National Championship moments: 1988 Men's Swimming and Diving
Take the versatility of such swimmers as Doug Gjertsen, Kirk Stackle and Chris Jacobs. Add quality depth in sheer numbers. Throw in an outstanding coaching staff headed by Eddie Reese, and what do you have? You have the Texas Longhorns 1988 NCAA Men's Swimming and Diving Champions.
Texas captured its second national swimming and diving title and with it kept the Eddie Reese legacy of excellence in the 1980s going strong. Heading into the 1988 championships, Texas never finished lower than fifth at the NCAAs in the 1980s and captured the title in '81.
Texas had plenty of momentum going into the NCAA Championships at Indianapolis. The Horns were coming off of their ninth straight Southwest Conference title. Texas swamped the competition in March in Austin, scoring 995 points, well ahead of second-place SMU and its 775. The Longhorns had posted an 8-3 dual match record -- including a win over three-time defending national champion Stanford -- and they won the Dallas Morning News Invitational.
Top-ranked USC, Stanford and Texas were considered the teams to watch at the start of the three-day NCAA meet.
The NCAA puts a limitation of 18 swimmers that can represent a team at the national championships. Texas had 20 swimmers meet or exceed the NCAA qualifying times -- the first time in three years that a team had more qualifiers than it could bring. That quality depth would prove to be the key to winning the national championship.
The first day preliminaries found the No. 1 Trojans of USC dominating right from the start, but Texas qualified the people into the evening finals that it needed to, and the Horns saved their best for lasts. USC jumped out to a big lead after the first event -- the 500 freestyle -- but Texas battled back to stay close.
Gjertsen and Stackle finished second and sixth, respectively in the 200 IM and then Keith Anderson, Shaun Jordan and Jacobs finished fourth, seventh and 10th, respectively in the 50 freestyle. The Longhorns capped off the night by edging UCLA in the 400 medley relay, and after the first day of competition, USC was in first place with 120.5 points. Texas stood a close second at 110.
On Friday, USC again piled up the points during the first event final -- the 400 IM. Then came the 200 freestyle, and that is where Texas began to show its true colors. Gjertsen led a Longhorn onslaught in the event, winning with a time of 1:34.51. Adam Werth, Jacobs, Jeff Olsen and Jordan all finished in the points for Texas. The Horns finished first, sixth, ninth, 10th and 13th in the race and amassed a total of 53 points in that event alone.
Then Stackle, Hans Dersch and Spencer Martin finished second, fourth and 14th in the 100 breaststroke for another 35 points and the Longhorns had a team lead they would never relinquish.
Andy Gill finished third in the 100 backstroke and Kurt Bubnis placed 13th in three-meter diving. Again Texas capped off the night with a win in a relay -- this time the 800-yard freestyle. This may have been the most dramatic for the Horns, since they went head-to-head with USC.
The team of Olsen, Werth, Jordan and Gjertsen swam to victory with a time of 6:23.47, just edging the Trojans. When Gjertsen began the final leg, Texas trailed. In fact, the Horns never led in the event until the last turn at the 775-yard mark. Gjertsen outdueled USC's Michael O'Brien at the finish to give Texas the win and a 273-247.5 lead at the end of the day.
Heading into the final day, the meet was essentially a two-team race for the title, and once again Texas would have to battle a great start by USC in the finals.
The first event on Saturday was the 1,650 freestyle - the swimming equivalent of a mini-marathon. Brian Cisna and Olsen contributed valuable points by finishing fourth and ninth, respectively. That kept Texas on the championship track, and the next event -- the 100 freestyle -- would help the Horns pick up steam.
Jacobs finished second in the event to Brent Lang of Michigan. UT teammates Jordan and Anderson finished seventh and 12th, as Texas came out of the race with an additional 34 points.
In the 200 backstroke, Gjertsen and Gill finished second and ninth, respectively. Gjertsen, the defending champion, finished just behind Sean Murphy of Stanford. The 200 breaststroke saw the Horns pick up their second individual national title of the meet, as Stackle finished with a time of 1:57.53. Dersch, a fellow sophomore, finished 10th in the event.
With that, the team title was secure, but the records and the excitement were far from over. The final race of the NCAA meet was the 400 freestyle relay. The Longhorns had such a substantial lead that they didn't even have to swim, but swim they did. The foursome of Jacobs, Jordan, Anderson and Gjertsen not only won the event, but they destroyed the existing record in doing so. Texas finished ahead of LSU with a time of 2:52.01. That broke the record previously held by California (2:53.02 - 1986).
Texas finished the meet with 424 points, while USC (369.5) was second and Stanford (276.5) placed third. Of Texas' total, 304 points were scored by individuals. Of that, seniors were responsible for 40 points, freshmen scored 42 points, juniors 43 points and the sophomore class accounted for a whopping 179 points.
The success of the Texas swimming and diving team continued past the NCAA Championships that season as Gjertsen, Jacobs and Jordan all won gold medals at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.
The dominating performance was also a sign of things to come as the Longhorns went on to win the next three NCAA titles.