Virginia Cruises to Sixth Straight Men’s ACC Championship

By David Rieder

GREENSBORO, North Carolina, March 2. THE University of Virginia Cavaliers won the men's ACC championship for the sixth straight year, outscoring rival Virginia Tech by more than 150 points. With the win, Virginia became the first team in ACC history to win six ACC titles in a row for both the men and the women.

UVA head coach Mark Bernadino became the all-time winningest coach in ACC history with the team's victory. The title marks Bernadino's 16th ACC men's title and 27th overall title, both breaking ties he previously held. After the win became official, Bernadino said, “This was a team victory all the way. There are a lot of tremendous athletes at this meet, but we brought a team, and we brought a team that's been on a mission since last February to become the best team we could possibly be. It's not about anything other than the team. We have a lot of pride in these young men and justifiably so for what they've done this year.”

Jan Daniec opened up the night with a win in the men's 1650 free. UVA's Daniec trailed Virginia Tech's Michal Szuba early on, but he took over the lead between the 800 and 1000 and pulled away down the stretch. Daniec finished in 14:53.48. Behind Daniec an intense race emerged for second between the two outside lanes. Florida State's John Jessell ended up running down Szuba for second, 14:58.89 to 15:00.14. Jessell, a senior in possibly his final career race, described his emotions after the race. “Having a rough start at the beginning of the meet with the 500 at night, being able to come back, have your team on the side cheering for you like that, the best feeling in the world. Being a senior, being done with swimming, and coming to the one fast meet of the year, being able to get under the 15-minute mark is a blessing.”

Florida State's Pavel Sankovich won his third individual event of the meet with a narrow victory in the men's 200 back. Sankovich led the first 100 before Zach McGinnis took over from lane eight at the 150. Sankovich, though, had just enough in the tank to hold off top qualifier Luke Papendick, winning in 1:41.83. Sankovich's victory, in addition to his two prior top finishes in the 200 IM and 100 back, earned him Swimmer of the Meet honors. Meanwhile, UVA's Papendick took second in 1:41.90, and McGinnis settled for third in 1:42.34.

The Seminoles made it back-to-back wins when Paul Murray took first in the 100 free. Murray finished second in the 50 free on Thursday after posting the top time of the day in prelims, admitting that a gogle malfunction hurt him in that race. Murray had no such misfortune tonight, touching out a tight field for the win in 42.94. Meanwhile, NC State's Jonathan Boffa and Virginia's Tom Barrett tied for second in 43.04, while NC State's Simonas Bilas, who had two podium finishes already this weekend, settled for fourth in 43.11.

Virginia's Taylor Gray took over the lead at the halfway mark of the 200 breast and never looked back, cruising to victory by over a second. Gray posted a time of 1:55.68, short of the 1:54.89 he swam in prelims. Gray commented that “This morning I was out really smooth, tried to control it, and it felt really good. Came into tonight, a little slower, but still happy. I had the whole team behind me. We got Yannick [Kaeser] up there too, so really couldn't be happier.” Duke's Hunter Knight put together a big swim to take second in 1:56.78, while Gray's Cavalier teammate Kaeser took third in 1:57.32.

UNC's Tom Luchsinger joined Sankovich as a multiple event winner with his 200 fly triumph. Luchsinger checked in at 1:43.17, short of the A cut of 1:42.96. Virginia Tech's Morgan Latimer came in second at 1:43.85, and NC State's Christian McCurdy came touched third at 1:44.56. McCurdy used a strong final 50 to come back on UNC's Ben Colley and touch out his fellow freshman for the final podium spot. Colley ended up fourth in 1:44.63.

NC State finished off the meet with a win in the 400 free relay, their only relay win of the weekend after their first-place 800 free relay was disqualified for a post-race infraction. Simonas Bilas, David Williams, Matthew Thomas, and Jonathan Boffa took the title in 2:51.29, just 0.03 off of Virginia's ACC record from two years ago. Thomas discussed the big relay win: “We were all really pumped up because we swam really well in the 800 free relay, and then that didn't work out so well, just barely lost the 200 free relay, so we really had something to prove tonight in the last race of the meet. Had to go out with a bang.” Meanwhile, Florida State's Murray, Trice Bailey, Mark Weber, and Sankovich took second in 2:52.74 after challenging the Wolfpack for much of the race, and North Carolina's Logan Heck, Nic Graesser, JT Stilley, and Kyle Ficker finished third in 2:54.88.

As the relay teams waited for the medal ceremony, the teams on deck unleashed cheers of “We miss Clemson!” and “We miss Maryland!” in reference to the two recently cut programs, a staggering reminder of the vulnerability of college swimming as so many programs celebrate victories nationwide.

Final Scores
1. Virginia 759.5
2. Virginia Tech 597
3. North Carolina 549
4. Florida State 534
5. North Carolina State 481
6. Georgia Tech 269.5
7. Duke 268
8. Boston College 120
9. Miami (diving only) 13