BY ANNE UIBLE
Daily Sports Writer
Published March 28, 2005
MINNEAPOLIS — Junior Davis Tarwater dreamt of earning an NCAA title since he was seven years old and watched Tennessee swimmer Melvin Stewart claim the event title and record in the 200-yard butterfly.
“When Davis was 10 years old he was the (Knoxville) city champion in the 25-yard butterfly,” Davis’s father, Dwight Tarwater, said. “He got a letter from Stewart congratulating him on winning the event. I think that got Davis really excited about swimming. Never would I have imagined that 11 years later Davis would have won the same event that Stewart had won.”
On Saturday at the NCAA Championships in Minneapolis, Tarwater’s dream came true and his name was etched into history right beside Stewart’s.
In the preliminaries Saturday afternoon, Tarwater set a personal record in the event at 1:43.30. He broke his own pool record, which he had set at the Big Ten Championships four weeks ago. But he was not going to have an easy race for the finals later in the evening because Kentucky’s Daniel Cruz — the SEC champion in the event — also recorded the exact same time as Tarwater in the prelims and set up a double No. 1-seeded race.
Despite the close competition he was up against, Tarwater maintained a tough attitude about the race as he stepped up to the block.
“He had a healthy confidence going into the event,” Dwight said. “He had a pretty full program over the three days, so we were just hoping that he had enough steam to finish it off in this race.”
As the official hit the buzzer to start the race, Tarwater got off to a slow start and was the seventh swimmer to make the first turn. At the 100-yard mark Tarwater moved himself up to fourth place and tried to track down Stanford’s Jamie Cramer, who maintained a lead of an arm’s length over the rest of the field. In the third 50-meter stretch, Tarwater made a pivotal move to take the lead position and was even with the fading Cramer. As Tarwater took control of the pack, he was followed closely by Texas’s Rainer Kendrick, the reigning NCAA champion in the event.
“I saw Cramer was out there,” Tarwater said. “But I knew that I needed to make my move on the third 50 to get ahead of Kendrick and Cruz. By the 150 (yard mark), we were even, and I knew it was over.”
In his fourth and final 50, Tarwater out-split every swimmer by more than half a second to win the race. His time of 1:42.30 was the third-fastest performance in the event in NCAA history.
“I knew that I could finish better than anyone else in the race,” Tarwater said. “My strategy was just to go out with everyone but bring it home faster.”
After hitting the wall, Tarwater turned to the scoreboard to look at his time.
He broke out into a huge grin and lifted his hands above his head. Then he pointed up into the stands to where his family was sitting.
“I didn’t really know what to do,” Tarwater said. “I just kind of did the first thing that came to my mind. I did some kind of celebration, but words really can’t describe how it felt.”
Dwight and Mary Tarwater were elated when they saw that Davis won.
“It’s very emotional to see one of your own win a national championship,” Dwight said. “Davis has worked so hard for this moment, and we couldn’t be more proud. Our family was thrilled for him.”
At the awards ceremony, the trophies for the event were handed out by Olympic gold medalist at the 2000 Sydney games and former Michigan great Tom Malchow. It was a special moment for both men since they had trained together for two years.
“Having him give me my award was truly meaningful,” Tarwater said. “I can attribute part of my success to Tom because we trained together for two years and I learned from him. He was the best in what he did for so long, so it meant so much. I felt like it was a proverbial passing of the torch.”
Malchow was also honored to be able to present Tarwater with the title trophy.
“It was weird because it was my first time giving out a big award,” Malchow said. “I’m usually used to getting awards, but it was special giving it to Davis. He worked hard for it and definitely deserved it. He had a great race, and I was really happy for him.”
Even though his collegiate swimming season concluded this past weekend, Tarwater will look to qualify for the World Championships next week at the trials being held in Indianapolis.