2015 Big Ten Men’s Fan Guide: Michigan Primed for Another B1G Title

B1G MEN

  • When: Wednesday, February 25th to Saturday, February 28th
  • Where: University of Iowa Campus Recreation and Wellness Center Natatorium, Iowa City, IA (Central Time Zone)
  • Defending Champions: Michigan (results)
  • Live Results
  • Live Video: see Championship Central
  • Championship Central

It seems like the Michigan men haven’t lost a Big Ten Championship since we can remember, and they had a field day last year, winning by well over 300 points. Let’s look at some numbers to show just how dominant the Wolverines were last year at this meet. They went 1-2-3 in the 500 free, 1-2 in the 200 IM, 400 IM, 200 fly, and 200 free, won the mile, won the 100 breast, and put a swimmer or diver in EVERY SINGLE CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL. Not to mention they won four out of the five relays. Domination.

The bad news for the Maize and Blue is that out of those event wins mentioned above, most top 3 finishes were done by graduated stars Connor Jaeger, Michael Wynalda and Kyle Whitaker. Jaeger won the distance frees while Whitaker owned the IM’s, and Wynalda was the 200 freestyle champion and relay hero for Michigan last year, who will definitely miss these studs this time around.

But the Wolverines are still heavily armed and bolstered by some new freshmen ready to break through on the collegiate level. They will be led by defending conference and NCAA 200 fly champion Dylan Bosch, as well as seasoned sprint veteran Bruno Ortiz and breaststroke powerhouse Richard Funk. New faces Tristan SandersEvan White, and Paul Powers will be big pieces in Mike Bottom’s efforts to recover graduated points. Sanders is the Wolverine’s top backstroker this year, but that stroke has always been a weak spot for them. White is a great number 2 to Bosch in the fly and IM, while Powers might give  them what they need in the sprint relays. Despite their big hit from graduation, the Wolverines look like they’ll make another solid run at a B1G title in 2015.

Ohio State and Indiana, always competitive for spots behind the Wolverines, have flexed their muscles this season to ensure that they’ll be hard-pressed to drop top 3 rankings. For the Buckeyes, Josh Fleagle has been firing on all cylinders, ranked 1st in the B1G in the 200 free and 2nd in the 50 and 100 free, while Michael DiSalle is a great complement, swimming his way to top-5 conference rankings in the 100 and 200 with Fleagle. They’ve got three backstrokers who have been under 47.6 already this season, plus the #1 ranking in the conference in the 400 free relay and #2 rankings in the medley relays and 200 free relay. They’re pretty heavily reliant on relays, though, and this might cost them if anybody ends up touching them out in multiple relays.

The Hoosiers are the diving central of the country right now, with Texas transfer and last year’s 1 and 3 meter diving champion Michael Hixon plus star freshman James Connor, who competed for Australia at the 2012 Olympics and was the Australian Open National Champion in the 3 meter springboard AND platform. Versatile senior Steve Schmuhl will be a force in the IM’s and 200 fly once more, while sophomores Anze Tavcar and Jackson Miller have been very solid this year, with Tavcar posting the fastest 100 free in the B1G this season so far and Miller coming in 7th in the mile and 3rd in the 500 free. Blake Pieroni has been living up to the hype — the freshman is 10th in the 100 free and less than 3 tenths from the top spot in the 200 free in the Big Ten, and he’ll replace graduated Eric Ress on what should be an improved 800 free relay, which returns Miller, Schmuhl and sophomore Max Irwin. Junior Tanner Kurz has been good in the breaststroker, but the lack of sprint power and butterfly depth is a problem for the Hoosiers if they want to contend for a top 3 spot in the conference.

Two teams on the rise are conference and NCAA championship hosts Iowa as well as Wisconsin. The Hawkeyes rocketed to the top B1G spot in the 400 medley relay on the backstroking prowess of Grant Betulius. The senior’s 45.60 in the 100 is the fastest time in the conference and the only time under 46 seconds, while freshman Jerzy Twarowski is the top butterflier (46.70) in the conference. Breaststroker Roman Trussov is also having quite a year, posting new bests in both breaststrokes, where he is ranked 4th in the B1G in each. Other top times for the Hawkeyes include Betulius’ 2nd ranked 200 back (1:42.19) and a surprisingly fast 50 free from sophomore Jackson Halsmer. Halsmer’s high school best was 20.8, and he’s gotten that time down to a 19.91 this year. Those four make up Iowa’s break-out medley relay, which will be interesting to watch at the B1G Champs.

