NCAA swim championships roll into Federal Way

Auburn University has won five straight team titles; meet will conclude Saturday

By CASEY OLSON, The Mirror

The Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center is one of the best swimming facilities in the United States. Just ask the close to 300 athletes competing at this weekend’s 2008 NCAA Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships in Federal Way.

The three-day meet concludes tonight. Preliminary events will start up at noon and finals will begin at 7 p.m., concluding with the crowning of the team national champions.

“I really like the pool and it feels like a fast pool so I think we have a good chance to swim really fast,” said Auburn University senior Alexei Puninski, who is an eight-time All-American from Croatia. “I checked out the blocks today and they are really high, so I’m looking forward to swimming fast and breaking some records this week.”

Auburn has won the past five Division I national team championships and, along with the University of Texas, has dominated NCAA swimming for the past decade. Before Auburn began its streak, Texas won the three previous titles (2000-02). Indiana University holds the record for most consecutive team titles with six from 1968-1973.

But Auburn didn’t come into these championships as the odds-on favorite. The final dual meet poll taken by the College Swimming Coaches Association of America had Texas, Arizona, Stanford and Michigan listed ahead of the Tigers.

“I think the whole experience so far has been a blast,” said Auburn freshman Kohlton Norys. “I think that our team has really clicked together and it has really been one heck of an experience.”

The team title should come down to those five powerhouse swimming programs. The Longhorns came into Federal Way as the No. 1-ranked team in the country and are coached by Eddie Reece, who will head up the United States Olympic Team in Beijing at the 2008 Summer Olympics. Reece has coached the U.S. Olympic team twice before.

Tonight’s finals include the 200-yard backstroke, 100 free, 200 breaststroke, 200 butterfly, platform diving, 1,650 free and the 400 freestyle relay. Tickets are available at the door.

In other news:

• Federal Way National Little League is taking advantage of the 2008 NCAA Men’s National Swimming and Diving Championships. The Little League is using its complex adjacent to the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center as a parking lot.

Federal Way National is charging $7 per car to park in their lot and using the money as a fundraiser. There is one downfall for Federal Way National, however. The swim meet isn’t allowing any baseball games to be played this weekend.

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565,