The action at the 2005 Big Ten Men's Swimming and Diving Championships has been fast and furious. Records have been broken, standards have been met, and the battle for the conference's top spot is still very much in question. With Minnesota leading the field by a single point heading into the third day of competition, the Indiana Hoosiers sit in second by the slimmest of margins. Both top teams have been successful placing a number of athletes in numerous event finals, but it has been the exceptional diving of IU that has earned them an opportunity to compete for the championship on the meet's final day. After the preliminary swimming action on Saturday, Indiana has five swimmers preparing for finals and three for consolation finals. Minnesota has seven swimmers heading to finals and eight to consolations. The 1,650-yard freestyle prelims will begin at approximately 4:30 p.m. Central Time. Minnesota has two of the top ten times in that event this season, Indiana has three, and fourth place Michigan owns five of the ten top spots.
The opening event of Saturday's preliminary action was the 200-yard backstroke. Coming into the prelims, Michigan's Chris DeJong held the conference's top-time of 2004-2005. DeJong also owned the all-time Big Ten mark, set at last year's championships, 1:41.78. In the second to last heat, Minnesota's David Plummer touched the wall in 1:43.81, a time good enough to earn an NCAA automatic qualification. Behind Plummer was Purdue's Louis Paul in second, Dejong in third, and Wisconsin's Adam Mania in fourth. Gopher Adam Mitchell earned the fifth ticket into the 200 back finals and Wisconsin's Timothy Liebhold the sixth. Romain Maire joined Purdue teammate Paul in the finals by placing seventh in the prelims and Michigan freshman Dan Grenda rounds out the list of finalists, finishing eighth.
The day's next set of heats was in the 100-yard freestyle. This event has been one that the host Golden Gophers have dominated throughout the regular season, earning three of the league's top-five times. Terry Silkaitis, who won the 200 free on Friday, led the conference coming in with a time of 43.27 seconds. Gophers Mario Delac and Igor Cerensek were joined in the top-five by Northwestern's Matt Grevers in second and Wisconsin's Eric Wiesner in third. It was Grevers, who had already won the 100 backstroke and 50 freestyle, who took the top time in the 100-yard freestyle. His 42.62 second performance was good enough to break his own Big Ten Championships record that he set in 2004 as a freshman. Teammate Kyle Bubolz earned the prelims second best time, clocking in at 43.35 seconds. Both Wildcat times were good enough to earn NCAA A-standards. Up next was Indiana's Colin Russell in third place. The Gophers placed the next three swimmers, Delac, Cerensek, and Terry Silkaitis. In seventh place, Wisconsin's Eric Wiesner clocked in and in what could prove to be a vital turning point in the meet, Minnesota's Ales Volcansek and Indiana's Lee Houchin tied for the eighth position. By rule, the two competed in a swim-off after the remaining preliminary races had been completed. In the swim-off, the two swam shoulder-to-shoulder the entire four lengths of the pool. Volcansek out-touched Houchin to earn the last spot in the event's final by three hundredths of a second. Houchin will now swim in the consolation final, a swing of at least four points, in the favor of the Gophers.
Mike Alexandrov, the champion in the 100-yard breaststroke, held the regular season's top time in the stroke's 200-yard event, but he did not compete in the preliminary heats, meaning that Purdue's Giordan Pogioli held the fastest time coming in. Indiana's Kevin Swander earned the prelims' fastest time by clocking in at 1:57.61, just barely faster than Pogioli. Ohio State's Rob Kauscher touched the wall in the third position and Ian Clutten of Michigan State in fourth. Northwestern's Louis Torres and Michigan's Christian Vanderkaay finished next, with Penn State's Christopher Ippoliti touching seventh and teammate Kyle Miranda eighth. The top-seven finishers earned NCAA provisional qualifications.
Having finished second in the 100-yard event, Michigan's Davis Tarwater enters the 200-yard butterfly with the conference's lone A-standard in the event. His time of 1:44.80 was the eighth fastest regular season time nationally. At last year's championships, Tarwater set the all-time conference record in the event at 1:43.26. Teammate Alex Vanderkaay has the conference's second fastest time of the regular season, followed by IU's Murph Halasz, both under the NCAA B-Standard. Those three swimmers did comprise the prelims' top finishers, but in reverse order from their regular season times. Halasz finished with the fastest time, followed by Vanderkaay, and Tarwater. Zayd Ma was the third consecutive Michigan finalist, finishing fourth, followed by Scott Tanner of Indiana, and Purdue's Blake Scholz. Hoosier Richard Bryant placed seventh, while Lucas Petersen of Minnesota rounded out the final's field.
The last night of finals begins at 7:00 p.m. Central Time on Saturday, when, in addition to these events, conference-swimming champions will be crowned in the 400-yard freestyle relay and 1,650-yard freestyle. Check back to BigTen.org for live results and continuing coverage of the 2005 Big Ten Men's Swimming and Diving Championships.