Last year at NCAA’s, it took a 6:15.55 from Texas to win the NCAA title.
This year, two teams have already been better than that time: the Michigan Wolverines (6:13.70) and the Florida Gators (6:14.76).
Seed times, however, rarely determine a champion, and last year those top two seeded teams were the ones, among the top 8, that added the most times at NCAA’s: Michigan went +5.3, and Florida went +3.5. The year before, Michigan’s 800 added as well, though the Gators had a drop to win this relay that year (Rousseau is the lone holdover from that group).
That leaves the two teams behind them sitting in good positions, despite what seeds might say. USC was a 6:16.88 at Pac-12’s, with Cristian Quintero and Dimitri Colupaev on the back-end as a pair of NCAA title contenders in this race.
The Texas Longhorns, who are behind them as the 4th seed, also have a pair of NCAA title contenders, with Clay Youngquist and Dax Hill each within reach of 1:32 flat-starts this year.
Fill those lineups out with some guys that would be strong #1’s on other top-10 relays (Alex Lendrum, Kip Darmody, Chad Bobrosky, etc) and I think that’s where your battle lies at NCAA’s. My edge goes to Texas, as I’d take their third swimmer over USC’s third swimmer, but not by much. Texas dropped big in this relay at NCAA’s last year: a very rare feat given the different circumstances in the event’s timing between conference and national championship meets.
That’s no disrespect to Michigan and Florida; I’m just factoring in recent history here. Nobody goes 6:13.70 or 6:14.76 in-season without some serious studs, and Michigan’s time very well could end up being the fastest of the year. Michigan has Georgia-women-like depth in the 200 freestyle, so by the time Friday evening rolls around they’ll be able to choose some options from whoever is swimming best this weekend. Freshman mid-season transfer Anders Nielsen has given this Michigan relay that has a new edge that has an unbelievably complete 1-4, including Michael Wynalda.
Florida too is great top-to-bottom. Pawel Werner, Sebastien Rousseau, Eduardo Solaeche-Gomez, and Marcin Cieslak make an international relay that just eats up the 200 free in yards.
There seems to be a pretty steep drop-off after those top four relays. Cal, as always, is the one that can leap that gap. They were 2nd in this race last year at NCAA’s, even without anybody placing top-8 in the individual race. That’s in part because Tom Shields is so good, but doesn’t swim this race individually. But they always pull out a bunch of 1:33’s from unexpected places.
This is a key relay for the Golden Bears’ rivals from Stanford, who have as good of a shot at an NCAA team title as we’ve seen in years out of Palo Alto. The trick is, unless they make a change from Pac-12’s and put David Nolan or Aaron Wayne on this relay (Wayne swam it at NCAA’s last year), they’ll have four new and relatively green guys on this 800. At Pac-12’s, it was Tom Kremer, Sean Duggan, Mitch Stoehr, and Thomas Stephens, and they swam a 6:22.32 that’s seeded 12th. I’m having trouble wrapping my mind about what, exactly, that relay can do, but I feel good about expecting them to be better than they were at Pac-12’s. I can say that much.
The ACC has two very good relays in this race: Virginia, the conference champions, and North Carolina State, who touched first before their infamous DQ. Both teams handled it well (the Virginia swimmers out of respect even offered their gold medals to NC State), but there will still be some pride at stake for both relays to outplace the other. This is the one relay every year that Virginia wants to do well in; and despite two graduations from last season, freshman Nick Alexiou is living up to the hype in year one. NC State, after that DQ, used aggregate times to get into the meet, which means they’ll end up in a lower heat. That has both pros and cons.
Indiana has put together another good free relay in this 800, led-off by Eric Ress. Tennessee comes in seeded one spot behind them in 7th with a 6:20.13 from SECs, and after seeing what their women did at NCAA’s, we have to expect that they’ll be dropping time as well. Arizona will also move up from their 15th spot; getting Nimrod Shapira Bar-Or back from a redshirt year is as good as any relay addition in the country (outside of Rousseau at Florida), and the coaches in Tucson are really high about freshman Kelly Moodie’s middle-distance potential.
This relay is all about completeness, just like the women’s has also become. The men’s relays, though, will still allow such lofty finishes from teams that have just a very good four with no weakness. These relays, in the new format, have the advantage of fatigue: many of them are swimming just relays, and will save quite a few races coming into this 800 at the end of the day 2. That’s teams like Auburn, who has James Disney-May as their star, Zane Grothe coming down from the distance races (very well at that), and a pair of relay-only guys.
Texas A&M also qualifies under that umbrella, with John Dalton as the star. (Side note: a few years ago, if you’d told somebody this 800 might be A&M’s best relay, they probably would’ve laughed you out of the building. It might be true though, as Dalton has three teammates who will be swimming only relays – and only free relays, at that).
The Aggies and the Harvard Crimson both return entire relays from last year’s meet (they were 11th and 13th, respectively), though A&M made changes anyway. Georgia, meanwhile, only graduated their slowest swimmer from last year’s 8th-place relay, and with Matias Koski and Chase Kalisz coming in as super-freshmen, their challenge to return will be the teams moving around them. It doesn’t seem like a 6:25 (their time last year) will make top 8 in this relay; although, if times slow like the women’s meet did, maybe it will. They’ve already cleared that this season though, as have 18 other teams.
Top 8 Picks, and Seed Times, are below:
1. Texas, 6:17.33
2. USC, 6:16.88
3. Florida, 6:14.76
4. Michigan, 6:13.70
5. Cal, 6:18.83
6. Arizona, 6:22.88
7. Tennessee, 6:20.13
8. Georgia, 6:23.55
Darkhorse: Wisconsin, 6:23.98 – With Michael Weiss and Daniel Lester on the front-half, the Badgers should lead the third-to-last heat of this relay early on. Tyler Hines was a very good anchor at Big Tens with a 1:35.92. Senior Garrett Mulchrone on the third leg is the key; if everyone hits their taper, and Mulchrone can split something under 1:37, then the Badgers could have a 6:20 relay on their hands.