Cats fall short of goals at NCAAs

Ariel Alexovich

Standout performances and a team fourth-place finish at the Big Ten championships weren’t enough to clinch a fairy-tale ending to the 2001-02 season.

The Wildcats had one more chapter in the works.

NU’s top four swimmers headed to Athens, Ga., to compete in the NCAA championships March 28-30. Junior Kellan O’Connor, sophomores Tony Swanson and Mark Hamming and senior Adam Kennedy all had their sights set on adding to the Cats’ list of improvements from last season.

NU had already earned a better dual-meet record and Big Ten finish than it had a season ago. Last week, the Cats were looking to better their 23rd-place finish at the 2001 NCAA meet.

O’Connor and Swanson were NU’s only automatic qualifiers for the championships. O’Connor tallied a time of 1:44.35 in the 200-yard butterfly to make the A-standard cut. And Swanson’s time of 1:42.94 in the 200 backstroke gave him eligibility for the meet.

O’Connor said he was shooting for a top-three finish in the 200 fly, while Swanson said he was at least expecting to make it to the finals.

The junior finished seventh in his signature event, the 200 fly, and 13th in the 100 fly, but he didn’t make it to the finals in the 200 individual medley. For his part, Swanson placed 10th in the 200 IM and 12th in the 200 back but was ousted in the preliminary rounds of the 100 back.

Both fell short of their personal goals, but their individual performances were enough to earn the Cats 19th place. It also earned the pair All-America honors for the second straight year.

“My individual outcome at NCAAs wasn’t as satisfactory as anticipated,” O’Connor said. “I expected a faster time in the 200 fly and wanted to finish in the top three.”

Swanson was not entirely pleased with his performance either. He was seeded in the top seven in both the 200 IM and 200 back – events he won at the conference meet.

“I didn’t do as well as I should have,” he said. “I didn’t make it back into the top eight in not only the 200 back but in any of my events.”

But Kennedy and Hamming didn’t fare as well as their teammates.

Kennedy was knocked out of the opening round of the 50 freestyle, while Hamming – who swam the same events as O’Connor – didn’t make it to any finals.

In addition to their individual events, the four swimmers competed in three relays. They placed 13th in the 400 medley, 15th in the 200 free relay and 19th in the 400 free relay. Last year, with only three swimmers qualifying for NCAAs, NU couldn’t compete in any relays.

But with just four swimmers at this year’s meet, the Cats chances of placing high weren’t too good.

Texas, which took home the team title, had more than a dozen representatives in Athens – a fact not overlooked by Swanson.

“I realized that it’s really nice to have a lot of people out there,” Swanson said. “It’s a ‘the more the merrier’ kind of situation.”

But with NU’s improved finish over last season, a larger NCAA representation might not be out of reach. So maybe it’s the beginning rather than the end of the fairy tale for the Cats.