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: Clement Lefert (16 NCAA Points, 3 relays), Emmett Walling (2 NCAA Relays), Dillon Connolly (1 NCAA Relay), Harrison Jones (28 NCAA Diving Points), Steven Starks (NCAA Qualifier – diving), James White (2 NCAA Relays – retired)
Key Additions: Chad Bobrosky (freestyle), Cary Wright (Distance free/fly), Luca Spinazolla (distance free/back/fly)
2010-2011 Recap: The 2010-2011 NCAA season was a big-time building year for the Trojans. After two-straight awesome recruiting classes, the Trojans went from 15th in the coutnry at the 2009 NCAA Championships all the way to 7th in 2011, and the best for these youngsters is yet to come. USC placed in the top 5 in all three freestyle relays, including 3rd-place finishes in both the 400 and 800, in 2011, and had a slew of top-5 individual performances as well.
Now, with seemingly half of the swimming world descended on USC and the McDonald’s Swim Stadium, USC will be looking to make the leap to an even higher tier of collegiate swimming.
French Conflict: USC’s 2012 outlook took quite a blow when it became evident that Clement Lefert was swimming his final collegiate meets last year. He could have had another year, but the 2012 Olympic Trials are the same weekend as NCAA’s, and with Lefert swimming as well as he ever has in long course, it was an easy choice to take a run at not only an Olympic berth, but Olympic medals as part of the French relays. (This hasn’t officially been confirmed, but the choice seems apparent at this point.)
European Revolution: Though Lefert is leaving, USC will return two other Europeans who will be huge parts of the team’s success. That is a pair of sophomores in Vlad Morozov and Dmitri Colupaev.
Morozov was the most hyped collegiate freshman in years, and he didn’t disappoint in 2011. At NCAA’s, he placed 6th in the 50 free and 4th in the 100 free, which are events that typically belong to the veteran swimmers. In the 50, he peaked at Pac-10’s with a 19.06 for 2nd-place, but in the 100, he hit his stride exactly at the NCAA individual final to score a 41.88.
Morozov is going to have huge season this year. Nathan Adrian is graduated. Adam Brown is graduated. That severely limits his competition during his sophomore year, though Texas’ Jimmy Feigen remains a favorite in both sprints. In the 50, the battle for silver will be between him and Arizona senior Adam Small, who with a 19.03 is the only returning swimmer faster than him. In the 100, the rapidly-improving Dax Hill of Texas and Marcelo Chierighini of Auburn will make for a great three-way race, but Morozov is the favorite to take 2nd.
Colupaev is mature beyond his grade – he will turn 22 midway through his sophomore season – but that doesn’t undermine his huge importance to USC. The German was the Pac-10 Champion in the 200 free in only his first year in the league, and placed 6th in that event at NCAA’s (1:33.30). He also placed 17th in the 100 free (43.10), where even by graduation of 9 finalists ahead of him, he has a chance to be an A-Finalist this year.
Freestyling Freshman: We’ll introduce the biggest freshman grab of this class early this year, because he’s going to be so important to this team. Canadian Chad Bobrosky will go a long way towards making up for the loss of Lefert. At the World Junior Championships in Lima last week, he took a gold in the 200 free and a silver in the 400 free, both in times that will translate very well to the NCAA level. He’s got a 1:49.0 in the 200 long course, which converts to a 1:35.2 in the 200, and a 3:51.46 in the 400 that converts (unreliably) to a 4:17 in the 500 yards. He could be a player down to the 100 or up to the mile, though individually I’d guess he’ll go longer. Bobrosky is on the international watch-list for the world’s future stars, and that’s going to have even more eyes focused on the USC campus.
Other ‘Stylers: Morozov is the best returning sprinter, but he’s not the only returning sprinter. The Trojans will also bring back Jeff Daniels, the lesser-known younger brother of recent Cal graduate Josh Daniels, and is following splendidly in the family sprinting business. He split a 19.15 on USC’s fifth-placed 200 free relay last year and a 43.4 on the 3rd-placed 400. That 50 is already a great mark for the Trojans, and with a little improvement in his 100, the Trojans could put both of these relays back in the top 5.
