Vendt Closes Out USC Career With NCAA Title In 1650y Free

March 29, 2003

AUSTIN, Tex. - Senior Erik Vendt swam the second-fastest time in NCAA history en route to defending his title in the 1650y free and sophomore Ray Vincent put together a lifetime best effort to finish third on the platform to lead USC on the final night of the 2003 NCAA Men's Swimming and Diving Championships at Texas in Austin on Saturday (March 29).

USC finished in fifth with 268 points. Auburn won the team title with 609.5 points, followed by Texas (413), Stanford (374), Cal (329), USC (268) and Florida (232). USC has finished among the Top 6 for seven consecutive seasons.

Vendt's closest competitor in the 1650y free was the record book. Vendt swam a 14:29.85, destroying the NCAA field and finishing only slightly off of Chris Thompson's record of 14:26.62. He led the entire race and extended his lead virtually every 50 yards.

The win was Vendt's fifth career NCAA title, tying him for fourth on USC's career list with Murray Rose (1962) and Jay Bottom (1977). He also won the 500y free on Thursday and was second (by only .03) in the 400y IM on Friday.

'It's my best time by more than six seconds and it's my second title in my senior year, which is great,' said Vendt, the USC record holder in the event who added that he would have liked to have broken Thompson's NCAA and American record all the same. 'It's been a goal all season and I've been training to do it. I took it out a little under the record pace on the first half. I was looking to descend on the back half, but I hit a wall toward the end and stayed the same.'

Teammate Ous Mellouli swam in Vendt's shadow all meet, competing in the same events. But the freshman from Tunisia, like Vendt, finished with a flourish, posting his third top 5 finish by touching fifth in the 1650y free in 14:47.69, his best of the year. As he did in the 400y IM, Mellouli became the third-fastest Trojan ever in the event.

Vendt finished as the meet's top scorer for the second consecutive season with 57 points while Mellouli was tied for fourth with 45 points.

'It was exciting to see Erik swim so well. It's always been his favorite event and I'm really pleased with his performance, which was substantially better than his previous best,' USC head coach Mark Schubert said. 'Ous did a tremendous job for a freshman. It's going to be fun next year with our returners and some of our freshmen coming in.

'I was very impressed with the diving. Not just Ray's accomplishment, but to see the rest of the guys get behind him. It showed how close of a team this is.'

Vincent, the 2003 Pac-10 and Zone E champion in the platform, finished third in his first NCAA final as the entire swim team cheered boisterously for him from below. He put together his best set of six dives ever for a career-high 563.75 points and trailed only Caesar Garcia of Auburn and Jason Coben of Michigan, who tied for first at 575.80. The accomplishment was especially noteworthy considering Vincent missed all of 2002 while recovering from shoulder surgery.

'I was very happy to be able to put together a consistent set,' said Vincent. 'It was really tough going through the recovery process, taking the good with the bad, but it worked out.'

Said head diving coach Hongping Li, who joined the rest of the USC team and coaching staff by shaving his head this afternoon after Vincent made the finals: 'I'm so proud of Ray. After last season, going through the daily struggle and fighting through the pain, it was fantastic to see him tonight.'

Like Vendt, senior co-captain Jeff Lee finished off a fantastic Trojan career with a final appearance in the 200y fly. Lee finished eighth in 1:45.27, earning his 16th All-American nod.

Juniors J.D. Abercrombie and Mike Gausman made their NCAA point-scoring debuts, competing in the consolation final of the 200y fly. Abercrombie, the Pac-10 champion in the event, won the consolation final in a personal best 1:44.73. Gausman, who won a swim-off to earn a second swim (which became a third swim), posted the fastest final 50 yards of his heat to earn fifth in 1:46.18.

Seniors David Ringe and Erik Tolmachoff also swam in the 200y fly, finishing 23rd (1:46.57) and 28th (1:47.48), respectively.

USC's 400y free relay of Lee, Mellouli, junior Trent Staley and freshman Mihaly Flaskay finished seventh in the consolation finals in 2:58.21. Staley also competed in the 200y back, finishing 20th (1:45.87).

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