The title of “Fastest Man in College Swimming” will change hands again this year, with 2013 champ Vlad Morozov forgoing his senior season to turn pro. The top three a year ago were in a league of their own, but the two returners of that trio will have to fight off some new faces to stay at the top of the shortest race in the NCAA.
Marcelo Chierighini is the top returner after being the only man besides Morozov under 19 seconds last year. The Brazilian senior is the next star of Auburn’s storied sprinting legacy, and he comes into this race with the third seed at 19.04. Third behind him last season was Derek Toomey, who’s the latest and greatest member of what’s become another 50 freestyle factory as of late in Minnesota. He was 19.10 a year ago, 19.05 in winning the Big Ten title, and the World University Games medalist always seems to show up big in his biggest moments.
But the top seed, and perhaps the favorite, is newcomer Brad Tandy of Arizona. A former junior college national champ, Tandy made his Arizona debut just a few weeks ago, going 18.80 to win the Pac-12 title. If he can hang onto that speed, he’s got a solid shot to win the meet without even needing to drop any time. Tandy seems pretty consistent, as he also went 18.97 swimming unattached at the Texas Invite in December.
There’s another Brad to watch out for, and that’s the fast-rising Brad deBorde of the Florida Gators. DeBorde has done nothing but improve the past few years, going 19.2 as a sophomore, 19.1 last year and 18.88 in winning the SEC title over Chierighini earlier this year. Staying under 19 will be the key for deBorde; he’s added time at NCAAs the past two seasons, but he’s still a likely A-finalist even with a bit of a dropoff.
Florida State’s Paul Murray came from nowhere to blow up the ACC, going 19.04 for the title and a share of the 3-seed at NCAAs. He was just 19.34 at his best last year, so it’s been a gigantic senior season for the Seminole. In a race where one mistake can cost a tremendous amount of time, Murray is another one who will have to stay focused and put up a great morning swim – he gained almost a half-second at NCAAs last year and missed a finals swim by about a tenth.
UNLV’s Dillon Virva has been tearing up the desert out west this year, and the WAC champ is another new name to watch out for. He was just 19.9 as a freshman, but has really hit his stride in his second collegiate season, going 19.11 at the conference championship after an outstanding season. Tied with him for the 6-seed is junior David Williams, who was a huge part of NC State’s explosion at the conference level this season. Williams will continue to be key in the Wolfpack’s fortunes as they try to recapture that momentum on the nation’s biggest stage.
Cal’s Seth Stubblefield is a returning A-finalist who had a great NCAA meet last year, dropping two tenths from his seed to move up into 6th. He comes in at a 19.32, so another solid taper like that and he’ll be picking up major points for the championship-hungry Bears.
More new faces: Auburn freshman Kyle Darmody will try to use this meet to firmly establish himself as the heir apparent to the graduating Chierighini, while first-year Kristian Gkolomeev from Alabama will try to help the Crimson Tide one-up their bitter SEC rivals in an event that Auburn has owned for years.
Top 8 picks with seed times:
1. Brad Tandy, Arizona – 18.80
2. Marcelo Chierighini, Auburn – 19.04
3. Derek Toomey, Minnesota – 19.05
4. Brad deBorde, Florida – 18.88
5. Paul Murray, Florida State – 19.04
6. Dillon Virva, UNLV – 19.11
7. Seth Stubblefield, Cal – 19.32
8. Kyle Darmody, Auburn – 19.21
Darkhorse: Shayne Fleming, Cal – He took 7th last year, so he’s far from an unknown commodity. Still, his 19.41 last year probably won’t get him into the top 8 this year unless the field drops off dramatically. If Fleming can pull off that magical Cal NCAA taper, he’s definitely got the speed to compete, and he’s showed up big-time in college swimming’s biggest spotlight the last two years.