Wisconsin has been on a tear this dual meet season, with the trio of Drew teDuitsNick Schaefer, and Matthew Hutchins each crushing pool records at a recent dual meet that the Badgers hosted against Wisconsin-Milwaukee. TeDuits, a senior, has returned to form after failing to make the NCAA 200 back finals in 2014 and defend his 2013 title, having already been under 1:40 this year and holding, by nearly three seconds, the fastest time in the B1G. His 1:42.20 from the dual against Milwaukee would be the third fastest time in the conference behind himself and Betulius. The Badgers get a strong breaststroker in Schaefer, who is ranked 2nd in the 200 and 6th in the 100, and Hutchins has (so far this season) disrupted the Michigan distance group. He is the top ranked 500 freestyler and stands 3rd in the mile. Nick Caldwell has been consistent this year, and his highest standing is 4th in the 200 fly. The Badgers have a swimmer ranked in the top 10 in every single swimming event save for the 400 IM, where their highest is 11th, and this depth is highlighted by three swimmers, Caldwell, and sophomores Cannon Clifton and Brett Pinfold, ranked 6th, 7th, and 9th in the 200 free. The Badgers’ relays are pretty middle-of-the-conference, save for their stellar 6:23.12 in the 800 free relay which tops the conference. That time came from the Texas Invite, where they beat squads from Utah, Arizona, and defending NCAA champs USC.

4- DAY SCHEDULE

WEDNESDAY

200 Medley Relay

800 Freestyle Relay

THURSDAY

500 Freestyle

200 Individual Medley

50 Freestyle

1-Meter Diving

400 Medley Relay

FRIDAY

200 Freestyle Relay

400 Individual Medley

100 Butterfly

200 Freestyle

100 Breaststroke

100 Backstroke

3-Meter Diving

SATURDAY

1650 Freestyle

200 Backstroke

100 Freestyle

200 Breaststroke

200 Butterfly

Platform Diving

400 Freestyle Relay

STARS

Indiana – Blake Pieroni (freshman freestyler), Steve Schmuhl (senior butterflier/IMer), Michael Hixon (sophomore diver), James Connor (freshman diver), Anze Tavcar (sophomore sprinter), Jackson Miller (sophomore distance freestyler) – Hixon and Connor have potential to sweep diving altogether, which would give the Hoosiers an incredibly point boost. Pieroni will be eyeing the 200 free B1G title, while Schmuhl should qualify for two-three A finals himself. The Hoosiers have a young team that will need to stay focused if they want to truly capitalize on their big diving advantage.

Iowa – Grant Betulius (senior backstroker), Roman Trussov (junior breaststroker), Jerzy Twarowski (freshman butterflier), Jackson Halsmer (freshman sprinter) – Each of the Hawkeyes’ stars listed have had breakout seasons, and their combination in the 400 medley happens to put them atop the B1G in that relay. Betulius is certainly a candidate for the 100 back title, while Trussov and Twarowski will do damage in their strokes. Halsmer could sneak into the 50 free A final, but other than these four along with junior Jackson Allen, the Hawkeyes are looking pretty thin.

Michigan – Dylan Bosch (junior butterflier/IMer), Bruno Ortiz (senior sprinter), Richard Funk (senior breaststroker), Paul Powers (freshman sprinter), PJ Ransford (freshman distance freestyler) – The defending champions have reloaded their sprint power with freshmen like Powers, and Bosch should be unstoppable in the 200 fly and IM as well as the 400 IM. Ortiz and Funk will each look to win at least an event, and the Wolverines simply have overwhelming depth in nearly every event. Freshman Tristan Sanders will help their backstrokes, which have been fairly weak of late, and Ransford will look to continue the elite Michigan distance tradition.

Michigan State – Alec Kandt (sophomore breaststroker), Jon Burke (sophomore distance freestyler), Lachlan McLeish (freshman sprinter), Jacob Moore (junior butterflier) – Kandt is ranked within the top 15 in both breaststrokes, while Burke sits just outside the top 10 in the mile in the B1G. Australian freshman McLeish was just hundredths off of splitting under 20 and under 44 on the Spartans’ relays at the TYR Invitational. This team is young and the underclassmen are laying the groundwork for a more solid team in the future.

Minnesota – Michael Nunan (freshman freestyler), Daryl Turner (sophomore sprinter), CJ Smith (senior distance freestyler), Jakub Maly (sophomore IMer) – Nunan provides a big boost to the Gophers, who are pretty reliant on their top-end guys rather than their depth, although as a transfer, he hasn’t yet had a full shave and taper for Minnesota. Smith is the top ranked 1000 freestyler in the conference, and can extend to the mile, while Turner and Maly are both in the top 3 in two events each. Their lack of depth, however, is evident– they aren’t ranked higher than 6th in any of the 5 relays.

