When the event lists were released for the USA College Challenge, it was surprising to see senior Cannon Clifton in only one event, the 100-yard freestyle.
But swimming in just the one event proved to be an advantage for Clifton this weekend, as he showed his speed en route to a third-place individual finish and a game-changing split on the Big Ten’s winning 400-yard freestyle relay.
Saturday in individual competition, Clifton swam a 43.62, which ranks ninth in the nation. The only current college swimmer that passed him was Indiana junior and Olympic gold medalist Blake Pieroni, who was a little over a second faster.
Sunday, Clifton joined up with Pieroni, Indiana senior Anze Tavcar and Penn State senior Shane Ryan for the 400-yard freestyle relay. Clifton, the only non-Olympian on the relay squad, outswam 17-year-old professional Michael Andrew on the third leg with a split of 42.93. Before Clifton jumped in the water, the Big Ten was trailing to the National Team by over a second. After a scary fast anchor leg from Ryan, the Big Ten won the relay with a time of 2:50.81.
Clifton was one of six Badgers in action during the two-day meet. Several other UW swimmers were equally as successful as Clifton.
Senior Matt Hutchins once again proved that he is a serious contender for the national title in the 500-yard freestyle Saturday after putting up a mark of 4:16.33, the top time in the NCAA this year. This was one of the most exciting races of the meet, with the New Zealand Olympian going stroke for stroke with Auburn grad Zane Grothe the entire way, but coming up four-tenths of a second short of the victory.
Senior Brett Pinfold had to swim a tough double Sunday, with both the 200-yard freestyle and 200-yard individual medley coming about 20 minutes apart. The pressure of two grueling races almost back-to-back did not faze Pinfold, as he grabbed a pair of sixth-place finishes that were both season-bests and national top-20 times.
Sophomore Cierra Runge swam to a seventh-place finish in the 200-yard freestyle Sunday with a time of 1:46.96. Her season-best time ranks 11th in the country this year.
Runge was also in action Saturday, leading off the runner-up 800-yard freestyle relay that also featured sophomore Siobhán Haughey and junior Gabby DeLoof from Michigan and Indiana junior Kennedy Goss.
A pair of Badgers went head-to-head in the 50-yard freestyle Sunday, with senior Chase Kinney finishing sixth with a time of 22.74 and freshman Beata Nelson, who made her collegiate debut in the event, finishing eighth with a 24.11 mark.
Saturday, Kinney and Nelson also swam to a pair of eighth-place finishes in the 100-yard freestyle and 100-yard butterfly, respectively.
The Badgers will be back in action Thursday as the divers travel to Columbia, Mo., for the three-day Mizzou Diving Invitational.