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

2016 MEN’S NCAA SWIMMING & DIVING CHAMPIONSHIPS

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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caleb
6 years ago

I have a feeling the relay won’t be quite as fast as some are expecting… no inside knowledge obviously, but I imagine the big names are all pointing their tapers for June and August… Texas will win the meet without insane performances so some of those guys may not be fully rested even for NCAAs. Same with Murphy, Prenot and a few others.

Chris
Reply to  caleb
6 years ago

Very possibly true.

TheCBay
6 years ago

This relay has the potential to be very interesting, more so on the side of Cal. Cal has the potential to put together and interesting relay, especially on the breast and free legs with Prenot, Seliskar, Guitierez, and Messerschmitt. Texas I feel could mess around with their order and positions a little bit, but overall I believe the time will be in the same range. Cals time depending on the relay could be anywhere.

Patrick
6 years ago

Shebat- 45.5
Licon- 50.5
Schooling- 43.7
Conger- 40.9
3:00.6

Murphy- 44.0
Prenot/ Seliskar- 50.5
Lynch- 44.6
Guitierez- 41.8
3:00.9

This on will be close yet again… With Justin lynch’s improvement, I don’t expect Schooling to catch him this year. If Licon and/or Conger can’t replicate their magic, Cal could steal this one.

SamH
Reply to  Patrick
6 years ago

This by far the best comment here.

PAC12BACKER
6 years ago

Without a fit Messerschmitt, Cal does not have the anchor to take this relay. 42 mid won’t cut it.

Zanna
Reply to  PAC12BACKER
6 years ago

Murphy could possibly anchor with Pebley taking the back.

JP
6 years ago

I think Seliskar gets breaststroke duty for Cal and pops off a 50 low.

Everyone is assuming Shebat for Texas’s backstroker, but Harty was a 46.2 in 2014 and hasn’t exactly gotten worse…

In the end, I think Conger makes another big comeback for a Texas touch-out over Cal.

Alabama in third, again. They didn’t explode at SECs quite like they did last year, I have a gut feeling that’s because they left more in the tank.

Zanna
Reply to  JP
6 years ago

Prenot could also be put on breastroke duty

Chris
Reply to  JP
6 years ago

Fair point about Harty, though 1) he has 200IM that day, and 2) he’s really more of a 200 guy. I wondered the same all year, but it’s consistently been Shebat with the A squad. Texas really has an embarrassment of riches to choose from.

ct swim fan
6 years ago

Ultimately, in predicting the results I believe it will come down to which coaches you believe were on the level from the conference championships regarding this one was not rested, shaved, etc. I took all of that chatter with a grain of salt. If we are to believe all of it, then everyone will be great at NCAAs which we all know will not happen. Look at the just completed women’s meet. The number of swimmers whose times dropped was not large. I expect the same sort of results at the men’s meet. There will be some drops, but a lot of the swimmers times will be going up.

Bobthebuilderrocks
6 years ago

Besides, the Olympic Year brings out the best in everyone. 😉

I don’t see why John can’t drop .9 off of his time from Big 12’s, when Im hoping he wasn’t fully tapered. I agree that Will and Jack will have the hardest times achieving those splits, but I believe in Texas.

Chris
Reply to  Bobthebuilderrocks
6 years ago

I do wonder if Shebat may have rested more for conference. He needed an “invited” caliber swim just to make the meet, though I guess he could have come for relays only without one. Would love to see him even faster, of course.

Bobthebuilderrocks
6 years ago

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

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