Just as was the case with the women's team, Auburn is ranked number two going into the meet. And, just like in the women's meet last week at Austin, Tex., Stanford is the favorite going into the three days of competition. Texas, which spent part of the season ranked No. 1 in the nation, is also a serious title contender.
All six sessions of the meet, three morning preliminaries and three evening finals sessions, are sellouts. Auburn coach David Marsh says because the meet is not too far from Auburn, the Tigers will have a strong contingent of fans to cheer on the 17 AU swimmers and two divers who are competing for Auburn. That is the maximum number of competitors a team can take. The Auburn women won the title with just 11 competitors.
Senior co-captain Eric vanGoethem, a breaststroker and freestyler, says in his opinion that the current top-ranked squad is the team to beat. "Stanford University is definitely our main competition this year," he says. "The University of Texas lost a lot to graduation and after going out there and competing against them in January and winning as handily as we did, we don't expect them to put up as great a fight as we think Stanford will.
Eric vanGoethem is a strong team leader, Coach David Marsh says.
"Stanford has a great team and matches up well with us to score a whole lot of points in events we aren't necessarily as strong as them in," vanGoethem adds. "We, on the other hand, have a lot of strong swimmers in events they don't necessarily have great depth in so it will be a good back and forth meet the whole three days between us and Stanford."
Texas is ranked third, California fourth and Auburn's SEC rival Tennessee is fifth going into the meet. Florida is 11th, host Georgia is 14th and Alabama is ranked 18th to round out the SEC teams in the Top 25.
Junior breaststroker Pat Calhoun says the Tigers will go into the meet with confidence from knowing their training partners dominated their NCAA women's meet last week. "It does because this is one of the few combined teams in the country and to see them swim so well, knowing that they swam under the same coaches and did the same workouts we did, and seeing them swim so well knowing we are under the same program they are is really a good indicator that we are going to do as well they did. It is really great to see them win and see how happy they were to win. It really makes us want to have that same feeling after this meet is over."
Pat Calhoun and 16 other swimmers plus two divers give the Tigers a very deep NCAA meet roster.
Calhoun is the school recordholder in the 100 breaststroke with a time of 52.68. He says he is excited about starting the competition. "It is the hardest working team I have seen since I have been here. The team has really come together and we are going to be swimming for each other.
"At the NCAAs, you are swimming against such great competition that you swim for each other and you swim as a team," Calhoun notes. "That is what everybody on this team cares about the most--the team title. Individual titles are just a bonus on top of that. We are all really excited and ready to go."
Calhoun's teammate Kevin Clements owns three individual school records--the 500 freestyle (4:17.20); the 1650 freestyle (15:04.37) and the 400 individual medley relay (3:42.90). He will be a big factor in how well the Tigers do in Athens.
Kevin Clements won a gold medalin the 400 individual medley at the 2001 World University Games.
Last month, Clements was a big part of winning his fourth conference team title as he led all scorers at the SEC Swimming And Diving Championships in Fayetteville, Ark. "This team has been ready from day one at the beginning of the season and our goal has always been to win the national title," Clements says. "We have been looking forward to this meet all year long and we are ready to swim."
Clements says the 2002 team is really well prepared to have a strong meet, much like the national championship team he was a part of as a freshman.
Coach David Marsh is fresh off winning the women's national title he celebrated last weekend. The men's team won the NCAA meet in 1997 in Minneapolis and 1999 in Auburn with Clements helping the Tigers take that title. Marsh says that the Tigers have a legitimate chance at winning this year's competition with a great meet although he rates Stanford as the heavy favorite.
When asked what session of the three-day competition figures to be Auburn's strongest, Marsh says, "We are really spread out this year. I will say it is the second because I want it to be a strong day for us. Friday and Saturday the lion's share of the points are available. I would like to think the second day we can make a move in the morning session, but we have a lot of good swims on the third day as well.
"The first day is very important because the 500 free, the 200 individual medley and 50 freestyle, potentially, are all very good events for us," Marsh adds. "As far as the team race goes, if we can have a great second day preliminary session like the women did--that was when they made their move and most teams do at NCAA Championships--that second day prelim will be the key session."
Auburn finished seventh last year because it lost 97 points from a disqualification of a swimmer who was late to a race. The Tigers would have finished third with those points. Under a rule that has since been changed, all of the points that he scored in individual events and relays were deducted from the team score. Marsh says expects nothing less than a top three finish this week.
This season's NCAA meet roster includes Will Brandt, Calhoun, co-captain Justin Caron, Clements, James Galloway, Mark Gangloff, Derek Gibb, Andy Haidinyak, Kirk Hampleman, Bryce Hunt, B.J. Jones, Jon Karr, Matt Kidd, Clay Kirkland, Jeremy Knowles, Brandon Roberts, vanGoethem, Ryan Wochomurka plus divers Matt Bricker and Caesar Garcia.
"It's a big-time, soldout meet and that just gets us more excited," Marsh says. "It should be an outstanding weekend for Auburn. We can't control how well Stanford and Texas do. Our job is to accumulate the maximum number of points we can as a team and I am sure they will have the same goal in mind. We are going to be coming from all events because there is really not a weak event on our team except perhaps the 200 butterfly, but everywhere else we have the ability to score strong points."