U swimmers stumble to 4th at Championships

The U men’s and women’s swimming teams both placed fourth at the MWC Championships this weekend in Oklahoma City. Adding salt to the wounds of the below-average finishes was performance of the BYU Cougars, who took both the men’s and women’s titles by more than 100 points each.

However, U head coach Mike Litzinger was still optimistic about the results, despite the low finishes.

“I feel really great about the guys’ team because we should have finished second,” Litzinger said.

“We bounced back so strong on the last day and we ended up tripling our point total from last year. So I felt the meet was a great success, despite the fourth-place finish.”

As Litzinger noted, the men would have finished second-if not for a disqualification in the 400-yard medley relay. The Ute men would have won the event by more than two full seconds, and set the conference record by 1.5 seconds, but after a lengthy deliberation, the judges ruled that one of the U swimmers left his block early, so the Utes lost the 40 points they had originally been awarded.

Those 40 points were more than enough to cover the gap between fourth and second place, but Litzinger was more disappointed about his men losing their spot in the record books.

The disappointment on Friday night, however, quickly turned into motivation for Saturday, as the Ute men turned up the intensity and earned two first place finishes, one second-place, two thirds and one fourth. This effort on the final day didn’t put them any higher in the standings, but it did earn them their coach’s respect and admiration.

“To come back on UNLV and Air Force like we did after losing those 40 points was a tremendous effort,” Litzinger said.

Although an official second place might have been more satisfying for the Utes, they are still able to take solace in the fact that they tripled their point total from last season, and they received some inspired individual performances from their stars.

Evan Castro became the first Ute to qualify for the NCAA championships in six years when he finished second in the 100-yard breaststroke with a time of 54.39. That time was also good enough to break his own school record.

Jonathan Larsen and Cody Rempfer also took steps toward NCAA qualification by turning in provisional qualifying times on their way to victories in the 100 yard freestyle and the 200-yard butterfly, respectively.

Their eligibility for the NCAA Championships will depend on other times from around the country.

The last Ute with a chance to qualify for the NCAA championships is diver Sterling Richards, who won the three meter competition, finished second in the 1 meter and was named MWC Diver of the Year on Saturday.

He will return to Oklahoma City in two weeks for the NCAA regional qualifier.

Prior to the three U men winning events at this year’s championships, no Ute male had won an event in four years. But this year’s MWC success came as no surprise to Litzinger.

“The guys were tremendous all year, and I’m really proud of them, especially considering where we’ve come from,” Litzinger said.

The women, who have risen this season from similar depths, had to be somewhat disappointed with their fourth-place finish. They shared the regular-season championship with second-place finisher Colorado State, but couldn’t overcome the diving deficit, which they had overcome so many times in the regular season, to win the tournament title.

The U women are without a diving team and thus begin every meet 32 points in the hole, and they lost even more this time since it was a championship meet.

“I was impressed with the women,” Litzinger said. “Of course, being the regular-season champion, we hoped to finish higher, but we scored more points than we ever have at an MWC Championship, so I felt good about the weekend.”

The lone winner for the women was freshman Rachel Curci, who won the mile freestyle with a time of 16 minutes, 43.05 seconds. There were, however, several women who set school records in their events, including freshman Marissa Martin in the 200-yard backstroke and the 200-yard medley relay team of Leah Jensen, Tessa Greegor, Meghan Demchuk and Amy Barefield.

“Without diving, we did about as well as we could do,” Litzinger said. “We had some good things happen, and we gave ourselves something to build on for next year.”

The MWC Championships were the last team event for the Utes, but the individuals who qualify for the NCAAs will continue to practice in preparation for the meet in Long Island, N.Y., which begins March 27.

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