Longhorns claim 13th national title, become winningest program in history

Maria Cowley

The final day of the Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships in Indianapolis was nothing but a formality.

Saturday morning, Texas sat at the top of the rankings with a hefty lead, well on their way to winning a third consecutive national championship.

And Saturday night, they did just that.

With 13 NCAA titles, Texas became the winningest program in Division I history.

“It never gets old,” sophomore John Shebat said. “Adrenaline starts pumping and you get butterflies in your stomach.”

The four days of competition were a culmination of countless hours of training and hard work. Especially for the seniors with one last glory run.

Senior Clark Smith shattered the NCAA and American records in the 500-yard freestyle. A half a second lead granted him the edge over sophomore teammate Townley Haas, the previous champion.

“It’s nice to go out like this,” Smith said. “Last year, I didn’t have the meet I wanted to. I just remember how I felt watching the final last year when I was the end of my race.”

Senior Will Licon also had his share of records to break. With a win in the 100-yard breaststroke, he became the first Texas swimmer — and fourth swimmer ever — to produce four individual titles from different events: 200-yard individual medley, 400-yard individual medley, 200-yard backstroke and 100-yard breaststroke.

Licon would go on to sweep his three individual events, the first swimmer to do so at a single NCAA Championship meet.

“It’s truly a blessing,” Licon said. “I feel like I’m a normally reserved person, but these races have gotten into some level of me that I haven’t gotten out before.”

Along with Licon, Shebat, and Haas, senior Jack Conger played an essential role in several of the team relays.

But just like his teammates, he was good on his own.

A win in the 200-yard butterfly made it certain that his name will linger for time to come, even as he departs the team. His time of 1:37.35 was enough to break the NCAA, American and U.S. Open records.  

“You want to make sure you fill the shoes of the legends before you,” Conger said. “It’s a huge honor being a part of that elite group (head coach) Eddie (Reese) has produced over the past 30 years.”

Though it seemed probable that the Longhorns would come out with a win from the start, no one dared to take anything for granted. Each event was taken in stride, and presented a new opportunity to prove what a powerful team they can be.

“We’re always doubted going into the championship part of the season,” Licon said. “It puts a chip on our shoulder.”

Of the 542 points Texas accumulated, most came from individual events. But everything was done in the name of Texas, for Texas.

At last year’s championships, Haas blew everyone out of the water by setting NCAA, American, school and Big-12 records in the 200-yard freestyle. Though he was unable to eclipse his own time this year, he defended his title successfully.

And to him, that was all that mattered.

“At the end of the day, I won and got the points for Texas,” Haas said. “At this meet, that’s what’s most important. You do it for your team.”