Key Additions: Eric Ress (Redshirt – backstroke), Tanner Kurz (DE – breaststroke), Zecheriah Banks (IN – sprint breaststroke/IM), Michael Stack (IL – breaststroke), Grayson Smith (CT – distance strokes), Brent Aarons (TX – backstroke/distance free), James Costin (IN – 50 free/sprint back), Curtis Goss (TX – back/fly)
Key Losses: Tyler Shedron (22 Big Ten Points), Zachary Nees (28 NCAA diving points – transfer to Va Tech)
2011-2012 Lookback: Going into last season, it looked like it might be a developmental year for the Hoosiers. After their best swimmer, and two-time NCAA silver medalist, Eric Ress redshirted the season, the young squad really needed to just focus on building for the future and preparing for this coming season.
But the Hoosiers jumped a big step in that progression last year as they finished 10th in the country with 140 points, just 17 away from moving up two more spots. And it wasn’t just their result at NCAA’s that surprised. They took 3rd overall at Big Tens, and just missed a runner-up finish by 3.5 points.
As we discussed last year, when Ress decided to skip the year, now that he’s been granted an extra year of eligibility, the year-off might have been a blessing in disguise. The Hoosiers don’t graduate a single NCAA swimming qualifier this season, and only about 40 or so Big Ten points – a miniscule amount in the scheme of the matter. The biggest loss will be the transfer of diver Zac Nees and 28 diving points, but they have more-than-enough horses to fill that in.
Ress Returns: Now, with their French-American competitor facing no conflicts with any Olympic Trials meets, and granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA, the Hoosiers look like one of the best teams in the country.
Ress brings a lot to the table for Ray Looze. Though the Big Ten has some great young backstrokers (including Penn State’s Nathaniel Savoy and Wisconsin’s Andrew Teduitis), Ress should have no problem winning at least two Big Ten titles this year. Whatever his third event is (likely the 200 IM at the Big Ten level) he will likely contend for a conference championship as well. He was a 1:44.0 in 2011 in the 200 IM, but even that was at Big Tens. A broken hand kept him from taking another stab on a full taper at NCAA’s.
Needless to say, he should have no problem being a 50-point individual NCAA scorer.
He’ll also be a massive relay contributor, which is what the Hoosiers badly need. No top-12 team in the country scored fewer relay points than they did last year. We know Ress can swim at least a 1:34 in the 200 free, and probably a 1:33. That would knock at least 7 seconds off of the Indiana 800 free relay from NCAA’s that finished 17th with a 1:41 for a third leg. With that kind of a time drop this year, this is a legitimate top-8 relay with 1:34’s or 1:35’s from both senior James Barbiere and sophomore Stephen Schmuhl to go along with Ress.
It’s hard to get a great idea of what Ress is capable of in the 50 and 100 frees, but it’s probable that he’ll be called on to participate in both in relays at NCAA’s. I don’t think it would be a stretch to predict a 20-low in the 50 and a 43 in the 100, though even with those times he’ll need some help if the Hoosiers want to score in those two relays this year.
The Hoosiers do have a little bit of relay flexibility this year, though, thanks to James Wells stepping up and becoming an elite backstroker in 2012. He was the Big Ten Champion last season in the 100 backstroke with a 46.30, and placed 5th in the 200. He wasn’t quite as good at NCAA’s, but did manage to score two points with a 15th-place finish in the 100.
When we spoke to Ress upon deciding to take another redshirt, he sang the praises of Wells and his ability to step up that’s exactly what he did last year as a sophomore. In addition to his individual swims, his 21.5 backstroke medley relay split from Big Tens was among the best in the country. Perhaps Ress could better that by a small amount, but what Wells allows is for Ress to not have to swim an event before his 100 backstroke on day 2 at NCAA’s.
It’s Miller Time: In two years of college swimming, Cody Miller has won every Big Ten breaststroke title. Last season, he broke into the A-final at NCAA’s in the 100 with a 52.8 (half-a-second from his season best), and won the B-Final in the 200 with a 1:54.4 (four-tenths from his season best). But he also made a huge improvement in his 200 IM with a 1:44.0 for 10th overall at NCAA’s.
Miller is a tough swimmer – at the Olympic Trials, in the 100 breast prelims, he split his suit behind the blocks, then ran up-and-down a flight of stairs twice to change. He still had the 12th-best time and made the semi-finals. He also, somewhat surprisingly, made the semi-finals in that 200 IM as well, and placed 9th. Next season, at a minimum he’ll hope for A-finals in all three races individually, and at least one top-four finish. 35-40 individual points from him is not out of the question, and the Hoosiers will have one of the best medley relay front-halves in the country next season.
Kurz Re-emerges: The Indiana Hoosiers brought in a big class this year, but one swimmer stands far-and-away as the jewel of the class: Tanner Kurz from Delaware. Kurz’s name comes up just about every time a swimmer breaks a National Age Group Record as an example of a swimmer who “peaked too early.” There are examples of those kinds of swimmers in the history books, but Kurz is inaccurately lumped among them.
Despite breaking National Age Group Records as both an 11-12 (held until Michael Andrew recently broke it in the 200) and 13-14 (he still holds the 100 breaststroke record with a 56.3), he didn’t exactly stop there. Kurz comes to Indiana as the number-one ranked 100 yard breaststroker in the class of 2012 with a best of 54.6; his 200 isn’t bad either in a 2:00.4.
