The entire SwimSwam staff contributed to these rankings, with writers including managing editor Braden Keith and staff writers Jared Anderson, Troy Grenaro, Morgan Priestley, and Christine Wixted.
At mid-season, the men’s NCAA power rankings can be tough to peg – tougher, certainly than the women’s side, considering short, midseason rests often show us a lot more from women (who tend to taper shorter in general) than men (who might taper several weeks for optimal performance). That being said, there have been a few teams near the top who have really distinguished themselves from the early field, whether by incoming transfers (looking at you, Cal) or an abundance of versatility/relay options (say, Texas freshman Jack Conger, for instance).
Check out our women’s power rankings from last week for a more full explanation of what we do (and don’t) take into consideration while ranking these teams. Remember, these are power rankings – no one at SwimSwam has a working crystal ball to predict the future, but we can take a snapshot of where each team seems to be heading at this point.
1. Cal Golden Bears (last year: #2)
The Bears haven’t looked like world-beaters yet, but given how they usually approach their mid-season meet, they have been fast enough to at least be in the running for a top ranking. With the huge midseason arrival of 52.5 breaststroker Chuck Katis, the Bears have the last piece keeping them from making a serious run at an NCAA title. Katis, who competed in his first two collegiate seasons at Harvard, will immediately assume a relay role, giving the Bears the breaststroker they need to hold down a top three spot in both medleys.
The other key front-half swimmer of those medleys, of course, is freshman Ryan Murphy, who has looked dominant in his first semester with the Bears, easily downing some of the nation’s top backstroke competition in dual meets against Wisconsin (Drew teDuits), Indiana (James Wells and Eric Ress), and Stanford (David Nolan). His only backstroke loss this year was against All-American teammate Jacob Pebley, who should once again be a double-A-finalist for the Bears in March.
Despite the depth in their backstroke group (can’t forget Tony Cox, a sub-45.5 100 guy), it could be argued that the biggest strength of this Cal team is the depth of their freestyle group, with five guys capable of splitting under 19 and 43 seconds on the 200 and 400 freestyle relays (yes, we’ve seen this chart before, but it’s worth repeating):
50 free (flat start)
50 free (relay)
100 free (flat)
100 free (relay)
This chart doesn’t include Cox, who split 19.30 in a limited role last season, and Marcin Tarczynski, an excellent IMer/backstroker/butterflyer who swam on the Bears’ 400 free relay last season.
The unsung hero of the first half: Jeremy Bagshaw, who currently sits fifth nationally in the 500 and sixth in the 1650. Bagshaw has steadily improved every season at Berkeley, and has been very solid at each of the last two NCAA meets.
2. Texas Longhorns (last year: #5)
After a year where it looked like Eddie Reese’s legendary program might be in decline the Texas Longhorns have had an incredible last sixth months, putting multiple recent graduates on high-profile international teams (Michael McBroom, Jimmy Feigen, Austin Surhoff), and turning in an electric first half to the 2013-2014 collegiate season.
As expected, Jack Conger has made an immediate impact for the Longhorns, turning in top eleven times in the 500 free (11th), 100 back (8th), 200 back (3rd), and 100 fly (3rd). The scary thing about where he is right now: Conger has never been all that great in season, relative to his end of season times. We’ll have to evaluate things again after conferences, but seeing a 4:10 500 freestyle, 44-mid 100 fly, 1:37-low 200 backstroke, and 42-low 100 freestyle split are not out of the question. The biggest test will be how Conger’s body holds up to his inevitably grueling schedule at NCAA’s (17 swims, most of them at max-effort, in three days, including two 500 freestyles).
Conger isn’t the lone star (heyo!) for Texas. The Longhorns also have four other great sprinters (Matt Ellis, Caleb Weir, John Murray, and Charlie Moore), two individual All-Americans who double as relay threats (Clay Youngquist and Kip Darmody), other freshmen with NCAA scoring potential (Clark Smith and Will Licon), and one of the better diving tandems in the country (Corey Bowersox and Will Chandler were both All-Americans last year).
If this meet winds up as close as we expect (hope) it will be for the title, the difference could be a non-swimming related accident early in the year that left Jacob Ritter having surgery (he hasn’t swum yet) and Tripp Cooper without a race yet for the Longhorns. Those are two guys that Texas was counting on for NCAA contributions, and the Longhorns’ fate might depend on whether or not they come back full-strength.
Whereas Texas was incredibly thin in all five relays last year (including Dax Hill pulling breaststroke duty in impressive fashion), they’re loaded with options this time around, with multiple options in every leg of the medley, and at least six guys capable of splitting under 19.0 and 42.5 in a 50 and 100 freestyle, respectively.
