And before the swimming at East Los Angeles College has even begun, the 2012 Pac-12 Men’s Swimming & Diving Championships have seen two big twists.
The first is East Los Angeles College itself. With the original location, the Belmont Plaza Pool, having to be closed for renovations, the meet has been moved to a new location, which has received mixed reviews. The optomists see it as playing in Fenway or Wrigley Field. The pool has a lot of history, and is still a very fast course. Sure, it’s a bit out-dated. Rather than a 50-meter divided by a bulkhead, it’s two 25-yard courses. But it will still have new blocks, new lane ropes, and the nostalgic feel of age-group swimming.
Others, especially in the Pac 12, prefer the wide-open spaces of more modern mega-facilities with endless lanes of nothing but water, big towers at one end, and video mega-boards.
But the issue is that there are few indoor options on the west coast for meets of this size and stature, and even fewer that are available on short notice. Overall, so long as the swimmers don’t think too hard about it, things should be fine.
The second twist came in the diving competition, which was held last weak simultaneously with the women’s meet in Seattle. Arizona got even scarier, with Ben Grado sweeping the three diving events. This is something that was a bit of an unknown factor for the Wildcats – but with some monster scores (A-Final worthy at NCAA’s), they have a whole new dimension that will help them battle with Texas for the team title.
In the oppostie was Stanford, who was without their superstar freshman diver Kristian Ipsen for the weekend, as he represented Team USA in London at a World Cup Diving/Olympic Qualifying event. Though that opens up another roster spot for the Cardinal at Pac 12’s, it also costs them a likely 60 points from their team total. Still, the Cardinal roared out to a huge lead after the diving competition thanks to four entries, as compared to two or fewer for the rest of the field. (Notably, Arizona State’s Constantin Blaha was also in London, competing for his native Austria).
As for the rest of the respective teams, the exploits of the Arizona Wildcats at their mid-season meet are well-chronicled. Simply put, they blew the roof off of the Texas Swim Center with several lifetime-best swims that would have won NCAA’s last season. Cory Chitwood looks like a contender for at least two national titles (200 IM/200 back), and Austen Thompson could take the 400 IM. Pre-season Tennessee transfer Giles Smith really shored up a weak butterfly leg for the Wildcats, and the mid-season addition of Texas transfer Woody Joye makes that group even more powerful.
Kevin Cordes is the fastest freshman breaststroker we’ve ever seen, not that the Wildcats needed that. The rest of the breaststroke group, including Thompson and Kelly Wyman are also swimming lights-out. The sprint group was outstanding at that mid-season meet, and since then has gotten even better thanks to the return of Adam Small from academic probation.
But the Wildcats aren’t the only team that got better midseason. USC added a second middle-distance swimmer Cristian Quintero from Venezuelato go with Chad Bobrosky.Between the pair, there seems to be at least four top-5 finishes in the bank somewhere.
USC then of course has their superstar sprinter Vlad Morozov, who will be a favorite in both the 50 and 100 freestyles, as well as a surprising factor in the 200 free. Depending on what USC has three of the top four seeds in that 200, the fastest of which is elder sophomore Dimitri Colupaev.
In addition to being one of the conference’s best freestylers, Colupaev has an important new role this season at the team’s primary breaststroker.
The unsung hero of the team is Alex Lendrum, who if it weren’t for Chitwood would be easily the top seed in the 200 back, but has a good shot at the conference championship under the circumstances. He’s also an outstanding 200 IM’er. He could probably medal in the 200 Fly, but won’t attempt that double with the backstroke and will swim the 100 back instead.
Cal, the defending National Champs, have graduated a lot. Tom Shields broke the 200 fly NCAA Record at this meet last year, but was slower at NCAA’s. He is an outstanding swimmer who not only will be big in whichever three individual events he chooses, but may be the only swimmer who can hang with Morozov on a relay. Nolan Koon should enter as the favorite in both breaststrokes. The Cal breaststroke group, despite the graduation of Damir Dugonjic, is still deep. Martin Liivamagi is very good in the 200, as well as the IM’s, and Trevor Hoyt is great in the 200 as well. Combined with Mathias Gydesen on either a backstroke or butterfly leg, and that’s already three parts of a great medley relay.
This team will depend a lot on very young swimmers otherwise, however, especially in the sprint freestyles. Cal’s top three sprinters this year have all been freshmen or sophomores – Tyler Messerschmidt, Shayne Fleming, and Fabio Gimoldi. All three have already been 20.0 or faster in the 50 freethis season too, so lack of experience doesn’t mean they’re not still very good.
