Men’s Swimming: NU secures upset of No. 25 Missouri with .01-second relay win

John Paschall

John Frutiger was fed up.

The senior team captain had seen this nightmare of an ending play out over and over again throughout his time at Northwestern: the Wildcats would be within striking distance going into the last race and come up just short.

But on Saturday, his senior night, Frutiger, who is the only true program senior left in his class – Tony Mattar and Jake Grosser both transferred into NU – would not let that happen to him again. So he took matters into his own hands going into the 400-yard free relay. He was going to anchor the ‘A’ relay team.

“He requested it,” coach Jarod Schroeder said. “He wanted it in his hands.”

Schroeder knew that the Cats, who were in a virtual do-or-die going into the final event, needed a little breathing room going into the last swimmer in the relay. No. 25 Missouri’s anchor on their ‘A’ team, Ramom Melo, had only raced in the 50-yard and 100-yard free, while Frutiger had raced in the 1650-yard free.

At a virtual tie going into the fourth swimmer, Melo and Frutiger battled ferociously through each stretch of the pool. It was back and forth with the lead between both of them, and the top of the Norris Aquatic Center was about to blow off. But in those last 25 yards, Frutiger put everything on the line for his team.

The finish was too close to call by the naked eye. Everyone gazed up at the results board to see who had won the race and the meet.

It was Frutiger.

By .01 seconds.

The senior class had finally taken down a top 25 team, beating the Tigers 188-180.

“It was probably the most epic race I’ve had since winning state for the first time in high school,” Frutiger said. “I know I perform better under pressure situations, particularly in relays. Being the only senior captain on the team, I feel like if someone is going to step up it’s either going to be me or (junior) Charlie (Rimkus). Moments like that going into the relay are why you swim.”

Frutiger and the relay team would not have been in the position they were if it were not for a heroic effort from Rimkus in the 200-yard fly. Going into the last 50, Rimkus was down almost a full second to Missouri’s Neil O’Hallaran. But Rimkus did what he had been doing all year: finding ways to win. He caught up to O’Hallaran and out-touched him, beating him by .04 seconds.

“After the (1650-yard free) I was pretty tired,” Rimkus said. “I talked to Jarod and realized that one of us (Rimkus or Mattar) probably had to win the fly. So I had to overcome whatever tiredness I felt. When it’s on the line for winning the team title, you put everything behind you.”

Schroeder said he was especially happy to have a senior in position to close out the last leg of the relay for the team win. He also said the night cap on Saturday was one of the best sessions he’s ever seen.

“I was telling the guys after the meet that it was one of the best sessions I’ve been a part of in the three years I’ve been here in terms of guys getting behind each other,” Schroeder said.

One of the few sour notes of the weekend for the Cats came when freshman Uula Auren lost for the first time all season in the 100-yard breast. He also finished second in the 200-yard breast.

“I didn’t see the guy in the 100 breast,” Auren said. “I was really mad about that. It was upsetting. But it will work in my advantage. I’ll get more training and motivation from this. I love racing but hate losing.”

NU also took down Denver convincingly, 212-156.

The Cats now have a month off before going to Iowa City for the Big Ten Championships. The swimmers will unquestionably enjoy the rest after surviving a grueling four-meet month of January. But Schroeder said he knows one thing is for sure: This upcoming month of training will be a lot easier.

“It would’ve been a really long month if we had gotten beat today, ” Schroeder said.

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