2018 Austin Pro Swim Series: SwimSquad Battles Preview/Cheat Sheet

2018  PRO SWIM SERIES – AUSTIN

As the 2018 Pro Swim Series opens this weekend, we’ll get our first look at the newly-unveiled SwimSquad Battles set to run the length of the tour this year.

As a quick refresher, four retired Olympians drafted the entire U.S. National swim team (as well as a couple of 2016 Olympians) into four SwimSquads, and each captain gets to select 6 swimmers to start for each of the Pro Swim Series stops. Athletes earn points for their teams with a winning squad crowned at the end of the season. The captain of the winning team gets $10,000 to donate to a charity of their choice. The athletes can earn sponsor prizes (though NCAA athletes are restricted in prize acceptance under NCAA amateurism rules).

We covered the captains and rosters as they were announced. You can read more here, or check them out below:

Full rosters

Scoring Format

  • Prior to each meet, the captain will select 6 swimmers from their overall roster to score.
  • Each of the six athletes is designated for one specific category, and can score in up to two events from that category. The categories are:
    • Free (50 through 1500)
    • Back (50 through 200)
    • Breast (50 through 200)
    • Fly (50 through 200)
    • IM (200 and 400, not the mystery order 200 IM)
    • Flex (any two races)
  • An athlete must make the top 8 to score points:
    • 1st: 10
    • 2nd: 8
    • 3rd: 7
    • 4th: 5
    • 5th: 4
    • 6th: 3
    • 7th: 2
    • 8th: 1

Austin Outlook

The Austin meet has a few more NCAA athletes than expected, but there are still a lot of big names missing. That was the biggest strategic decision of the draft: to draft the top overall talents, or the best talents who will be available at all or most of the six stops. Interestingly enough, no team really loaded up on pros or college swimmers compared to the field; three of the four teams have exactly 11 swimmers competing in Austin and the other team (Team Coughlin) has 10.

With only about 11 of roughly 28 swimmers per team available, setting the starting lineup will be all about getting the maximum two events of points out of each starter. That’s our main strategy in these projections – this early in the year, it’s tough to predict who will beat whom head-to-head, but easier to figure out who will be likely A finalists and who are relative longshots.

Several teams will have some issue filling out all 6 disciplines, and in those cases, we shuffled up the lineups to try to have a reasonable expectation of points from each of the six spots. There’s certainly an argument to be made that it’s smarter to completely punt one of the six if it means maximizing points from other spots (like putting a star swimmer at flex to earn max points from them, rather than putting them in breaststroke to earn something on a team with no other breaststrokers).

On the projected medley relays, we assumed that all eligible athletes would be willing to swim the mixed medley (no sure thing). We also focused on hitting what has proven to be the preeminent mixed relay strategy – front-loading the relays with the male legs whenever possible to get clean water for the female swimmers.

Team Krayzelburg

Swimming for: Never Ever Give Up: Jessie Rees Foundation

Chase Kalisz is the obvious candidate to lock down the IM spot for Team Lenny. There’s got to be a temptation to slide Kalisz to the flex spot, but Team Krayzelburg has plenty of good flex options and really only one other true IMer (Vanessa Pearl, who is entered in 8 total events and will have to scratch at least one and still probably swim tired).

Nic Fink was second in both breaststrokes at this meet a year ago, but Breeja Larson won the women’s 100 and was second in the 200. That sets up a tough call with Will Licon also in the mix. We’ll go with the men’s side, which has a little softer field with Cody Miller and Kevin Cordes both out. Hard to say how Licon will fare in his first season as a pro, but he’s not entered in the 50, leaving him just two breaststroke scoring options. Fink can score with the two best finishes of the 50, 100 and 200, so we’ll go with him.

Olivia Smoliga is entered in a whopping 7 events and is arguably the best starting option in free and back. We’ll dodge the choice by making her the flex play, with Matt Grevers starting at backstroke and Ryan Held for freestyle. (Grevers gets a boost in the 50 back with Ryan Murphy entering only Olympic distances).

With Kelsi Worrell out, Team Krayzelburg is in a little butterfly trouble, but they do have a choice between veteran Amanda Kendall (50 fly, 100 fly) and upstart Dakota Luther (50 fly, 100 fly, 200 fly). We’ll go with Kendall, who is a better sprinter and generally very good in-season.

Discipline Eligible Events Starter
Free 50-1500 Ryan Held
Back 50-200 Matt Grevers
Breast 50-200 Nicolas Fink
Fly 50-200 Amanda Kendall
IM 200-400 Chase Kalisz
Flex Any 2 events Olivia Smoliga

Probable Medley Relay: Grevers, Fink, Kendall, Smoliga

Team Lezak

Swimming for: USA Swimming Foundation

Team Lezak loaded up on (arguably) the top two male breaststrokers and somehow still got burned. Neither Kevin Cordes nor Cody Miller will compete in Austin, leaving the legendary Lezak with just one breaststroke option: Josh Prenotwho is also the only true IMer active on the roster. In fact, the only other swimmers on the roster entered in a single breaststroke or IM event are Lisa Bratton (200 IM) and Justin Ress (200 IM, 50 breast). So Prenot will need to excel at one spot while Team Lezak uses Bratton or Ress to hopefully scrape out a point or two in the other spot.