Northwestern – Jordan Wilimovsky (junior distance freestyler), Alex Snarski (freshman backstroker), Almog Olshtein (freshman sprinter), Charlie Cole (sophomore freestyler) – Wilimovsky is an international-level star, and is among the favorite to win the mile. He won’t be much use on the Wildcats’ sprint relays, although Olshtein is breathing new life into the NU sprint program. Snarski’s 1:45 in the 200 back ranks him 15th in the B1G, plus Cole is a solid mid-distance freestyler. It’s still looking like a one-man show in Wilimovsky, who will go on to NCAAs alone, most likely. 

Ohio State – Brayden Seal (freshman distance freestyler), Matt McHugh (sophomore sprinter), Michael DiSalle (senior freestyler), Josh Fleagle (junior freestyler), Tamas Gerczak (senior butterflier/IMer) – The Buckeyes look really tough this year, without any major cracks in their lineup. They’ve got a host of sprint freestylers, backstrokers, and butterfliers, and Fleagle is ranked 1st in the 200 free this season. Gerczak has posted the third fastest 200 fly and 400 IM, while ranked 4th in the 200 IM, and freshman Seal will contend with the best in the mile, among which there are few big names.

Penn State – Shane Ryan (junior backstroker/sprinter), Nate Savoy (senior backstroker/sprinter), Nick Ankosko (senior distance freestyler), Matt Grillo (junior sprinter) – The Nittany Lions graduated a ton of talent last year, but their sprint squad is mostly intact, with key pieces Ryan and Savoy looking good after they went 1-2 in the 100 back last year. Grillo will be huge in replacing lost sprinters like John Hauser and Shane Austin,.

Purdue – Jamie Bissett (senior diver), Marat Amaltdinov (sophomore breaststroker), Lyam Dias (senior breaststroker), Guillermo Blanco (senior everything), Steele Johnson (freshman diver) – Freshman diver Steele Johnson has been on a tear this season, while fellow first-year Amaltdinov leads the B1G in the 200 breast and sits 9th in the 100. Dyas has vaulted himself to 3rd in both breaststrokes, while Blanco has been very strong in anything from the 200 free to the 200 fly to the 200 back to the 200 IM this season.

Wisconsin – Drew teDuits (senior backstroker), Matt Hutchins (sophomore distance freestyler), Nick Schaefer (senior breaststroker), Nick Caldwell (senior freestyler), Cannon Clifton (sophomore sprinter) – The Badgers are looking pretty fierce of late, and teDuits is the clear favorite to win the 200 back. Hutchins is the surprise top 500 freestyler, while Schaefer has looked really good in the 200 breast this season. Clifton, Caldwell, and company have set the standard in the 800 free relay, and Wisconsin looks to be gunning for a jump up from 7th place last year.

SHOWDOWNS

200 Individual Medley

Last year, Michigan’s Kyle Whitaker pulled out a wicked breaststroke leg to push him to victory in this event, with teammate Dylan Bosch and Indiana’s Steve Schmuhl touching within .75 of him. With Whitaker’s graduation, it’s shaping up to be a battle between Bosch and Schmuhl. The Wolverine has put down the fastest time in the B1G by over a full second this season, but Schmuhl’s 13th ranking is a bit deceiving. His 1:48.60 was done in a dual meet, whereas he was all the way down to a 1:41 high at last year’s B1G champs. The two should have a great race, with Wolverine freshman Evan White as well as Minnesota sophomore Jakub Maly two of the favorite to contend for spots behind them.

50 Freestyle

Nobody could touch Derek Toomey last year, as he torched the field to win it after tying meet and B1G records in prelims. Shane Ryan was 2nd last year in a 19.36, and although he is ranked outside the top 10 in the B1G this year, we have to take into account his not competing in the Georgia Invitational. His best season time comes from a dual meet. Bruno Ortiz and Josh Fleagle are the top two in the conference this season, and Ortiz was 3rd last year. Only Ryan, Ortiz, and Michael DiSalle return from last year’s A final, and new blood like Michigan’s Paul Powers and Vinny Tafuto as well as Ohio State’s Matt McHugh or Iowa’s Jackson Halsmer will make rushes at the A final in efforts to challenge the likes of Ryan and Ortiz.

200 Freestyle

Josh Fleagle is having a great year, and he sits atop this conference this season, followed closely behind by IU freshman Blake Pieroni. With some big graduations from the Wolverines’ class of 2014, the 200 free is a little weaker, although a big showdown is shaping up. Fleagle was just 7th last year, finishing behind Justin Glanda, Nick Caldwell, Anders Nielsen, and Michael DiSalle. All five of these guys match up VERY well, as they could potentially all be in the 1:33 range. Pieroni’s 1:34.55 from Winter Nats was a best time, but there’s no counting out the star freshman. Can a non-Wolverine come through for the win in an event that Michigan is known for dominating?

