Eddie Reese didn’t want to presume anything Saturday. The Texas coach knew if his team won the NCAA men’s swimming and diving title, he would be jumping into the pool to celebrate — but with the Longhorns among three teams fighting for the championship, he didn’t bring a change of clothes.
That left Reese soaked to the bone for his post-meet interviews at Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center, after Texas rallied for its fourth consecutive title. Not that he minded. The Longhorns surged past California and Indiana in the closest finish in 16 years, scoring 449 points to beat the Bears (437.5) and the Hoosiers (422).
Florida’s Caeleb Dressel continued to break new ground as the four-day meet came to a close. Dressel defended his title in the 100-yard freestyle in a time of 39.90 seconds, setting his third U.S. and NCAA record of the championships. In a bravura performance at his final college meet, Dressel broke three once-unthinkable barriers, becoming the first person to swim the 100 free in less than 40 seconds, the 50 free in less than 18 seconds (17.63) and the 100 butterfly in less than 43 seconds (42.80).
Dressel defended his titles in all three events, ending his college career with nine individual championships and thousands of new admirers. Afterward, he got a handshake from the sopping Reese, who had never been so happy to be so drenched.
“There was no guarantee on how this thing would end up,’’ said Reese, who has led the Longhorns to 14 NCAA team titles since 1981. “We didn’t hit on all cylinders until Friday night. Then we started getting better.
“If you get individuals to do something special, and they enjoy that, that’s what it’s about. I don’t ever talk about winning the NCAAs, just about finding a way to get better.”
Texas got six top-eight finishes to leapfrog Indiana, which led the Longhorns by 19 points going into the final day, and stave off a strong finish by Cal. The Longhorns vaulted to the top of the standings after putting up a mammoth 51 points in the 200 backstroke, finishing first (Austin Katz), second (John Shebat) and fifth (Jonathan Robert). That put them 24.5 points ahead of Cal and dropped Indiana to third.
Cal countered with 40 points from three swimmers in the 200 fly to move into first. But the Longhorns regained a 13.5-point lead when Jordan Windle finished second in platform diving, leaving the three teams separated by a mere 23 points going into the 400 free relay, the final event. Texas’ fourth-place finish, one spot behind Cal, sealed the title.
“We knew we had to be Texas tough,” Katz said. “We had to just keep grinding and getting better with every session.’’
In addition to smashing records and blowing minds, Dressel made a lasting impression with his humility and charm in his final NCAA meet. He significantly lowered his U.S. and NCAA records in the 50 free, 100 free and 100 fly, but he seemed more excited for the successes of his Florida teammates than for his own.
Dressel’s most exuberant reaction came when he saw roommate Jan Switkowski finish second behind him in Friday’s 100 fly. He endeared himself to the children in the volunteer corps, posing for photos and chatting before his races — and giving all three of his trophies to star-struck kids. Following the 100 free Saturday, Dressel received the ultimate tribute: a standing ovation from a packed gallery, with fans from many teams extending their arms to do the Gator chomp.
After conquering the short-course yards side of the sport, Dressel — who won seven golds at the 2017 world championships — has created tremendous anticipation for his future in international swimming. This meet, though, was all about representing his beloved Gators one last time.
“I was pretty tired,’’ said Dressel, who swam 13 races in four days. “This means a lot, and I’m glad I could do it wearing the cap I’m wearing, representing the university. They’ve been absolutely wonderful to me.
“I want to be a better man every day, and from there, the swimming will come. I’m excited. I think I’m just getting started in the sport.’’