3. Florida Gators (last year: #6)
Much like the Florida women’s team we covered last week, their male teammates were pretty impressive throughout the first half of the season, particularly at the Ohio State Invitational. They’re still lacking sprinters (Brad deBorde is the only one with “elite” status), but will be comically loaded in the distance events again, particularly the 400 IM, where they are returning five individuals who qualified for NCAA’s a year ago (Sebastian Rousseau, Dan Wallace, Connor Signorin, Carlos Omana, and Eduardo Solaeche-Gomez).
After an incredible U.S. Open where he swam like a man possessed, look for Rousseau to be one of the most dangerous swimmers at NCAA’s this season. He’s capable of finishing in the top six in at least five different individual events, but he’ll likely opt for the same lineup as he did a year ago (500 free, 400 IM, 200 fly).
Rousseau will be joined in the 500 freestyle on day one by Andrea D’Arrigo, who has already proven to be a difference maker for the Gators. The Virginia de-committ snuck under the ‘A’ standard in the 500 at the Ohio State Invitational, and will also be a contender at the end of the year in the mile (he’s currently sitting seventh).
The story remains the same, though: even with all of their talent in the distance events without any sprint depth, Florida won’t compete for a team title. Unless Caeleb Dressel decides to arrive on campus next month and a sprint breaststroker comes out of the woodwork, the Gators’ ceiling is likely third place.
4. Michigan Wolverines (Last Year: #1)
With hopes to repeat as the NCAA’s swimming and diving champion, Michigan sure looks to be on the right track. With impressive dual meet wins against Indiana, Texas, and Auburn in the beginning of the season, the men from Michigan were bound to have a good invite meet. The Wolverines walked away with a team championship at Winter Nationals in Knoxville earlier this month, in large part to standout performances from sophomore Dylan Bosch and senior Michael Wynalda. Bosch, who is amongst the nation’s top ten in the 200 IM, 400 IM, 100 fly, and 200 fly set a Big Ten record in the 200 fly, while Wynalda established a new 200 free standard. Despite finishing fourth at the meet in 200 free, Wynalda only fell short to the last two 200 free NCAA champions and Darian Townsend, an Olympic gold medalist.
Another key for the Big Blue has been their continually evolving distance group. Sure, Connor Jaeger remains king of the distance events in the NCAA, but with Anders Nielsen and Cameron Stitt putting up great performances in the mile, Michigan’s distance group looks to make a statement at NCAAs even after graduating All-American Ryan Feeley. Nielsen, a Danish midseason arrival last winter, is swimming faster now than he did at NCAAs last year, which is a great sign going into the backhalf of the season.
Even with these standout performances, Michigan has some work to do in replacing their eleven sprint relay legs lost to graduation a year ago. Bosch has taken over the fly legs from the departed Sean Fletcher, and John Wojciechowski has valiantly filled the backstroke void left by Miguel Ortiz, but the Wolverines still needs another freestyler to help ease to loss of Zack Turk. Wynalda and Kyle Whitaker have done impressive jobs so far, but they each already have intense workloads to handle at NCAA’s.
Another point about relays: the Michigan men disqualified three relays at Winter Nationals. The Michigan men will need to improve on their exchanges or they’ll find themselves falling short at the meets that matter most at the end of the season.
5. Arizona Wildcats (last year: #3)
Following a rough start to their fall season with a tough loss to Utah in a dual meet, Arizona bounced back with a terrific meet at the Texas Hall of Fame Invite. Kevin Cordes was nothing short of dominant, breaking his own 100 breast American record in December. With a 50.70 and 1:49.38 in the breaststroke events, the whole swimming world will be anxious to see what Cordes will be able to do come March.
It was no surprise with the graduation of Tom Shields that Giles Smith would be in the fight to become king of the 100 fly. With the top time in the country by almost a second, Smith will be a huge factor in determining Arizona’s finish at NCAAs. As of now, with killer medley relays and the potential of having multiple individual titles (Smith, Cordes, Mitchell Friedemann) the Wildcats certainly have a shot at cracking the top three at NCAAs. Their major weakness continues to be their lack of depth compared to other top notch teams. Hopefully, with the great fall sophomore diver Rafael Quintero had, he can help add points to the Wildcats final score at the end of the season.
Arizona’s medleys are so good right now that even with their “A” 200 DQ’ing at the Texas Invite, the “B” 200 still put up what was the fastest time in the country.
There’s still no word on whether the Wildcats get Brad Tandy back this season (we make a request just about once a week, to which the answer is always “compliance is working through it,” but if Arizona does get him for NCAA’s, then this team is top 3 and an NCAA contender. He’s that good, and they need him to replace that anchor leg of Nimrod Shapira Bar-Or. Arizona would then have the swimmers to make a claim to the best breaststroker, butterflier, and sprint freestyler in the nation, with Friedemann not being too far off of that on backstroke.
