McLean Crowned NCAA Champion in 500 Freestyle
MINNEAPOLIS – Senior Matt McLean won his first career NCAA championship and collected the fourth individual national title in Virginia men’s swimming history with his win Thursday in the 500 freestyle.
Virginia stands in sixth place after the first day of the 2011 NCAA Championships, which are being held University Aquatic Center on the Minnesota campus. The Cavaliers collected 74 points on day one.
Additionally, UVa’s 200 freestyle and 400 medley relay teams both earned All-America status, while freshman Jon Daniec and sophomore Matthew Houser achieved their first career honorable mention All-America accolade.
McLean won the 500 freestyle with a time of 4:10.15, beating Stanford’s Bobby Bollier (4:13.94) and defending NCAA champion Conor Dwyer of Florida (4:13.94).
“That was for Fran,” McLean said after the race, in memory of former Cavalier Fran Crippen, who passed away in October. “It was a good race for me in a field with a lot of great guys, just really accomplished athletes. It was relatively well-executed and I was very focused on swimming my own race.
“Mark’s (Bernardino) big on toughness,” McLean continued. “He’s really expressed that upon me and just told me exactly what I need to do before the race – get out there and do what I was capable of doing, execute, stay calm and have fun.”
“It was the single most outstanding swim of Matt’s career and culminated with him reaching his dream and earning the title of national champion,” Virginia head coach Mark Bernardino said. “There is no way to explain what a great feeling that gave everybody on this team. It was for Fran. We know Fran was looking down and smiling because that was one of his best events.
“Matt’s execution and patience was just spectacular,” Bernardino continued. “He made his move at about 300 and for the first time in his career he descended the final four 100s of his race. That is something he has worked on and he did it and he is a national champion. That says it all – it’s an amazing feat to accomplish.”
Previous NCAA champions from the University of Virginia include Ed Moses in the 100 and 200 breaststroke events (2000) and Shamek Pietucha in the 200 butterfly (1999).
Virginia’s 200 freestyle relay and 400 medley relay, which each set Atlantic Coast Conference records this morning in the preliminaries, were awarded All-America status with their eighth and seventh-place finishes, respectively.
The 200 freestyle relay team of Scot Robison, Peter Geissinger, Tom Barrett and David Karasek clocked a time of 1:18.22.
“Our 200 free relay did a tremendous job this morning to find its way into the finals,” Bernardino said. “Those were very important points and we were very cautious on our starts tonight. We did not want to make any mistakes. We held the guys back a little bit on the exchanges but that’s two consecutive years that relay has been top-8. It’s been a surprise but it really speaks to where we have come as a sprint program and what (associate head coach) Chip (Kline) has done with our sprinters.”
The 400 medley relay squad of Matthew Murray, Taylor Grey, Geissinger and Robison touched in 3:09.42.
“We finished it off with a good swim, not a perfect swim,” Bernardino said. “We were a little bit slower than we were this morning but again we were swimming in a sense to hold our spot and not to give up any ground in terms of team points. But when you finish in the top-8 in any event at this meet, it is monumental. People don’t understand or appreciate how difficult it is. It’s really special.”
Houser, who set the UVa school record in the preliminaries, placed 13th overall in the 200 individual medley to earn his first honorable mention All-America status. He recorded a time of 1:45.08 in the event.
“Matt has just worked really hard and I’m really proud of him,” Bernardino said. “He has grown as a swimmer and he has grown as a man. He put together two beautiful swims today.”
Daniec also earned his first career honor with a 13th-place performance of his own in the 500 freestyle, touching in 4:20.05. Both Daniec and Houser are competing at their first NCAA Championships.
“Jon was a big surprise for us and he moved up three places from this morning,” Bernardino said. “He aggressively took the race out and held the lead for the first 250 yards. He just got caught by a couple of athletes who are a little more experienced and who have been around this meet. Every point at this meet is crucial and he managed to find four important points for us.”
Texas (139 points) currently leads the team race, followed closely by Stanford (136) and California (134).
“What our team did tonight was special,” Bernardino said. “We have never left a building after day one of the NCAA Championships with this many points. We have a long way to go but if we can maintain our energy and our momentum we’ll see what happens. We need to have a great Friday morning – that will be critical.”
Day two of the NCAA Championships continues Friday with preliminaries at 12 p.m. CDT (1 p.m. Eastern) and finals at 7 p.m. CDT.