ATLANTA -- Any national championship event whether it's swimming, wrestling or rowing can be nerve wrecking for a college athlete let alone a one who is less than 12 months removed from high school. The experience can be both thrilling and educational but for Texas rookie swimmer Michael Klueh it has been record breaking.
In his first trip to the NCAA National Championships, Klueh and his freshly shaved head jumped into the pool at the Georgia Tech Aquatics Center in Atlanta, Georgia and stepped out with the fastest time (4:16.11) in UT history in the prelims of the 500-yard freestyle.
"Its a little nerve wracking but it is to be expected," said Klueh. "This is a huge meet and I want to do my best for myself and for my team. We have team goals and what I do in the pool helps the team."
The goal for Klueh was never to break the record, which he set only several weeks prior at the Big 12 Championships in Columbia, Missouri. His goal was simply to beat as many people as possible. He finished fifth in the finals with a new blistering school record time of 4:14.10.
"I don't name my suits or anything," said Klueh. "I just want to go out there and swim the best I can and finish the best I can. Racing for me never has anything to do with records but about winning. My parents are both here and performing well for them on this stage is a lot of fun too."
Klueh, known on the team for his incredible work ethic, is not the loudest guy on the team, but he is usually the last guy out of the pool. Texas' current distance specialist in only his first season in Austin has already earned All-American status in the 500-yard and will compete in Friday's consolation finals of the 200-yard freestyle and maybe in a timed final of the 800-yard freestyle relay.
Saturday will be Klueh's big day, the 1,650-yard freestyle opens the last day of the NCAAs and the Evansville, Ind. native enters the meet with the seventh fastest time in the country. After one final already under his belt, Klueh will push a solid upperclassmen field for All-American honors.
"The distance events are my best," said Klueh. "I do have to admit though looking at the psyche sheet a lot this first year and some of the guys told me how different it would be after the meet started and how all the positions would be shaken up. It is just different hearing about it and actually seeing it."
Sophomore Daniel Rohleder (Austin, Texas) understands what its like to make your first trip, just one year removed for his initial NCAA Championships in 2005. Once a psyche sheet analyst like Klueh, Rohleder has changed after gaining an insightful perspective of the meet and what his freshmen teammates may be going through.
"My first year at NCAAs I read the psyche sheet all the time and tried to score the meet," said Rohleder. "This year I know that you can come up with different scenarios everyday and be wrong every time. It's a very fast meet and you have to put in your best effort every time in the water."
In 2002, junior Garrett Weber-Gale (Fox Point, Wisc.) swam the anchor leg of the 400-yard medley relay with Olympic medalists Aaron Peirsol, Brendan Hansen and Ian Crocker as a freshman. Weber-Gale, who usually lets his swimming do the talking more than his mouth, gave Klueh and fellow freshmen Sean Patton (Charlotte, N.C.) and Ryan Verlatti (Tacoma, Wash.) the same bit of advice they gave him.
"I told them pretty simply not to look at the psyche to figure out how the meet will turn out," said Weber-Gale. "This is the fastest meet they will see all year and there is no way to determine from seeds how everyone will swim. Not one race will end up how you think it will."
Texas will return to the pool tonight for the second day of final and consolation heats of the 200-yard medley relay, 400-yard individual medley, 100-yard butterfly, 200-yard freestyle, 100-yard breaststroke and 100-yard backstroke. The 800-yard freestyle relay will be timed finals at the end of the finals session. Texas does not have a swimmer in the consolation or finals of the 400-yard individual medley, but will have swimmers in the other events. Klueh will swim in the 200-yard freestyle consolation finals and possibly the 800-yard freestyle relay.
Texas has 82 points after six events completed and already 10 All-American awards. Auburn is in first-place with 178.5 points, followed by Arizona with 136.5 points. Stanford sits in third-place with 132 points and Florida rounds out the top five with 97 points.
"This is a great opportunity in my first year," said Klueh. "To be here is one thing, to be here and score points for Texas is another. All three of the freshmen that traveled are just going to get better from this experience and use it when we come back next year."