6. USC (last year: #4)
The Trojans may need to look at the results of the Junior National Meet to gain some confidence going into the second half of the season. Dylan Carter, a 17 year old who has been training with the Trojans during the fall semester, boasted impressive times of 19.6, 43.01, and 1:33.67 in the respective freestyle races. He also dabbled in the longer distance free and broke a Trinidadian National Record in the 400 SCM freestyle in a time of 3:50.05. Carter’s freestyle strength will help add depth to the Trojan’s somewhat spotty lineup, and though he won’t immediately replace Vlad Morozov’s loss, his versatility across the freestyles will be big.
Even though they may not have the depth like some other top teams do, the Trojan men have still managed to put up some great relay times. Despite a DQ in the 200 medley relay, they still produced a quick 800 free relay, which is the top time in the country, and the second fastest time in the 400 medley relay. Tuning things up will produce an impressive 200 medley time.
Cristian Quintero’s gutsy performance in the 500 free is what’s holding USC’s place in the top tier of the rankings. With a time of 4:12.85, Quintero lowered his personal record and is currently ranked number one in the country. With the addition of Carter to the roster and the tuning up some technical details, look for the Trojans to make a surge into the second half of the season.
7. Stanford Cardinal (last year: #7)
Let’s be clear here: Stanford has the pieces to easily be a top four team. They laid a few eggs last year (two relay DQ’s, poor day one performances from their sprinters, a couple of their potential high scorers were off their game, etc.) and still were just seven points out of fourth place. The talent is there (David Nolan, Drew Cosgarea, Tom Kremer, Kristian Ipsen, Connor Black), but for multiple reasons, Stanford’s NCAA prospects are more volatile than any other team in the top ten.
The Stanford men have never put much rest behind their fall meet, but this year they looked almost pedestrian at the UNLV Invite. Nolan (T-3rd in the 100 back) and Cosgarea (sixth in the 400 IM) are the only Cardinal swimmers with times fast enough to ensure spots at NCAA, meaning Stanford is putting all of its eggs into the Pac-12 basket to qualify everyone else. It’s a strategy that can pay huge dividends, but it’s also a risky one, with the possibility that an illness or mild injury could knock you out of NCAA qualification entirely.
From a personnel perspective, this year’s Stanford team has a very similar composition to the 2012-2013 version: heavy in the distance freestyles, IMs, and 200’s of stroke, but lacking enough sprint freestylers and breaststrokers to go around. The closest thing the Cardinal have to an answer in the breaststroke is Mason Shaw, who has improved substantially as a sprinter, but isn’t a 51-mid relay guy at this point. Charlie Wiser, who was a 53-mid flat-start breaststroker in high school, but has been playing water polo all fall.
With the departures of Aaron Wayne, Andrew Saeta, and Jack Lane, the Cardinal have ten spots to fill in the shorter four relays, including seven freestyle legs. Kremer will certainly see a bigger relay role this year (he was on just two last year), and Chris Pickard has continued to progress. However, with the plethora of sprinters at Cal, Texas, and Auburn, combined with the overall talent at Arizona, Michigan, Florida, and Louisville (yes, Louisville), Stanford could be outside the top six in all five relays (something that hasn’t happened in decades).
The Cardinal will get a huge boost from diving. All in all, Stanford is returning three scoring divers, headlined by Kristian Ipsen, who scored 57 points by himself last season. They also added Bradley Christensen, one of the top prep divers in the country before arriving at Stanford.
8. Auburn Tigers (last year: #8)
This Auburn team isn’t much different from years past: all of the necessary pieces for great freestyle relays, with some supporting pieces in the the stroke events. Marcelo Chierighini is a guaranteed 30+ point scorer individually, and is arguably the most valuable relay swimmer in the NCAA, while Individual All-American James Disney-May gives the Tigers one of the country’s best 1-2 punches. Complemented by Arthur Mendes, TJ Leon, and true freshman Kyle Darmody, Auburn will be in the title hunt for both freestyle relays.
Their medleys should be in great shape, too. Darmody was considered one of the top backstroke recruits in the country (sans Ryan Murphy and Jack Conger), but those medley leadoff spots will be taken by fellow freshman Joe Patching, who sits fifth in the 200 backstroke and twelfth in the 100 this season. Auburn also landed Michael Duderstadt last year, who will be managing the breaststroke legs as a true freshman (he is currently seventh in the 100 breast).
One of the more shocking things from the first half of the season: Zane Grothe, Auburn’s lone distance threat, recorded a 43.6 in the 100 freestyle at the Auburn Invitational. That’s either a great sign or a cause for concern. If he has shifted his focus away from the longer freestyle events, it could hurt his 500 and 1650, where he has been a multi-time All-American. Grothe holds very little value as a sprinter, and if he has abandoned his distance training, it could hurt the Tigers.
