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Celebration kills Wildcat victory

By Keith Carmona
Arizona Daily Wildcat
February 15, 1999
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Randy Metcalf
Arizona Daily Wildcat

Senior Diana Groff (second from the bottom) pushes off for the beginning of the backstroke race at Hillenbrand Aquatic Center. Groff, who placed third in the 200-yard backstroke, had her last home meet against ASU this weekend.

If there ever was a grudge-match that defined the rivalry between the Wildcats and Sun Devils, it was the dual-swim meet Saturday at Hillenbrand Aquatic Center.

With the Arizona men up by only two points entering the 200-yard freestyle relay, the final meet of the day, it was shaping up to be a storybook ending. The race featured two anchor swimmers, each boasting national championships in freestyle events, UA junior Ryk Neethling and ASU senior Francisco Sanchez.

Neethling hit the water first, just split seconds ahead of the swimmer that captured the 50-free national title one year ago. At the 25-yard mark, the two swimmers were even. The ring of fans circling the pool watched as Neethling maintained his lead against the All-American. Neethling touched first, 0.16 seconds ahead of Sanchez and the Wildcats had won the meet... almost.

In celebration of their first win over ASU in three years, three UA swimmers jumped into the water to congratulate Neethling. But the final ASU relay team had not yet finished. According to the 1999 NCAA Swimming Rule Book, swimmers re-entering the water "shall disqualify that swimmer's relay team." Therefore, Neethling's team couldn't record the victory and the Sun Devils won the meet 150-143. Suddenly, the roar of Wildcat fans was silenced as a chant of "ASU, ASU" emerged on the pool deck.

Neethling called the dramatic ending, "a disappointing end to an amazing meet."

"Despite what happened, everyone knows who really won the meet," he said.

Head coach Frank Busch said his swimmers just acted on emotion.

"If you make an emotional decision," he said. "Sometimes you just don't get very solid results."

Busch described the events following the final race much like as if a bomb went off. "When faced with adversity, our team scattered," Busch said. "They need to ask themselves how to deal with situations like the one witnessed here."

Despite it all, Busch could not stop singing the praises of Neethling and the performance he turned in Saturday.

"Ryk is a dynamic individual. He'll swim fast for 66 laps and then swim fast for two," Busch said.

The UA men were led by Neethling throughout the meet. He won the 200 free (1 minute, 36.43 seconds), 500 free (4:27.71) and the 1,000 free (9:19.95).

The meet against ASU was the end of the dual-meet season for the Wildcats, as they finished 3-7.

The Arizona women improved to 10-1, breaking the previous school record of nine wins when they handled ASU, 181-108.

Leading the way for the UA women were junior Trina Jackson and freshman Sarah Tolar. Jackson was victorious in the 100 butterfly (56.03) and the 1,000 free (9:53.87) while Tolar notched wins in the 200 free (1:48.65) and as a part of the 200 free relay team (1:34.46).

Tolar said she can feel the momentum building in her teammates going into postseason competition.

"We couldn't be more excited," Tolar said. "We have so much energy, and are confident going into (Pacific-10 Championships)."