2017 M. NCAA Picks: Sub-18s No Guarantee for Victory in 200 Free Relay

by Robert Gibbs 8

March 20th, 2017 News, Previews & Recaps



  • NCAA record: 1:14.08, Auburn, 2009
  • American record: 1:15.26, Stanford, 2011
  • U.S. Open record:1:14.08, Auburn, 2009
  • 2016 NCAA Champion: 1:14.88, Texas

When 32 men rock the pool Thursday night in Indianapolis in the fastest race in college swimming, there will be at least three major story lines playing out between the lane lines.  First, gold medal teammates Caeleb Dressel and Ryan Held could make history as the first men to split under 18 seconds in the same race.  They could both end up leading off, and even if they don’t, it’ll be the fourth race of the day for both of them.  Still, if these two get relay starts, we could see double 17s for the first time ever.

Second, even apart from those two speedsters, this event is already looking faster than it ever has before.  An unprecedented ten teams have already broken the 1:17 mark this season.  By way of comparison, only five teams had been that fast through conference meets last year, and at the same point in 2009, at the height of the supersuit era.

Third, Texas will be gunning for its 3rd-straight title in this event, and we’ll start the team-by-team discussion with the defending champs.  The Longhorns only lost senior fan favorite John Murray from last year’s team and return Jack Conger, Brett Ringgold, and Joe Schooling, all of whom are ranked in the top 17 in Division I this season.  The fourth leg will probably go to Tate Jackson, who sports a lifetime best 19.25 flat start from last year.  The defending champs are  seeded 8th, but that time of 1:16.73 was from back in November and lacking Schooling.   Look for the Longhorns to jump up, and with the ability to have all four legs under 19 seconds, Texas is in the driver’s seat until someone else displaces them.

The aforementioned Dressel has put his Florida Gators at the top of the NCAA rankings heading into this season, a 1:15.67 effort from SECs leading the way.  There Dressel was joined by Enzo Martinez Scarpe (19.67 lead off, but he’s been faster), Jan Switkowski (18.90), and Jack Blyzinskj (19.24).  Obviously Dressel gives Florida an advantage somewhere between 0.3-0.6s seconds on anyone else in the field, but where the Gators finish will depend on the efforts of the rest of the cast.

Traditional sprint powerhouse Auburn finished 2nd to Florida at SECs, 1:16.03 good for 2nd-fastest in the country.  Veterans Peter Holoda and Kyle Darmody can both be counted on for sub-19 relay starts, and sophomores Zach Apple and Ziv Kalontarov went 19.37 (leadoff) and 19.07, respectively.

Three years ago, swim fans might have been a bit incredulous had they been told that NC State would still be looking for its first title in this event in 2017.  Yet, after DQs in 2014 (prelims) and 2015 (finals) and just getting touched out in 2016, the Wolfpack are still hungry for a national title.  They are led by Held, who at this point, is probably the best NCAA sprinter not named Dressel.  He’s been 18.1 on a relay split twice now, so with a shave and a full red diamond on his chest, he could be break 18, as we already mentioned.  NC State took a loss when Simonas Billis graduated, but Andreas Schiellerup has been consistent for years, and Justin Ress and Joe Bonk looked great at NCAAs, so Held’s improvement could power NC State to the title this year.

Alabama was also hit hard by graduation, losing former individual event winner Kristian Gkolomeev.  That loss has been tempered somewhat by the additional of freshman Zane Waddell of South Africa, who could be one of the most impactful freshmen at NCAAs.  He’s already been 19.17 in the individual 50 free this season, and the Crimson Tide returns juniors Luke Kaliszak and Laurent Bams.  Those three, plus sophomore Robert Howard, earned Alabama a 1:16.40 at SECs, good for the 4th-fastest time so far this season.

The California Golden Bears sits 5th on psych sheet after putting down a 1:16.46 to win Pac 12s.  Freshmen Pawel Sendyk and Michael Jensen have provided a nice boost to the Bears’ sprint relays this season.  Upperclassmen Justin Lynch and Ryan Murphy joined them at the conference meet, and will probably do so again.  To be a factor, the Bears will need their freshmen to be able to step it up again.

Seniors Matt McHugh and Josh Fleagle gave the Ohio State Buckeyes some big splits to overcome Indiana at Big Tens in a great race.  OSU’s time of 1:16.61 puts them 5th in the nation this year.  If they can repeat that time in prelims, they should make finals, but as fast as this event is getting, even that wouldn’t be a guarantee.

The Hoosiers, meanwhile, are led by a 1-2 punch of juniors Ali Khalafalla and Blake Pieroni.  Khalafalla, who represented Egypt in Rio, has the 5th-fastest individual 50 free time this season, a 18.94.  Pieroni — also an Olympian — provided a sub-19 split at Big Tens, and should be faster here.  Indiana’s been transforming itself into a big time sprint school over the past few years, but they also will have to find some extra speed to make the A-final next week.

Florida State and Southern California round out the teams who have broken the 1:17 mark thus far this season.  The Seminoles come in with a 1:16.84, as they gave the Wolfpack a race at ACCs, and are led by Jason McCormick and Chad Mylin.  The Trojans’ best time this season is a 1:16.88 from way back in November at the Texas Invite.  It sure didn’t look like USC showed all their cards there, are at Pac 12s, and you can count on Dylan Carter and Santo Condorelli helping USC improve its standing by several spots.

You can’t completely count out Missouri, with Michael Chadwick, or Mike Bottom-helmed Michigan.  However, both are seeded further down (14th and 18th, respectively) than they were last year (7th and 9th) when they made the championship final.

Top 8:

Place Team (Seed) Season Best
1 Texas (8) 1:16.73
2 NC State (3) 1:16.27
3 Florida (1) 1:15.57
4 Auburn (2) 1:16.03
5 California (5) 1:16.46
6 Alabama (4) 1:16.40
7 Indiana (7) 1:16.72
8 USC (10) 1:16.88

Dark Horse: Harvard’s Dean Farris isn’t slated to swim any individual events on Thursdays, opting instead for the 200 free / 100 back double on Friday.  Should Farris go for the 200 free relay over the 200 medley relay, that should provide Harvard with a big push from their 25th-seed to make the consol final.

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Does Texas have a 5th or 6th swimmer to use in prelims to save one of their legs for finals? It could be the key difference.


Townley Haas split 18.69 in the class relays, so he could be an option


Shebat can do a very quick 50 free too. I believe he’s done splits around 19.0


Texas should be able to rest a couple guys and swim 1:16 mid which would make the final, but do you risk it?


Last year Texas switched out 3/4 of the swimmers in the 400 free relay from prelims to finals. It was close but they made it as 8th in prelims. It is a long tough week. Any little break certainly helps. As the Texas women found out – every point matters.


Or every inch of a breakout.


I think NC State breaks 1:14 next year

Steve Nolan

By way of comparison, only five teams had been that fast through conference meets last year, and at the same point in 2009, at the height of the supersuit era.

Oh, but we’re never gonna get down to the times from 2009! They’re impossibly fast!

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