By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
NCAA Championships mean many different things to many different people.
For some, it’s the breakthrough swim that earns All-America honors. For others, it’s that definitive performance that wins the first individual title. And still, for those focused on their team outcome, it’s coming together to celebrate a team title.
Regardless of where someone might stand on the subject, when this year’s 2014 Men’s Division I NCAA Swimming Championships begin tomorrow in Austin, Texas, everyone swims away with lasting memories – and the following stories are proof that they stay with athletes indefinitely.
“NCAA Championships was a war zone. For me, a Tennessee Volunteer, it was all about beating an SEC foe, the Florida Gators. Anthony Nesty (now the Associate Head Coach at the University of Florida) was the 1988 Olympic gold medalist in the 100m butterfly and a Gator swim star. Nesty wasn't a 200m butterflyer, and seemed to grudgingly race at the 200m distance. But the 200 yard butterfly was a different story. Nesty raced it to score for his Gator teammates, and the butterfly at 200 yards is shorter than at 200 meters, and is really a completely different race. For me, a 200 butterfly specialist, Nesty was a threat. Nesty beat me in 1990 at NCAA Champs by a fingernail. The experience was humbling. It was not his best event, and he owned the race. In 1991, in the 200 yard fly final, the plan was to go out fast, stay with Nesty, and see who could hang on longer without dying. I banked on having the back end to win. I hoped Nesty would burn out at the 175 or sooner, a big question mark as it was shorter than 200m and most great flyers can put together a great 160-190m butterfly. Most die at the very end. We both went out fast, 48 at the 100. Nesty and I essentially swam evenly to the 175, and finally he faded. I won in 1:41.7, a new NCAA and American Record.”
“My best memory is winning NCAAs my senior year in the 500. I finally broke the NCAA and American record in my last meet as a collegiate Wolverine. It made it even more special that my brother, Alex was in the heat, too. It was a goal of mine for years, and it all culminated my senior year.”
“I would have to say one of my favorite memories was watching the 2012 men's 200 backstroke final. Cory Chitwood had an epic comeback on David Nolan, in classic Cory Chitwood fashion. He was behind the whole race, but out-kicked him on the last lap underwater and earned his 3rd consecutive NCAA title by just a tenth of a second.”
“One of my greatest NCAA Championship memories was during my sophomore year at the University of Wyoming. Wyoming created an environment for me as a student-athlete to set goals and smash them under the leadership of one of the best coaches in the country, Tom Johnson (TJ). In 2002, I qualified for my first NCAA Championships, which took me to the University of Texas. I had previously tapered and qualified for the meet at our conference championships and was able to qualify 8th in prelims making it to the finals. During the finals for the 200 breaststroke, I was in an outside lane along the wall. This presented an opportunity for TJ to sprint along the side of the pool for the whole 200 yards and yell "reach" every time I took a breath. His yelling resonated like Rowdy Gaines on the loud speaker and pushed me to a lifetime best sixth-place finish but also created a greater desire and passion for the sport of swimming in me. This still vivid memory and vocal production by TJ signified how passionate about and dedicated my coach was to my success and assisted in establishing the strong coach-and-athlete relationship that we had and still have today.”
“As far as my best NCAA championships memory it would be sharing the memory of surviving a terrible bout with norovirus and spending 2 days in the hospital. We didn't win that year (2010), but it brought us together closer as a men's team. We truly looked out for each other that meet.”
“My favorite moment has to be jumping into the water after winning (the team title) in 2010. I've never felt closer to a group of people. We worked so hard to accomplish what we did, and I will never forget those guys or the moment we created through hard work, perseverance and the ability to believe.”
“My best memory by far was becoming Virginia's first dual-event NCAA champion en route to my first and second individual world records. Dang that was 14 years ago!”
“I only went to NCAAs twice and never placed higher than 14th, but the time I broke 15 minutes in the 1650 my senior year, at Ohio State, was pretty exciting. I was focusing on Open Water Nationals, so I didn't do a full taper. In fact, the morning of my race, Tim gave me a 3,000 yard straight swim to do. ‘Just be under 30 minutes,’ he said. ‘Ok coach!’ That actually gave me some confidence going into the 1650, knowing that I was in good shape and could hold a one-minute pace very easily.”
“One of my many favorite NCAA memories is when we won the team championship in 1995. I think most swimmers lucky enough to be part of an NCAA Championship team would say that. However, the standout moment for me during that amazing three-day stretch was having the honor of anchoring our 800 free relay that won and helped secure the title. The team dynamic at the college level is unlike anything else the sport has to offer. On top of that, being able to anchor a relay and take us from third to first, and help push us toward a team title was a memory that I will cherish with my teammates forever. Finally, and most importantly, I could not be more proud of all of the current Wolverine swimmers and the amazing coaching staff led by Mike and Josh. Go Blue!”