Overall, this is the best Tigers team has had since their 2009 title. That being said, they still don’t have enough pieces to crack the top five.
9. Georgia Bulldogs (last year: #10)
The Georgia men might have their best group of young talent in program history this fall, including two members of the American World Championship team last summer.
While the team came up short in their meet against Florida during their fall dual meet season, Chase Kalisz has not lost a single race race in the five meets where he saw action. He has had some great swims in a few of his “off” events (including his incredible 1:43.55 against Florida in the 200 fly), swimming best times in what seemed like every race he was entered in for a while. With an improving front half to go with the nation’s best final 200, Kalisz is on track to repeat as the NCAA Champion in the 400 IM, and possibly take a run at Tyler Clary’s NCAA record.
The Bulldog distance group has also remained a dominant force not only in the SEC, but also across the nation. With four swimmers already in the top 25 in the 1650, look for the Georgia men to make a surge in the standings on the final day at NCAA’s. Ty Stewart has also been stout for Georgia, already swimming an NCAA ‘A’ standard in the 200 back. He’s put in great times in a lot of different events, and should be a three-event scorer as well. Further, Nic Fink has continued his roll from the summer, and is now respected as one of the best college breaststrokers in the country.
Despite having a superstar in Kalisz and distance domination, the Bulldogs face their continued relay weakness, which has often been their challenge. Even though coach Jack Bauerle brought his largest squad ever to NCAAs last year, they only had three relays make finals, and even those were only the consolation heat. If they want to stay in the top ten at the end of the season, their relays need to find another piece. They return their their entire medley relay aside from Texas transfer Matt Ellis. Fink and Doug Reynolds are good sprinters for the Bulldogs’ free relays, but they’re both needed on other legs on the medley. That means sophomore Michael Trice, a transfer from Division II Queens University, has a lot of pressure on him for big anchors.
10. Louisville Cardinals (last year: #11)
The Louisville Cardinals appear to be deeper this year than they have ever been. Led by the defending national champion in the 200 freestyle, Joao de Lucca, Louisville appears to be on track for another top 10 finish.
The big difference maker for the Cardinals this year will be their relays. They have the third fastest time in the country in both the 400 freestyle and 400 medley relays, and almost all of their other relays are among the top 8 in the country. The 200 medley relay is the only relay that is not in the top 8, and that relay has the 10th fastest time in the country this season.
On top of De Lucca, Louisville has sprinter Caryle Blondell who will add relay depth and be able to score in multiple events. Aaron Greene and Grigory Tarasevich, two freshman backstrokers, have the potential to add points that many did not expect them to score looking ahead to the 2014 NCAA’s. They are also returning their breaststroke duo of Kameron Chastain and Addison Bray. Chastain has a great 100 and will be a huge asset as a relay swimmer. Bray should be top 8 in both the 100 and 200 breaststrokes.
Sprint freestyle, backstroke, and breaststroke events are all strengths for the team. Louisville has 8 swimmers that are ranked within the top 20 in their events. They do have a few holes in their lineup, however. Their IM and distance freestyle events are weaker, which will prevent the cardinals from being one of the elite teams this year.
11. Indiana Hoosiers (last year: #9)
Indiana will be heavily relying on Cody Miller, Eric Ress, and their divers. Miller and Ress are the only two swimmers that have posted times in the top 20 for the Hoosiers so far this season. Their relays have not been helping them too much this season. All of their relays are roughly 30th in the country at the moment, which would leave them out of scoring contention at the end of the year if we don’t see big drops.
Cody Miller was resting for the Duel in the Pool, and therefore should be faster the second half of the season with his focus back on short course yards. He has had plenty of time to work on his underwater pull outs, and should be able to finish in the top 8 in the 100 and 200 breaststrokes, and 200 IM at NCAA’s. He ran into trouble with illegal pullouts last season at the Big Ten Championships and then again at NCAA’s. In addition to Miller and Ress, James Wells and Steve Schmuhl should be able to score at NCAA’s in a few events. Both are just outside of the top 20 in their races this year, but are capable of making an impact for the Hoosiers.
Darian Schmidt and Conor Murphy are two divers that could grab some points this season. Schmidt earned a silver medal at USA Diving’s winter national meet for the 3m synchronized event. He finished 19th on the 3m individual springboard with a score of 368.10 for the round. They have an unbelievable 9 divers on the roster, and last year sent an unreal 4 to NCAA’s. If you’re wondering how the heck Indiana got over 200 points at NCAA’s last year: diving was a huge part of it.
12. North Carolina State Wolfpack (last year: #15)
This NC State team is another one on the list of teams that didn’t graduate any individual scorers, and on top of that they only lost a single relay swimmer. That’s from a team that last year that put four of their five relays in the 9-11 range at NCAA’s (the 200 medley was the one anomaly: it didn’t score at all).
