Over the next few weeks, as the Long Course season closes out, new freshman are arriving on campus, and fans everywhere ramp up for another exciting NCAA Season, we will be running a team-by-team preview of the upcoming NCAA season. Starting with the no.12 teams and finishing with the defending National Championships (Texas men and Florida women) we will work our way down the top finishers from last year’s NCAA teams, and will also jump into some rising teams that we expect to break into the top tier this season. Click here to see the other men’s previews, and click here to see all of the previews for both Men and Women.
Key Losses: Sean Mahoney (16 NCAA Points), Aaron Casey (4 NCAA Points), Peter Davis (1 NCAA Prelims Relay)
Key Additions: Marcin Tarczynski (IM/Fly), Shayne Fleming (Sprint Free), Jeremy Bagshaw (Middle-Distance Free/Back), Greg Harper (Middle-Distance Free), Sam Metz (Middle-Distance Free)
Team Overview: When I began writing this series, I had one team circled on my list. The Cal men’s swim team was the one that I was most excited to write about. This team finished second last season with 469.5 points, and only lost 20 of them. Beyond that, they didn’t lose a single NCAA finals relay swimmer, and only 1 prelims relay swimmer.
An Embarrassment of Riches: It’s hard to know where to start with this team. Senior Nathan Adrian is the best freestyle sprinter in the world right now, after pulling off a Pan-Pac double in the 50 and 100 free. At NCAA’s last season, he won the 100 freestyle (41.50) and was second in the 50 (19.02). He is a prohibitive favorite in the 100 free, and is the best of a very tight returning group in the 50 (second through fourth last season were only separated by .06 seconds, and all three return).
They also bring back Tom Shields, a former high school swimmer of the year who as a young 18-year old freshman last year wow’ed the nation. He won the 100 fly (44.91) by almost a second, and this year will be challenged only by Stanford’s Austin Staab, who missed most of last season for undisclosed personal reasons. He also took second in the 200 fly (1:41.52), behind only the now-graduated Shaune Fraser, and 16th in the 200 free—though he was 11th before cruising through finals.
In the breaststroke events they lost Sean Mahoney, who placed 6th overall in the 100. For most teams, this would be a huge blow. For Cal, it’s more like a minor inconvenience. They return seniors Damir Dugonjic, who is the defending champion in the 100 (51.65) and Martti Aljand from Estonia, who was third (52.32). And if that’s not enough, they bring back junior Nolan Koon, who was the consolation final co-champion last year at 53.16. Dugonjic should win this event again this season, as he is much better in short-course than Scott Spann of Texas, who was second last season.
Aljand also scored big points by finishing fourth in the 200 breaststroke. Though he was Cal’s only finalist there, they will have a lot more points waiting there for them this year as they had the 17th, 19th, 20th, 22nd, and 23rd place finishers there last season. If at least a few of those swimmers can’t move into scoring spots in the top 16, then something is seriously wrong in Berkeley. Count on at least three B-finalists to go with Aljand’s A-final there.
In the backstroke events, Cal returns senior Guy Barnea and junior Mathias Gydesen. Barnea was third at NCAA’s last season (46.23) and Gydesen was fifth (46.36). Along with sixth-place finisher Marco Loughran, they are the only two returning NCAA A-finalists. Texas sophomore Cole Cragin will also throw his hat in the ring for the backstroke crown, but the two Cal teammates are still the favorites. In the 200, Gydesen was 12th, though Barnea failed to final.
In the sprints, Adrian is not the only superstar. In the 50 free, senior Josh Daniels (6th-19.41) and senior Graeme Moore (9th-19.29) also should be A-finalists this season. Moore was also seventh in the 100 at 42.90, and Daniels 9th at 42.82.
The Crème de la crème: Despite their strength in depth in all of the other events, butterfly might be their best stroke. Mathias Gydesen was second in the 100 last season at 45.83. Graeme Moore was tied for 5th at 46.05. This gives Cal, with the Staab-the-Prodigal-Son exception, the three best returning 100 butterfliers in the nation. It should come as no surprise that Adrian is also very good in the 100 fly, where he was 13th in 46.73, and could very well make the A-final this year, giving Cal 4 out of the top 8 scorers. Junior Robert Sullivan was 13th in the 200 fly.
Insert Hyperbole Here: For those of you who didn’t have your scorecards out, the Golden Bears have the fastest returning swimmer in every 100 yard event. In two of them, they return the top two swimmers in the nation. In the other two, they return at least three locks for the A-finals. Last year, they won the 400 medley by two and a half seconds, and each of the other top 6 relays lost at least two swimmers from their relays. This season, Cal would have the top two, and possibly even top three, 400 medley relays in the country if NCAA rules allowed for it. There is not an adjective strong enough to express what Cal’s dominance in the 400 medley will be this season.
