For the third year in a row, the University of Utah swim team ran away with the WAC championship, Saturday night at BYU. Although depth is usually a staple for the Utes, this year there was plenty of winning - not just placing - going on.
The Utes claimed four events on the final day and finished with 11 first-places out of 20 events in the three-day meet. They rang up 519 points to far outdistance BYU at 403. The Cougars were followed by New Mexico (334), Hawaii (322), Air Force (305) and Wyoming (227)."We've got some depth, but we've got quality people, too," said Ute Coach Don Reddish.
Utah's versatile Anders Bladh was one of the stars of the meet, winning the 50- and 100-freestyle races and anchoring the winning 200-freestyle, 200-medley, 400-medley and 400-freestyle relay teams. All totaled, Bladh, a senior, collected six first places.
"We need a swimmer like that," said BYU Coach Tim Powers. "We will miss him, but we won't miss what he does to us."
Powers continued, "It's like watching a great basketball or football player who has a great shot. There's a great deal of respect there."
Bladh began his final-day heroics by winning the 100 freestyle, but missed qualifying for the NCAA championships in that event by .03 of a second. He also anchored the winning 400-freestyle relay team in the day's last event.
Other Utes were in the winners' circle, as well. Senior Marc Fraser-Bell's 1:52.20 time in the 200 backstroke was good for a first place. Utah freshman Jim Giottonini turned in an NCAA qualifying time of 1:48.05 in the 200 butterfly to win that event.
Giottonini stands a chance to be the successor to Bladh as the Utes' highest-scoring swimmer. "It looks like he may be around for awhile," said Reddish.
The Cougars finished second, a place where Powers said he felt comfortable. "It's about what I predicted at the first of the year," he said. "I took a lot of flack after losing to Utah early, but that's where I thought we'd finish by the time the WAC meet came around."
BYU got especially good performances this week from freshman Ng Yue Meng and senior Robert Doman. Doman and teammate Kurt Dixon finished second and third in the 200 backstroke and Yue Meng was third in the 200 breaststroke on Friday.
"Our depth is getting better every year, and most of the kids except Doman are freshmen," said Powers. "Our kids swam as well as I'd hoped, and that's always a good thing."
New Mexico junior Henrik Leek took the day's first event, the 1,650 freestyle, in a time of 15:36.46, qualifying for the NCAA meet. Teammate Vic Perini was the winner in the 200 breaststroke at 2:05.19.
Utah's winning 400-freestyle relay team of Mark Hofeling, Warnik Mortensen, Sal Castro and Bladh qualified for the NCAAs with a 2:59.72 time.
Reddish was named WAC Coach of the Year and Leek of New Mexico was named outstanding swimmer.
Utah has won 16 WAC swimming titles.