March Madness: NCAA swim field set

Hiett barely misses qualifying for meet at the KC Aquatic Center


The Mirror

The field is set for the NCAA Division I Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships, which will be held March 27-29 at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center.

On Wednesday, the NCAA announced the 235 swimmers who will compete. The University of Washington and the Seattle Sports Commission are hosting the event in Federal Way.

“This championship event is a real benefit to Federal Way,” said Federal Way Mayor Jack Dovey. “Federal Way is poised and ready to welcome to our community the hundreds of athletes and thousands of spectators who will be coming to this exciting event.”

Although the University of Washington will not have an entry in this year’s field, there will be numerous local connections from the Pacific Northwest, including Scott Rice (Wisconsin/Mount Rainier High School), Ryan Verlatti (Texas/Stadium High School), Patrick Penoyar (Indiana/Olympia) and CJ Nuess (Arizona State/Spokane). Rice used to swim for the King Aquatic Club out of Federal Way, and Verlatti grew up in the Brown’s Point area of Northeast Tacoma.

One swimmer who won’t be in the pool at the NCAA Championships will be 2006 Todd Beamer High School graduate Jonathan Hiett. The current sophomore at Auburn University in Alabama just missed the cut in both the 100- and 200-yard breaststroke.

Hiett, who won a pair of state titles in 2006, finished fifth at the prestigious Southeastern Conference (SEC) Championships last month in the 200 breaststroke and seventh in the 100 breaststroke. All of the swimmers who finished in front of him will be swimming at the national meet in Federal Way.

Hiett’s Auburn team is the five-time defending champions and the University of Texas enters the meet as the No. 1-ranked team in the country. Florida led the field with 17 qualifiers, followed by the Longhorns with 16 and Auburn with 15. Stanford and Arizona both qualified 14 swimmers.

“There’s real buzz in the swim community,” said Skip Foster, chair of the NCAA Division I swimming and diving committee. “Outside the Olympics, this is the fastest and most exciting meet in the world.”

The event will feature the leading contenders for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, which will be held in China in August, and will be a precursor to the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials. The trials will be in Omaha, Neb. during the summer. At last year’s event, swimmers broke nine previously held NCAA records.

It will mark the third time UW has hosted the event. The Huskies held the championship in 1947 and 1961 at their on-campus pool in Seattle.

“We are thrilled and honored to have an opportunity to host the men’s NCAA Championships, especially during an Olympic year,” said UW head swimming coach Mickey Wender. “It’s been a longtime goal to host this event, not just for the University of Washington, but for the Northwest swimming community as a whole. This is one of the premier swimming regions in the country, and this will be a great showcase of our sport.”

The Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center is a legacy venue of the 1990 Seattle Goodwill Games. The facility maintains one of the most active competition schedules in the country hosting more than 50 events annually. It has been the site of Olympic Trials, top national and international competitions, and the Pacific Northwest’s premiere events. A recent economic study conducted for King County measured the financial impact of these events in excess of $7.5 million annually.

“The King County Aquatic Center is one of the nation’s top swimming and diving facilities, and is just one of only a handful in the country recognized as a world-class venue for international competitions,” said Mike Dunwiddie, aquatic center director.

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565,