Key Losses: Noah Garcia (NCAA Qualifying diver), Mason Shaw (2 NCAA relays, individual qualifier), Bryan Offutt (NCAA Qualifier as sophomore, junior)
Key Additions: Andrew Liang (CA – free/fly), Curtis Ogren (CA – breast/IM), Wes Olmsted (FLA – free/back), Brock Turner (OH – Mid D Free), Sam Perry (New Zealand – free/fly), Liam Egan (Mass – distance free), Peter Arnet (Belgium – free), Patrick Conaton (NY – Back), Ted Miclau (CA – diving), Tarek Abdelghany (CA – diving)
It’s been a tough first two years for the Stanford men under Ted Knapp, who was a long-time assistant under the now-retired Skip Kenney. In 2013, the Cardinal were bitten hard by the DQ bug at NCAA’s and lost two relays because of it. In 2014, they amazingly missed any relay DQ’s (at a meet where there were an absurd number of them), but still moved down two spots to 9th place.
The biggest problem for Stanford last year was their medley relays. They had Nolan leading off on the backstroke leg, but they didn’t have the anchor they needed on the 200 (Connor Black split 19.8), they didn’t have the breaststroker they needed on either (though Mason Shaw was a respectable 53.2 on the 400), they didn’t have the butterflier they needed on the 200 (Gray Umbach split 21.2), and Nolan couldn’t do enough to carry the load. The 200 medley was 28th overall in prelims, and the 400 was 18th, and so even with plenty of DQ’s ahead of them, they couldn’t score in either medley relay.
David Nolan and the divers carried the scoring load for Stanford. Nolan didn’t win any NCAA titles, but was as consistent as ever, taking 3rd in the 200 back (1:39.17), 3rd in the 200 IM (1:41.19), and 4th in the 100 back (45.21). He hit season-best times in all three events at NCAA’s, and his individual swims alone contributed 50 out of 155 Stanford points at the meet.
The divers were strong too, with three of them (including two underclassmen) advancing to NCAA’s in Dr. Rick Schavone’s last season as the Stanford diving coach after 36 years. Between Bradley Christensen, Noah Garcia, and National Teamer Kristian Ipsen, that accounted for another 47 Stanford points. In parallel to Nolan, there were no NCAA titles for Ipsen this year like the two he won the year before, but he was consistently good for the Cardinal.
The Cardinal have those groups to lean on for next season, and the knowledge that they return a very experienced team. They only graduated two NCAA qualifiers, and those two accounted for a total of two non-scoring relay swims: so all of the 155 points return.
Depth was a problem last year. For a team as good as Stanford to get only 108 points between their five relays and all of their individual swimmers is unusual, and that’s what the Cardinal will try and shore up this year.
Nolan – Butterflying in the Summer
Before we move on to where that depth is coming from, we’ll take a deeper look at Nolan, and specifically what he did over the summer. Though he had a rather quiet meet at U.S. Nationals, he actually swam very well. He had no best times but swam pretty well across four events: the 100 free, 200 free, 100 fly, and 200 IM.
Notice that there’s no backstroke races in that lineup. Nolan didn’t swim any long course backstroke events in the summer, but he did race a lot of freestyle and butterfly. It’s highly unusual for a swimmer who was the 2013 NCAA Champ in the 100 back, and a three-time Pac-12 Champion in the backstroke, to go a whole summer without once swimming the 100 or the 200.
It could be a preview of what we might see from Nolan as a post-grad, where crowded backstroke lanes might leave a clearer opportunity for a career in the butterfly, IM, and freestyle events.
Despite swimming well at NCAA’s, Nolan finished just 4th in the 100 back – and he was behind three underclassmen (Ryan Murphy in the same conference, Shane Ryan, and Kip Darmody). In the 200 back, he went two-tenths faster than he did the year before, and still dropped a place to 3rd.
It would be easy to take the above data points and hypothesize that Nolan might be shifting gears and focusing on the butterfly events as a senior at Stanford. That move would make a lot of sense, especially in the 100. The top four swimmers in the 100 fly from NCAA’s last year all graduated, so there’s a chance we’ll see Nolan swim a 200 IM/100 fly/200 back, or maybe even a 200 IM/100 fly/100 free schedule at NCAA’s next year.
But from a team perspective, it doesn’t make sense for Nolan to abandon the backstrokes altogether. This year’s Stanford team will be stacked in the butterflies, and relatively weak in the backstrokes. Freshman Andrew Liang was a 46.88 in the 100 fly, though Connor Black didn’t swim great in his individuals at NCAA’s, he was a 46.52 at Pac-12’s. Ryan Arata was a 47.0 and Gray Umbach was a 47.1, giving them four guys besides Nolan, at least, who should go 46’s this year if all goes according to plan, and four guys who can score top 16, at least, at Pac-12’s.
