Women’s NCAA’s begins tomorrow, but before focusing on that meet for weekend, we’re going to take an in-depth look at the fly races on the men’s side. Much like the women’s backstroke field, this is another incredibly fast, deep field. We’ve already seen six swimmers under 46.0 and seventeen under 46.5 in the 100 fly, compared to just one sub-46 and ten under 46.5 at this point a year ago. In the 200, there are already seventeen swimmers under 1:44, while there were just eleven beneath that mark on the psych sheets last year. Is it coincidence? The new qualification criteria altering taper philosophies? Swimmers rising to the occasion? A greater focus on underwaters? Are coaches recruiting human/dolphin hybrids?
Anyway, here are the picks…
Men’s 100 fly
The undisputed favorite here has to be Tom Shields of Cal; he’s a two-time national champion in this event, winning last year by more than a full second. We know how great his underwaters are, but his performance last summer in Omaha (4th in the 100 fly, 9th in the 200 fly) indicated how he has improved on the surface. His sights will be set on Austin Staab’s American/U.S. Open record, and maybe even the 44-second barrier.
Regardless of what Shields does, the [likely] battle for second will be a tight one. Last year’s 2nd and 3rd place finishers (Giles Smith and Marcin Cieslak) have both returned, as well as 2011’s 5th place finisher Tim Phillips. Here’s a little bit on these three (and more):
- Smith finished 2nd last year, and has the speed to get out in front of the rest of the field. The Arizona junior’s seed time (45.81) is from the fall, but his unshaved 46.02 from PAC 12’s could be even more noteworthy.
- Cieslak (3rd in 2012) is coming off an SEC title in this event for the Gator’s, and having his best short course season to date.
- After redshirting last season to focus on Olympic Trials with David Marsh at Mecklenburg Aquatic Club (he finished 6th in Omaha), Phillips has picked up right where he left off at Ohio State. The Buckeye junior broke 46 at Big Ten’s, touching 2nd behind Michigan’s Sean Fletcher (more on him in a moment).
- Shields should be joined in the final by teammate Marcin Tarczynski. The versatile junior from Poland has returned to this event on the middle day after giving the 100 back a shot last year (he finished 5th). His sub-46 performance in this event is very encouraging for Cal, especially considering how far he was from his best times in the 200 IM and 200 back.
- Look for Michigan senior Sean Fletcher to utilize his ridiculous front-half speed to stay in the race. At Big Ten’s a few weeks ago, he destroyed the 20-second barrier on the 200 medley relay, putting down a 19.75 fly leg (the fastest second fastest split of all time behind Matt Targett’s 19.66, I believe. Bonus points to anyone who finds any others that I’ve missed). He’s the 2nd overall seed here, but has Michigan’s recent NCAA track record against him. If Michigan has more in the tank after Big Ten’s, a top-2 finish is definitely in play.
- Thomas Glenn from Brown is the 3rd overall seed. It would be great to see an Ivy guy get into the A-Final. He added a good amount of time last year at NCAA’s, and it looks like he rested heavily for Ivy Championships again. Love seeing swimmers from outside the power conferences… hoping he holds his taper a little better than 2012.
Men’s 200 fly
With Shields and fellow underwater extraordinaire Will Hamilton, Cal brings one of the strongest in the country 1-2 combos in what will be the final individual swim event of the meet. Hamilton is the defending champion, posting the fastest time ever for a freshman (1:40.94) last season. Although Shields has never actually won this event at NCAA’s (thanks Mark Dylla, Shaun Fraser, Bobby Bollier, and not seeing Hamilton soon enough), he holds the overall NCAA record with his swim from 2011 PAC 12’s (1:40.31). Expect both to spend more than half of the race underwater, posting another 1-2 finish in the process.
The Cal duo will have plenty of challengers, including Florida’s own tandem of Marcin Cieslak and Sebastian Rousseau. Cieslak was 3rd at last year’s big meet (in contention all the way until the final 25), and is two-time defending SEC champion in this event. Rousseau, who was run down and out-touched by Cieslak a few weeks ago by 0.01, is the 4th overall seed in this event. The South African has proved to be one of the most versatile swimmers in the nation, capable of qualifying individually in at least a half-dozen events. He’s coming off a redshirt year during which he made big improvements, and he’s looking to move up from his 7th place finish back at 2011 NCAA’s.
The top seed in the event is Michigan freshman/fellow South African Dylan Bosch, who posted a Big Ten record time of 1:41.18 in Bloomington a few weeks ago. Bosch was 2nd last summer at the South African Olympic trials in the 100 fly, and won’t be shy about using his speed; his 100 and 150 splits (48.29, 1:14.22) were substantially faster than the entire field at NCAA’s a year ago.
At this point, the rest of the field is a full step behind the five swimmers covered above, but there are at least a dozen other swimmers in good position for a top 8 finish, and anybody with a breakout swim could challenge the lead pack. Look out for these four: Thomas Luchsinger of North Carolina, Cameron Martin from Florida, and Alex Coci of Arizona State.
- Tom Luchsinger (North Carolina): Although he didn’t have a great meet last spring in Federal Way, he had a great overall performance last summer in Omaha, indicating he was likely ill or not 100% rested a year ago. Luchsinger dropped substantial time from his seeds in all three of his events at 2011 NCAA’s, placing top 8 in the 400 IM and winning the 200 fly consol heat in the process.
- Cameron Martin (Florida): Martin has proven time and time again to be a reliable swimmer at big meets for Florida. He completed the 200 fly Gator sweep at SEC’s this year (finishing 3rd), and his 1:43.04 has him seeded 6th. Martin has finished 11th in this event each of the last two years.
- Alex Coci (Arizona State): Swimming in his first year for ASU, Alabama transfer/Romanian Olympian Alex Coci dropped a full second in prelims last year to make the A-Final and finish 6th. He had a great swim to win the consols heat at PAC 12’s in a time that would have placed him second overall. If he carried over the same season plan to his new home in Tempe, look out.
PICKS: 100 fly
1. Tom Shields, Cal – 44.92
2. Giles Smith, Arizona – 45.81
3. Tim Phillips, Ohio State – 45.85
4. Marcin Tarczynski, Cal – 45.97
5. Marcin Cieslak, Florida – 46.02
6. Sean Fletcher, Michigan – 45.59
7. Samuel Rairden, Tennessee – 46.19
8. Sean Grier, Penn State – 46.00
Darkhorse: Aaron Wayne, Stanford, Alex Coci, Arizona State. Wayne showed that he was far from fully tapered a few weeks ago at PAC-12’s, and he still swam his lifetime best time in this event. He’ll have clear water in an early heat… look for a big drop from him.
PICKS: 200 fly
1. Tom Shields, Cal – 1:41.23
2. Will Hamilton, Cal – 1:42.75
3. Marcin Cieslak, Florida – 1:42.17
4. Sebastian Rousseau, Florida – 1:42.18
5. Dylan Bosch, Michigan – 1:41.18
6. Thomas Luchsinger, UNC – 1:43.18
7. Cameron Martin, Florida – 1:43.04
8. Alex Coci, Arizona State – 1:43.72
Darkhorses: Daniel Lester, Wisconsin. He’s seeded all the way down at 32nd, but look for the Australian native to set the pace in the early heats. Lester didn’t have a great performance at this meet last year (likely because he was flew straight to NCAA’s all the way from Australian trials), but he finished in the top 8 during each of his first two years (5th in 2011, 7th in 2010).