Vendt Wins Title In 500y Free At NCAA Championships

March 27, 2003

Austin, TX - Senior co-captain Erik Vendt, the 2002 NCAA Men's Swimmer of the Year, picked up where he left off last year by winning the 500y free on the first night of the 2003 NCAA Men's Swimming and Diving Championships at Texas in Austin on Thursday (March 27).

USC is in sixth after the first day with 69 points. Auburn leads with 206, followed by Stanford (121), California (115), Texas (107), Florida (81) and USC.

Vendt, who had never won the 500y free at the NCAAs, swam a 4:13.63 for the victory, his best time at USC. He trailed second-place Robert Margalis of Georgia by less than half a body length for much of the race, but took the lead with 50 yards to go and extended it for the win.

Not far behind either swimmer was Trojan freshman Ous Mellouli, who swam a season best 4:15.50 to claim third place, edging Michigan's Peter Vanderkaay on the final 25 yards.

Happy to get a victory on the first day of the meet, the ultra-competitive Vendt still left room for some self-criticism after the swim.

'I'm happy with the win, but I wanted to go faster,' said Vendt, whose time bolsters his spot as the third fastest Trojan in the event, but still off of the school record of 4:12.83. 'It's great to get the win. It takes the pressure off for the rest of the meet. Now that I've got the first win, I can just go out and swim.

'I was happy with my first 100 and my last 100, but my middle 300 was too slow. (Going in), I didn't think anyone could challenge me, but I swam way too cautiously. I felt I could have gone three seconds faster.'

Vendt, whose previous NCAA wins were in the 1500m free, the 400y IM and the 1650y free, has now won three consecutive NCAA races dating back to last season.

Vendt kept the 500y free in Trojan hands for the third straight year at the NCAAs, following up back-to-back wins by former Trojan Klete Keller in 2001 and 2002. Vendt was second last year to Keller in the event.

The win put Vendt into a three-way tie for sixth place on USC's all-time NCAA title list with four victories. He's tied with Charles Bittick (Class of 1961) and Steve Furniss (Class of 1976).

USC's 400 medley relay of senior Jeff Lee, freshman Mihaly Flaskay, junior J.D. Abercrombie and Mellouli took sixth in the finals in a season best 3:11.19, just off of the school mark of 3:10.85 set at the 1998 NCAAs. USC didn't score in the event last year after being disqualified in prelims.

For Lee, the final race was old hat, marking his 12th All-American honor. He went out in a 47.69, just off his best back time of 47.64, showing why he is USC's second-fastest backstroker of all time. On the flipside of racing experience, Abercrombie made his NCAA finals debut and swam a strong fly leg of 46.83.

The Trojans' 200y free relay of sophomore Mike Stoller, Flaskay, senior David Ringe and Abercrombie got USC on the board by swimming to seventh in the consolation final of the 200y free relay in 1:21.62. USC didn't race in this event last year.

Sophomore Ray Vincent, diving in his first career NCAA meet, scored in his first event, taking 16th in the 1-meter springboard with 283.35 points. He will compete in the 3-meter on Friday and in his best event, the platform, on Saturday.

Lee, swimming in the consolation final of the 500y free, finished seventh in 4:22.57. Junior Trent Staley was 22nd in the event (4:21.99) while Erik Tolmachoff, making his NCAA debut as a senior, was 44th in 4:28.91.

USC had three swimmers in the 200y IM, but none qualified for a second race. Junior Jordie Proffitt, the lowest seeded of USC's entrants in the event, finished the highest with a season best 1:48.23 (24th). Abercrombie was 38th (1:50.11) and sophomore Paul Fahey was 39th (1:50.68). Stoller, also in his first NCAAs, competed in his first individual event and swam a season best 20.32 in the 50y free (39th).

Prelims for Friday and Saturday begin at 11 a.m. CST each day and finals are at 7 p.m. CST

* * *

In a side note, Vendt led a push for every member of USC's 13-man contingent to shave their heads, which is not terribly unusual at big meets like the NCAAs. What was unusual was that USC's three coaches present at the meet, including head coach Mark Schubert, also went for the new hair style..

'I was going to shave my head and wanted to get everyone on the team to do it,' Vendt said. 'We had everyone but a couple of guys. They said if the coaches did it, they'd do it. So first I got (assistant coach) Bill (Jewell) to do it. Then we got (head assistant coach) Larry (Liebowitz). We knew Mark was going to be hard, but he went with it too.'

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