Men's 2002-2003 Season Review

The men's team finshed out the 2002-2003 season with their fourth consecutive MWC Championship.

The BYU men's swimming and diving team had a single goal in mind as they began the 2002-2003 season, four-peat as the Mountain West Conference Champions. It was a goal the team accomplished in convincing fashion.

In a season that saw the Cougars finish the regular season with No. 18 ranking, the men's team dominated every team they competed against including top-25 teams like Florida State and Washington.

"The team had a fantastic year," said head coach Tim Powers. "We were ranked No. 18 in the dual meet rankings and dominated the conference teams, what's not to like?"

The season started out strong for the Cougars as the team traveled to the Pacific Invitational to compete against four other teams, including national power Stanford. While the Cardinals went on to win the Invite, the Cougars finished a strong second and turned in eight top-three finishes including Brazilian-transfer Diogo Yabe who won took first-place in the 100-yard fly. The Invitational also served as a dual-meet for BYU and the University of the Pacific, a meet the Cougars won with a score of 181-94.

Five days after the Pacific Invitational, BYU opened the MWC season with a home meet against interstate-rival Utah. The Cougars dominated the match as the team took nine of the 13 events and posted a 161.50-81.50 win over the Utes. Seniors Jeff Mason and Aaron Russell won MWC Swimmer and Diver of the Week honors for their performances against Utah. Mason won both the 100 and 200 free events, while Russell walked away with the 1-M and 3-M diving events.

The Cougars entered the national rankings at No. 21 and headed to Las Vegas for the third meet of the season, a showdown between UNLV and No. 25 Florida State. The competition was never even close as BYU won 11 of 13 events and bested both schools by scores of 145-90 and 148-92 respectively.

As the diving team prepared to host the annual BYU Invitational, the swimmers headed for Long Beach, CA. where they participated in the Speedo Cup Invitational. With 15 top-three finishes and four individual wins, the Cougars topped the 17-team field with a convincing 1,205 points. Yabe once again topped the competition in the 100-yard fly, and this time set a new BYU school record with a time of 48.31.

At the BYU Invitational, senior Aaron Russell dominated the competition winning both the 1-M and the 3-M while teammates Justin Beardall and Scott Randall claimed the second and third spots respectively in both events. Once again Russell earned MWC Diver of the Week honors for his performance.

Entering the Christmas break the Cougars seemed to be on their way to completing their goal as they complied a 2-0 MWC record, a 4-0 overall record, won the Speedo Cup, finished second at the Pacific Invitational, and were ranked No. 21.

The first meet for BYU after the break was No. 24 Washington. The Huskies were just coming off a big win at the New Year's Invitational, and the Cougars were coming off of four weeks of intense training. From the beginning of the meet the Cougars, now ranked No. 22, set out to show they were the stronger team. BYU swam away with the meet winning eight of the 11 events, and claiming 19 top-three finishes, on the way to a 127-72 finish.

After taking two weeks off BYU prepared for back-to-back meets with Air Force and Wyoming at home. In the first meet, BYU soared past the Falcons with a score of 140-97, and pushed its MWC record to 3-0 and 6-0 overall. The Cougars claimed 11 of the 13 events including a 1-2-3 sweeps in the 50 free, the 1,000 free, and the 1-M diving event. Freshman Travis Price scored big wins for the Cougars by winning the 1000 and 500 free events. Seniors Billy Betz and Jeff Mason continued to show their leadership as Betz won the 100 free and placed second in the 200 free, Mason won the 200 and placed second in the 100 free. The two seniors then teamed up with seniors Mike Mullen, and Brent Parker to win the 400-free relay.

The next day the men did not show any signs of fatigue as they hosted Wyoming. BYU, now ranked No. 23 in the country, recorded another convincing victory beating the Cowboys 147-63. The win gave BYU the MWC regular season title outright. It was the first year the MWC awarded a regular season champion for swimming. On the way to the win over the Cowboys, the Cougars claimed 11 of 13 events in the meet including another 1-2-3 sweep in the 50 free.

To finish out the season the undefeated Cougars (7-0, 4-0) traveled to Salt Lake City for the team's second face-off with the University of Utah. After defeating both Air Force and Wyoming, BYU climbed the national rankings to No. 20, and set out to prove the team was still better than that. The Cougars dominated the Utes the entire meet winning with a score of 129-69. For the No. 20 men's team the win capped their second undefeated season in three years. The men captured 12 of 13 events against the Utes including a sweep in the 200 free and both diving events. Senior Aaron Russell won both the 1-M and 3-M boards, ending the year undefeated in the 3-M event in dual meet competition, and received his third MWC Diver of the Week citation. Senior Jeff Mason swam to two individual victories in the meet winning the 100 and 200 free events in his last dual meet competition of his collegiate career.

"The guys on this team have great character," said Powers. "Each one of them comes to swim as fast as they can."

At the MWC Championships, fast is exactly how to describe the Cougars' performance. BYU claimed nine MWC individual titles while setting three new school records and four new MWC records, all on the way to winning the MWC title with 908 points, more than 270 points better than second-place Air Force.

The 800-yard freestyle relay team started the record breaking at the Championships as the team consisting of seniors Jeff Mason and Bill Betz, and juniors Diogo Yabe and Randy Belliston, set a new school and MWC record with a time of 6:30.99. The next record to fall was in the 200-yard IM as Belliston set a new school and MWC record with a time of 1:47.44. But Belliston wasn't done setting records as he went on to set a new MWC record in the 400-yard IM with a time of 3:53.30. Freshman Travis Price got in on the action as he broke the MWC Championships record in the 1,650-yard freestyle as he finished with a time of 15:32.80. Mason also set a new school record in the 100-yard freestyle with a 49.83 finish. The final record to fall was the 400-yard freestyle relay record that was broke by Mason, Mullen, Parker, and Betz with a winning time of 2:57.10.

The Cougars received 23 first-team All-MWC citations spread among 10 different athletes as well as nine second-team All-MWC nods for six athletes. Head coach Tim Powers was name MWC Men's Coach of the Year, Keith Russell was named Men's Diving Coach of the Year, and senior Aaron Russell was named MWC Diver of the Year after sweeping all three diving events at the MWC Championships.

This year the men's team qualified four athletes for the NCAA Championships, swimmer Randy Belliston and divers Justin Beardall, Aaron Russell, and Scott Randall.

At the NCAA's Russell finished with a First-team All-America honor after placing fourth in the 1-M event. He also received Second-team All-America recognition as he turned in a 10th place performance on the 3-M. Russell's performance at the NCAA Championships gave the Cougars a No. 22 national finish, up one spot from the year before.

Besides the Cougars' athletic accomplishments, the men's swimming and diving team also proved that it is one of the top academic teams in the country as the team finished No. 2 academically in the nation, up three spots from their fifth-place finish last season.

Six seniors will be graduating from this year's team, but the Cougars' depth ensures that the winning will continue for the Cougar team.

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