2015 NCAA MEN’S CHAMPIONSHIPS
200 FREE RELAY
- NCAA record: 1:14.08 – Auburn (Andkjaer, Louw, Norys, Targett) – 3/26/09
- American record: 1:15.26 – Stanford (Coville, Staab, Allen, Wayne) – 3/24/11
- U.S. Open record: 1:14.08 – Auburn (Andkjaer, Louw, Norys, Targett) – 3/26/09
- 2014 NCAA Champion: California (Messerschmidt, Murphy, Cox, Stubblefield) — 1:15.27
In the early team battle last year between deep Texas and Cal, the 200 free relay proved to be an even match for the juggernauts. Texas jumped out to the lead in prelims, going 1:15.95 to post the only time under 1:16 in the entire field. It was Cal, however, with three legs splitting 18.81 or better, who took the final in 1:15.27, though Texas had a slight drop to 1:15.53 for 2nd place. Auburn rounded out the top three, squeaking under 1:16 thanks to three sub-19 splits of their own, and no other team dipped below a 1:16 mid.
NC State would have likely made the A final and challenged for the title last year were it not for a prelims disqualification for an early take off. This year, however, they come into the meet as the only team having broken 1:16 this season. The Wolfpack have their fastest 200 freestyle relay they’ve ever assembled, with Simonas Bilis going over six tenths faster in his flat start 50 free already this year than he did at NCAA’s last year and freshman Ryan Held nicely replacing graduated relay leg Jonathan Boffa. They return their other two legs, David Williams and Andreas Schiellerup, along with Bilis, and the question remains: Will the Wolfpack, NCAA sprint central, finally get themselves a title in the splash-and-dash relay extraordinaire?
Texas and Cal are taper teams. They each have histories of dropping big swims when it counts, and they return as 1-2 teams from last year. The Longhorns’ results from Big 12’s aren’t very telling, as the four on their relay will probably be switched around depending on who’s hitting their tapers on day one. Cal is a little easier to predict, with Tyler Messerschmidt, Ryan Murphy, and Seth Stubblefield each returning from last year’s relay and each capable of splitting at least an 18 mid with a relay start (though Messerschmidt led off at Pac 12s). Their fourth leg at Pac 12s was Fabio Gimondi, who was just 19.81 leading off, but that could change at the big meet. The fact of the matter is that these are the three teams that seem almost guaranteed to get at least three legs under 19 seconds, while NC State looks ready to get 18s across the board after Bilis led off in an 18.98 at ACCs. The Wolfpack would have been right under or right on their seed time last year if not for the DQ, and they have the necessary pieces to grab gold. Texas and Cal should be right there with them, but the sprint depth of the Wolfpack can’t be ignored.
Unfortunately for Cal, while they have three potential sub-19 splits, the fourth leg is very up in the air. This wouldn’t be too much of a problem if it weren’t for Auburn and Alabama both having been faster than the Golden Bears already this season. At SECs, led off by sprint hero Kristian Gkolomeev in a 18.69, Alabama held the lead wire to wire with a finishing time of 1:16.13 to touch out Auburn (1:16.17) and hold off a charging Kyle Darmody. Auburn has been a big sprint program of late (they do happen to hold the NCAA record from 2009), but Alabama has built a solid complementary crew to Gkolomeev and this non-traditional power school will be hungry to break through the perennial powers.
Michigan and USC round out the remaining teams that have been under 1:17 this season. The Wolverines reloaded this year with freshman Paul Powers turning in profit after being heavily recruited as they return big guns Vinny Tafuto and Bruno Ortiz. Cristian Quintero continues to impress with his range and is back to anchor for the Trojans, as underclassmen make up the rest of the relay. Santo Condorelli was the best finisher in the individual 50 free at Pac-12s save for defending NCAA Champion Brad Tandy, and Dylan Carter and Ralf Tribuntsov each held their own, though Tribuntsov is going to have to be better than a 19.5 with a relay start if the Trojans want to lock up an A final appearance.
UNC has been the 8th fastest relay this year after a very consistent showing at ACCs with all 19 lows to finish 2nd to NC State in 1:17.03. The Tar Heels finished a disappointing 21st last year, and they have a legitimate shot at making the A final. However, with no “hammer” leg (no guaranteed 18 mid sort of split), they’ll have to retain their ACC speed or else they could fall out of the top 16 altogether again. The 9th, 10th, and 11th fastest relays this year, however, have that difference making leg. For Princeton, it’s Harrison Wagner and Sandy Bole, after Wagner led off their Ivy League-best relay in 19.4 and Bole nearly split under 19 to anchor. UNLV returns three of their legs from last year, with Dillon Virva having gone the fastest of any leg without a flying start as they punched their ticket into the A final. It comes as little surprise that David Nolan will be putting Stanford on his back in this relay, though freshman Sam Perry has proved himself on the lead off leg at Pac 12s.
The top three to five times seem like locks for this A final, although with this relay being most heavily impacted by those few tenths or hundredths gained or dropped here and there, anything could happen. OK, to avoid cliche, most anything could happen. Keep those eyes peeled.
TOP 8 PREDICTIONS
Dark Horses: Let’s be real, I don’t want to have to choose just one dark horse team. This is a crazy relay and honestly there are a ton of horses out there that are looking pretty darn dark. However, I have to go with Florida. The Gators finished 5th last year, and have replaced Bradley DeBorde with Caeleb Dressel. The freshman has been very good this year but hasn’t yet exploded. The Gators need to figure out their other three legs, but they have the hammer with Dressel and will try to repeat in the A final this year. That being said, UNC and Princeton each look very solid and could challenge if Florida doesn’t pull through.