National Championship moments: 1981 Men's Swimming and Diving
The Longhorns began the 1981 campaign as the preseason picks to win the National Championship. They disappointed no one as they outdistanced second place UCLA 259-189 to bring home the first National Championship in Texas history.
The Horns began their season with a solid 67-46 win over Arizona, winning nine of 13 events.
Texas then took a short breather from their dual schedule as they traveled to Lubbock for the pre-Southwest Conference meet. The Horns finished second to Arkansas, while SMU finished third.
Texas resumed its dual schedule with a home meet against powerhouse UCLA. The Bruins, behind strength of Olympians Brian Goodell and Bill Barrett, handed Texas its first loss of the season by a commanding 75-38 score. UCLA won nine of 13 events while posting unusually fast times for the time of year.
The Horns responded with wins against Arizona State (65-48), Texas A&M (65-39), Houston (67-46), and Miami (63-50) before continuing the battle of the Reese brothers. The Florida Gators, 1980 picks to win the NCAA's, and Coach Randy Reese bested Texas at the new O'Connell Center before a standing room only crowd 69-44. And while the loss was the second to Florida in as many years, the meet was the turning point in the Longhorn's climb to the national championship.
With Coach Eddie Reese's emphasis geared toward the SWC and NCAA meets, the loss to the Gators was more a learning experience than a setback. In 1980, the Horns lost to both UCLA and Florida yet finished ahead of both teams at the NCAA meet. The 1981 Florida dual served more as a team builder as the Horns pulled together and cheered on the last relay even though the outcome of the meet had been decided. The final dual meet of the year was held at the Texas Swimming Center against longtime rival SMU. The Horns were rounding into late season form and took a decisive 64-49 victory from the Mustangs just four weeks before the SWC meet.
The SWC meet proved to be a mini-version of the NCAA meet. The Horns swam poorly in the first morning of the preliminaries and had to rely on outstanding performances in the evening session. The first night's score was surprising as SMU held a 155.5-150 lead in what many expected to be an all-Texas meet.
But the second day was all Texas. The Horns exploded for 227 points, claiming four of six championships. The 200 freestyle showed the Horns amazing depth as they placed one, two, three, five and seven.
The final score read Texas 596, SMU 503.5 while Houston placed a strong third at 269.5. In all, the Longhorns claimed 10 championships and set nine new Southwest Conference records.
The 58th Annual NCAA Championships were billed as "The Most Exciting Swimming and Diving Meet in the World." Texas, performing before the hometown fans, did their part to live up to that billing as they won five events and claimed three of 10 new American records set in the meet.
The Horns followed the same pattern in the NCAAs as they did at the SWC Championships. The morning session was a disappointment, but the team bounced back for a solid evening session. In the 200 IM, Eric Finical placed 9th in the 50 free, the 400 Medley Relay was successfully defended their National Championship with a new American record and Kris Kirchner won the 50 freestyle to boost Texas to an unexpected first day lead over UCLA 65-63. In addition, Clay Britt broke John Naber's long-standing 100-yard backstroke American record with a 49.11 leadoff leg on the 400 medley relay.
Reese, who was understandably unhappy with the morning results, attributed Texas' first day lead to attitude.
"Our points tonight were from the neck up. I'm more than satisfied tonight," Reese stated after the evening session. "We had expected to come out third or fourth."
Texas never lost their lead. Instead they followed the pattern they established in the SWC meet and exploded during the second day of competition, scoring 116 points and two individual wins. Scott Spann won the 100-yard butterfly in a new American record time and Clay Britt lowered his own American record in the 100-yard backstroke.
At the end of the second day, Texas had opened such a large lead that it was generally conceded the Horns would win their first national title.
The final night of the competition saw the Horns notch another title as the 400 free relay won the final event of the championships in what was one of the most exciting races of the competition.
Texas narrowly out-touched Auburn, 2:54.84-2:54.87, as Scott Spann swam the race of his life to beat the premier sprinter in the Rowdy Gaines. Texas finished the competition with 14 All-Americans, five individual championships, three American records, and one orange tower.