The women's swimming team from the University of Texas rolled into Florida last Saturday top-ranked but with plenty to prove. The Lady Longhorns had one eye on the future: Florida and Stanford, co-rated No. 2, figure to be their biggest obstacles to a fourth straight team title at the women's NCAA championships in Indianapolis in March. And another on the past: The Lady Gators routed Texas at the U.S. Open in Orlando two months ago.
The Lady Longhorns weren't at their best either, arriving at O'Connell Center in Gainesville without Betsy Mitchell, the world-record holder in the 200-meter backstroke, who had the flu, and Tiffany Cohen, 1984 Olympic gold medalist in the 400-and 800-meter free-styles, whose right shoulder was ailing.
But coming hard, wave after wave, the deep and spirited Texans swamped Florida 67-46, behind a pair of formidable freshmen, Carrie Steinseifer and Andrea Hayes. In the process they served notice that there was nothing idle about their chant of "Orange Tower '87"—an allusion to the tradition of illuminating the campus tower in orange whenever Longhorn teams win national titles—and that they are worthy successors to the '84, '85 and '86 Texas championship teams.
On Saturday morning the Lady Longhorns had crammed into coach Richard Quick's Holiday Inn room and were munching Raisin Bran. But the eating stopped as soon as Quick flicked off the cartoons and began announcing the day's lineup. Rhythmic handclaps punctuated the reading of the names. Looks intensified. Three hours before the showdown, battle cries filled the air. The Longhorns credit such camararah-derie for their success. "Everyone pushes each other, but we're close-knit," says Steinseifer, an '84 Olympic gold medalist in the 100 freestyle. "Nothing's more important to Richard than us."
The Texas women entered O'Connell Center cheering and never stopped. Steinseifer and sophomore Stacy Cassiday finished one-two—the winning time was 1:48.86—in the 200-yard freestyle. And Hayes ably filled in for Mitchell by bagging the 200 back (2:01.67) and for Cohen by placing second behind Florida's Tami Bruce (9:44.64) in the 1,000 free. With three events to go, the Horns had finished in the money 17 times to Florida's 11, and they led 49-39.
After the three-meter diving, the Longhorns' lead narrowed to 52-45, but they could still clinch by winning the next event, the 200 breaststroke. Florida sent out a formidable obstacle in the person of last year's NCAA champ, Cindy Ounpuu. But Texas junior Tracey McFarlane out touched her in 2:19.13. "When we get out there and race, we surprise people," McFarlane said. Florida coach Randy Reese lamented, "We just didn't get it done."
Reese's troubles weren't over. He also coaches the Gators' No. 1-ranked men's team, and later he lost the annual family showdown with his older brother Eddie, who coaches the No. 4-ranked Texas men. Texas ran up 16 uncontested points when Florida failed to enter the diving competition, but even so, the Gators could have pulled the meet out by winning the last event, the 400 free relay. But on the final leg, Longhorn freshman Doug Gjertson, swimming against Florida's Paul Wallace, erased a lead of nearly a body length, to win it for the Horns in 3:01.01, a microthin .01 ahead of Wallace. That gave Texas the meet 56½-54½.
The Lady Longhorns weren't on hand to cheer the men on, having left the center curiously subdued. "We didn't want to rub it in their face," Quick explained. Ex-Gator great Tracy Caulkins had caught an eyeful from the stands, however. "With the depth they have, they'd really have to blow it not to win the NCAAs," she said.