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The 1998 Team

Men's Swimming Coasts to NCAA Championship

Cardinal easily outdistances host Auburn for first title since 1994.

March 28, 1998

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) - Short of draining its pool overnight, there was nothing defending champion Auburn could have done to prevent Stanford from winning the NCAA swimming title Saturday.

After building a 103-point lead over the Tigers in two days, the Cardinal got even stronger on the final night, easily bringing the title back to Stanford for the first time since 1994.

By outscoring second-place Auburn 599-394 1/2 at the 75th annual NCAA Swimming Championships, Stanford won its eighth overall title and its fourth this decade.

Texas came in third with 362 1/2 points, followed by Tennessee with 233 and Southern California with 220.

"This team swam unbelievably," said Stanford's Tate Blahnik, the champion in the 200 backstroke. "There were no weaknesses in any event. It was hard to believe how focused we were and how well we swam the whole week."

The celebration officially began when senior Tom Wilkens won his record-tying third individual event of the meet, finishing the 200 breast stroke in 1 minute, 55.02 seconds.

He was followed by teammate Blake Holden, prompting the contingent of Stanford fans to start shouting, "One-two, one-two, one-two, one-two" in honor of the one-two finish. The fans repeated the chant just one race later, when junior Matthew Pierce and freshman Steven Brown finished one-two in the 200 butterfly.

"We set goals to do what we've done, and we came in here thinking we could pull it off," Wilkens said. "But when you do it - when it actually happens - it's really exciting."

While swimmers like Wilkens, Pierce and Holden have long been dependable, the biggest difference for Stanford this season was last year's strong recruiting class. Led by Brown, five Cardinal freshmen qualified for the meet and contributed points.

It meant a resounding victory over an Auburn team considered by many to be Stanford's equal this year after rolling to its first-ever title in 1997 by 156 points over the second-place Cardinal.

"Those freshmen pushed us, added some enthusiasm and squeezed this team together," Wilkens said. "Everyone on this team played a key role in winning, from the seniors down. But in terms of points, I don't know if we would have won without those freshmen."

In the marquee race of the night, Southern Methodist's Lars Frolander finished his college career by winning his fifth individual championship, beating Texas' Neil Walker in the 100 freestyle.

The Swedish Olympian won his third career 100 butterfly title Friday night, and finished the 100 freestyle in 42.12 to become a repeat champion in that event. He was selected as NCAA Swimmer of the Year after the meet.

"I know that Neil Walker's a great swimmer and that gets you psyched up," Frolander said. "I also felt like he wasn't having his best meet. I had that on my mind and it gave me confidence, but you never know until you get out there."

Walker, the NCAA swimmer of the year last season, wasn't as strong this year, but still left with a second-straight title in the 100 backstroke.

Arizona's Ryk Neethling tied Wilkens and a host of swimmers in the NCAA record book by winning his third individual championship of the meet. Neethling, a sophomore from South Africa, won the mile freestyle in 14:32.50 to go with championships in the 200 and 500 freestyles earlier this week.

Alabama's Brent Roberts won the platform diving competition.

Meanwhile, Stanford capped the night by winning the 400 freestyle relay in 2:51.37. The event lacked the suspense many - especially among the Auburn contingent - hoped it would have.


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