By Jared McMurry
Sports Capital Journalism
INDIANAPOLIS – The target on Texas’ back just got bigger.
Texas won its 12th Men’s NCAA Men’s Swimming and Diving Championship a season ago, its second in the past two years. But the Longhorns lost several key pieces from those winning teams, and programs such as California have closed the gap on the Longhorns this season.
The Golden Bears and North Carolina State seemed to have an edge on Texas heading into this week’s season finale at the Indiana University Natatorium, but Thursday evening the Longhorns proved why they are the two-time defending champs.
After a disappointing finish in the 800-meter relay Wednesday evening, Texas dominated the field during the meet’s first full day.
The biggest performance of the night might have come from senior Clark Smith in the 500 free. After winning the event in 2015, Smith missed the final last year and was set out to return to the podium in 2017.
He dominated the competition and the NCAA and American record with a time of 4:08.42.
“I was pissed off (after last year), it was awful,” Smith said. “I waited a whole year to swim that.”
Smith wasn’t the only Longhorn to score points in the event. Sophomore Townley Haas raced to a second-place finish with an effort of 4:08.92.
Just two races into the evening, the points really started to pour in for the Longhorns.
“The fact that we got one and two in that race really helps with points,” Clark said.
In all, the Longhorns won four events Thursday evening, including both relays. Brett Ringgold, Jack Conger, Jackson Tate and Joseph Schooling teamed up in the 200 free relay for a winning time of 1:14.59, a IU Natatorium record.
If the relay win wasn’t enough, all four individuals scored team points by placing in the top 16 in the 50 free, led by Schooling’s third-place finish.
Will Licon also had a big night for the Longhorns by winning his second straight title in the 200 individual medley. The senior raced to a first-place tie with Florida’s Mark Szaranek in a time of 1:40.67.
Licon also swam the backstroke leg of the record-breaking 400 medley relay. He joined John Shebat, Schooling and Conger to break the NCAA and IU Natatorium record with a time of 2:59.22.
While Texas won the majority of the events Thursday, coach Eddie Reese knows the Longhorns will not win every race just because they swim well.
“We just work hard to swim fast,” he said. “We want to be faster than last year, and that will put us wherever it puts us, because there are times you can’t go fast enough to win.”
By the end of the night, the Texas team-point total jumped to 225.5, with California second at 143.
Reese is aware of the fast start, but assured his team there is still a lot of swimming to go.
“I asked a referee and the meet’s not over,” he said. “We have two more days. Let’s keep it important.”