2016 M. NCAA Picks: Texas, Cal Set For Another Epic 400 Medley Relay



The Texas Longhorn only lost one leg from last year’s winning relay that set the U.S. Open and NCAA records in this event — Kip Darmody on backstroke.  Texas once again has plenty of depth and options — Jack Conger, for instance, could swim back, fly, or free on almost any medley relay squad in the field — but the Longhorns lineup choices over the course of the season seem to indicate that the three returning swimmers will keep their spots, while freshman John Shebat looks like the likely candidate to take over for Darmody.  Shebat’s lifetime best is 45.88, a time which he swam at Big 12s.  That’s only about 0.5 off what Darmody swam last year.  There is a chance that Conger, who sports a 45.32 lifetime best could find himself leading off this relay, and Texas has at least five (other) guys who can go under 43.0 in the 100 free, so options abound for the Longhorns.

The other two returners from last year’s relay are Joseph Schooling, who swept the individual butterfly events, and Will Licon, who won the 400 IM and 200 breast.  Both men swam the 200 IM last year, and sat out in the morning, replaced by Tripp Cooper on fly and Austin Temple on breast.  This year, Licon looks to be one of the favorites in the 200 IM, while Schooling will only swim the fly events individually, presumably to be available for all five relays.  Temple failed to qualify for NCAA’s this year, so unless Eddie Reese goes with a little risky creativity (e.g., Schooling, Matt Ellis, Ryan Harty, etc., swims breast in the morning prelims while Will Glass swims fly), Licon will need to swim prelims as well.

Last year’s runner up and American Record setters, California returns two of four legs: backstroker Ryan Murphy and butterflier Justin Lynch.  Like Texas, the Bears have incredibly depth that gives them some options on this relay.  Jacob Pebley will probably swim backstroke in prelims, and has a lifetime best of 45.90, a time that would perfectly adequate on almost every other team.  They lost Chuck Katis and his 50.12 breast leg to graduation.  However, Josh Prenot took over breaststroke duties at the Georgia Invite in December and split 51.55, while Connor Hoppe threw down a 51.86 flat start at Pac-12s a few weeks ago.  Justin Lynch should be a lock to go 45-low on the fly leg.

The big question mark for Cal is probably the freestyle leg.  Seth Stubblefield graduated, and Tyler Messerschmidt failed to qualify for NCAA’s this year.  Messerschmidt may come along as a relay swimmer, but unless the Cal coaches think he can make substantial improvement over his times at Pac-12s, Long Gutierrez will probably take anchor duties.  He’s had a great season in which he earned NCAA automatic qualifying times in the 200 free and 100 fly, and he’s been 42-mid on this relay.

It’s a testament to Cal’s depth that we’ve gone this long without mentioning freshman Andrew Seliskar, who came out of high school as one of the most versatile age-groupers ever.  He’s actually been faster than Hoppe (or Prenot) in the 100 breast, not too far off Lynch or Gutierrez in fly or free, and even swam backstroke on this relay at Pac-12s when Murphy and Pebley were competing at the Orlando Pro Series.

We should probably move on to other teams at this point, but let’s wrap it up by saying that even allowing for the prospect that swimmers might “saving their full taper” for Olympic Trials / Olympics, both Texas and Cal are likely to go under 3:02 again, and should be dueling it out the final yards of this race for the victory.

Looking at the rest of the field, it’s actually the Florida Gators have the fastest time so far this season, a 3:03.86 from the SEC championship.  The only swimmer from last year’s relay who will swim the same leg will be junior Jack Blyzinkski.   He led off in 45.78 in the A-final of this event last year, but has already been 45.41 this season.  Last year Caeleb Dressel anchored this relay as a freshman, but he’s slid over to breast after two seniors graduated, and responded by blasting some insane times.  Corey Main went 19-low and 42-low in the 50 and 100 freestyle splits last year.  Florida is dangerous, but typically does not swim much faster than seed time at NCAA’s, and a 3:03 is not going to get it done this year.

Louisville has been steadily improving in this event over the past few years.  They finsihed 18th in 2013, 10th in 2014, and disqualified in preliminaries last year with a time that would have put them on the cusp on the A-final, depending on how safe of a reaction time the DQ’d leg would have had.  Junior Grigory Tarasevich in his third go-around as Lousiville’s backstroker at NCAA’s, and has the 4th seed in the individual 100 back, but he has Russian Olympic trials a few weeks after NCAA’s, which may affect his speed.  Sophomore Carlos Claverie has gone 52.41 this year as he fills the spot vacated by Thomas Dahlia’s graduation.   Senior Pedro Coutinho and junior Trevor Carroll also return from last year’s relay.  Louisville’s track record indicates that they won’t typically swim substantially faster than their seed time, so while they should be a safe bet for the A-final (seed time of 3:04.90), it’s hard to see a scenario where they are challenging Texas or California for the win.