In the 200 medley, Cal won last year by over a second without all-world sprinter Nathan Adrian on the back end. Another easy will be coming for Cal there. In the 200 free relay, Cal won by a much narrower three-tenths of a second over Auburn, but Auburn graduated three of their four relay swimmers. Guy Barnea, their anchor, had the slowest split…at 19.09. All four swimmers should be sub-19 this season.
More of the same will be coming from Cal in the 400 free relay. Last season, they beat Texas (who graduated two legs of their relay) by 1.12 seconds. This included a 40.98 anchor by Nathan Adrian, who was one of only two swimmers to go under 42 seconds, and the only under 41.
Chink in the Armor: Cal’s only real weakness is in the longer freestyle events. In the 200, their only scorer was the 16th from Shields, although junior Isaac Howell (1:36.10) could sneak into the B-final this season. They didn’t have anyone entered in the 500, and no finisher higher than 28th in the mile.
This hurt them in the 800 free relay, which is the only one that they aren’t a stone-cold favorite to win this season. They did get a great 1:34.58 leg from Graeme Moore, but could use another few 1:35’s to push them into the top 8 this season, which would be a huge 8-point jump from 10th.
IM’ers: Junior Martin Liivamagi was third in the 200 IM last season at 1:43.05, only a tenth of a second behind Austin Surhoff for the title. Those two are the only A-finalists to return this season, and should battle it out for the crown. Aljand, who we previously mentioned as a breaststroker, was 16th in the 200, but stands to make a huge jump as 9 of the 15 swimmers ahead of him graduated.
Liivamagi isn’t quite as good in the 400, where he was 11th at 4:43.68. He and sophomore Ben Hinshaw, who was 13th, stand to make big moves up thanks to graduation, and could both be A-finalists.
The Rich Get Richer: With how loaded they already are, Cal didn’t need much of a freshman class this year. Despite, they brought in no fewer than four very good, if highly underrated, freshman who are all capable of contributing this year, but will have the luxury of a developmental year. They also have a handful of others who are definitely capable of scoring down the line.
Shayne Fleming is a California high school superstar who last year won 8 individual CCS titles, which is more than any swimmer in history, including the legendary Mark Spitz. In college, the events he will likely focus on are the sprint freestyles, including a 20.00 50 that was third best among American high schoolers last season, and a 44.64 100 free.
Jeremy Bagshaw is a native of Singapore, who most recently lived in Western Canada, and is a middle-distance freestyler and backstroker. At the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore this past summer, Bagshaw won a bronze in the 200 free in a converted 1:35.7. He should become one of the 1:35’s that Cal needs for their 800 free relay, and possibly even a 1:34 off of a relay start.
Euro-stud: Despite the obvious value of those two swimmers, Marcin Tarczynski, a Polish National, is the true superstar of the class. He placed 7th at the 2010 European Championships in the 200 IM in a converted 1:43.5. As if Cal needed another individual National Title contender, that time would have been good enough to place fifth best at NCAA’s last year, and behind only two returning swimmers. He also went a converted 46.52 at Euro’s, and placed 11 places ahead of NCAA runner-up, and Cal teammate, Mathias Gydesen.
Greg Harper, Scott Farley, and Sam Metz will all help turn around the Cal middle-distance group. Harper had bests of 1:39.4/4:28.6 in the 200 and 500 freestyles last year, and has a ton of potential after turning his sole athletic focus to swimming at Cal for the first time this season. Farley has a 4:33 500 free, and Metz has bests of 1:39.5/4:28 in the middle-distance races.
Silver Linings Are for Champions: The Cal diving team comes with both bad news and good news. The bad news is that they didn’t qualify anybody for NCAA’s last year, and didn’t bring in any freshman this season. The good news is that with all of the potential NCAA scorers in the swimming events, Cal might not have room on their NCAA roster for divers. Bobby Sullivan, one of two Robert Sullivan’s in Cal’s junior class, has an outside shot at qualifying on the 1-meter, as he was 10th at the Zone E qualifier last season, but the question of whether or not it would be worth the roster spot would remain to be seen.
2011 Prognosis: Aside from the obvious weakness in the distance events, this Cal team might be one of the best college teams, top to bottom, ever assembled. They are experienced, with 12 seniors and 10 juniors on the roster. They are fast, with the potential to win as many as 6 individual national championships, and are basically a lock to win 4 out of the 5 relays. They are riding a wave of confidence, with many swimmers experiencing a great deal of success over the long course season.
They are deep enough to win relays without having to completely stacking them, giving them a ton of flexibility to maximize scoring and event spacing. The Golden Bears should blow past the 500 point barrier that won last year, and it would take a disaster (and then some) for them to not win the title this season.