Key Losses: Peter Benner (2 NCAA Points/2 NCAA Relays), Michael Arnold (8.5 points/3 NCAA Relays)
Key Additions: Chase Kalisz (MD – IM), Matias Koski (GA/Finland – distance free), Matt Ellis (TX – Sprint Free), Ty Stewart, Ediz Yildirimer (TX/Turkey – Distance Free, Garrett (James) Powell (MD – Distance Free), Yousef Alaskari (FL/Kuwait – Fly), Zach Gunn (TX – Breaststroke), Aidan Sweeney (GA – IM), Nicholas Salyers (GA – Backstroke)
2011-2012 Lookback: The 2012 version of the Georgia Bulldogs, who finished 11th at NCAA’s with 106.5 points, was very similar to past Georgia teams we’ve seen in the past. They had one high-flying National Champion in Martin Grodzki who took an impresive double in the 500 and 1650 freestyles. After that, they had some good pieces, but not enough to score the relay points to move into the top 10 nationally.
But there was a difference with that team. There were some young pieces who sort of began to catch fire at the end of the season and give them depth. The biggest among those was Nic Fink, a freshman breaststroker. He was one of only two rookies to score in the men’s 200 breaststroke at NCAA’s when he finished 10th overall. He just barely missed more points in the 100 (53.50 – 17th) and 200 IM (1:45.27 – 17th) but if he had matched his season-bests in either race, he would have snuck up a few spots into the B-Final.
What’s also significant for Fink is what a huge portion of the scoring breaststrokers from last year graduated. There were 9 seniors in the top 16 of the 100 breaststroke alone. That spells out a potential for big points.
Jared Markham isalso going to be a sophomore; he is very versatile but seems to be settling into his role as a 400 IM’er primarily, with some strong backstrokes thrown in. The Bulldogs have a 400 IM National Champion in the last two years (now-graduated Bill Cregar), so they know how to develop that race.
Jumping Straight to the Freshmen: No disrespect to the returning veterans, as freshmen have to earn their stripes in any college program, but we have to get straight to this incredible recruiting class that the Bulldogs have brought in. It’s almost unbelievable that they did it on the same 9.9 scholarships as everyone else.
Jack Bauerle brought in not just great individual scorers, which this Georgia program always has a lot of, but they’ve brought in a haul that also includes guys who will take their relays to another level. The only other program that finished as high with as few relay points as Georgia’s 26 was No. 10 Indiana, and they were lifted by diving. The Bulldogs had a very good, 8th-place 800 free relay that was responsible for almost all of even the few points they scored.
America’s Next Top Sprinter: Starting with the cavalry in those relays: Matt Ellis out of Nitro Swimming in Austin. He was by-far the youngest semi-finalist in the 100 free at the U.S. Olympic Trials and finished 12th overall. By comparison, the next-youngest was Jimmy Feigen, and he just finished college.
Ellis is tall and very long, and knows how to leverage his size. He is an outstanding freestyler (50-200) and butterflier (100 or 200) and will immediately take over spots in the 200 and 400 free relay from graduated Michael Arnold. Arnold is the only swmimer they lost from either of those groups, but neither relay scored at NCAA’s last year.
The Austinite has bests of 20.10/43.52/1:37.76 in the freestyles. The Bulldogs have a very good sprint butterflier in Doug Reynolds already (46.4 flat-start at SEC’s), so that frees Ellis up to anchor the medleys too. His best in the two fly races are 48.06 and 1:46.85, respectively.
The InPHluence: Georgia also picked up easily the top two recruits out of the swimming hotbed that is Maryland: Chase Kalisz from North Baltimore and Garrett (James) Powell from Rockville-Montgomery. Both tend toward distance events that the Georgia men have such a strong history of.
Kalisz’ exploits as the training partner of one Michael Phelps are well-known. As a Bob Bowman protege, most of his work has been in meters, but the few times he’s swum yards he’s shown flashes of brilliance there as well.
At the 2011 NBAC Christmas Invitational, he was a 1:46.7 in the 200 IM and a 3:45.7 in the 400 IM; those times sit 3rd and 1st, respectively, in the class without ever having focused on yards. Given his size (he’s at least 6’6), he should have no problem adding more turns to his races, and should be an NCAA scorer in both IM races as a freshman.
He’s also been a 55.1 in the 100 breaststroke and a 1:57.3 in the 200, with the 200 likely making his 3rd event at NCAA’s. He could also be a relay factor, with a 1:38.4 200 freefrom the same mid-season meet as all of the above times.
Zach Gunn, another swimmer from Nitro, is a more specialized breaststroker. He has bests of 55.9/1:58.5 in the 100 and 200, and will make a fantastic training partner for Fink, even though they have somewhat different strokes (Fink swims his breaststroke with more of a lean than does Gunn).
