When the inaugural Pac-12 Swimming Championship splashes off today, the Stanford men’s swimming and diving team will begin the four-day quest to win its 31st consecutive conference title. Significant challenges stand in the way of the Card’s victory however, including the No. 1 team in the country.
Stanford’s impressive streak of titles dates back to 1982, and the team’s dominance of its conference has also translated to success on the national stage. In the span of three decades, Stanford has finished in the top three at the NCAA championship 26 times and never worse than fourth place.
Much of the program’s success can be attributed to the calm and steady manner in which head coach Skip Kenney, a 21-time conference coach of the year, has guided his team. Under Kenney’s management, the team won 30 straight Pac-10 titles as well as seven national crowns.
This weekend, No. 3 Stanford (7-1, 3-1 Pac-12) will have the opportunity to extend the length of its conference dominance in the pool.
But continuing the streak won’t be easy for the Cardinal this time around. Fittingly, the biggest obstacle will be the No. 1 Arizona. When the two teams clashed earlier this season in a dual meet, the Wildcats came out with the victory, edging out the Cardinal by a mere eight points.
In arguably the toughest conference in college swimming, Stanford will have other elite teams to deal with in addition to Arizona, as No. 5 USC and No. 6 Cal will certainly be in contention for the coveted conference title.
At the forefront of the Cardinal’s distance lineup is senior Chad La Tourette, who is vying for his fourth straight conference title in the 1650-yard freestyle. La Tourette has been one of the most dominant distance swimmers in college swimming history, losing only twice during his entire college career in the 1650 — and those two losses were runner-up finishes in two NCAA championship meets.
Going into the conference championship, La Tourette is the fastest Pac-12 swimmer in the 1650 by over 10 seconds. La Tourette is the only Stanford swimmer who is carrying a No. 1 seed into the meet. In the 500-yard freestyle, the Stanford veteran owns the third seed, behind top swimmer Matthew Barber from Arizona. While Barber is seeded nearly three seconds ahead of La Tourette, the Cardinal senior won the head-to-head battle against Barber in the teams’ dual meet earlier this season.
Another key veteran for Stanford is senior Bobby Bollier. The butterfly specialist won the conference title in the 200-yard butterfly in 2009 and 2010, as well as the 400-yard individual medley last year. Bollier’s top competition will come from Cal junior Tom Shields, who is the defending Pac-10 champion in the 200 butterfly.
Mixed with the senior experience is the young talent that the Cardinal boasts. Freshman David Nolan could be the wild card in determining whether Stanford will claim the conference crown or not. On paper, Nolan’s fifth seed in the 200-yard individual medley, fourth seed in the 100-yard butterfly and seventh seed in the 100-yard backstroke may not seem all that impressive, but Nolan has proven his ability to step up on the big stage. Last year, as a high school senior, Nolan made a statement to the swimming world by breaking three individual high school national records and clocking a time in the 200 individual medley that would have won the NCAA championship.
The diving segment of the meet was completed last weekend, and the Stanford squad came up big. Senior captain Taylor Sishc finished second and third in the 3-meter and 1-meter springboard, respectively. Freshman Connor Kuremsky also notched two fourth-place finishes on the springboard while sophomore Noah Garcia led the Cardinal with a fifth-place finish on the platform. Their stellar performances racked up 147 points for Stanford, well ahead of Arizona’s 97. The swimmers will look to maintain the lead spotted by their diving teammates.
“It’s time to swim fast and win races,” Kenney said, summing up his squad’s mentality in one simple sentence.
And maybe then, the streak of 30 will become 31.
The 2012 Pac-12 Men’s Swimming Championships at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way, Wash. will start at 6 p.m. today and conclude on Saturday.