Peter Holoda has had a breakout year for Auburn, and has the 6th-fastest time in the 100 free this year at 42.23.  He anchored this relay at SEC’s in a blister 41.13.  Last year’s anchor, Kyle Darmody, is no slouch on the sprint freestyles, but has only been 43.05 so far this season, so we’ll probably see Holoda anchoring this relay.   Senior Arthur Mendes went 45.72 in the individual 100 fly at SEC’s and should keep his position as the flyer after Hugo Morris filled in last year.   The front half of this relay should remain unchanged with juniors Joe Patching and  Michael Dunderstadt reprising their roles from last year.  Auburn  is seeded at 3:05.44 and has either held or dropped time relative to seed the past few years, and except for The Great 2014 DQ-a-Thon in this event, they’ve made A-finals pretty regularly, and should do again this year.

The Indiana Hoosiers only finished 17th last year, but their 3:05.61 from the B1G championships places them 6th so far this year.   Three of the four who competed on this relay at NCAA’s last year were on that B1G championship relay last month: junior backstroker Bob Glover, senior breastroker Tanner Kurz, and sophomre freestyler Blake Pieroni, while freshman Vinicus Lanza replaced Max Irwin.  Pieroni, Kurz and Lanza are seeded 7th in their respective individual events, while Glover sits at 21st in the 100 back.

After Indiana comes a trio of teams seeded at 3:06-low and should make up the tier that will be fighting to get into the A-final.  Last year, we picked Alabama to win, and they did…if you throw out Texas and California’s unreal times.  Alabama is still quite scary.  Junior Connor Oslin had the fastest lead-off split of anyone not named Ryan Murphy in last year’s final, junior Anton McKee will give you a consistent 52-low breaststroke split, and junior Kristian Gkolomeev is one of the fastest guys in the pool.  Sophomore Luke Kaliszak went 46.34 in the individual 100 fly at SEC’s, and swam on this relay in place of senior Brett Walsh, who swam fly at NCAA’s last year.  Their seed time of 3:06.17 probably means that they won’t be able to afford swimming much slower than that in order to make the A-final.

Led by one of last summer’s breakout stars, Michael Chadwick, Missouri sits right behind Alabama with a 3:06.25.  Like almost every other team on the list, the Tigers only had to replace one leg of this relay.  In this case, the new member is Fabian Schwingenschlogl, who’ll take over for Sam Tierney on breast.  At first glance, this might be a tough leg to replace, as Tierney split 51.02 in the B-final last year, the 3rd-fastest split acfoss both finals, but Schwingenschlogl’s 51.36 sits at the fastest time in the country this year, and it would not be surprising to see him dip below 51.0 on this split.  Junior Andrew Sansoucie qualified individually this year after only swimming relays last year, and could dip under 46 on a relay split, while backstroker Carter Griffin will need get back below the 47.02 he posted at SEC’s if Missouri is to have any shot at the A-final.  Chadwick was the 3rd-fastest USA swimmer in the 100 free LCM last summer after finishing 5th at NCAA’s last year.

At least four other teams have a good chance of making the A-final.  The NC State Wolfpack could improve on their 3:06.25 seed time by swapping in Simonas Billis or Ryan Held for Joe Bonk on the anchor leg.  Michigan took a hit by losing two seniors from last year’s squad.  Paul Powers should fill in nicely for Bruno Ortiz on freestyle, while Chris Klein will attempt to replicate Richard Funk’s 51-low breaststroke split.  The Trojans have three highly-touted freshmen who all redshirted the first semester in Patrick Mulcare, Carsten Vissering, and Alex Valente.  Even if they miss the A-final this year, those three, plus sophomore freestyler Ralf Tribuntsov, will give USC a very strong core for years to come.  The Georgia Bulldogs were in the A-final last year, and like many other teams, they return three of the four legs.  They lost their breaststroke leg, but if they swim Gunnar Bentz in prelims, we expect he should be a lot faster than the 53-second breaststroke leg he swam at SEC’s, and that should be the difference they need to place in the top eight.

Our Picks:

Place Team Entry Time
1 Texas 3:04.64
2 California 3:04.88
3 Florida 3:03.86
4 Auburn 3:05.44
5 Alabama 3:06.17
6 Georgia 3:07.73
7 NC State 3:06.25
8 Louisville 3:04.90

Dark Horse: The Arizona Wildcats went 1:23:74 in the 200 medley relay to win that event at the Pac-12 championship, but only 3:08.24 in the 400 medley relay.  That gives them the 17th seed in this event.  If they can get the longer relay’s times closer to where it seems like they should be given their time in the 200, they should be able to move up substantially from their seed.

