2013-2014 College Swimming Previews: #1 Michigan Men Need a Backstroker to Repeat

Key Losses: Ryan Feeley (14 NCAA Points), Miguel Ortiz (45 NCAA Points, 4 NCAA relays), Zack Turk (7 NCAA Points, 3 NCAA finals relays, 1 NCAA prelims relay, Sean Fletcher (16 NCAA Points, 4 NCAA relays)
Key Additions: Jack Mangan (back/free), Colin Eaton (sprint free), Jason Chen (backstroke), Vinny Tafuto (sprint free), Cameron Stitt (distance free), Julian Ballestas (freestyle), Jackson Goethere (freestyle), Bryan Hughes (freestyle), Chris Klein (IM/breaststroke), Ryan O’Donnell (diving)

2012-2013 Lookback: The 2013 NCAA title from Michigan was honestly one of the more peculiar NCAA title runs in recent memory. Consider that the Wolverines began the season with a week-long suspension of all of the team’s non-freshmen, and then somehow recovered to make everyone forget about that.

They were called out for tapering too early. Then called out for the same thing again. Then showed up at NCAA’s and won anyway by 70+ points ahead of runners-up Cal.

And while they got big contributions from ‘that class’ that put Mike Bottom’s new Michigan program on the map a few years ago (last year’s juniors) with 20+ signees, they also got big contributions from more unusual places. South African freshman Dylan Bosch scored 41 points individually, including a third-place finish in the 200 fly. Remember that he was originally verbally committed to LSU before ending up in Ann Arbor.

Nobody knew who the Ortiz brothers were when they signed with Michigan. But the multi-national brothers, who compete for Spain officially but grew up largely in Japan and also hold Brazilian heritage, are absolutely perfect swimmers for Mike Bottom’s program.

Then there’s Connor Jaeger, who is now recognized as not only one of the best distance swimmers in the country, but as one of the best distance swimmers in the world. He won both the 500 free and 1650 free NCAA Championships. Over the summer, he really showed big improvements in his 200 free, and could theoretically triple-up at nationals this year.

It’s easy to forget that coming out of high school, Jaeger was a solid, but not really headlining, recruit who very rarely ventured beyond the 500 free.

There were, of course, some contributions from more expected places. Sean Fletcher, who is now out of eligibility, is a former National High School Record holder, and was 3rd in the 100 fly last year at NCAA’s. Kyle Whitaker, also a National High School Record holder, scored in the top 9 of three different events going into his senior year (the 200 IM, the 400 IM, and the 200 fly), and scored 32 points individually.

So Who Have They Lost?: Here’s the weird thing. When you look at Michigan’s roster, and you start where most of us do, at the relays, to see how much they’ve lost, it looks like a lot. They will have to replace three out of the four legs of their NCAA Champion 200 medley relay, three out of the four legs of their NCAA runner-up 400 free relay, three out of the four legs of their NCAA third-place 200 free relay, and two out of the four legs of their NCAA third-place 200 medley relay.

But the clouds are not, perhaps, quite as dark as they seem. All four legs of their NCAA runner-up 800 free relay return, and they should battle Florida (who also returns all four legs) for that title. Miguel Ortiz’s graduation will hurt the most, with three 4th-place finishes individually, but out of 308 individual points last year, only 82 walk out the door.

That’s why the Wolverines are still in the conversation for this year’s NCAA Championship, despite losing over half of their relay swims from NCAA’s.

Breaststroke Depth: Michigan still has great breaststroke depth this season. They have three of the 10 best 100 breaststrokers from the Big Ten last year, and that’s a Big Ten that is really deep in breaststroking (the deepest conference in the country this year on paper).

Canadian junior Richard Funk was 3rd at NCAA’s last year in the 100 in 51.84, and 7th in the 200 in 1:54.15 (he had been about eight-tenths faster).

The Wolverines also return Bruno Ortiz, who swam the breaststroke leg on their 200 medley relay. He was 16th in the 100 breaststroke at NCAA’s last year, but is legitimately an A-finalist: some sort of health attack after his 100 breast indicated that he was either suffering from asthma or some other undisclosed illness, but he bounced back later in the meet.

