NCAA MEN’S CHAMPIONSHIPS
800 FREESTYLE RELAY
- NCAA record: 6:09.85 — Michigan (Nielsen, Wynalda, Glanda, Jaeger) — 2/26/14
- American record: 6:10.16 — Texas (Walters, Berens, Jostes, Klueh) — 3/27/09
- U.S. Open record: 6:09.85 — Michigan (Nielsen, Wynalda, Glanda, Jaeger) — 2/26/14
- 2014 NCAA Champion: USC (Quintero, Malone, Carter, Colupaev) — 6:13.09
The USC Trojans ran away with the title in this event last year as Cristian Quintero and Dimitri Colupaev each dropped 1:32s (no flying start for Quintero) en route to a total time of 6:13.09, the only team under 6:14 at NCAAs. This was somewhat surprising, after the ridiculous 6:09.85 put down by the Michigan Wolverines thanks in part to a mind-boggling 1:30 split from Michael Wynalda at Big Tens.
This year, Michigan has battled the graduations of Wynalda and Connor Jaeger with the addition of Dylan Bosch and sophomore Jack Mangan, as the Wolverines once again own the fastest time (6:12.20) going into the big meet. However, this is a team that gained over five seconds (though nearly three seconds were gained solely by Wynalda) from their seed last year. The Trojans look too good top-to-bottom for the Wolverines. USC’s slowest split was a 1:34.45 from Michael Domagala, who split a 20.94 on his first 50, telling us if he paces it better he might be able to get that down a little. Dylan Carter led off a 1:33.55, Reed Malone followed with a 1:32.86, while Quintero dropped a 1:31.65 on the anchor leg for a total of 6:12.51. Three of the four legs of this relay have been here before, and Quintero is the senior veteran the Trojans need to defend their 2014 title.
In addition to Michigan, USC is going to have quite the battle with Florida and NC State. The Gators were 2nd last year and return lead off Mitch D’Arrigo and Dan Wallace, the latter proving to be the fastest split (1:33.13) on anchor. At SECs, both Pawel Werner and Nick Alexiou started things off with 1:33s, while D’Arrigo and Wallace each provided 1:32s on the back end. This is a dangerous relay from a program that has had huge success the last couple years. The Wolfpack had three very strong legs last year but didn’t have a deep enough team to field an elite 800 free relay. This year, though, the arrival of Ryan Held gives them the power to crash the teams up top and the opportunity to win the title. The freshman, who stuck to the 50 and 100 free in high school, swam a 1:33.75 flat start at ACCs, which should serve the Wolfpack considerably better than their slowest split of 1:37.28 from last year. Simonas Bilis should make a run at a 1:31 if he’s got a flying start, while Soeren Dahl and David Williams each could be in the 1:33 range.
The first seed (Michigan) and the fourth seed (NC State) are separated by less than a second with USC and Florida sandwiched in between. Each of these four teams has potential to break through for the title in what is shaping up to be a very tight race.
Leading the remaining entries is 5th seed Stanford (6:14.98). The Cardinal got an impressive 1:32.49 from David Nolan, with solid 1:34 lows from the rest of the Stanford relay. Nolan is incredibly versatile (he did split a 51 on the breaststroke leg of their 400 medley relay at Pac 12s, after all) and will significantly boost any relay he’s on. He was left off of the 400 free relay, and Stanford’s top 5 potential in this event should keep him here so that the Cardinal can maximize their scoring opportunities.
Auburn and Texas aren’t far behind. The Tigers reloaded with freshman Hugo Morris, the #6 seed in the 200 free (1:33.39), and put stud sophomore Joe Patching on the end of the SEC relay. Morris and Patching replace graduated James Disney-May and Zane Grothe while joining Kyle Darmody and Arthur Mendes, both members of the 2014 NCAA relay that placed 7th. The Longhorns are seeded 7th, though their Big 12 relay included Joseph Schooling rather than Clark Smith. Smith has been 1:34.07 this year and would probably be able to go about a second faster than Schooling’s 1:34.20 anchor leg at Big 12s. Jack Conger and Clay Youngquist should at least be able to repeat their 1:33 mids with flying starts, while freshman Jonathan Roberts looks to lead off again after his 1:34 mid from Big 12s. This is one of the few relays that could really move up with big splits from studs like Conger and Youngquist.
Two Big Ten teams round out the top 9, those being Wisconsin and Indiana. At 6:16.30, the Badgers are looking to crack the top 8 after finishing just 13th last year. Florida transfer Nick Caldwell provided a strong anchor split of 1:33.13 at Big Tens with three 1:34’s preceding him, all from sophomores, and Wisconsin has to feel good after placing 2nd in the conference and edging Indiana and Ohio State. Indiana had a similar quartet, though freshman standout Blake Pieroni flew out to a 1:33.10 on the lead off leg. The Hoosiers have plenty of experience on their relay with the likes of Steve Schmuhl, and will be aiming for a top 8 finish as well.
Georgia and California, two teams seeded to be in the thick of the team race, are seeded 10th and 11th. These are two teams that will probably be in the top eight, though. California returns their entire relay from their 6th place finish last year, as does Georgia from their 9th place finish. The Bulldogs added Gunnar Bentz to their roster, a freshman who split a 1:35.23 anchoring their relay at SECs, though he has been 1:34.73 flat start before (at the Georgia Invite in December). Matias Koski is a seasoned freestyler, while Chase Kalisz was a 1:33.80 with a relay start at NCAAs last year, compared to his 1:34.36 at SECs this year. All in all, it looks like both of these teams have more in the tank for NCAAs.
TOP 8 PREDICTIONS
Dark Horses: Georgia (9th seed). Kalisz and Koski are each capable of sub 1:34 splits, while it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if Koski pulled out a 1:32 lead off. Alec Cohen and Bentz should only need to be 1:34 mids if Kalisz and Koski put down big swims, though Bentz should improve upon his SEC split.