By Kit Ramgopal
The Stanford men’s swimming and diving team concluded its 2015-16 season by finishing 14th at the NCAA championships in Atlanta over the weekend. The team brought 18 athletes to the meet, earning 14 All-America selections, with strong showings from veteran seniors as well as promising underclassmen.
The four-day meet began Wednesday, March 23 with the 800-yard freestyle relay. A team of returning swimmers — senior Gray Umbach, senior Danny Thomson, senior Sean Duggan and sophomore Liam Egan — posted a time of 6:19.06. This performance earned the team a 13th-place standing going into the second day of full competition.
While Wednesday’s points may have set the tone for Stanford success in the NCAA arena, Thursday’s victories defined it, as Stanford swimmers earned All-America honors in all six of the events on Day 2.
In the individual events, Stanford’s underclassmen, notably sophomore Sam Perry, Egan and freshman Abrahm DeVine, were the “heroes starting in prelims,” according to head coach Ted Knapp. Egan posted a time of 4:13.27 in the 500-yard freestyle, earning his first All-America honors, beating his personal best and placing fifth overall in the standings.
Perry finished fourth in the B final for 10th overall in the 50-yard freestyle. DeVine tied for third in the B final and placed 11th overall in the 200 IM, earning his first All-America honorable mention as well. To finish the day, freshman Ryan Dudzinski, freshman Matt Anderson, sophomore Andrew Liang and Perry finished 13th in the 400 medley relay to earn an all-America honor.
Friday’s events returned attention to DeVine’s breakout NCAA performance: The freshman earned another All-America selection in the 400 IM with a resounding 2:42.02 sixth-place finish. In the same event, Curtis Ogren finished fifth in the B final in 13th overall, earning the first All-America selection of his career. The 200-yard medley relay team of Dudzinski, Anderson, Liang and Perry finished 15th overall to earn another All-America honorable mention, following its success in the 400-yard medley relay on Thursday.
Saturday’s competition was most crucial to the Cardinal success in the NCAAs, according to Knapp before the start of Day 3.
“We have the most potential of the three days; we definitely need to get it done in the morning,” he said.
Egan and Thomson opened the meet in the 1,650-yard freestyle, with Egan finishing 14th with an All-America honorable mention time of 14:52.34 and Thomson finishing 19th in 14:58.10. Umbach then finished 16th in the 200-yard butterfly, earning his third career All-America honorable mention to conclude his senior season.
Perry continued his momentum from earlier days to earn 14th place in the 100-yard freestyle, his fifth All-America honorable mention of the meet. In the final event of the meet, the 400-yard medley relay team of Perry, Duggan, senior Jeff Garnier and senior Spencer DeShon finished in second place in the B final and 1oth overall, closing the meet in 2:51:54 with an All-America honorable mention.
Throughout the week, Stanford also relied heavily on its divers to put points on the board. Bradley Christensen finished sixth in the B final of the 1-meter, earning 14th place overall. In the platform diving competition, Ted Miclau finished sixth in the A final with a score of 378.00. Both divers also earned All-America honors.
Overall, Stanford finished 14th in the team rankings with 112.5 points. However, while Saturday may have marked the end of the 2015-16 season, the program sees it as only the beginning of the so-called “golden age of Stanford swimming.”
“Of the 14 swimmers and four divers that were invited, three were freshmen and seven were sophomores,” Knapp said. “We outscored our projected point total and it was a big meet for the six point-scorers who hadn’t scored at NCAAs before.”
Many of these underclassmen even had multiple All-America selections: Perry earned five, Egan earned three, DeVine earned two, and relay members Dudzinski, Anderson and Liang earned two each as well. The veteran leadership of Umbach, Duggan, Thomson, DeShon and Garnier was equally crucial to the depth of the team’s NCAA victories.
The 2015-16 season was momentous for Stanford in more ways than one. It proved to the world of college swimming that the graduation of diver Kristian Ipsen and swimmer David Nolan, both All-Americans who were crucial to NCAA success in previous years, was anything but crippling for Stanford’s program.
The loss of those athletes provoked Stanford to expand towards a new degree of competitive depth, focusing on success across events and from all classes of swimmers. This depth culminated in a winning season, a Pac-12 title, and 14 All-America selections in the NCAA finals — victories that rest on the unprecedented cohesiveness and competitive drive of the 2015-16 team.
Contact Kit Ramgopal at kramgopa ‘at’ stanford.edu.