The 800 free relay is the money-maker, despite having not been quite as good this year as it was at this point last year. This was the relay that were the ACC Champions before an untimely swimmer-reentering-the-water DQ. The 400 free relay should be outstanding as well. The Wolf Pack should also have a few more individual scorers than they did last year, where Barrett Miesfield’s 7th-place in the 100 fly and Ian Bishop’s 11th in the 100 free was all that accompanied the relay scoring. Sophomore Simonas Bilis was outstanding at the Lithuanian Short Course National Championships last weekend, where he broke several Meet Records. That will be significant for bumping those relays up into the top 8, which means bonus points (the gap from 8th-9th is two points).
Ian Bishop also seems to have turned a corner, as he was 1.8 seconds better at this year’s Nike Cup than he was at last year’s in the 100 breast. Overall, this ranking banks on them hitting their taper again like they did in 2013, when nobody saw it coming.
13. Missouri Tigers (last year: #14)
Missouri’s biggest weapon has to be breaststroke, where four Tigers qualified for NCAAs last year. (Three of the four return). Sam Tierney is an elite-level guy who could put up big points in both breaststroke races – he scored in both last spring, making the A final of the 100. He currently holds the 3rd fastest 200 breast time in the NCAA this year, and looks like a legitimate A final contender in a pair of races. In support is fellow junior Igor Kozlovskij, who scored in the 200 last year and sits in the top 16 in both breaststroke rankings. Senior Mark Conroy made the trip to NCAAs last year, and though he didn’t score, he adds more potential to this loaded breaststroking corps.
Outside of the breaststrokes, Mizzou still has some rising threats to put points on the board. Egan Groome is really coming into his own this season, breaking his own 500 free school record in November with a 4:17 that sits 10th in the NCAA. The 500 free can be a tough event to score in, but Groome looks to be right on the edge of the times that made the B final last year; a good taper and he’ll be helping the Tigers rise on the team scores board.
Logan Mosley is another returning NCAA qualifier who looks like a big lineup piece in backstrokes and butterflies, particularly the 100 back where he’s 6th in the NCAA right now. Carter Griffin rounds out the more mid-distance backstrokes with his breakout 200 back race at the Missouri Invite. In addition, David Bonuchi was a three-board All-American last spring in diving and should boost the Tigers tremendously.
With their prowess in the breast, back, and fly sprints, Missouri should put together some great medley relays, and a youthful 400 free relay that returns everyone from last year’s NCAAs should also be a strong point. Expect Missouri to keep on rising this season, with even a top-10 finish not entirely out of the question.
14. Florida State Seminoles (last year: #23)
The Seminoles, who were great at ACC’s last season, missed their mark just a bit at NCAA’s. They had one relay (400 free) DQ, but this is a veteran squad in 2014, and we like what we’ve seen under new head coach Frank Bradley. Paul Murray has slid nicely into Mark Weber’s former role as the lead sprinter on this team. They’ve developed a great butterflier Connor Knight – who’s been a lifetime best, by half-a-second, of 46.58 in the 100 already this year. They’ve developed a great breaststroker, Jared pike, who in 53.61 has also already been half-a-second better than last year. Throw in a full season for backstroker/IM’er Pavel Sankovich, who last year was on an accelerated double-taper after only a few weeks in the states, and this year’s seminoles are looking pretty good.
There’s some diving points built in here too. Thomas Neubacher was 13th on the platform and 7th on the 1-meter at NCAA’s; Michael Lewark might be the best platform diver that didn’t qualify for NCAA’s last year (he was the runner-up in Zone B, which wasn’t good enough to earn an invite). Add to them some top-flight freshmen, like two-time Canadian Junior National Champion Dylan Grisell and four-time high school All-American Dominic Giordano, and the Seminoles have some serious diving scoring potential, if they can get more than one through the Zone level.
15. Tennessee Volunteers (last year: #16)
The Tennessee men are most certainly on the right track. Last year, they had very good free relays, and after only graduating Ed Walsh, and replacing him with one of the best junior level swimmers on the planet, Australian Luke Percy, those relays remain healthy.
It’s always hard to tell where Tennessee is mid-season, as they are one of the heaviest-training teams through their invite, but the Volunteers look much, much better mid-year than they did at this same point last year. Their relays are better, their individuals are faster (Sean Lehane has been 1:44.8 in his 200 back, as compared to 1:45.8 last year), and though they lost diver Brent Sterling to graduation, they get 2012 freshman All-American Mauricio Robles back from an injury redshirt season. Robles has looked outstanding early this season.
The Volunteers are still trying to work out if they’ll get Kacper Majchrzak for this season (the sentiments didn’t sound optimistic), but they should get a little deeper at the semester with the addition of UVA transfer Chris Webb. A top 15 finish would be a long way in two seasons since the madness that swirled around John Trembley’s departure.