In the backstrokes, however, Stanford is significantly thinner. Ryan Arata was their second-best, and he was a 47.14 in the 100 yard back last year, which was nearly two seconds slower than Nolan. Stanford’s best medley, with everyone swimming well, still has Nolan on the backstroke leg.
On the chance that Arata does break-out, and gets down to a 45-high in the 100 back this season, and his progression indicates that this is a possibility – it makes the most sense to move Nolan to the anchor leg, where he was also Stanford’s best this year, and should be again this year.
The moral of the story is that whereas last year, Stanford was struggling to figure out how to put together their medleys, this year, they’ve got lots of options.
Freshmen Should Contribute Immediately
We mentioned Liang’s butterfly, but he also comes in as a 20.1/44.2 sprint freestyler, giving Stanford another option on their medleys, and he could also boost Stanford’s sprint free relays that were 12th and 16th at NCAA’s, respectively last year. Those relays didn’t graduate anyone from last season, and swam pretty well, but Thomas Stephens (20.19/44.03 flat-starts), Chris Pickard (20.44/43.97 flat-starts) and Tom Kremer (20.32/43.94) should all get some healthy competition for their free relay spots this season.
Those guys all swam pretty well on relays last year – in some cases, better than their flat-start bests imply – so those relays will again have more depth and more options in 2014-2015.
Liang won’t be the only immediate-impact swimmer for this Stanford class that was ranked 5th in the nation.
Curtis Ogren should bring stability to the breaststroke group that it’s lacked for the last few years. He was a 53.90/1:57.64 in the 100 and 200 breaststroke in high school, and by the end of his freshman year should be at least a small upgrade on those legs of the medleys.
Ogren’s best events are the IM’s, where he’s been 1:45.01 and 3:43.64 in the 200 and 400 on flat starts. That 400 time would have put him in the B-Final at NCAA’s last year, so he should have an immediate scoring impact nationally.
They’ve also added a pair of great distance swimmers – Brock Turner (1:38.4/4:21.5 in the 200/500) and Liam Egan (1:36.79/4:19.55/15:04.21 in the 200/500/1650), who besides scoring individually at Pac 12’s, could possibly score individually at NCAA’s, and in the long-term will hold together the Stanford 800 free relay that was their strength last year: it was 3rd at NCAA’s with four underclassmen.
They’ll join a training-group led by junior Danny Thomson, who was 14th in the 1650 and 19th in the 500 at NCAA’s last year. He’s another swimmer who nailed his taper last year, dropping 9 seconds and 3 seconds, respectively, from his previous season-bests last year.
There are a few other strong additions to the class, and we’ll focus on Patrick Conaton. He made big improvements in his backstrokes as a senior and should make a good training partner for Ryan Arata for the next few seasons in the backstroke group, if not push him for a spot on the relays. Conaton has been 48.5 in the 100 back and 1:44.64 in the 200 back – that 200 shows his potential the best. He’s also 6’3″ and 165 pounds, so a year in the weight room will do him good – but we might not see that pay off until his sophomore year.
Kremer and Umbach: Recovering from the Sophomore Slump
Tom Kremer and Gray Umbach both came to Stanford with big credentials, and both had very good freshmen years, but they slid into small slumps as sophomores. Kremer went best times in the 50 and 100 free (mentioned above), but both came mid-season at the UNLV Fall Invite. At Pac-12’s and NCAA’s, he missed his best time in two of his primary events: the 200 IM and 200 free. The good news is that he still managed to score in all three of his NCAA races, placing 16th in the 200 IM (1:43.69), 9th in the 200 free (1:33.32), and 13th in the 200 fly (1:44.27 – best time of 1:43.42 in prelims).
Umbach, however, was not quite as successful in his second go-around. After being very close to scoring (19th) in the 100 fly as a freshman, he was just 32nd as a sophomore. His other two swims, the 200 IM and 200 fly, saw him finish in a similar standing – 29th and 28th.
If those two guys get back on track as juniors, then they could be the difference-makers to drive Stanford back up into the top 5 at NCAA’s. They’ll give Stanford even more relay options than those mentioned above, more individual points to pile on top, and a lot more confidence as well heading into championship season.
Other Key Swimmers
- Like Kremer, Drew Cosgarea was on the verge of scoring at NCAA’s last year. He was 19th in the 200 back, which missed finaling by half-a-second; 21st in the 400 IM, which missed finals by a full second, and an excruciating 17th in the 500 free, missing finals by four-tenths on the meet’s first day. There’s quite a few graduations from that 500 free especially (six scorers out of last year’s top 16), and if Cosgarea can find a way into the B-Final on day 1 in that even this year, that could be just the springboard he needs to become a three-event scorer.
