Key Losses: Sam Hoekstra (sprint freestyle – 3 NCAA Relays), Alex Burtch (freestyle – 2 NCAA Relays)
Key Additions: Josh Quallen (Ohio – fly/back/free), Trevor Carroll (Indiana – freestyle), David Boland (Michigan – IM), Grigory Tarasevich (Russia/Florida – backstroke), Aaron Greene (Texas – backstroke), Mihael Vukic (Croatia – butterfly), Christian Garkani (California – freestyle), Brennen Berger (Indiana – breaststroke), Nicholas Hasemann, Jake Schultz, Joe Brown, Matthias Lindenbauer (international), Nolan Smith (Kentucky – freestyle), Samuel Blair (Michigan – diving), Ryan Massey (Texas – free/back/IM), Estefan Albiero (Kentucky – sprint free)
2012-2013 Lookback: Much like #12 Ohio State, the 11th-place Louisville men ended up placing fairly highly with relatively few scorers (it only took 93 points – there’s a huge drop off in men’s scoring after the top 9 teams).
The Cardinals had one huge star though: NCAA 200 free champion Joao de Lucca, who after a head-scratcher of a prelims swim came back and won the 200 free national title from an outside lane. He was a huge part in leading Louisville’s transition from a great medley relay team the year before to a very good free relay team in 2013, and among the top 15 there was perhaps no swimmer more valuable to his team’s NCAA Championship performance than de Lucca, who was also 3rd in the 100 free and 13th in the 50 free for 40 individual points.
De Lucca was fast all season long, and spent a lot of time at the top of the national rankings, so when he pops off a 1:32-low in the 200 yard free and hits an NCAA Automatic Qualifying Time in November, don’t be too surprised.
In addition to his individual exploits, the Brazilian was a huge factor on Louisville’s relays. He lead off the 200 free relay in 19.55, and split 41.6 and 41.8, respectively, on the 400 free and 400 medley relays. Meanwhile, even with that anchor leg, Louisville couldn’t score in the 400 medley relay (and didn’t even enter a 200 medley relay).
The one relay in which de Lucca, by his standards at least, didn’t swim well was the 800. He split 1:34.20 on the Cardinals’ second leg, which is more than two seconds slower than he was in the individual final earlier in the session, and the result was the relay coming in only 14th when they could have realistically been in the top 8. That was a relay with two seniors on it last year, meaning that de Lucca will have even more pressure on him this season to carry it.
The rest of the freestyle crew: As mentioned, Louisville last year became a freestyle-heavy team. They lost one very, very important piece to graduation in Sam Hoekstra, anchor of all three free relays (he was a 19.2 anchoring the 200 free relay). In total, they lost 5 of the 16 relay legs from NCAA’s to graduation, but the two really big ones returned.
One of those is de Lucca, and the other is junior-to-be Caryle Blondell. Blondell was Louisville’s only individual scorer at NCAA’s last year aside from de Lucca, finishing 14th in the 100 free in 43.31 (his season-best was a 42.79). The expression “personal best” almost became meaningless to Blondell last season with how many times he improved his mark in the last 12 months. For example, 9 different swims in the 2012-2013 season in the 100 yard free were better than his previous lifetime best.
He swam the lead-off leg on Louisville’s 400 free relay and left them in a great position as they ended up finishing 4th and scoring huge points, and was a key on all of the free relays. Those are the two returning from last year’s relay.
Last year, Kameron Chastain, best known as a breaststroker (more on that later) had to help fill in sprint relay duties, splitting 19.8 on the 3rd leg of the 200 at NCAA’s. That’s an admirable result for him (he’s flat-started 20.1), but it shows the precarious situation the team’s success was going into the off-season. After de Lucca, Blondell, and Chastain, the next-best 50 freestyler returning is senior-to-be Lemar Linton, who was a 20.7. The next-best 100 freestyler returning is junior-to-be Aaron Young at 44.9. That means that the Cardinals will need a lot from their freshmen this season; fortunately for that cause, they have a very good, and hugely deep, freshman class coming in that we ranked as #8 in the country.
The Freshmen: Starting with those who could provide help in those freestyle relays, Trevor Carroll from Indiana comes in with bests of 20.9, 44.8 and 1:37.1 in the 50, 100 and 200 yard freestyles. Expect him to at least have a spot on the 800 free relay, and as good-of-a-shot-as-anybody at the other two free relays as well. Christian Garkani, really, should be battling for 3rd and 4th spots on relays as well, with bests of 21.1/54.3/1:39.0 in the 50-200 frees.
Diverging from the theme of the free relays, the Cardinals will immediately receive some huge help for their medleys, which didn’t score a single point at NCAA’s last year (note: Louisville was 11th at NCAA’s without scoring a single point in anything besides freestyles, hence why our recruiting rankings always emphasize 50-200 freestylers).
