2015 Men’s NCAA Championships
- NCAA record: 4:08.60 — Peter Vanderkaay (Michigan) – 3/23/2006
- American record: 4:08.54 — Peter Vanderkaay (Club Wolverine) – 2/9/2008
- U.S. Open record: 4:08.54 — Peter Vanderkaay (Club Wolverine) – 2/9/2008
- 2014 NCAA Champion: Cristian Quintero (USC) – 4:10.02
We’ll kick off our men’s NCAA picks with the first individual event of the meet, the 500 freestyle. What looked an event with a lot of turnover in point-scorers got a lot more familiar when 2014 NCAA champ Cristian Quintero was granted an extra year of eligibility at USC. Even so, only 8 of last year’s 16 point-scorers return. That includes 6 graduated seniors (notably, 2013 NCAA champ Connor Jaeger), one A-finalist who missed an NCAA invite this season (Navy’s Thomas Duvall) and Texas Longhorn Jack Conger, who switched this event for the 100 back.
Quintero is going to need to better his 2014 time, or at least come close to it, to repeat this season. Florida’s Mitch D’Arrigo has been charging all year long, parlaying a great long course season – where he won a silver medal at European Championships in the 400 free – into a red-hot college season. D’Arrigo is the top incoming seed with the 4:10.77 he used to win SECs.
Quintero was 4:10.02 in his national championship last year, and looks to be ahead of where he was heading into nationals last year. That makes him the likely favorite, though it wouldn’t be a surprise to see D’Arrigo challenge or beat him, given the way the Gator is swimming.
Florida also has 2014 NCAA runner-up Dan Wallace in this race. Wallace had a nice long course season himself, including a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games for Scotland. D’Arrigo passed up Wallace for the SEC title this year, but it remains to be seen if Wallace has more speed up his sleeve than he showed at the conference level. It’s very likely he’ll better his 4:13.61 from SECs after going two seconds faster last year.
Also in the hunt is Georgia’s Matias Koski, fourth last year and already 1.9 seconds faster in 2015. The Finnish Koski leads a Georgia squad that could be pushing into the NCAA’s top tier of men’s programs and has really outstanding freestyle range.
The other returner from last year’s top 8 is Michigan’s Anders Nielsen, who looked like he didn’t rest much for the Big Ten Championships but was still within three tenths of his 2014 best.
With Nielsen representing Denmark internationally, the top American prospect might be USC’s Reed Malone. One of the most notable breakout freshmen of 2014, Malone is now serving as a Trojan captain in only his second collegiate season, and helped lead Southern Cal to its first Pac-12 title in over three decades. Malone added quite a bit of time at NCAAs last year, but that’s somewhat understandable for a freshman who wasn’t really even on the national radar before blowing up at Pac-12s. With a year of experience at the NCAA Championships under his belt, expectations should be a lot higher on Malone, who could be well inside the top half of the championship final.
A couple of newcomers have the potential to make waves as well. Texas Longhorn Clark Smith had a bit of a down year as a freshman, but went a lifetime-best by 5 seconds at Texas’s mid-season invite. He was just a tick off that 4:13.32 in his swims at Big 12s, a meet he didn’t really have to gear up for. Smith currently ranks 5th in the nation, and though the distance between him and #4 Koski is over a second, Smith still would appear a great candidate for an A final spot.
Meanwhile NC State’s Danish freshman Anton Ipsen has been the clutch distance piece the Wolfpack needed to jump into contention for a top 8 or better finish as a team. A championship final appearance for him on day 1, combined with a 200 free relay where NC State could actually win a national title, would be a gigantic start for NC State, one of the faster-rising teams in the nation right now.
Equally new on the national scene is Wisconsin sophomore Matthew Hutchins. The New Zealander has had a meteoric rise this year: at this point last season, Hutchins held a lifetime-best of 4:22.36, but just a few weeks ago, he won the Big Ten title with a new PR of 4:14.00. It’s hard to expect too much more of a drop for Hutchins, but he’s got so much momentum right now it would be equally surprising to see him go too far backwards.
A few more names to keep an eye on:
- Texas Longhorn Sam Lewis just missed an A final appearance last year, taking 9th in prelims and falling to 12th in finals, but he did drop two seconds from his seed time. Also scoring points last year was Cal State – Bakersfield’s Mitchell Huxhold, who took 16th.
- Utah’s Bence Kiraly has the 10th seed incoming, sitting over 4 seconds faster than he was last year. Kiraly dropped a good second at NCAAs last year, and a similar drop this season would put him well within top 8 range.
- Northwestern’s Jordan Wilimovsky is better through the 1650, but he’s far from a one-event swimmer. Wilimovsky, the top seed in the 1650 by five seconds, is sitting 11th here.
- Alabama’s Anton McKee is best known as a breaststroker, but has the freestyle endurance to go 4:14 in the 500 as well, and is coming off lifetime-bests in this race at SECs, where his only-average breaststroke times would suggest he wasn’t fully rested.
Top 8 Picks
|8||Anton Ipsen||NC State||4:13.87||4:13.87|
Dark horse: Evan Pinion, Tennessee. Pinion is the definition of a taper swimmer. He languished through a dual meet season that saw him go only 4:27 at his fastest and included a rough 4:38 coming out of winter break training. But at the midseason Nike Cup, Pinion exploded with a 4:16.37 and officially qualified for NCAAs with an A cut in the mile. Pinion was only 4:27.1 again at SECs, but that seems like a clear sign he trained right through conference meet season, saving his next big taper explosion for NCAAs. Don’t sleep on the 20th-seeded Pinion, as he’s got the potential to move a long ways up if his taper hits.