- Max Williamson had a very good freshman season last year, though his best times in the 200 IM (1:44.05), 400 IM (3:44.47), and 200 breast (1:56.15) all came at Pac-12’s. Williamson’s success continued into the summer, where all-told, in long course, he dropped two seconds in the 200 IM (2:00.12), and three seconds in the 400 IM (4:17.76) from his previous lifetime bests. Those both put him in position to make a U.S. international team in 2015, depending on who declines what (Pan Ams and the World University Games are both in play). He was the most successful swimmer of a very good freshman class last year and will try to avoid hitting his own sophomore slump.
- Thomas Stephens was on all three of Stanford’s scoring free relays: the 200 (19.82 split in finals), the 400 (43.97 lead-off in finals), and the 800 1:34.76 split in finals). As we mentioned, he’ll be battling with some incoming freshmen to keep his spots on the relays, but in 2014 he was an important glue piece that helped finish off those relays. The former Youth Olympic Games participant is one of three seniors who will be on Stanford’s 800 free relay next season. That’s a really that could rightfully move up into the top two at NCAA’s this year. With Cristian Quintero back, gaining a surprise extra year of eligibility, USC will be hard to fight off of the repeat, but if Stephens can break through and split a 1:33, the Cardinal will have a chance.
- Sophomore Charlie Wiser struggled with his freshman year on the swim team. Splitting time between water polo and swimming, he scored 8 goals in the former and was only a 56.2 in the 100 breaststroke in the latter – two-and-a-half seconds slower than he was as a senior in high school. Wiser is still listed on both the swimming & water polo rosters for 2014-2015, but if he can get his 100 breaststroke back to its former levels, he’ll be a big boost to an event that’s been weak for Stanford since the graduation of Curtis Lovelace several seasons ago.
- There’s a lot of guys in the sophomore class alongside Williamson, Wiser, and Black, who will look to really have an impact this year. Justin Buck was 10th at Pac-12’s in the 400 IM. Jack Descombes sprinted pretty well at Pac 12’s himself (20.30/44.95) and could be fighting for relay spots as well. Daniel Le was 13th at Pac-12’s in the 100 and 200 breaststrokes, including a 53.94 in the sprint event. He could become an individual NCAA qualifier this season, especially given the rate of improvement: he dropped 1.2 seconds in the 100 breaststroke as a freshman, and 2.5 in the 200.
- Jimmy Yoder had a good, if quiet, freshman year at Stanford, going best times in the 500 free (4:22.06) and 200 fly (1:44.61) at Pac-12’s. Stanford expects big things from him, so watch and see if he continues to settle in and advnace as a sophomore.
- Incoming freshman Peter Arnet from Belgium, who has spent some time living in Japan, Thailand, Belgium, and the U.S., is a behemoth at 6’4″ tall. He might turn into that pure European-style, prototypical sprinter that Stanford has lacked over the last couple of years since Aaron Wayne (another 6’4″ guy) graduated.
We already delved into diving a little bit above, but Stanford could be a beast there this year, if they adapt to their new coach Patrick Jeffrey, who comes over from Florida State. Ipsen will be another 40+ point scorer, and Bradley Christensen has the potential to place in the top 8 on both springboards – he did so at USA Diving Nationals earlier this year.
Their two new additions are both Junior National caliber divers. Don’t expect them to score at NCAA’s as freshmen, but they’re good enough for long-term consideration.
This could be the year that Stanford turns things around. Nolan is in his senior year, and he’ll want to end his college career with a bang. Stanford has the divers, and the new diving coach Jeffrey will want to set a tone as well.
The team has as much depth as it’s ever had, and considering the two stars in its incoming class, Liang and Ogren, are both locals and train with PASA, the transition should be a relatively smooth one. Williamson is on the verge of being a star, and the team should be prepared to be as deep and as balanced as they have been since Skip Kenney left.
There are a few guys who are on the verge, and if they can break the right direction (Cosgarea, Kremer, Umbach, etc.) then the individual scoring in swimming could double. Their 44 relay points last year could also double.
With another strong performance from their divers, that puts their top-end at somewhere around 220-240 points, which will put them in the top 6 at NCAA’s.
On the low end, we can expect consistent Nolan, and consistent divers, to be consistently consistent again, and it would be hard to picture Stanford get shut out in the medley relays for the third-straight year. That, at a minimum, would leave Stanford in the top 10 again.