Bruno Ortiz’s versatility will be the key to Michigan’s medleys this year. Though he swam breaststroke on the 200 medley last year, this year the Wolverines will probably slide him to the freestyle leg and use Funk on the breaststroke, much like they did in last year’s 400 medley relay.

The Wolverines graduated their two best sprint butterfliers (and they were both really good), but they do also return another very good one: John Wojciechowski, who is a senior. After a big ‘pop’ as a sophomore, he made more modest improvements as a junior, but they were still improvements. Expect him to break 46 seconds in the 100 yard fly for the first time in his career during his final year of eligibility.

So really, the big question mark on those medleys are the backstroke legs. Rest assured that Mike Bottom and staff will find someone who can throw together a 50 at least, but things are much dicier for the 400 medley relay.

The Wolverines have two solid freshmen backstrokers in Jason Chen and Jack Mangan, but their best returner in the 100 is Will Raynor, who was a 48.8 as a freshman last year. Four of their top five last season were seniors, and the other (Reid Elliott) has transferred to Arizona.

Maybe this is a spot where they can use Bruno Ortiz, and find an alternative on their anchor. They’ve got some options, but they’ve also got some work to do.

Sprinters: In addition to the backstrokers, the Michigan sprint freestyle group was hit quite hard by graduations as well. Bruno Ortiz returns, and he was their fastest 50 freestyler last season, but after him the Wolverines graduate their next 5 best in that event.

We very well could see Michael Wynalda leaned on to fill in spots on the free relays this season. He was 5th at NCAA’s last year in the 200 free, but he swam the 100/200/500 at NCAA’s. This year, the Wolverines would need him to be more of a 50/100/200 guy if they want to repeat.

After a phenomenal summer (he was 1:47.5 in the 200 free at the World University Games, and a 49.5 in the 100 free at Worlds Trials), Wynalda is due for a big year. He could challenge for the NCAA title in a wide-open 200 free.

Michigan will also be counting on big contributions from sophomore Peter Brumm. In the Michigan middle-distance tradition, he was a 1:34.9 in the 200 free at NCAA’s to place 20th. He also took 15th place in the 200 fly for his highest individual place.

He was a great 50/100 freestyler in high school as well, but we didn’t see as much of that in his first year in Mike Bottom’s program. He might be redirected a bit this season to help those relays out as well.

Other than that, your guess is as good as ours as to where Michigan is going to find sprinters. They’ve got some decent incoming freshmen in that area. Jackson Goethe was a 21.0 and 45.7 in high school; Bryan Hughes wasn’t far behind that. Vinny Tafuto has been 20.44/45.45 already this season, and is having a great start to his rookie campaign, so look at him as an early favorite to pick up some relay spots.

Colin Eaton has a chance to be that difference maker; as a senior in high school, he was 20.1/44.9 in the 50 and 100 yard freestyles.

Other Wolverines who have looked good early in the season in sprints include Wojciechowski and senior Ian Richardson (21.0 against Indiana and Notre Dame), as does redshirt freshman Aaron Ghiglieri.

Confused Yet?: That’s kind of the way it goes with Michigan’s relays. If we had to take a guess at their 200/400 free relays, it would go something like Ortiz, Wynalda, Tafuto, and Eaton, with Goethe, Brumm, Wojciechowski, and Richardson fighting for a spot as well.

On the medleys, everything will pivot around where the Wolverines use Ortiz. If we had a guess, their medleys will go Funk, Wojciechowski, and Ortiz on the last three legs, with the backstroke as a total wildcard.

We couldn’t actually find any result for Ortiz in a backstroke race (yards or meters). Something tells me we might see him there, especially if Eaton has a really spectacular freshman year.

800 Free Relay: One relay that brings no confusion is the Wolverines’ 800 free relay. As mentioned, the competition doesn’t get any easier this season, but they currently sit just where they finished last year: as the second-best in the country behind Florida.

The Wolverines return Michael WynaldaConnor JaegerAnders Nielsen, and Hassaan Abdel-Khalik from last year’s relay, with the slowest split being a 1:34.43 at NCAA’s.