Sophomore Jeremy Bagshaw is having a great season in middle-distance, which brings a whole new dimension to this Cal team. The youngest Hinshaw brother, freshman Adam Hinshaw, has also been a great distance force. He and his brother Ben Hinshaw also head a formidable Cal 400 IM group.
Sophomore Marcin Tarczynski is one guy that the Golden Bears need to have a big championship season. Last season, he didn’t show big drops until this meet (where they were huge). This season, he’s been even slower than last year.
And then there’s Stanford: THE champions. Even the official Championship Central doesn’t beat around the bush: they point out prominently that Stanford has won the last 30 Pac 12 Championships, dating back to 1982. Thanks to their big diving lead – they actually have scored more this year even without Ipsen – they’ll be confident about continuing that streak into this season.
The hype of this team has been entirely focused on the freshman class of David Nolan, Jonathan Edwards, Drew Cosgarea, and Robbie Hommel. And they’ve lived up to it, earning themselves some lofty seeds. (One big piece of that freshman class, Erich Peske, is absent from the psych sheets).
But when you really look at the roster, there’s actually a ton of talent in the older classes as well. Chad La Tourette is the best distance swimmer in the country. Bobby Bollier is a 200 fly/500 free national championship contender. David Mosko is another great distance swimmer who received a redshirt reprieve to get another senior season. Aaron Wayne is one of the more underrated sprinters in the country, and an awesome relay swimmer. Morgan Priestley was an A-Finalist at NCAA’s last year, though few people noticed. Matt Thompson and Matt Swanston are a fantastic backstroke combination. Curtis Lovelace is an outstanding breastsroke, though he’s stuck in the mire of a fantastic challenge conference-wide in those races.
And that’s why Stanford is still a National Championship contender, if they want it. The story on Stanford is always balancing their National Championship goals with keeping the Pac 12 streak alive.
UC-Santa Barbara is having a pinnacle year. They are a mid-major team that has been forced by circumstance to compete against the majors in the Pac 12, but they have the swimmers to make a big statement in year one. They’ve been building for four seasons to hit this one year, and with an impressive senior class of sprinters including Chris Peterson, Kevin Ferguson, and Garrett Thompson, they could pull some upsets and land on a pair of relay medal stands.
Races to Watch:
200 Breaststroke: This is going to be a GOOD race, even without a rested Arizona. It will feature the current “fastest freshman breaststroker ever” Kevin Cordes, the man whose records he broke Nolan Koon who has been waiting a year for a good swim in this race; a thick Arizona group headed by Carl Mickelson and Austin Thompson; Curtis Lovelace of Stanford was 4th at NCAA’s last year. With a lot of graduations, Martin Liivamagi suddenly becomes one of the best in the country in this race too. Last year, half of the NCAA scorers in this event came from the Pac 12. It looks like they are gunning to repeat that this season.
200 Fly: Mano-e-mano, this will be an electric showdown between Cal’s Tom Shields and Stanford’s Bobby Bollier. Both have been 1:43’s already this season, and both are typically very fast at this conference championship meet (remember it was here that Sheilds broke the NCAA Record in the event, and he finished only 3rd at NCAA’s). Look for these two to be center stage on the final day of competition, in lanes 4 and 5, well out ahead of the field, and ready to run.
500 Free: Last year, this race wasn’t that exciting. It was pretty well Bollier and Chad La Tourette for the title. This season, though, it’s all of a sudden become one of the best races on the schedule. USC’s two freshmen Chad Bobrosky and Cristian Quintero are two of the best young middle-distance swimmers in the world. Cal’s Jeremy Bagshaw is becoming the focal point of a new push for distance freestyle in that program. Stanford’s David Mosko coming back gives the Cardinal a 3rd dog in the fight, as does Michael Zoldos. Arizona sophomore Matt Barber has picked up pace in year two, and is the top seed.
Then there’s the guys who are further down the psych sheets who could sneak up. If Cal freshman Adam Hinshaw swims this race, then he should score big points (though he’s only b33n 4:27 this year). Cal sophomore Sam Metz has been way off of his game this season (4:33), but he’s also a contender for the top-5.
Below are the scores after diving, which was completed last week:
Arizona State 66
UC-Santa Barbara 8
Cal Poly 5
Stanford’s taken a few shots to their Pac 12’s lineup, but they’ve still got plenty to get the job done. Arizona seems to swim better “unrested” under Eric Hansen than they did under Frank Busch, as is evidenced by their dual meet win over Texas. But the Wildcats look like they’re not going to rest for this one, either. The big diving performance by Ben Grado helps a lot.
USC has good pieces, and just not enough of them. Cal versus Arizona could be a tight battle in the middle, but Arizona’s relative lack of rest should give Cal the opportunity to hold on to 2nd.
6. Arizona State
8. Cal Poly