Key Losses: Dax Hill (27 NCAA Points, 5 NCAA Relays, 2012 NCAA Champion), Austin Surhoff (39 NCAA Points, 1 NCAA Relay, 2010 NCAA Champion), Michael McBroom (34 NCAA Points, 1 NCAA Relay, 2011 National Champion), Cole Cragin (1 NCAA Relay, 2012 3rd-place finisher in 100 back)
Key Additions: Jack Conger (Maryland – Back/Fly/Free), PJ Dunne (Florida – Mid D), Will Glass (Alabama – Fly/Back/IM), Will Licon (Texas – breast/IM), Michael Hixon (Massachusetts – Diving), Mark Anderson (California – Diving), Hayden Henry (Texas – Breaststroke), Cory Loria (Houston – Mid D), Chris Scheaffer (California – Fly), Clark Smith (Colorado – Fly/Free), Andrew Skowronek (Texas – Fly/Free), Matt Ellis (transfer – Georgia), Radu Prunoiu (transfer – Incarnate Word)
2012-2013 Look back: Ok, so the 2012-2013 season wasn’t exactly a banner year for the Texas men. They finished only 5th at the NCAA Championships, but that’s only a low-water mark by the standards of a select-few programs, one of which is Texas.
After all, the last time that the Texas men finished outside of the top 2 at NCAA Championships was 2007.
The Longhorns, though, simply didn’t have the same number and depth of true thoroughbreds last year as they had in previous seasons. There were several swimmers who had developed into very good swimmers and contributors under the watchful eye of Eddie Reese, but they either weren’t in the right spots (for big relay points), or were one year shy still of being true superstars.
The big exception was freestyler Dax Hill. He wasn’t able to repeat his NCAA Championship in the 200 free that he won as a junior in 2012, but he did finish in the A-Final in both the 100 and 200 freestyles as a senior in 2013.
His success, though, was almost symptomatic of what Texas was missing. He had to swim on all 5 Texas relays (he was forced to be their breaststroker on the medleys – a stroke where he was fantastic in high school, but where in college he and the Texas coaching staff had just about given up on him).
Texas, Reloaded: This team’s freshman class is so impressive, and has so much talent, that we’ll start there. That is not to say that they don’t have plenty of very, very good swimmers returning, because they do. But, in what is a rarity in men’s college swimming, this freshman class is so good, that it’s what’s going to push this Texas team back into the top 2 or 3 teams in the country.
It all begins and ends with Jack Conger, the ‘next big thing’ in American swimming. His laundry-list of accomplishments could fill two articles on their own. We’ll start with the obvious though: he’s the National High School Record holder in the 500 free, breaking the oldest High School Record on the books by three seconds (it had stood for 30 years).
He’s also the National Independent High School Record holder in the 100 free with a 42.81 – already good enough to final in a race at NCAA’s that had no freshman scorers last year.
He’d probably have the National High School Record in the 100 yard fly if he’d swum it at a high school meet – he was a 46.15 in December in yards. He also goes 1:43.74 in the 200 yard fly – another time that would rank him in the top 10 in the NCAA.
He’d be the National High School Record holder in the 100 back, if he didn’t happen to stack up in the same high school class as another generation-changing swimmer, Ryan Murphy at Cal, and Conger actually has the better time of the two with a 45.32. Conger’s also been 1:38.75 in the 200 back, which if it were a 200 freestyle time, would be enough to make him a top-40 recruit in the country.
Except that his 200 freestyle is a 1:34.16, and his 50 freestyle is a 19.85. He’s only been a 1:53.60 in the 200 IM – when he was 14 years old. Over that same time period, he’s dropped eight seconds in his 200 backstroke, so do that math if you will.
Who knows what he’s capable of in the 400 IM or the 1650 free (it’s probably really, really fast), but even without those two events, there’s a bona fide 9 events where Conger could place in the top 10 at NCAA’s, as just a freshman, and at least two where he’s going to wind up in a top-three position.
So, tally him up for an apples-to-apples replacement of Hill as a freshman (even though they aren’t quite the same swimmer). Points-wise, if he has a good season, Conger should erase that huge loss for the Longhorns.
The Rest of the Class Becomes Icing on the Cake: Barring a disaster, with Conger coming on board, the Longhorns should at the very least be as good as they were last year (aka, a top 5 finish). The reality is, though, that they’ll be much better than that.
Gone are the days where Texas has to see which of their freestylers can fake the best 50 breaststroke. That’s because it appears as though Israeli import Imri Ganiel will finally be cleared to compete this year. He was on the roster last year for Texas, but didn’t actually swim.
