You would think that Stanford's star swimmers, Summer Sanders and Janet Evans, would have felt triumphant at the conclusion of last week's NCAA Women's Swimming and Diving Championships at the cavernous Natatorium in Indianapolis. The tall Sanders and the petite Evans gave the Cardinal a powerful one-two punch that kept those ubiquitous green mittens shaped like trees—the evergreen is one of the school's symbols—waving in the Stanford cheering section. But Sanders was solemn during her post-meet interview, and Evans talked to reporters in a quavering voice while fighting back tears. The reason for the melancholy: For the second consecutive year Stanford had lost the team title to a Texas squad that used depth to make up for what it lacked in star quality. This time the Lady Longhorns prevailed 746-653.
Sanders, a 5'9½", 125-pound freshman, towered over the field during the three-day event. She amassed 60 points, the most of any competitor, and at meet's end was named Swimmer of the Year. On the first night, Sanders set an American record of 1:57.02 in the 200-yard individual medley, eclipsing the seven-year-old mark of Tracy Caulkins. She went on to set NCAA marks in winning the 400 IM in 4:05.19 and the 200 butterfly in 1:54.17. (A second hoary U.S. record fell during the meet when Arizona junior Crissy Ahmann-Leighton won the 100-yard butterfly in 52.36, .06 of a second under Mary T. Meagher's 1987 mark.)
Evans, a sophomore, has grown to 5'7" and 115 pounds—two inches taller and 10 pounds heavier than she was at the 1988 Olympics, at which she won three golds. In Indianapolis she successfully defended both her 500- and her 1,650-yard freestyle NCAA titles and finished second to Sanders in the 400 IM. She was also runner-up to her younger teammate in the individual point standings, with 57.
Even before all the points were counted up last Saturday, the final night of competition, the usually upbeat Evans sensed that the Cardinal's hopes for a championship were drowning. When the results were in, Evans, speaking above the din coming from the orange-towel-wielding Texas partisans, said, "Losing the championship is a real bummer."
The Stanford-Texas rivalry in women's swimming is intense and long-standing. Except in 1982, when Florida won the inaugural NCAA women's championship (the Lady Gators placed third last week, with 353 points), the trophy has never resided anywhere but Palo Alto or Austin. The Lady Longhorns have taken it home seven times in the past eight years. And the coach of five of those championship teams was Richard Quick, who left Texas in 1988 to coach—that's right—the Cardinal women.
"I'm in sort of a weird position," said Sanders, who swam in six events, one shy of the maximum allowed. "I don't know how to feel. I'm pleased with my performance, but I'm upset that we didn't win the title. This is a rough meet because there are so many emotions involved."
No one understood that better than Texas coach Mark Schubert, whose team felt temporarily deflated after Stanford moved into first place at the end of the second day. But the Lady Longhorns, led by senior sprinter Leigh Ann Fetter, who won the 50- and 100-yard freestyles and anchored Texas's victorious 200 free, 200 medley and 400 free relay teams, pumped themselves up and dominated the final session with their superior depth. The evening session also included an NCAA record in the 200 breaststroke by Texas junior Dorsey Tierney, who clocked a 2:11.54, and by the time it ended, the Lady Longhorns had outscored Stanford in that night's events by a whopping 99 points.
In winning the 50, the gregarious, 5'11" Fetter became only the second woman in the history of the NCAA meet to win the same event in four consecutive years. Before assuming her duties as the Lady Longhorns' spiritual leader, Fetter had been their leading spiritualist, dreaming about her finishes in upcoming races—and being right most of the time. But Fetter didn't have any dreams before this year's NCAA championships because, as she said, "once I started talking about them, it brought everything into my consciousness and they stopped happening."
No matter. Fetter and the rest of the Texas squad, whose point total broke the former meet record by 85 points, swam like dreams. "We're very close as a team," Fetter said. "We just tried to focus and concentrate on getting the job done during each session."
"They came together and got the momentum we needed," an elated and thoroughly soaked Schubert said after emerging from a victory plunge in the pool with his staff and team. "It proves how powerful the emotions are at this meet."