Coben wins NCAA title in a squeaker

BY WALDEMAR CENTENO
Daily Sports Writer
Published March 31, 2003

Junior diver Jason Coben's performance helped push the Michigan men's swimming and diving team to a ninth-place finish in the NCAA Championships in Austin, Texas.

Coben became the first Wolverine to capture a national title on platform diving by scoring a total of 575.8, tying him with Auburn's Caesar Garcia. The last time a Michigan diver won an NCAA title was in 1984, when Kent Ferguson scored a 560.85 to win the three-meter springboard.

"His performance was really good," first-year Michigan diving coach Chris Bergere said. "I knew he could do it, and he just needed chance to break through. Competing with the best people in the country is an excellent way to raise the bar. Coben was nice and consistent."

After scoring 500.00 during the preliminary rounds, Coben was faced with an eighth-place start. Following his first three dives, Coben sat in second place behind Garcia, who scored very high in his previous dives.

But Garcia's substandard third dive left the championship open for Coben to seize. Under pressure, Coben took over the lead on his fourth dive.

"I guess I like the pressure," Coben said. "When I was up there for the last dive, I knew I needed eight's and eight-and-a-half's to win all the way through. Coming into the meet, I didn't think I had a chance to win, I just knew those were the scores I was going to need. In the finals, everything just started to click. When Caesar (Garcia) missed his back, I knew all I needed to do was hit my dive and I had a shot, and I did it."

Coben proceeded to nail his final dive, which put him 76.5 points up on Garcia. However, Garcia scored exactly a 76.5 to place both him and Coben as national champions.

"It was amazing," Coben said. "I was sweating bullets the whole time."

Also, freshman Peter Vanderkaay's runner-up finish in the 1,650-yard freestyle was the highest finish by a Michigan swimmer in the event since Chris Thompson won it in 2001. Vanderkaay posted his best time of the year (14:43.73).

Another noteworthy swimmer was sophomore Brendan Neligan, who swam in the 1,650-yard freestyle. Neligan placed 10th in the event, with senior Justin Drake and sophomore Andrew Hurd directly behind him.

Senior co-captain Jeff Hopwood swam his final meet as a Wolverine at the NCAA Championships. He placed fourth in the consolation finals of the 200-yard breaststroke with the third fastest time of his career (1:56.8).

"Our individual swimmers were good, but the field just got better," Urbanchek said. "Most of the swimmers had their personal best times. What I estimated what would get a swimmer into the finals, didn't get you into the finals. The field improved significantly, and it was a really tough meet."

Michigan ended the year with a run at the NCAA Championship. For the seniors, the NCAA Championship was their last hurrah as a Wolverine.

"Hopwood has been our number one breaststroker for all five years," Urbanchek said.

Unbanchek also took time to reflect on his seniors' performances throughout their career.

"Mangieri was the backbone of our relays. Every relay for the past four years had Mangieri on it. Also, Drake's 1,650-yard performance was great. Justin (Drake) was one of the most surprising swimmers we had over the years. He was just a walk-on, and nobody thought he was going to place in the NCAA. However, within two years he has made NCAA cuts and placed. That's just one of the joys of coaching, and they are all good solid swimmers."