The summer of 2011 will feature a huge meet in the FINA World Championships, but that doesn’t mean it’s too soon to begin looking at the 2012 NCAA season. Over the next few months, we will count down the top 12 teams from last year’s NCAA Championships, along with a few teams that we expect to break through, until we finish with the two defending National Champions from Berkeley. To keep track of all of our season previews, we’ve added a link in the menu bar, just click “College Previews” at the top of the page.
Key Losses: Adam Brown (33 NCAA points, 4 NCAA Relays), Kohlton Norys (6 NCAA points, 4 NCAA Relays), Jared White (1 NCAA prelims relay), Adam Klein (2 NCAA points, 1 NCAA finals relay, 1 NCAA prelims relay), Daniel Mazzaferro (9 NCAA Diving points)
Key Additions: Kevin Behrens (sprint fly/back), Michael Beran (diving), Allen Browning, Chandler Gerlach, Tommy McKee
2010-2011 Recap: In terms of NCAA placing, Auburn’s 6th-place position nationally was equal to that which they scored the year before, coming off of the 2009 National Title. In that respect, they didn’t exactly “improve” last year. Upon more thorough inspection, however, it is clear that 2010-2011 was a turnaround year for the Tigers. They held on to the SEC Championship for a 15th-straight year, despite a loaded Florida team, and re-emphasized themselves as one of the best sprinting programs in the country.
Sprinters: Brett Hawke remains a master of the sprint freestyles, as was demonstrated by the fact that Auburn had a total of 6 scorers in the 50 free at NCAA’s last year (the only other team with multiple scorers was Cal, with 3). That event alone scored 44.5 out of their 159.5 individual points, and if you include the 100, almost half of the Tigers’ individual points came via the two sprint freestyle events.
British National Adam Brown, who completed his eligibility last year, was the top sprinter with a silver in the 50 and a bronze in the 100. He may be gone, but there’s a ton of depth coming back, especially in the 50. Senior Karl Krug was 7th in the 50 (19.50), and 21st in the 100 (his best time of 42.78 would have put him in the B-Final). Also in that senior class is Drew Modrov (19.41/43.24).
The most exciting sprinters, however, are the two Auburn sophomore Chris Manning (19.62/43.70) and Marcelo Chierighini (19.58/42.26). Manning came to Auburn with very high accolades (including a 5th-place finish at Canada’s 2009 World Championship trials in the 50, which is a strong event for the Canucks), and lived up to that billing.
Chierighini came to Auburn mid-season after competing for Brazil at the short course World Championships. In just half-a-season under Hawke working in yards, he already showed the scary reality of his potential. He finished 8th at NCAA’s in the 100 free (was 3rd in prelims) in a blistering time. What’s even scarier is that, despite it going largely overlooked, he was sort of the Breeja-Larson of the men’s side. Chierighini only began training for competitive swimming at 16, and didn’t swim his first real meet until 17 at the behest of his brother. By 18, he was a part of Brazil’s World Championship team, and is now one of the best young sprinters in the world. He’s one of the few collegians this year who will be able to challenge Vlad Morozov in the 100, and could find two medal stands to fill-in for Brown’s points.
The Revelation: Coming into last season, anyone familiar with Hawke’s and Auburn’s legacy knew that they’d be good in the sprints. What was uncertain was how Hawke, now firmly implanted as the sole head of this Auburn program, could recruit and develop middle-to-distance talent. The first big opportunity came last year with then-freshman (now-sophomore) Zane Grothe. Grothe came to Auburn with decent accolades, but I don’t think anyone foresaw the damage he did in the 500 (4:16.82 – 7th) and 1650 (14:47.09 – 6th) freestyles at NCAA’s. That included 8-and-24-second time drops from his pre-Auburn times, respectively, and the honor of top-freshman in the mile. His summer times weren’t as spectacular, but things are definitely clicking for this youngster. Methinks Hawke might have figured out how to translate whatever he does with his sprinters to his distance guys.
