"We were destined to be second, with all those second-place finishes," said associate head coach Ted Knapp. "It's amazing. I can't believe how fast second (place) was and far away first was."
The 2007 championship meet was, without a doubt, the fastest national finals in history. How else do you explain the fact Stanford set a combined 15 American/school records and failed to win a single event?
"I'm traveling with four other coaches (to the World Championships in Australia) and we haven't figured it out," Knapp said Sunday night from Los Angeles, where he and other U.S. staff members boarded a plane for Melbourne for this weekend's meet. "I think the foreigners won half the events."
In Stanford's nine second-place finishes, foreigners had a hand in winning six of those events.
The Cardinal did climb from sixth place to finish second overall, scoring 397 points to trail five-time champ Auburn (566) by a good margin. Arizona was third with 371 while perennial powers Florida (321) and Texas (296) were fourth and fifth, respectively.
Auburn's depth and foreign-laden roster proved too much for everyone. The Tigers' fifth-straight title meant something else — that all the other seniors who concluded their careers on Saturday never won an NCAA team title.
Stanford's seniors had their own footnote to that history — none of them won an individual NCAA title during their careers.
"Only one person can win," Knapp said. "But a lot of people can have special moments. We came to this meet with the goal of creating some special moments, and we did."
Take, for example, senior Ben Wildman-Tobriner. On the first day of the meet, he broke the American record in the 50-yard freestyle three times. His leadoff leg of 19.03 in the prelims of the 200 free relay broke the 19.05 shared by Tom Jager (1990) and Cal's Anthony Ervin (2002). Wildman-Tobriner broke his own mark with an 18.98 in the 50 free prelims and then lowered it to 18.87 on his opening leg of the 200 free relay finals — where Stanford finished second in a school-record 1:15.97.
"Ben's 50 free swims were outstanding," Knapp said. "This is a real testament to his work ethic; it's no fluke that he just keeps getting faster and faster. Ben is America's fastest 50 freestyle swimmer, three times over."
Unfortunately for Wildman-Tobriner, he wound up tied for second in the finals of the 50 free in 19.08.
Wildman-Tobriner smashed his own school record in the 100 free, but his sizzling 41.90 was good enough for only second. In the 100 fly finals, he broke another school record with a 45.36 that earned him yet another silver medal.
Stanford senior Shaun Phillips broke school records in the 500 free (4:13.07) and 1,650 free (14.37.62), the latter mark eclipsing the 14:37.87 set by Jeff Kostoff in 1986. It was the oldest record in the Stanford record book and one believed to be untouchable.
Phillips' reward for those records? Two second places.
It was even more ridiculous in the 800 free relay, where the Stanford team of senior Andy Grant, junior Daniel Beal, senior Hongzhe Sun and Phillips set an American record of 6:17.92 and finished only third. Arizona (first) and Florida (second) both had foreigners on their relay teams and thus were ineligible for the U.S. record.
Sophomore Paul Kornfeld set a school record of 52.19 in the 100 breast and finished, you guessed it, second.
"It's a sad thing that they didn't win any races with those times," Knapp said. "But, the team will have a positive spin on it. When Shaun touched the wall and saw that he broke Kostoff's record, it was like he had won the race.
"Our guys did the very best they could."
The times and performances were perhaps even more remarkable given the fact head coach Skip Kenney was not with the team for the first time in his 28-year career at Stanford.
Kenney was suspended by Stanford Athletic Director Bob Bowlsby earlier in the week after it was learned Kenney erased 10 times (set by five swimmers) that had appeared on the all-time top 15 performance list in the program's media guide. Reportedly, Kenney's actions were a result of his relationships with the five swimmers whose times were deleted, and the omissions were a form of punishment.
With Kenney left home, the Cardinal swimmers had to block out the distractions of the previous week and refocus on their goals.
"Our team swam with passion and purpose," Knapp said. "With all the things going on, it was a real tribute to Skip. Skip was with those guys all the way through their final practice. The preparation was all Skip."
Knapp said there was a lot of "heartfelt sadness" at the final meeting before the team departed for Minneapolis.
"But the guys put it aside," Knapp said. "The meet was a statement about how well you prepared. They were ready."
The team's performance also took a little pressure off Knapp, who was at his 23rd straight NCAA meet but the first as interim head coach.
"I had to make some decisions, like with the relays," Knapp said. "But the meet hasn't changed at all. We had only two freshmen, so the rest of the guys had been here before and knew what to do.
"Skip has always prepared these guys to perform their best when he's not here, like when they're at the Olympics or World Championships," Knapp said. "They need to take responsibility for their swims." And, Knapp said, they did.
As for the lack of individual titles and the big gold trophy that goes to the team champion?
"As far as this meet goes," Knapp said, "it proves they have a lot more to look forward to in their lives."
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