One of the more historic seasons in IU men’s swimming and diving history came to an end Saturday, not with a bang, but a whimper.
The Hoosiers placed seventh with 237 points at the NCAA Championships in Indianapolis despite entering the final day of competition in fifth place. The seventh place finish was their highest at NCAAs since 1979 and the second consecutive year they finished as the top Big Ten team. Head swim coach Ray Looze said the team had loftier goals, though.
“We did the best we could with the bullets that we had,” Looze said. “You know, we talked a lot all season about being top-five, so I think we all have a bit of a bad taste in our mouths on that.”
Texas won its third-straight national title with 542 points. It also outscored every team by more than 100 points, and was followed by Cal, Florida, North Carolina State, Stanford and USC.
Back in October, IU defeated Texas in a dual meet with the then-No. 2 Longhorns and the Florida Gators. At NCAAs, however, it was a different story as Texas coasted to a team title.
IU junior Blake Pieroni closed his impressive week with an eighth place finish in the 100-yard freestyle Saturday with a time of 41.85 seconds. That was the best result by any Hoosier swimmer in the 100 free since 1977.
Pieroni swam in one of the closest heats of the week Friday night in the 200-yard freestyle. He battled with USC’s Dylan Carter and Texas’ Townley Haas. Haas, who won a gold medal in the 800-meter freestyle relay at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, took home the title by .5 seconds.
Pieroni and Carter came in just behind Haas and tied for second, despite a strong push in the final 100 yards.
“My only hope of beating Townley really was to be out faster than him because I’m not going to come back on him,” Pieroni said. “He’s an amazing distance swimmer so I mean it was tough. He blasted that second 50 so much harder than I thought he would, and I really tried.”
Haas said there were more difficulties with this race relative to the two NCAA titles he won last year.
“This one hurt a little more I think,” Haas said. “It’s a different race, you know, coming off all the stuff this summer.”
Pieroni also teamed with senior Sam Lorentz, junior Ali Khalafalla and sophomore Mohamed Samy for an eighth place finish in the 400-yard freestyle relay. Their time of 2:49.53 was the third-best finish in IU history. Samy’s leadoff leg of 42.97 seconds was the fourth-best in IU history.
“I already pointed it out to Blake, but I think the rest of the country needs to really take notice of him,” Looze said of Pieroni. “His best swimming’s ahead of him.”
The other marquee race came Thursday night in the 500-yard freestyle. IU senior Marwan Elkamash finished seventh and set an IU record with a time of 4:10.87. It was the best finish for a Hoosier in the 500 free since 1995.
Texas’ Clark Smith finished first after breaking the American, U.S. Open, NCAA, meet and pool record.
IU sophomore Vini Lanza earned a fourth place finish in the Consolation Final of the 200-yard butterfly and ended up finishing 12th overall.
He was named an honorable mention All-American for his performance, his fifth All-American honor of the Championships.
Junior Cody Coldren closed things for the divers by earning his first career Honorable Mention All-America nod after a seventh-place finish in the Consolation Final of the 10-meter platform dive. Coldren was 15th overall.
Coldren, junior Michael Hixon and sophomore James Connor were instrumental as divers for the Hoosiers as they earned 62 points on the week. Hixon and Connor were named All-Americans in the 1- and 3-meter springboard dives.
However, Hixon and Connor’s fifth and sixth place respective finishes in the 3-meter were not what they had hoped. After the event, Hixon said he felt he just didn’t have what was needed.
Despite the historic results, the team said it was not entirely thrilled with the final outcome. Looze and company said they are hungry for another opportunity.
“I think it was a good experience and our guys really grew tremendously,” Looze said. “We’re going to have a really, really good team next year, and in a weird sort of way having a little bit of an unsatisfactory end can motivate.”
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