16. Ohio State Buckeyes (last year: #12)
Ohio State could be the surprise story of the season. While putting their names on some of the fastest swims thus far this year, the Buckeyes find themselves sitting pretty going into the second half of the season.
While taking down No. 2 Florida at the Ohio State Invite, Connor McDonald set a new school record in the 200 back in a time 1:40.38, an NCAA ‘A’ cut. Alongside him, the 200 medley and 800 free relay put up impressive times that will certainly swim in Austin at NCAAs. Tamas Gercsak and Alex Miller cracked the top ten as well with quick times in the 400 IM and 1000 free, respectively.
Another key factor in the success of the Buckeyes: the return of Tim Phillips. After spending the semester training at SwimMAC Carolina while finishing up an internship, Phillips is back for one final go-round in Columbus. Currently ranked second in the 100 butterfly, Phillips will be an important cog in at least four relays, and also has an outside chance at scoring in the sprint freestyles.
However, even with their relay strengths, they may have trouble staying towards the higher end of the rankings because of their lack of depth. This is where diving could play a key role. Shane Miszkiel and Christian Holstein are both Big Ten and NCAA vets. With this being their last year competing, look for them to go out with a bang.
17. Penn State Nittany Lions (last year: #20)
Penn State didn’t graduate a single swimmer off of their 2012-2013 NCAA lineup that finished 20th at last year’s NCAA Championship meet. While Penn State didn’t add any freshmen that will have a huge impact right away (Matt Stasiunas is a solid freestyler, Andy Schueler is a pretty good breaststroker), but they will get back sophomore Shane Ryan, who missed last year’s championships season. Ryan, though, showed how good he can be by earning a spot on this summer’s American Duel in the Pool team.
Now the Nittany Lions have some overlap: a pair of great backstrokers (Ryan and Nate Savoy), a great butterflier (Sean Grier), Some big freestyle options (John Hauser, Ryan could anchor as well), and a rapidly improving breaststroke situation (James Wilson, Andy Schueler). The result should be a new high-water mark for Penn State.
18. Purdue Boilermakers (last year: #25)
Remember when Danny Tucker was the sprint star of the NCAA? It wasn’t that long ago – Tucker went 19.8 in his very first swim of the year in mid-October and looked like an early contender for a big NCAA finish after his fantastic summer. But Tucker hasn’t been any faster since, going 20.01 at the Minneapolis Grand Prix, Purdue’s mid-season rest meet, although it’s hard to tell how much rest the Boilermakers took.
We probably won’t know exactly what this team looks like until after Big Tens, but there have been some revealing bright spots so far. Tucker, a lackluster Grand Prix notwithstanding, is a monster of a sprinter and is coming off an outstanding summer in which he was the U.S. Open champ in the 100 free over a laundry list of big names. He should absolutely be a scoring factor come March in the 50 and 100, plus a major relay component.
Breaststroker Lyam Dias has been the star of the season so far, going 53.7 and 1:55.6 at the Minneapolis Grand Prix. His 200 still sits 12th in the NCAA even after the onslaught of rest meets the past few weeks. Purdue also has versatile IM piece Guillermo Blanco, who’s back after sitting out the second semester last year. A perennial diving power, Purdue returns two point-scorers, Layne Rogers and Jamie Bissett who should combine for a bundle of points in 2014.
The Boilermakers are still a bit of a wild card, and it’s hard to peg their exact prospects until they tip their hand a bit more. But it’s pretty clear Danny Tucker will be key. A great post-season run from the senior sprinter and this team could rocket up the scoreboard, but if he struggles, Purdue doesn’t have a lot of supporting firepower.
19. Duke Blue Devils (last year: #17)
Is this the year Nick McCrory travels with a team to NCAAs? With a freshmen class as large as 15, the Blue Devils hope to send swimmers alongside their Olympic diver to Austin in March. McCrory has already had a great fall, setting pool records in two respective dual meets and claiming a silver medal at Winter Nationals. After a quiet summer, he’ll look to four peat on platform and go out as Duke’s most decorated diver.
Hunter Knight, the only returning All-ACC performer from last year, has the best shot at qualifying for his first NCAAs. With strong showings throughout the fall dual meet season, he broke his own pool record (55.42) in a meet against William and Mary, Knight has only gotten better and better as the season’s gone on. With Duke always having big time drops at ACCs, look for Knight to be in the hunt.
But even with Knight’s senior leadership, don’t count out the Blue Devil freshmen just yet. While it can take first years some time to settle in and get acclimated to a collegiate program, the Duke Class of 2017 has shown they’ve already found their groove. With Dylan Payne, Brad Cline, and James Peak all having impressive fall invite swims (some best times to boast), these freshmen are eager to prove their worth come championship season.