This year, the big project will be sophomore James Disney-May. His season ended with a bit of a sour-taste when he DQ’ed Auburn’s 800 free relay in his only NCAA’s swim, however, his summer included a trip to the World Championships as part of the Great Britain squad (his long course times are fairly similar to those of Dax HIll of Texas). If he can regroup from last year, and carry that success into this year, the 50/100/200 freestyler could be very good for both Auburn and Britain.
Tony Cox: With Chierighini looking more-than-capable of filling in for Adam Brown’s freestyle points individually, his loss will be felt even more in the relays; specifically the medleys where he gave them a lot of great flexibility with his butterfly speed. He was one of the better 50 butterfliers in the country last year, and stepped into the final of the 400 medley as well after Tony Cox had an unimpressive prelims swim.
Cox hitting full-gear on his NCAA butterfly will be an important factor for Auburn. His season-best in the 100 fly of 46.67 came at SEC’s, and after scratching the individual at NCAA’s, he split only a 47.3 in the medley prelim before being replaced, as we mentioned, by Brown. He had a pretty decent 100 back swim (46.30 – 7th), though that swim too was off of his season best, but he’ll really need to hit that 100 fly at NCAA’s for Auburn’s medleys to swim A-finals. If he can’t, then Chierighini (47.22) will be waiting to step in.
Kyle Owens: Cox, while a very good backstroker as well, will be needed to focus on his butterfly because the Tigers return junior Kyle Owens in the 100 backstroke. Owens is a great leader, and he’s ready to step up and be the BMOC (Big Man on Campus) for Auburn. He has a great sophomore season to work off of, where he placed 4th in the 100 back (45.63) and 9th in the 200 back (1:41.57) at NCAA’s. The road’s not going to get an easier for him this year, however, as this year’s backstroke group is going to be one of the best college groups we’ve seen in a while.
Owens is also the team’s lead IM’er. He had a season-best of 1:44.28 (which would have put him 8th in NCAA prelims), but was about half-a-second off at NCAA’s to place 19th. That is a very tight race though, with six-tenths separating 5th from 20th in prelims, so anything could happen there this year. For what it’s worth, five swimmers ahead of him graduated.
Israel’s Nimrod Hayet is the only other returning IM’er of substance, after Evan Noble transfered to Louisville, with bests of 1:46.6/3:50.55. He’s a potential NCAA qualifier this year, but will really have to get on his horse to score points. Hayet will also be the program’s best 200 butterflier returning (by far) with a 1:46.35.
Breaststrokes: Adam Klein was the big name in this breaststroking group previously, with a National Team spot on his resume. Realistically though, much like we saw with Micah Lawrence on the women’s side, the loss of the “name” will hurt more than the loss of the points. Junior Stuart Ferguson will handle the torch easily in the 100 (his 53.01 handily won the SEC title). His 200 isn’t as strong, but he definitely showed an effort to improve there last year.
Late Additions: Auburn has become famous (or perhaps infamous) in recent years for the late, international additions to their roster, including Chierighini last year. This year, with the money going out in graduation not seeming to match up with the talent coming in from the announced class, there will be more coming. One who we already know of is Eduardo Guimaraes, who is a middle-distance freestyler from the great Brazilian program that has brought Auburn so much talent in the past. He was a part of Brazil’s World Juniors squad this year, where he competed on their 800 free relay. There aren’t a ton of results floating around for him (his split at Worlds got messed up), but at Maria Lenk this year he went for a 1:53.05 in the 200 LCM free (1:37.7 converted to yards). That time already makes him competitive for Auburn’s 800 free relay, and from recent results that time could come down significantly in his first season at Auburn.
In a much-less-reliable conversion from the 400 to the 500 free, he also goes a 4:34 there.