In his off year, though, he did go a 53.12 in the 100 yard breaststroke at Winter Nationals. The Olympian also was also a 1:01.77 at the World Championships in long course, though he’s been as good as 1:00.96 in that distance.
However you slice it, Ganiel is an immediate upgrade for the Longhorn breaststroke group.; a big immediate upgrade, in fact, and between that time in the 100 and his best 1:57.85, he’s got at least one B-Final in him individually this year at NCAA’s, with a best-case of an A-Final and another B-Final.
He’s not the only breaststroker in a class that includes 13 true freshmen. Local Will Licon is a 54.6/1:56.00 coming out of high school, which puts him on the verge of scoring already in the 200, and also adds a 1:46.2 and 3:47.7 in the 200 and 400 IMs. The Longhorns also picked up sophomore transfer Radu Prunoiu from Incarnate Word (a program that begins its Division I transition this season). He’s been 55.3 and 2:02 in the 100 and 200 yard breaststrokes.
Joining Conger as options for the butterfly leg of the medley relays is Clark Smith from Regis Jesuit in Colorado. He has a great Longhorn pedigree, as the son of two former Texas swimmers, and his 46.54 in the 100 yard fly as a senior was the second-fastest time ever by a high school swimmer in the United States. He and Conger are both options to fight junior Tripp Cooper, who was 46.70 at his best on a flat-start last year, for the medley relay spots.
Smith has also been 20.3, 44.0, 1:35.5, and 4:18.2 in the 50-500 yard freestyles. He may not be quite on Conger’s plane of versatility, but Smith will have an immediate NCAA impact as a freshman as well.
The Longhorns managed to snake William Glass out of Alabama; he’s another outstanding butterflier with a 47.52 in the 100 yard race, but may end up being a backstroker at Texas. In those races, he’s swum 47.70 and 1:43.96 in the 100 and 200 yard races. He really is a Division I recruit in any of the four 100 yard distances, which in Eddie Reese’s hand should make him an NCAA IM’er – he was a 1:47.9 in the 200 at Winter Juniors.
Consider that Chris Scheaffer, who’s been a 48.2 in the 100 yard fly, is only the 4th-best 100 yard butterflier in this class.
Big Untapped Potential: There’s also a couple of guys in this class who have pretty huge potential: Alec Willrodt and Cory Loria, both native Texans.
Willrodt is 6’6″ tall, and swimming high school only, he was a 20.7 and 45.8 in the 50 and 100 yard freestyles. The full disclosure is that the high school program, Stratford in Houston, happens to be a pretty good one – and when I say a good high school program, I actually mean the high school program: they routinely put summer-league/high school only kids on Division I rosters.
Still, with that size, and so much room to work with, Willordt is just going to shred the seconds off in his first year at Texas.
The other is Cory Loria from Dallas. In the last two years, he’s taken his 200 free from a 1:49 to a 1:38. That’s an impressive progression.
Texas Sprinters: So, the medley relays are clearly in good shape next year. Even if they had to have four new swimmers on them (they may), they’re still better relays than the 7th-and-6th place relays that Texas had in the 200 and 400 medleys, respectively, in 2013.
The 400 free relays, however, are really looking for help. In 2013, the 400 free relay, in the first year after Jimmy Feigen, slid from NCAA Champions to 6th place. In their quest, though, to figure out exactly who would replace Feigen’s spot, though, Texas found some pretty incredible 100 freestyle depth.
They lacked some explosiveness behind Hill, but Texas finished with 10 of the country’s fastest 91 flat-start 100 yard freestylers. That includes sophomore Austin Surhoff, who split 43.00 on a relay at NCAA’s; first-year Junior College transfer Caleb Weir, who was a 43.1 in his rookie campaign at Texas; Clay Youngquist, another member of that 400 free relay; and a lot of home-grown Texas boys: Charlie Moore, John Murray, and Bobby Button, who were all under 44 seconds and all hail from Texas.
Toss in Madison Wenzler (43.7) and John Murray (43.4), the Longhorns did lost three of those ten (Surhoff and Hill to graduation, Anderson is simply no longer on Texas’ roster), but that still means they bring back seven guys who as underclassmen were better than 44 seconds! The only team even close to that depth last year was Michigan, who had eight guys under 44 seconds but are graduating half of them.
Things Get Even Better: Add to those 7 returners Conger and Smith, at least, who will join the group next year and will surely be under 44 seconds. Senior Keith Murphy was right on the edge of 44 seconds as well.
Then, enter Matthew Ellis, a huge sophomore transfer from Georgia. He was the top sprint recruit in the class of 2013, and despite going best times in his best events as a freshman, he decided to return to his native Austin and swim for the Longhorns for the last three years of his career.