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samuel huntington
5 years ago

no way texas loses, Cal lost too much I think

Reply to  samuel huntington
5 years ago

I agree. Last year, Schooling gained 1.5 seconds on Lynch, and will only be fresher this year by dropping the 200 IM and only picking up the 200 free relay (I think we’re going to see the fastest 100 fly split ever here). It’s unclear how fast Licon will go to me, but I think at the very least he should equal Seliskar/Hoppe/Prenot. Cal also doesn’t have a freestyler who can equal Conger other than Murphy, who is obviously on back (unless they decide to go Pebley on back, Murphy on free) – unless Messerschmidt was not tapered at Pac-12s and Durden decided he was secretly going to be a relay-on trump card (even still, I would have expected better).… Read more »

5 years ago

I am disapointed in this article that NC State was not a considered an considerably threat for this event. They have 4 monster guy in stuart,hren,billis(who’s is primarilry a freestyler) and held. That some serious talent and barring a DQ has the potential to push and maybe even touch out Texas and Cal.

samuel huntington
Reply to  WolfPack
5 years ago

Wolfpack, your comments are sounding silly at this point. An NC State swimmer/ relay cannot win every event. Even Texas can’t do that. You honestly think NC State can match Texas in this relay?

Displaced Wolverine
Reply to  samuel huntington
5 years ago

Seriously, he probably believes Texas is second fiddle to NC State… I bet he probably picked a NCSU swimmer to win the 200 Breast….

Reply to  Displaced Wolverine
5 years ago

Just wait. the Wolfpack is about to make a STATEment in the next few days

Reply to  WolfPack
5 years ago

I won’t take the DQ bait – but on this relay? – out touching Texas and Cal?

5 years ago

Wolfpack: How can you even consider Nc State against either one of those programs? Also why do you comment the same thing on everyone of these articles “nc state should definitely be considered as a possibility of winning”. They are good but not that good

5 years ago

Texas can only lose if they DQ.

John will go 44.9
Will will go 50.3
Joe will go 43.5
Jack will go 40.4

I would never bet against the Texas guys, this relay is theirs.

Reply to  bobthebuilderrocks
5 years ago

I agree with the fact that Texas are favorites going into this, but those times are a bit insane even as relay splits

Reply to  bobthebuilderrocks
5 years ago

Yeah, those are some ambitious splits. Over two seconds under the US Open record, for a 2:59.1. That would be exciting, but I have my doubts. Shebat will have to drop a full second to make that split. Licon and Conger would each have to drop a half second off their splits from last year, which is possible, but a somewhat big drop at the level they’re at (plus, I consider Licon to be more of a 200 guy, I’m just not sure he has the top end speed to pull a 50.3). Schooling’s split, fast as it is, isn’t unreasonable given his flat start time. I think he could have been faster than 43.9 last year, so 43.5 for… Read more »

Reply to  sven
5 years ago

I believe Licon has more speed than we think based off his 200 IM last year. He went out insanly fast, just he was overshadowed by Nolan’s back. I think he could pull off a 50.3 relay, though Jack and John’s splits seem a bit ambitious.

Reply to  Ok
5 years ago

Conger has shown to be a man on relays, so if it’s at all close, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was 40.7 or better.

Reply to  bobthebuilderrocks
5 years ago

As the biggest Texas homer ever, I agree that those are probably wishful thinking. All those guys are capable of that, but only in perfect circumstances. Likelihood of those times: 1) Joe, 2) Will, 3) John, 4) Jack. Jack’s 40.9 last year was already a monster effort, as it appeared on video.

Reply to  bobthebuilderrocks
5 years ago

Cal Berk wins this one, Lynch has had a whole year full of nightmares of Schooling running him down a year ago, no way that kid hasn’t worked his tail off to ensure Schooling doesn’t make it “The Rundown” pt.2
Seliskar is the x factor, anything close to Katis from a year ago and the Bears will have enough to hold off the craziest back end of a medley since Mcgill Targett

Reply to  bobthebuilderrocks
5 years ago

Seeing Joe’s underwaters and speed going out in the 100Fly at Kazan I don’t doubt he will be mid to low 43. Under 45 in back is iffy for any Texas guys, doable but doubtful. I see 50 point splits becoming prominent this year, but Will certainly has the potential. Unless Texas has another guy step up for the free anchor I don’t see Conger going sub 41 by much.

2:59 is on the Horizon though! The NCAA / USOpen records look weak here.

Phelps swims 200 breast rio
5 years ago

Great analysis. I’m really looking forward to watching this relay.

Plain Jane
5 years ago

I do like Texas for this relay. Their swimmers have shown noticeable improvements from the previous year. They hit their taper better than anyone.

5 years ago

Texas lost their backstroker but replaced him.
Cal lost their breaststroke and freestyler, and they have not been replaced.

I’d be surprised if Cal is within a second of Texas.

NC State is very good, but what leg are they better than Texas, maybe slightly better on back, but that’s about it.

5 years ago

Sorry guys, but I’m sticking with my predictions. 🙂