Most significantly, Kurz put up great times while proving to be an elite athlete, period. Those times came while attending a military academy as part of a JROTC Navy program, and he also earned two varsity letters in baseball. He has bests of 20.40/45.69 in the 50 and 100 freestyles, respectively, and so will likely end up on the sprint free relays by the end of his sophomore year, if not sooner. His skills don’t stop there, either. If he weren’t such a great breaststroker, he would be a big recruit anyway as he’s been a 50.2 in the 100 back and a 49.2 in the 100 fly, as well as a 1:47.6 in the 200 IM.
Kurz will score at least 20 individual points at Big Tens as a freshman. But with how immensely talented and athletic he is, head coach Looze will find a way for him to make a bigger impact on this team than that, even as the #2 breaststroker. His twin brother Seth will also swim for the Hoosiers next season
Other Contributors: Last year, junior James Barbiere was yet another surprise for this team. He was one of the few who peaked at NCAA’s, and placed 12th in the 400 IM. He also brought a lot of versatility and anchored their 400 medley relay in 43.7. In the greater scheme, that’s not an anchor that will push them into the top-8, but for a 400 IM’er it’s very good.
Samuel Trahin is another fantastic IM’er for this team, and was 4th in the country last year at NCAA’s (probably the least-known 4th-place finisher in the country). The Hoosiers would love to get a 2nd scoring individual race out of him, but he’s truly an event-specific 400 IM’er.
Stephen Schmuhl had a pretty good freshman season of his own. The 6’8 swimmer is already very versatile, and because Indiana’s roster is a bit thin, he was asked last year to do a lot of different things. He was a 1:36.5 in the 200 free mid-season, as well as a 1:44 in both the 200 back and 200 fly.
He was also called on for butterfly duties in the medley relay. He filled in fairly well at NCAA’s in 47.91 – much better than his best flat-start – but that’s not his forte event (as compared to his 200, where he finished 14th at NCAA’s).
Schmuhl has a very long, wiry frame; if he can pack that on with a bit of muscle (Indiana only lists him at 190 pounds) then he’s going to have a huge year. He was great at the Olympic Trials and U.S. Open this summer, especially in the IM’s, so expect more good things in the college season. He is a probable three-event scorer in 2013.
Also look for Ryan Hinshaw of the famous Hinshaw brothers as he’s been officially granted a 5th year of eligibility. He fought through an excrutiating back injury last year and still performed very well; if he’s healed up in 2013, he could once again be a scorer in either the 500 or the 1650 at NCAA’s.
Other Freshmen: With a gigantic incoming class of 15, there are a few potential diamonds-in-the-rough in this group. We already mentioned Kurz, but there’s others. That includes Curtis Goss, one of the captains from the Texas High School State Champions at Southlake Carroll. He’s been a 49.8 in the 100 fly in yards; going 49’s in high school doesn’t have the same weight as it used to, but that still will make him the top 100 butterfly specialist on the team (Wells and Schmuhl were each a few-tenths faster, though neither would call that a primary event). He may be able to relieve Schmuhl of some of the relay strain if he can drop as a freshman.
Zecheriah Banks from nearby Carmel High continues to add to the depth of the Indiana breaststroking program, and comes in with a 55.8 in the 100. Michael Stack from suburban Chicago adds a 57.6 of his own, and Grayson Smith is the best distance swimmer out of the state of Connecticut with a 15:50.
Diving: The Indiana men will again have their monster ace-in-the-hole in one of the country’s best diving programs (and biggest, with 11 on the roster). They scored 60 NCAA points on the three disciplines last year, which is over 40% of their points. However, senior Zac Nees transfered to Miami; he accounted for 28 of those points.
The Hoosiers will bring back junior Darian Schmidt and senior Michael Dell Orco, the latter of whom was 8th on the 1-meter at NCAA’s last year. The pair both prefer the springboards, with Dell Orco scoring only off of the 1-meter. They also return junior Conor Murphy, who was 5th on the platform at NCAA’s last year.
As mentioned in the Ohio State men’s preview, a number of factors will lead to a brutal qualification out of this diving Zone next season. But Egyptian diver Emad Abdelatif, who was 4th at Big Ten’s last year on the 1-meter, will have a chance as a specialist.
2012-2013 Outlook: I think what’s really key about this Indiana squad is that they have leaders. Those who have been around this team can attest to the number of leaders on this team, and it only gets better with the incoming class. Kurz won several leadership awards in high school, and Goss was a two-time captain of two State Championship teams.
Ress coming back will definitely help. The Hoosiers should earn at least 40 relay points this year, which is significantly more than last year. They still need a sprinter like nobody else at this level. If Ress can split a 42 on a relay, and someone else can do the same on the medley, then the Hoosiers are the darkhorse team of the whole country (for top 5, not national titles).
Ress and Miller should get close to 100 points, and the divers should push them well past that. That makes 160 points easily, with around another 50 that other swimmers will have to fight for.
Losing Nees’ diving points hurts overall, but Ress more than cancels that out. This is a team that is very fragile though. They’re built very much in the mold of a USC as a very top-heavy program (though Indiana has more bodies than does USC). If they hit their taper at NCAA’s this year, then they could be as high as 6th. History would indicate 7th is a very reasonable target.