The margin at nationals was just over two seconds, though Michigan’s season-best from Big Tens was only half-a-second behind Florida. The Wolverines have all of the pieces to make up that half-second. If Jaeger can split the 1:32-mid or better that he’s easily capable of, and the coaching staff gets their best four on the relay on a good day, then the race becomes a toss-up.

Justin Glanda, Brumm, and maybe even Mangan could get in on that relay if there’s a stumble from the returning four.

The Whole Mid-to-Distance Freestyle Group: That whole Michigan freestyle group, from 200+, is outstanding. They scored two in the A-Final of the 200 free, and with Hassaan Abdel-Khalik (17th), Brumm (20th), and Anders Nielsen (21st) just missing finals with less-than-season bests for two of those, and the Wolverines could have five scorers in the same event.

That sounds ludicrous, except that it’s exactly what they pulled off in the 500 free. Michigan had five scorers, four in the B-Final, and only one of them (Ryan Feeley – 16th) graduated. They also had four of the top nine finishers in the 1650 free. Between the above-mentioned group and senior Sean Ryan (4:16.6 in the 500, 14:46.2 in the 1650), the Wolverines good wind up in the neighborhood of 170 individual points from those three races alone. That would be a great start to a title defense.

Other Addition: The other big addition that we didn’t mention in the group above is breaststroker/IM’er Chris Klein, who is a local from Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor. He was last year’s Michigan D-II State Champion in the 100 breast and 200 IM. In yards, his best times are 55.4/2:01.5 in the breaststrokes and 1:48.7 in the 200 yard IM.

Diving: Michigan’s diving group is not as good as it could be. They return just one of their two Big Ten diving scorers last year, and that’s sophomore Tim Faerber, who was 10th on the platform. They have a good freshman this year in Ryan O’Donnell, who should score at the conference level, but both of those guys look like they might still be a year out of having a significant NCAA impact.

2013-2014 Outlook: It’s hard to see Michigan scoring as many NCAA relay points this year as they did last year. On the other hand, they might expect a similar level of individual scoring at this year’s NCAA Championship meet (Bruno Ortiz can place in the A-final of the 100 breast, Bosch should pick up another few points, Wojiechowski and Wynalda should score higher as well).

This year’s men’s NCAA Championship meet looks like it’s going to come down to who shows up on the right weekend. Cal is a better team than they were last year, but they’re not 80 points better. Michigan is not as good as they were last year, but they’re not 80 points worse. This means that the two teams will probably meet in the middle, with Texas coming up hard behind them.

The Golden Bears added Murphy and return Tyler Messerschmidt, but they also lost Tom Shields.

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6 years ago

For the backstroke, it looks like they are using Woj there early this season (22.4/48.5) to very good results. They may plug him in there and use Bosch (21.3/47.7) as the flyer.

Reply to  Braden Keith
6 years ago

Raisky’s split 21.5 fly this year too. They have lots of options.

Sprint relays as well – Ortiz, Wynalda, Glanda and Kamiya have all split sub-44’s already this year, and a gigantic glut of guys has been 44 – Nielsen, Brumm, Magnan, Tafuto, Woj (and that flat start at almost as fast as Messerschmidt’s been all year) and even Jaeger. Their “weaknesses” aren’t even really weak.

Just a deep, deep team. Will be very interesting to see how they stack up against Texas, Cal, Florida – I think these are pretty clearly the top 4 right now.

Reply to  JP
6 years ago

Texas won’t be a top 3 team this year. Next year is a different story though. They lost too much and gained young talent but they are only freshman. Conger will score a lot of points though. They are also not as deep as Cal, Michigan and Florida. Those 3 teams will be well ahead of the rest. Depth wins NCAAs.