100 Breaststroke

Richard Funk is Michigan’s marquee breaststroker, and in his senior year, he’ll be hungry to repeat his 2014 win over now-graduated Cody Miller. Funk is ranked first in the B1G this season, with teammate Bruno Ortiz close behind, which could set up a big 1-2 finish for the Wolverines. Last year, Purdue’s Lyam Dias and Wisconsin’s Nick Schaefer were both under 53 and not far behind the leading pack, and the two should be joined by the likes of Roman Trussov (Iowa) and Tanner Kurz (Indiana) in a breaststroke battle on Friday.

200 Freestyle Relay

Last year, Ohio State and Penn State TIED for first in an epic battle, with Michigan just hundredths back of the winners. The Nittany Lions lost half of their relay, while Michigan lost Wynalda and Ohio State graduated Tim Phillips. There is a bright spot for each of these teams: Penn State returns Shane Ryan, arguably one of, if not THE, best sprinter in the B1G, Michigan brings on sprint star Paul Powers, and Ohio State’s Steffen Hillmer has done well to fill Phillips’ spot. The Buckeyes edged the Wolverines when the two teams met at Winter Nats, although Bruno Ortiz wasn’t on Michigan’s relay. Michigan put forth a relay in their quad meet with Indiana, Louisville, and Texas which went .06 faster than OSU’s time from Winter Nats. A lot of back and forth action between these two teams, and we can’t forget that Penn State’s currently fifth ranked relay from the Georgia Invitational was without Shane Ryan.

800 Freestyle Relay

The swimming world erupted last year when Michigan won this relay, but not because the Wolverines dominated a race that everyone expected they would. Eyes widened when viewers saw the split from 2nd leg Michael Wynalda – 1:30.60. After a performance like that, there is no doubt that Michigan will miss a swimmer like Wynalda, and just a short year after Michigan dropped the big 6:09, they are already being seriously challenged by an upstart Wisconsin squad. The team of Nick Caldwell, Matthew Hutchins, Cannon Clifton, and Brett Pinfold (that’s senior Caldwell and three sophomores) was a solid 6:19 for 2nd place last year to edge OSU, but they hold the fastest time in the B1G this year over Michigan. The Wolverines have two almost certain 1:33’s (or better?) from Glanda and Nielsen, while Caldwell has been the only lock for a possible 1:34 split for the Badgers. Nevertheless, the Wolverines are definitely much weaker in the 200 free, and will likely use Dylan Bosch and relatively unknown sophomore Jack Mangan onto the relay. Their 2nd-ranked time came from Winter Nats and didn’t include Nielsen, although Mangan dipped under 1:34 (he was barely under 1:40 in high school and primarily swam backstroke) and Bosch led off in 1:35.0. Caldwell will be the rock for the Badgers, but can the sophomore trio from Madison work some magic and take down the Wolverines?

 

STANDINGS

There are some chinks in Michigan’s armor. They lack the sprint butterfly and backstroke depth as well as diving presence to be considered NCAA title contenders, and their freestyle artillery is not as deep as it’s been. Still, this is a team that has always performed incredibly well at Big Ten Champs, and they have looked GOOD in their strong events this year.

If anyone’s coming close to the Wolverines in team scoring, it’s Ohio State. They have outstanding freestyle and backstroke depth, and freshman Brayden Seal gives them crucial distance scoring potential. Keep an eye on them, especially if they can pull off some relay wins. Indiana has some seriously scary diving potential, but they graduated a ton of talent last year. Blake Pieroni is a very solid freestyler, and the Hoosiers have the depth in a few events to stay within the top 3 this year.

Teams like Minnesota and Purdue will really hurt from losing bona fide sprinters like Toomey and Danny Tucker, as championship meets pin big points on relays, and explosive sprinters are the key to relay success. While the Gophers have addition Michael Nunan and the Boilermakers will grab some big points with breaststroker Marat Amaltdinov, these teams don’t have the depth or star power to retain their spots in the conference. The same goes for Penn State, who lost big sprinting power to graduation. While the Nittany Lions have stars in Nate Savoy and Shane Ryan, their depth is really lacking, which is going to cost them.

Big movers will be Wisconsin and Iowa, more so for the Hawkeyes, who have put together a very strong core. The Hawkeyes’ best in each stroke should A final at least once each, with swimmers like Twarowski, Trussov, and Betulius looking solid for multiple A final appearances. Iowa’s free relays will be pretty weak, however, which will hurt their chances at moving up too much. Wisconsin has looked great this year, and Drew teDuits is an elite backstroker who will lead the Badgers. Like their women, though, they don’t have the depth past their top guys for tons of consolation finals points, which will hinder their ability to move up as well.

1. Michigan

2. Ohio State

3. Indiana

4. Wisconsin

5. Penn State

6. Minnesota

7. Iowa

8. Purdue

9. Northwestern

10. Michigan State

 

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About Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon studies and swims at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT. He began swimming on a club team in first grade and has been in the pool ever since. He misses Vine.

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