David Boland, who comes out of Club Wolverine, is the State’s HS Record holder in the 100 fly with a 48.59 as a senior, but he’s truly a great IM’er. In the 200 he’s been 1:49.4, and expect that time to take off as a freshman given that he’s 49.7 in the 100 back, 57.0 in the 100 breast, and 45.4 in the 100 free to go with that fly.
Josh Quallen, similarly, could fill multiple roles on the medley, with a 48.8 in the 100 back and 47.9 in the 100 fly. Those two will likely be afforded the luxury of focusing on the butterfly races thanks to the addition of two very special backstrokers: Aaron Greene from the Dallas area, and Russian Grigory Tarasevich, who has been training in Orlando.
Another potential new A-relay butterflier is Mihael Vukic from Croatia. He goes 54.4 in the long course 100 meters fly. That converts to a similar time – 47-mid – as Quallen and Boland.
Greene goes 48.3 in the 100 yard back and a really impressive 1:43.7 in the 200 yard back, and is a Junior National champion. Tarasevich is the European Junior Champion from this year in long course, and has been 54.6 and 1:59.5 in long course. That’s really fast for a just-barely-18-year old, even though his limited short course swimming thus far hasn’t been quite as good.
Either one of them could/should supplant last year’s backstroker Blondell on the medleys (Blondell was 47.7 at NCAA’s). Louisville will have a big group coming into the year right around that 48.0 (they could get five guys under 48 seconds in 2014).
The Louisville medley relay next year will probably go Tarasevich/Green, Bray, Vukic/Quallen/Young/Boland, and De Lucca on the anchor. That should be a scorer, at least in the 400, and could still be three underclassmen (it was four last year). It also gives the Cardinals lots of options, in the event of injury or a bad year, on the path to scoring.
Breaststroke Group: Addison Bray, Thomas Dahlia, and Kameron Chastain make up the meat of the latest carnation of the Louisville breaststroking group that has gotten so much hype in the last few years. Bray and Dahlia will be juniors, and Chastain will be a senior next year.
Both Chastain and Bray both finished with a pair of top-5 breaststroke finishes at Big Easts. Of the two, Bray was the individual NCAA qualifier, and though he fell pretty far off of his times from Big Easts, his bests of 53.5 and 1:55.7 in the 100 and 200 yard breaststrokes, respectively, show that he’s right on the bubble of NCAA scoring.
Chastain actually has a better lifetime best in the 100 yard race than Bray; he was 53.1 at Big Easts in 2011 as a freshman, and though he’s been close to that time since, he’s never bettered it, adding in each of his first three Big East Championship meets.
Dahlia could be the big breakout star of next season for this group, though. He redshirted last year, in a move very reminiscent of his fellow French compatriot Eric Ress from a few years ago. In that time, he qualified for the World University Games and improved his 100 meter best to 1:02.11., which converts to roughly a 54.0 in yards. That gives Louisville a 3rd option for their medleys.
Freshman Brennen Berger, who is 55.4 and 2:02.00 in the 100 and 200 yard breaststrokes, will join the group this coming season.
Other Contributors: Junior Aaron Young had a wee sophomore slump last season, but was still pretty good. Anywho, if he can get back to his freshman form next year, he should be in a great battle for the top butterfly spot based on his best of 47.60. He has also been 48.1 in the 100 yard back (that was done at last year’s Big East Championships).
Aside from Young and the aforementioned freshmen, that spot could go to Missouri transfer Neil O’Halloran. He sat out last season and will join the Cardinals this fall with bests of 47.3 and 1:45.9 in the 100 and 200 yard flys, and could ultimately end up contributing on a free relay, possibly, as well.
Louisville also has one very good distance swimmer in Bryan Draganosky. The longer the race, the better he gets, as he was 15:05 in the 1650, his best event, at Big Easts last year.
Diving: Louisville has one good freshman diver coming in, Samuel Blair, who is from the same Saline High School as Boland. He was 3rd at the 2012 Michigan High School State Championships. They also return Sean Piner and Matthew Ryan from last year’s team. Diving has never been a big emphasis in the Big East, but it will be interesting to see if/how Arthur Albiero and diving coach Mike Zehnder rebalance their priorities in the diving-heavy ACC next year.
2013-2014 Outlook: This team should have no problem winning the AAC Conference Championship, in their home pool, in their only year in that conference, next season. That affords the coaching staff the ability to really line things up for NCAA’s however they want to.
With a big, very good freshman class, very few graduations, plus one big transfer and one big return from a redshirt, the Cardinals are in a great position next season. Things seem to be swinging back toward their medley relays if we look 2 or 3 years down the line, but 2014 could be that sweet-spot for them. If one of their sudden glut of butterfliers can figure things out and split sub-21/sub-46 on the medleys, and Carroll or someone else can fill in those few holes in the free relays, then the Cardinals will be in business for a top 10 finish. I’m still not sure if there’s enough pieces there to break into that top 9, which last year required over 200 points (more than double what Louisville scored last year).