he wasn't completely disappointed. On the final day of the NCAA men's swimming and diving championships, he ended his Gophers career with a third-place finish in the 200 breast in front of a home crowd. Marchand won the race, earning his third individual crown and third NCAA record of the meet, while California defended its team title at Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center.
Marchand, of Toulouse, France, capped the meet with another bravura performance. He cruised to the 200 breast title in 1 minute, 46.91 seconds, knocking .76 of a second off the NCAA record he set at the Pac-12 championships.
Earlier in the meet, he won the 200 and 400 individual medleys in NCAA record times. Marchand also swam in four relays for the Sun Devils, earning two silver medals and two bronze.
Cal's Destin Lasco defended his title in the 200 backstroke Saturday, boosting the Bears toward their third team crown in the past four championships. Cal finished with 482 points, followed by Arizona State (430) and Texas (384).
The meet was expected to be fast, and it delivered on that promise. A total of eight NCAA records were set over the four days, along with eight U.S. open records and two American records.
No one made a bigger splash than Marchand, who seemed a little overwhelmed by what he called a "crazy" meet.
"I always expect something, with the hard training we're doing at ASU," he said. "I'm just very happy to be on this team. We're building something special."
Cal led a tight team race entering the final night, with a 13-point edge over Arizona State. The Bears set themselves up for a high-scoring final session, advancing seven swimmers into the A finals and three into the B finals.
After Lasco and Hugo Gonzalez went 1-2 in the 200 back, Jack Alexy and Bjorn Seeliger finished second and third in the 100 free, giving the Bears 70 points in those two races. Marchand brought Arizona State a little closer as he defended his title in the 200 breast. He finished more than two seconds ahead of Texas' Caspar Corbeau (1:49.15), with McHugh third in 1:49.91.
"I don't think anyone was [beating Marchand]," said McHugh, who won the 100 breast on Friday and leaves the U as a four-time NCAA champion. "I had to come to terms with that a little bit beforehand.
"I was a lot more nervous than I expected. It was my last swim. It was at home. It was in the 200, which I'm not as comfortable with. But I'll take it."
Marchand said he felt a little bit sick Saturday but was pleased with his time, especially with 10 family members and friends in the stands.
Cal had to settle for second in the final event, the 400 free relay, finishing .01 of a second behind Florida's NCAA-record time of 2:44.07. But the team title was the Bears' third since 2019. They have finished first or second in the team race at the NCAA men's championships every year since 2010.
"This one was a challenge," Cal coach David Durden said. "The majority of the points were spread out among six teams, and that made it exciting for the fans."