Another sophomore, Jack Wagner, had a very good freshman season, including making a big impact on the 800 free relay. That 200, where he swam a 1:36.29 for 28th at NCAA’s last year, is his go-to event, and he should be in the top 20 and fighting for points in it this year at NCAA’s.
Other Strokes: So we know that USC has a ton of great freestylers, but it takes more than freestylers to move intop the top 5.
Morozov is also the team’s top 100 backstroker. At NCAA’s he placed 22nd, though he was better in his 3rd-place finish at Pac-10’s in 46.9, which would have been good for points at NCAA’s. In terms of relays, though, this will be a great battle between Nick Karpov (47.38) and Alex Lendrum (47.41). Karpov is the incumbent in the 50, and Lendrum in the 100, and so the Trojans have great flexibility in that relay spot.
In the 200, it was Lendrum (1:42.3), 13th at NCAA’s last year, who has the clear advantage of the pair. Karpov has B-Final potential, but with not a single scorer from NCAA’s last year graduating, he’ll have to earn that honor.
The Trojans, ironically, will be left most wanting in the breaststrokes with their returning class, after the graduation of Dillon Connolly and Emmett Walling. Once again, a freestyler will be their top returner, with Colupaev flat-starting a 54.69 before his taper. He very well could take the medley relay spots, but given that he’ll be competing for a free relay spot with Germany, he won’t spend a whole lot of time in breaststroke training. As such, Salo will probably be looking to develop another breaststroker. After Colupaev comes senior Matt Talmadge with a 55.0/2:00.9. As the reigning breaststroke capital of the world, it’s a bit odd to see the team lacking in breaststroke depth.
The program lost another swimmer early, James White, who would have been their best returning butterflier. That leaves sophomore-to-be Chase Bloch an NCAA qualifier in a 47.32, as a key piece there. Bloch, you will recall, came to USC with huge credentials, including a best-in-the-country 100 fly time. He only dropped two-tenths off of that mark as a freshman, still resulting in a very good first-year time, but that means he could be primed for an explosion this season. Look out for Bloch both here, the 100 back (48.54), and in the 200 fly (1:46.74).
Rest of the Class: With the rest of the freshman class, USC continued to stock up on freestylers. Luca Spinazzola, the latest product from Elizabeth Beisel’s Bluefish Swim Club, comes in on the longer freestyles with a 15:26.3. That’s a great time for a highschooler, and he should be an NCAA qualifier as a freshman. He also does very well all the way down to the 50, including a 1:39.0 in the 200. Interestingly, he’s better at the sprints of the strokes than the longer races, including a 48.5 in the 100 back. Cary Wright out of Clovis is also a distance guy, with a 15:27 in the mile. He doesn’t come down in distance as well as Spinazzola, but has an awesome 200 fly of 1:46.8.
Perhaps most importantly, this class will include a breaststroker in Sergio Lujan Rivera from Bolles. He adds some long-term depth to the breaststroking group, as he comes in with bests of 55.00 and 2:01.2 in the 100 and 200. He will be looking to Salo to reinvigorate his strokes though, as both of those swims were done in 2009 (he’s focused mostly on long course in 2011, where he’s done a 1:05.1 in the 100, but that time too is a few seconds off of what he’s been in previous years).
Diving: USC’s best diver from last season, Harrison Jones, has left the program. That, combined with Steven Starks’ graduation, leaves the Trojans prematurely thin in diving. USC will not return any divers from last year’s roster, but I couldn’t find any information on any they were bringing in.
2011-2012 Outlook: This USC team is a dicey one to pick. They have a very condensed group of scorers. Bobrosky is one of the best recruits in the country, but the loss of Lefert is a big hit. They have enough depth to absorb Lefert’s loss, but maybe not enough to overcome it and make a huge improvement in team placing. They will have some very high individual placements from the likes of Morozov and Colupaev, but I don’t know if their relays will recover enough to move up a significant amount. They need to find their 53 breaststroker, first and foremost. Daniels needs to improve his 100 to help cushion the relay blow. Morozov needs to score in three events. There are a few swimmers with big-time potential on this team, most notably Bloch, who need to contend. The talent is there for a top 5 finish, and with Dave Salo in charge, talent is a great thing to have. Until we see the development though, I’ll take the Trojans at about 6th.