20. Minnesota Golden Gophers (last year: #18)
The Minnesota men are in year three of the Kelly Kremer era, and the 2013-2014 crew looks like the best all-around team the Gophers have fielded since Kremer took over the men’s program in 2011.
Of course, everything starts with senior Derek Toomey, and you couldn’t ask for a much better building block to fill in around. Toomey has to be in the conversation for ‘fastest man in the NCAA’ this season after finishing third in the 50 last spring behind only Vlad Morozov and Marcelo Chierighini. He’s also coming off a successful international campaign, representing the U.S. at the World University Games this past summer. Already 19.6 this season, Toomey should be on the warpath to break 19 and he’s also an A final threat in the 100.
This has got to be the most well-rounded Gopher team in recent memory. After years of covering for big holes in the backstrokes and IMs, Minnesota appears to have rising stars in both. Freshman Daryl Turner has already been 47.6 in the 100 back and is giving Minnesota the medley relay leadoffs they’ve been lacking in previous years. Also a strong sprint freestyler, Turner should join Toomey as a stalwart on all of the 200 and 400 relays for the maroon and gold.
But if Minnesota is going to compete with the likes of Ohio State and Indiana in the Big Ten, it’s probably going to take a sensational winter by Austrian freshman Jakub Maly. The Big Ten is dominated by all-purpose studs like Dylan Bosch, Cody Miller and Kyle Whitaker, the dominant IMers that Minnesota has lacked in past years. Maly certainly looks the part – he’s got an extensive international resume and has flashed at times this year, although he has yet to pop a really attention-grabbing swim. But if Maly can transition his speed to short course yards by March, this team could surprise some people.
They’re strong in distance with returning NCAA scorer CJ Smith and Logan Redondo could score as a sophomore. Kyler Van Swol, who scored NCAA points in the butterfly as a freshman, is back and looking as good as he ever has, going 47.1 in November.
The only major holes for Minnesota are breaststroke, where they’re counting on youth (Maly and freshman Nick Hatanaka) to come through in a big way, and sprinting depth. Behind Toomey and Turner, the free relays will be a patchwork, and they’ll need big freestyle splits from Van Swol for the 400 and 800 free relays to go. Ultimately, this Minnesota team has sneaky good talent, but is also relying on a lot of young swimmers panning out early. This team will go about as far as its freshman class can take it.
21. Arizona State Sun Devils (last year: #18)
ASU has the luxury of one bona fide star, at least after the results of Winter Nationals a few weekends ago. Alex Coci was third in both butterfly races at nationals, setting a pair of school records in the process. Coci just missed scoring in both the 100 and 200 flys at NCAAs last year, but the times he put up in December should score this year, and if he can go a little faster, the Sun Devils could even be looking at an A final or two (and the double-digit points that come with them).
2013 NCAA finalist Harrison Jones is gone from the Sun Devil diving corps, but Canadian Olympian Riley McCormick is still around, and looks to improve on a pair of 9th place finishes at the national level last spring. McCormick has tremendous scoring potential, having finished second at NCAAs way back during his freshman year, 2010, a spot he hasn’t risen back to since red-shirting in 2012 to focus on the Olympics.
The rest of ASU’s roster will need some big improvements to put points on the board come March, but there do appear to be some young bright spots. Hungarian freshman Richard Bohus appears to be slowly figuring out the transition to short-course, but he’s looking more and more like a legitimate sprint threat in freestyle and backstroke, and even if he doesn’t score individual points at NCAAs, he’ll be an impactful relay leg. Breaststroker Thibaut Capitaine was having a solid early fall, and although he didn’t do much to speak of at Winter Nationals, he is the reigning school record holder in both the 100 and 200, and should score NCAA points if he can cut even just a half-second off of each come March.
22. Kentucky Wildcats (last year: #22)
In 2013, the Kentucky Wildcats finished 22nd at NCAAs while only entering two divers. New head coach Lars Jorgensen will certainly try to improve on that NCAA invite count this season, but Kentucky looks like it could once again get by on the backs of its divers. Greg Ferrucci is back for his senior season after finishing 4th on all three boards last spring. In addition, NCAA invitee John Fox also returns, looking for his first NCAA points after finishing in the twenties place-wise in 2013.
In the pool, the Wildcats also have some viable scoring possibilities. Sprinter Eric Bruck has already been 19 in the 50 this season and will look to score in his return after sitting out the 2012-2013 season.
Lucas Gerotto is a versatile threat who could as easily score in three events as one. He projects right on the edge of scoring points in both the 100 back and 100 fly, two events where he’s been 47-low already this season. He’s also a strong 200 backstroker and 200 IMer.
Kentucky could probably coast into a top 25 slot based on Ferrucci’s diving prowess for a second consecutive season. But if they want to place any higher than that, it’s likely going to take some stepping up from the swimmers to supplement the points.
