Swimmers focused on final shot to reach NCAA Championships

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Elisabeth Dillon

Junior swimmer Nick D’Innocenzo comes up for air during an event this year. The Longhorns recently claimed their 33rd overall conference title and now shift their focus to qualifying for the NCAA championships. Ranked opponents Stanford, SMU and Missouri will join Texas in this week’s competition in Austin.

Elijah Perez

With the regular season wrapped up and a conference title already secured, several UT swimmers will have one final opportunity to qualify for the NCAA championships this week at the American Short Course Championships, held at the Lee and Joe Jamail Texas Swimming Center.

The three-day event draws in swimmers from several universities across the country, including No. 3 Stanford, No. 22 SMU, No. 25 Missouri, and is open to members of club teams so long as they are members of USA Swimming, the national governing body for swimming in the country.

For the UT swimmers involved, this event presents a chance to join many of their teammates whose times posted in previous meets this season have already qualified them for the NCAAs. It’s also an opportunity for some of the younger swimmers on the team to gain experience against tough competitors and build momentum as they prepare for next season.

Thursday’s events will see several Longhorns vying for qualifying times. First up for the Texas team is the 200-yard freestyle relay. Texas will field two relay teams in the event and could face stiff competition against squads from SMU and No. 18 Texas A&M. Texas faced each of these schools in dual matches earlier in the season, earning victories in both.

The next event, the 500-yard freestyle, will feature four Longhorn swimmers pushing for the top spot: freshmen Jake Ritter, Nick Munoz, Wyatt Collins and sophomore Reid Walker. Ritter is seeded first in the event.

The third event in which Longhorns will be competing is the 200-yard individual medley. Junior Austin Surhoff, who won the NCAA title in this event as a freshman in 2010, is seeded first overall. Surhoff is coming off of a second place finish in last weekend’s Big 12 championships in the 200-yard backstroke and will use the Austin meet this weekend as a tune-up before he makes his run at reclaiming a title at the NCAAs, for which he has already qualified.

In the final event of the day, the 50-yard freestyle, the field of largely collegiate athletes will be joined by a pair of Olympians. Former UT swimmer and two-time Olympic gold medalist Garrett Weber-Gale and Kenyan and former Stanford swimmer Jason Dunford will compete. Weber-Gale is an Austin resident and often trains with Team USA and Texas head coach Eddie Reese at Longhorn practices. Both Dunford and Weber-Gale will take advantage of one of the best pools in the country as they continue their preparations for the 2012 Olympics in London.

Prelims start at 9:15 a.m. Thursday and continue through Saturday with event finals beginning at 5 p.m. each day. The event is open to the public.