It’s not every night that the U. Texas Tower is lit burnt orange with a No. 1 gleaming on all four sides. In fact, it hasn’t happened since 2006, when the women’s indoor track team won the national championship.
On Sunday, the men’s swimming and diving team members were named national champions in Columbus, Ohio, and the tower was lit Tuesday in recognition of its achievement.
The win capped off a memorable season for coach Eddie Reese and his men. The Longhorns only had one loss the entire season, which came against the then-No. 2 Arizona Wildcats at the end of January. Since then, Texas went on to bigger and better things, such as winning a 14th consecutive Big 12 Conference title and a 10th national championship.
In his 32nd year at Texas, Reese has implemented a unique coaching system that gets the best performance out of his swimmers.
“I’m not easily satisfied, mainly with myself. I’m always trying to learn more and get better at what I do, and I don’t care who I ask in order to find that out,” Reese said. “I’ll call someone who coaches a club team, and if they had a good year, I want to find out how and why they had a good year.”
Reese is ranked second all-time in NCAA championships with 10 championships to his name, just one behind former Ohio State coach Mike Peppe. He said he believes this championship is no different from any of his national titles.
“Any time you win in the NCAAs, it doesn’t matter if it’s checkers or throwing darts blindfolded, there’s always a lot of people out there that want to win and compete against you, so it’s a great honor to win this and a credit to the guys and the hard work they’ve done,” Reese said.
The veteran coach also achieved another landmark. He became the first coach in NCAA Division One swimming and diving history to win titles in four different decades.
Competing at the top level is always a grueling task, but Texas managed an individual and relay title in addition to its title push. Freshman Austin Surhoff shone, becoming the second Longhorn to win the 200 individual medley. Olympic gold medalist and senior Ricky Berens was part of a quartet of swimmers who won Texas’ second-straight 800 freestyle relay.
The delayed commencement of the NCAA championships was difficult for Berens and his colleagues to cope with.
“With us getting sick, it really put us back, and we had to change the mentality of a lot of the teammates and get us back on the right track,” Berens said. “Our young guys did incredible. Austin Surhoff winning a national title as a freshman … to swim lights-out was a huge step up as freshmen.”
Ahead of Texas’ postseason stretch, assistant coach Kris Kubik credited the seniors’ leadership as a major catalyst for the team’s success. Berens was fantastic for the Longhorns all season and won the Big 12 men’s Outstanding Swimmer of the Meet along the way. He was co-captain of the team and set the example for his younger teammates.
“I’d tell them to go for the goals that you aim for all year long and stay focused,” Berens said. “We stayed pretty calm this year, leadership-wise. We had me, Alan Maher and Hill Taylor as captains, and it was really relaxed because we had a lot of fun this year.”
Berens set the standard for Texas this year, being the fastest Longhorn in four events: the 200 freestyle, 400 freestyle relay and the 100 and 200 butterfly.
This is Berens’ last season at the University, but the Olympian doesn’t plan on leaving the Forty Acres too soon.
“I’ll still be here training with Eddie and Kris because you can’t really beat the coaching staff you have here,” Berens said. “I love Austin as a city, I love this team, I love the coaches, so I’m stuck here training for London 2012.”