23. Utah Utes (last year: #33)
Utah is swimming very well this year, there’s no denying that. Nick Soedel is a sprinter of first-team All-American caliber, and there’s just enough going on around him for the Utes to sneak into the top 25 at NCAA’s if that’s their big target meet. Bence Kiraly has been very good in the 1650 free, Kristian Kron looks strong on the backstrokes (1:42.4 in the 200), and the team looks like they might have a scoring 800 free relay: their 6:25.08 ranks them 3rd in the Pac-12 right now.
Add to them Josiah Purss, and Australian sophomore. Headed into last season, he wasn’t on anybody’s radar before coming the 2nd male diver in school history to qualify for NCAA’s, and he wound up grabbing a single point from a 16th-place finish on the platform. He reaffirmed his abilities by beating Arizona All-American Rafael Quintero by almost 30 points on the 1-meter at the teams’ dual meet earlier this year, and so far this season he’s looked much better on both springboards. Purss should be very close to a three-event scorer at NCAA’s, which will be big for the Utes’ push toward the top 25.
That upset win over Arizona was a big confidence booster from Utah. While few outside of Salt Lake City believe that the Utes will actually beat Arizona in an NCAA-Championship format, as Utah’s relays just aren’t at that level, the result was at least enough for the country to take notice of this program.
24. Virginia Cavaliers (last year: #27)
We probably would’ve pushed the Cavaliers up into the top 20 this year in their first season under Augie Busch were it not for some of the transfers they’ve been hit with. They lost Nick Alexiou, for example, who would have been on their “A” 800 free relay and could have scored individually as well. Those who stuck around for the men have been swimming very well, though. Parker Camp ranks 10th in the country in the 200 free with a 1:35.02. Jon Daniec could score in both the 500 and the mile at NCAA’s, and Luke Papendick has continued a great end of his freshman year with a great start to his sophomore year.
But the Utes just don’t come off as a very deep team. Even in their own conference, a conference that is getting much better but that the Cavs have dominated; in the 200 free, an event that they’re so good in; after Camp, who’s ranked 2nd, their next fastest so far this year is senior Jonathan Buerger, who’s 22nd in the conference in 1:38.69. They still put together a decent relay at Ohio State, with a 6:30.16, but that won’t qualify for NCAA’s. The Virginia men just didn’t have that sudden explosion of depth like their women did mid-year.
The bright side, though, is that All-American diver JB Kolod is performing great this season, and qualified for finals at USA Diving’s Winter National Championships on the 3-meter. The Cavaliers might be counting on more points from diving than their 800 free relay this season: a sign of the changing tide in Charlottesville.
25. Texas A&M Aggies (last year: #24)
The Texas A&M Aggies graduated their big star John Dalton, as well as John Wagner, from last year’s team, but they return the nucleus of what was a good team that underperformed at NCAA’s. With Ryan Mallam from Indian River now leading the sprint group, however, they seem to have righted the ship a bit, and even without Dalton, the Aggies look like they’re in a good position this year.
Senior Kyle Troskot is living up to the prodigious potential he had when the Aggies signed him out of Canada, and he’s already been 19.69 in the 50 free. That ranks him 3rd in the SEC, and is two-tenths better than he was last year.
Between him, Hendrik Lindau, Omar Enriquez (who seems like he’s been at A&M forever), Luke Shaw, and surprise freshman Cory Bolleter, the Aggies look strong across all of the freestyle distances, and should get some good relay points there.
The medleys, however, will again be their weakness. Hendrik Lindau is the second-ranked 100 butterflier in the SEC this season (46.52 – only behind Marcin Cieslak from Florida), but A&M will still be giving up three seconds to the top teams on the 400 medley relay on their breaststroke leg. There’s a shot that the Aggies could squeak out a few 200 medley relay points at NCAA’s if Jack Burley can get a good 50 breaststroke together, but it’s going to be largely about free relays and individuals for this team this year.
Just missed (in no particular order):
Wisconsin - repeating in the 200 backstroke will be a tall, tall order for Wisconsin’s Drew Teduits with the best 200 backstroke field ever, but if he does it, and can manage some points in the 100 as well, he and Nicholas Caldwell could have the Badgers back in the top 25.
Princeton - The Tigers are a fairly deep team this year, with swimmers like Teo D’Alessandro and Michael Strand in the realm of individual qualifying. They’re just not coherent enough, it looks like, to both get their relays qualified for NCAA’s and have enough left to put them in the top 16 once there. They do return most of those relays that were freshmen heavy, so that would be the chance to get into the top 25.
Harvard - Harvard struggled at NCAA’s last year after riding high hopes into the meet. Even with Chuck Katis gone, however, they return a big-time sprint group led by senior Christ Satterthwaite. This is another team that has the pieces to be in the top 25, but has to prove they can step up when they need to.