Distance Group Grows to Gigantic Proportions: As if the Bulldogs needed more distance swimmers, they bring in Powell. He’s got bests of 4:20.04 in the 500 and 14:58.83 in the 1650. Add to that Matias Koski and Ediz Yildiremer, this group could swim for days. Here’s a breakdown of what the Georgia distance group looks like next season:
- FR. Matias Koski, who trains in Atlanta but swam at the Olympics for Finland (4:18.57/14:55.32)
- FR. Ediz Yildiremer, who trains in Houston, but swam at the Olympics for Turkey and is a European Junior Champion (4:24.22/15:03.66)
- FR. James Powell, mentioned above (4:20.04/14:58.83)
- SR. Martin Grodzki, the defending NCAA Champion in both distance races and record-holder in the 1650 (4:12.95/14:24.08)
- JR. Andrew Gemmell, open water National Champion (4:17.75/14:41.86)
- Jr. Will Freeman, National Independent HS Record holder (4:19.32/14:45.71)
- Jr. Jameson Hill, more of a middle-distance specialist (1:34.71/4:17.71/15:13.86)
In summation, if you have a former European Junior Champion and Olympian as your 7th-best 500 freestyler, you’re doing well. To score at NCAA’s last season, it took exactly 15:00.00 in the 1650 to score – a mark that 5 Bulldogs have been under, and at least a 6 should this season.
I’d defy anybody to find a single stroke-group anywhere in the country that is deeper or better than this one has the potential to be.
The Rest of the Class: Kuwait swimmer Yousef Alaskari was a 2012 Olympian in the 200 fly, making three swimmers incoming who have already swum at the Olympics. Even if they weren’t contenders, having that kind of experience on a pool deck can really help to continue the air of excellence that all coaches try to achieve.
He’s got a best of 47.90 in the 100 yard fly and a 1:47.51 in the 200, but adds even more speed to the class as a very good freestyler. In the 100 and 200, he has bests of 45.01 and a 1:36.98.
Aidan Sweeney and Nicholas Salyers are club teammates at SwimAtlanta and will become Bulldogs together. Sweeney’s best event is the 400 IM, where he was a 3:54.4 at NCSA Junior Nats this year. He’s also been a 4:31 in the 500 free: a time that Bauerle and staff can certainly do some work with.
Salyers is a fairly versatile sprinter, but his primary focus will be the backstrokes with bests of 49.6 and 1:48.6 in the 100 and 200, respectively. The Bulldogs’ thinnest group was probably their backstrokers last season, after Markham, so this will give some depth there. He’s also a 46.0 in the 100 free, which means a possible relay spot is in his reach.
Double Duty: Georgia has a lot of versatility in it’s roster; swimmers who are known for one event or stroke, but have big scoring potential in other races as well.
For example, it’s not all doom-and-gloom for the returning Bulldog sprinters, even with the graduation of Arnold. Among those coming back is junior Doug Reynolds, previously mentioned as an outstanding butterflier (he placed 16th at NCAA’s in the 100 fly). He flat-started a 22.0 and 44.1 last year in the sprint freestyles; his best swim at NCAA’s was a 19.6 in the 50 free on a relay, but if he can hit all of his relay swims at NCAA’s, he’ll be a cornerstone for Georgia to fill in freshmen around.
Fink is another medley member who has proven to be a great sprinter – he was a 43.7 on Georgia’s 400 free relay. Last year, Markham was forced into sprint relay duty, and that’s where Georgia really got in trouble. He’s a fantastic swimmer, but sprint freestyling simply isn’t his niche. Anchoring in 45.0 isn’t going to score many points at this level, and this year he should be better able to focus on his individual races and the medley relay.
Aside from the 1650, where he was 5th at NCAA’s last year, Andrew Gemmell was 12th in the 400 IM with a 3:44.65. It will be a tough battle to move up in the 400 IM (there was only one senior that finished in the top 14 at NCAA’s last year) but at the same time, the margins from 12th to 5th are so slim that he could get big points. Keep in mind that Gemmell is a big-time taper swimmer: he’ll look dreadful until he gets his rest, and then huge time drops can be expected.
Diving: The Bulldogs only scored 8 points in diving at the SEC Championships last year, with no qualifiers to NCAA’s. The Bulldog women have made some progress in diving, but the men haven’t seemed to keep pace. Their top performer next season (barring any recruits we haven’t heard about) will be senior Alex Watson, who was 14th at SEC’s on the platform. With two of the better programs in the country in Texas A&M and Missouri joining the conference, and very few divers graduating from last season, don’t expect them to squeeze out many more points this year than last.
2012-2013 Outlook: The Bulldogs are definitely improving their depth this season, but we have to temper our expectations somewhat with the understanding that they will be relying a lot on freshmen and sophomores next season.
This new depth will make them better-suited to compete at the SEC Championships, but the tendency for freshmen on the men’s side (not just at Georgia) is to add between the conference meet and NCAA’s. This team should have no problem fending off Texas A&M and Tennessee for 3rd place in the conference. They could make a move for Florida too, if all goes well.
The relays won’t help much in SEC standings (when there’s only 3 or 4 decent relays in each event, the point increases or decreases from moving up a spot in the standings doesn’t count for much). But these relays should be much better at NCAA’s, where they could lead to big moves in the standings. This group could also mean more relays qualifying, which should let them send a bigger squad to Indianapolis.
But I don’t think we’ll quite see this Georgia team explode this season, just because of how young they are. Give them a year or two develop, and this could be a top 5 team (especially if their recruiting continues).
In a good taper, math would indicate we’ll see about 80 individual points from the distance group, Markham and Fink combining for about 40, and a few more here-and-there. If those 26 relay points can turn into about 40 as well, then the Bulldogs are competing for somewhere around 8th-10th.