As a freshman, he flat-started 19.67 and 43.00 in the 50 and 100 yard freestyles at the SEC Championships. He also relay-split a 19.22 and a 42.50 in those same distances. He’s an incredible new relay anchor for Texas next year, and should be an NCAA scorer. He could also fight for points individually at NCAA’s in the 100 fly, with a best of 46.83.
In short, Texas’ new additions this year alone push Texas into one of the top three teams in the country, easily. Continued improvements from other returning swimmers, then, will decide just how high Texas can move.
Other Returning Swimmers: Texas lost three big names, but aside from them, returns a huge number of NCAA qualifiers. Junior Clay Youngquist was 6th at NCAA’s in the 200 free (1:33.5) and just missed scoring in the 500 as well, despite not making a ton of progress between Big 12′s and NCAA’s. (Note that Texas only was 5th in the 800 free relay last year, even though they had two swimmers in the A-Final in the 200 free).
Sam Lewis, a not-often-talked-about freshman, began his career off with a 4:17.61 in the 500 free, but unfortunately for Texas, that came pre-NCAA’s as well. In fact, that whole Texas middle-distance group seems to have missed their taper a bit. Lewis was a 4:17.6 in the 500 free at his best, but only went 4:20 in the 200 free. That best is already eight seconds better than he was in high school, though.
His progression is reminiscent of that of Jake Ritter. Ritter, as a sophomore, was only 40th in the 500 free, his 4:15 season best is 9 seconds faster than he was coming out of high school.
If that group (Ritter, Lewis, Youngquist, maybe even sophomore John Martens) can hit their taper at the year’s end, they should negate the loss of McBroom, and then some.
Patrick Murphy‘s season ending was phenomenal. Though he didn’t score at NCAA’s, he wound up placing 18th at NCAA’s in a 1:42-low despite missing two months with a torn ligament in his foot. He only returned to racing about three weeks before NCAA’s, and still very-nearly scored at nationals. That’s more points this coming year.
Tag on to them Tripp Cooper, the 6’5 junior from the same Woodlands club program as Michael McBroom. Though he still hasn’t scored individually at NCAA’s yet, he did pick up some All-American relay honors as a sophomore. We’re big fans of Cooper’s potential, and with some new confidence behind him, he’s due for a breakout junior year in the sprint freestyle and fly events, as mentioned above.
Diving: Among the country’s really elite men’s swimming programs, Stanford, Texas, and Indiana see the most points from diving. Last year at NCAA’s, between springboard specialist Corey Bowersox (8th on the 1-meter), and platform specialist Will Chandler (5th on the 10-meter), Texas picked up 25 diving points at NCAA’s.
Expect that total to at least double this season. Chandler is riding a high after a great summer that included placing 6th at the National Championships on the platform, as is Bowersox who took 6th in the 1-meter at the World Championship Trials.
Texas also has brought in two spectacular freshman divers. Mark Anderson is 5’9″ tall and has ideal size for a diver. He can dive all three boards.
He dove at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, taking 16th on the platform; He was as high as 4th on the 1-meter at the 2013 World Championship Trials; and this summer, he was the Junior National Champion on the 1-meter springboard (plus 3rd on the 3-meter and 4th on platform). He’s an immediate NCAA scorer, but he’s not even the best diver in the class.
That honor goes probably to Michael Hixon out of Massachusetts. He represented the United States at the World Championship Trials, partnering with Troy Dumais (a former Texas great). His mom, Mandy Hixon, dove at Ohio State and is now both his coach and the head coach at UMass. His dad, David, is the head basketball coach at Amherst College. He is absolutely stacked genetically.
He was the 2011 Junior Pan Am Champ on the 3-meter, and in 2012 took bronze at the Junior World Championships on the 1-meter. He doesn’t dive platform, but that shouldn’t diminish his value. He’s an 8-time Junior National Champion on the springboards, a 2011 National Champion, and individually placed in the top 5 at the World Championship Trials on both springboards.
Texas can count on at least a 50-point performance for their divers this year, with the ceiling being even higher than that.
2013-2014 Outlook: The fact that this preview is already at 2300 words, easily the longest we’ve done so far, should give an indication of how good Texas is going to be next year. They have the #2 incoming class in the country that including diving probably could have been #1, depending on who you asked, and those new additions alone are a top 7-8 team.
Add to that Texas returning a slew of swimmers, if that middle-distance group we talked about hits their taper, this is surely a top 3 team. Not only is Texas one of about 6 programs in the conversation for National Champions, they’re one of about three that fall into the “favorite” category.
In the back of my head, though, remains the fact that Texas lost a LOT of individual points with Hill, Surhoff, and McBroom, so things would have to hit spot-on for everyone else to give them the national champion.