If Cal-Berkeley coach Nort Thornton had not called his Golden Bear aquamen together in October of 1978 and asked them to dedicate their season to winning the school's first - ever NCAA swimming title, there's no telling which team would have rested atop the scoreboard at the conclusion of last year's championship.
As Cleveland State University prepared to host its third NCAA championship meet, consensus favored Ray Bussard's Tennessee Volunteers to repeat their feat of the previous year at Long Beach. Clearly Tennessee thundered into Cleveland with a distinct edge in qualifying places. Based on rankings from premeet times, the Vols would have accumulated 264 points. Florida (198), Cal (164), UCLA (159), and USC (93) followed on the list of premeet prognostications.
As the meet unfolded, it became evident that while Tennessee would not flounder, the other schools would not allow slower entry times to submerge them. Of the top five finishers, only Tennessee failed to increase its hypothetical pre-meet totals. Both USC and Cal improved by over 100 points.
Cal finished the first day of competition with a five-point lead over USC, and it seemed Thornton's wish might come true. That evening saw two NCAA records drowned. In the first event, UCLA's Brian Goodell and Harvard's Bobby Hackett added another chapter to their longstanding rivalry. As in most of their 500 freestyle duels, Goodell pulled away at the 300-yd, mark to touch in an NCAA record time of 4:16.43. Hackett notched second in 4:19.41. UCLA wracked up the meet's second-highest point total in a single event, scoring 35 points (Cal scored 40 points in the 200 breast two days later). In the other record-shattering event, the Golden Bears astonished the Cleveland crowd in perhaps the meet's most outstanding performance. Cal's 400 medley relay squad of Peter Rocca, Graham Smith, Par Arvidsson, and Pelle Holmertz lowered the meet and NCAA records by nearly two seconds, posting a blazing 3:15.22.
On the second day, the Golden Bears continued their impressive surge but as they increased their lead, another interesting battle emerged. For the first time in a number of years, the race for second place was heated. Only 52 points separated second - place USC from sixth - place Auburn. As Cal slowly drifted away with the title, this would be the battle that maintained excitement.
Brian Goodell recorded his second record in two days, capturing the 400 I.M. in 3:50.80. This was the only event which did not place a senior in the top 12. In the second event, Tennessee's Andy Coan took his 200 free out in 45.7 and held on to win in a record, 1:35.62. Harvard's Hackett touched sixth in 1:37.48. The third and fourth records came from in the 100 fly and 100 breast, respectively. Arvidsson shaved Joe Bottom's mark of 47.77 by a hundredth of a second while Smith became the first person to break the 55-second barrier as he stroked to a 54.91 clocking. The 800 free relay supplied the Viking Natatorium with the evening's closest finish. Florida, Auburn, UCLA, and Cal hit the final was a mere .59 seconds apart, with Florida winning in a record tying 6:28.01.
The Brian Goodell story continued into the third and final day as the UCLA sophomore grabbed his sixth consecutive NCAA individual victory with a record 14:54.13 in the 1650 free. Harvard's Hackett again placed second, swimming a 15:08.07 in his afternoon heat.
Goodell and Smith were the high scorers, tallying 3 wins apiece. Cal placed 24 members into the finals, USC 22, Florida 24, Tennessee 22, and UCLA 19. The Pac-10 advanced 76 finalists, the SEC 70. The evenly-matched qualities of the two conferences is underscored when one considers the Pac-10 scored 772 points and the SEC 750.
Andy Coan blazed to his second crown in the 100 free. While he managed only a 43.42 in the finals, the Vol junior established his second record of the meet in the prelims with a 43.25 clocking. Heading into the three-meter diving finals, the race for second place developed into the meet's focal point. After Michigan's Matt Chelich clinched the high board (exchanging the runner-up slot with Miami's low board champ Greg Louganis), the 400 free relay pitted the meet's top six finishers against each other. Three minutes later the margin between the second- and fourth-place finishers stood at only .05 seconds.
Thornton's goal indeed came true and his Bears were truly golden in compiling 287 points. Just 66 points separated Cal from fourth place Tennessee. Not since 1974 had less than 70 points separated the first two teams.