Reply to  M_FAN
6 years ago

This may not be the place for this argument, but to say that Texas isn’t deep is definitely inaccurate. They are definitely deeper than Fla top to bottom, and I would argue they are right up there with Mich and Cal. Let’s look at this: What did they lose? 7 A finals swims and 7 relay swims from between Dax, McBroom, Surhoff and Cragin. Whew. That’s a lot for sure! But let’s look at what they gained. 3 A finals and 4 relay leg improvements from Conger (I don’t think I’m making any outlandish statements there). With no improvements, Clark Smith has 2 B-final worthy swims in the flies and a borderline on the 500. Matt Ellis is an upgrade… Read more »

Reply to  M_FAN
6 years ago

JP, Everything I say on here is based on facts. So this is why Texas will not be a top 3 team. Texas 2013 NCAA total points: 288 (Relays – 134, Individual – 129, Diving – 25). There isn’t much upside in the relays. If you win every single relay, you end up with a maximum of 200 points. Michigan last year got 172 points. So let’s say Texas gets 174 this year… that’s only a 40 point increase from last year. So that means they have to gain points on individual events to make the difference… Out of those 129 points individual points from last year, only 31 (yes 31) are returning – Youngquist and Darmody (only 2 returning… Read more »

Reply to  M_FAN
6 years ago

I agree with M on this one. This season is likely a rebuilding season for Texas, and a very good one. Texas will be able to maintain or even do better than last year, but then if they were to win it all, they would have to do a lot more than make up for the losses. They would have to add at least 150+ points more than last year. Maybe they can do it. But I don’t see it as the most reasonable prediction.

Reply to  JP
6 years ago

Also Woj didn’t swim that 44.06, it was Ortiz. They had swapped lanes in that relay heat. Top four swimmers so far in order of speed have been Ortiz, Wynalda, Glanda then Lie. If they have to sub one guy in there, it would be Kamiya.

6 years ago

Michigan has had to make some changes to make sure that their best four guys are on the relays. In the medley relays, they shifted Wojciechowski to backstroke and made Bosch their flyer (Funk at Breast and Ortiz at Free). The problem with this is that now Wojciechowski can’t concentrate on Fly and Bosch will have to swim the 4×50 medley relay right before his 400I.M. race… this may be a problem as he may be left out of the ‘A’ final if he is tired. 4×50 / 4×100 Medley Relays – Wojciechowski, Funk, Bosch, Ortiz In the 4×100 Free, they already have their line-up established – Ortiz, Wynalda, Glanda (fast improving and key this year) and Anders Lie. This… Read more »

Reply to  M_FAN
6 years ago

If the Michigan staff is able to get their swimmers to have the same time drops and development as they did last year… then they should be able to win again this year (2012 – 271 points, 2013 – 480 points).

Reply to  M_FAN
6 years ago

I would actually give the advantage to Michigan right now. There are some question marks about the Cal team this season. Higgins is off the roster and that really hurts the already weak sprint breaststroke depth this season. Will Hamilton and Hinshaw still haven’t raced.

Cal has a good 200 free relay, but the 800 relay is a real trouble.

March will be very interesting. I can see it going either way. Actually, Florida and Texas should also have very good showings and shouldn’t be counted out.

Reply to  calswimfan
6 years ago

I am not sure why Will Hamilton and Hinshaw have not swam yet, but they are still on the roster. So it would be safe to say they will be ready to go in March. The 4×200 Free relay for Cal should have no problem putting a top 5 relay. They have 6 guys have have swam a 1:35 or faster in the individual event (Murphy, Messerschmidt, Shimomura, Williams, Hamilton and Stubblefield). Their only relatively weak relay spot is the breastroke but they have Studebaker who has been a 53.2 which he qualified for NCAAs last year individually. Surround him with Murphy, Tarczynski and Messerschmidt and that is a top 3 relay. The only team with a relay that is… Read more »

Reply to  M_FAN
6 years ago

a couple swimmers missing from Cal this semester and a couple from Texas….Cooper and Ritter and Darmody all didn’t swim last meet. Trouble in paradise at these schools? Maybe Michigan can do it without a backstroker.

6 years ago

Several freshmen haven’t competed yet. Chris kllein is a big strong kid (6’5″) that will contribute a lot in future years. He trained with some of the best swimmers at Club Wolverine and improved a lot in his senior year. He dominated his high school state meet. Goethe is even taller than Klein and will improve at Michigan. He did not come from a big team, but has had big swims at the biggest meets. He is a better relay swimmer than his individual events. I believe by more than a second. Both won their events at high school states and Bottom will like developing them.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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