Freshman Class: This Auburn freshman class, at least the part that we know about, isn’t going to come in immediately and dominate the nation, then again they don’t really need to. The top of the group is Kevin Behrens. In 2010, Behrens swept the 100 back and 100 fly Indiana state titles in his best high school performance, though he’s had a few off-seasons (he took 2nd in both events in 2011). He was also the runner-up in the 100 fly at 2009 Jr. Nationals when he was only 15.
Many of Behrens’ best times (including a 48.18 100 fly) were from when he was 15 or 16, and he’ll be looking to get back to that level at Auburn. The fact that he was able to rank so highly in this incoming class (top 50 Americans according to collegeswimming.com) with times largely done as a sophomore or junior is quite impressive.
The challenge for the Auburn coaching staff with freshman Allen Browning, who was plucked from the home of SEC rivals Georgia, will be honing his focus on a particular group of events that he can really excel in . In his high school meets, he was the 2010 Georgia State Champion, and 2011 runner-up, in the 200 IM, which he coupled with the 100 fly and backstroke on their medley relays. But at the 2010 SCY Junior Nationals meet, he showed that his future might actually lie in the sprint freestyles. There he put up marks of 20.92/45.27, his two career-best times (and times that must have Hawke very excited).
Then, at the 2011 National Championships, Browning put up Olympic Trials marks in the 200 back and 400 IM in long course, showing that he can do some serious damage in the distance events. He also swam more impressive times in the 100 free (51.34) and 200 frees (1:52.30 – 1:37.1 converted) that saw him put up four career-best times. Long-story short, he’s a swimmer who could be outstanding in a slew of events (looking at his times, he has big-time potential in just about everything except for the mile free) and is coming to campus absolutely on fire. We don’t know which hole he’ll ultimately fill, but whichever it is, he will be very good.
Chandler Gerlach, who is a transfer from the famous SEC-feeder Indian River State College that dominates the Junior College scene, comes in as a solid breaststroker. He has his nationals cut in the 100 (55.67) and should give Ferguson a good training push, at the least. Tommy McKee looks like a great Brett Hawke project coming out of the Delaware YMCA system. He enters with best times from YMCA Nationals of 21.4/45.5/1:39.0 in the freestyles, and has good size at 6’3 that Hawke will probably be able to turn into another 19/43 guy. He’s also a pretty decent IM’er, with a 1:49.68 best in the 200.
Diving: Auburn graduates Daniel Mazzaferro, the 2011 SEC Champ on both the 3-meter and platform, but return his counterpart, sophomore John Santeiu, who has the potential to be even better. Santeiu gets better the higher he goes, including a 3rd-place finish at SEC’s on the 3-meter and a runner-up on the platform. He missed out on an NCAA bid last year out of the deep South Zone in diving, but he will enter this year already as the favorite to win the zone on the platform, and I would be shocked if he didn’t score at NCAA’s.
His partner-in-crime this year will be Michael Beran out of the Longhorn Aquatics diving arm, who might be the best recruit of the whole class of 2011 for Auburn. In the summer of 2010, he was the Age Group National Champion on the platform (420.05), and also placed top-7 on both springboards. There’s never a perfect comparison between diving meets, but that 420.05 would have placed 5th at NCAA’s last year. This Auburn diving group is very relevant
2011-2012 Outlook: With Hawke’s ability to develop sprinters, I’d expect that both of Auburn’s sprint freestyle relays will be in the top 3 again this year. This team is in a very similar position to where they were entering last year. Great sprinters, great divers, showing some improvement in the middle-distance races, and simply needing to find more places to score individual points. There’s two huge potential differences: For starters, they know what they have with Zane Grothe, namely one of the best distance freestylers in the country, regardless of class, and two, a much-improved 800 free relay. I’d expect that 800 to pick up close to 20 points (off of their DQ’ed no-points last year), and that could be a big player. That, combined with the hits that Florida is taking, should leave the Tigers solidly in 5th place at this year’s NCAA’s.