Freestyle is the toughest call, between the always-consistent Nathan Adrian (50 free, 100 free) and the rangy Mallory Comerford (50, 100, 200, 400 free & 100 fly) and Clark Smith (200, 400, 800, 1500 free & 200 fly). It’s probably worth slotting Adrian in at freestyle and using the red-hot Comerford as a flex, in case her 100 fly blows up in a wide-open race with Kelsi Worrell out.

Backstroke comes down to Ress, Bratton and Regan Smithand it seems Smith might be in a better spot to swim fast than two college swimmers coming off of training trips. (Ress is entered in a an incredible 9 events, including all four the 50 shootouts, so there’s a level of speculation about what he’ll scratch in the mix, too).

Zach Harting, Tim Phillips and Pace Clark vie for the fly spot. Phillips and Clark are pros, while Harting is in the midst of NCAA season. Harting and Clark are entered in all three races, while Phillips only has the 50 and 100, but he’s the highest seed of the bunch and maybe the safest bet of the three to score big.

Discipline Eligible Events Starter
Free 50-1500 Nathan Adrian
Back 50-200 Regan Smith
Breast 50-200 Josh Prenot
Fly 50-200 Tim Phillips
IM 200-400 Lisa Bratton
Flex Any 2 events

Probable Medley Relay: Ress, Prenot, R. Smith, Comerford

Team Coughlin

Swimming for: DAM-Cancer Foundation

Ryan Murphy is the easy choice on this roster, likely favored to win both backstrokes even without entering the 50 shootout. Where several of the other rosters have struggled with IMers and breaststrokers, Team Coughlin has a ton of flexibility in the other five spots.

She’s in the middle of NCAA season, so lifetime-bests aren’t expected, but Hannah Moore is still probably this team’s top free threat with Manuel out. The other good option would be to use Hali Flickinger, who is currently entered in the 200 and 400 frees within a slew of other races (100 fly, 200 fly, 200 back, 200 IM).

Melanie Margalis has to start somewhere on this lineup, the question is where. She won the 200 breast and 200 IM in Austin a year ago and will swim all three breaststrokes and both IMs in addition to the 200 free. A flex play allows Team Coughlin to earn points from Margalis’s best two events, but she could start in either IM or breaststroke.

With Bethany Galat swimming only the 200 breaststroke (in addition to 200/400 IM and 200 fly), she’s a low-ceiling breaststroke pick who’s probably better off an IM or flex start. That breaststroke spot is probably between Molly Hannis (50, 100, 200) and Madisyn Cox (100, 200). Hannis is coming off an outstanding short course 100, and has the range to score big points at any of the three distances.

In butterfly, you’ve got a choice between Flickinger (100, 200), Hellen Moffitt (50, 100) and Tom Shields (50, 100, 200). Shields maybe isn’t the 200 flyer he was when he made the Olympic team, but has the best shot to score big in two of his three races.

That leaves Coughlin to start two of Margalis, Galat, Cox and Flickinger in her IM and flex spots (unless she really likes Margalis’s chances over Hannis as the breaststroker). It’s not an easy choice. Margalis is a must-start. We’ll put her at flex to maximize her points, then use Cox as the IMer and hope for a big meet in front of a home crowd. It’s up in the air which squad will actually win in Austin, but it seems almost certain that Team Coughlin will have the most bench points.

Discipline Eligible Events Starter
Free 50-1500 Hannah Moore
Back 50-200 Ryan Murphy
Breast 50-200 Molly Hannis
Fly 50-200 Tom Shields
IM 200-400 Madisyn Cox
Flex Any 2 events Melanie Margalis

Probable Medley Relay: Murphy, Hannis, Shields, Margalis

Team Sandeno

Swimming for: Never Ever Give Up: Jessie Rees Foundation

Though Dressel’s event schedule of late would create an interesting question of which slot he should start in, the Florida Gator won’t be competing in Austin. But otherwise, Team Sandeno did the best with the early rounds of her draft, with 4 of her top 5 picks attending Austin and serving as likely starters.

Top pick Leah Smith looks like a slam dunk at the freestyle spot, entered in the 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1500 with no Katie Ledecky to steal her glory. She should have great races with the Chinese team in Austin, but will still put up big points. Sandeno also has the red-hot Zane Grothefresh off two American records in short course yards. Smith is also entered in the 400 IM, so it might be worth making her the flex play and Grothe the freestyle starter in Austin.

Jacob Pebley was very fast throughout last year’s Pro Swim Series and should lock down the backstroke spot, even though Taylor Dale wouldn’t be a bad start either. The fly spot comes down to Jack Conger or Sarah Gibsonand you couldn’t go wrong with either. Conger is especially enticing, though, with Dressel out of the way.

Sandeno has a wealth of breaststrokers. Katie Meili is an outstanding in-season swimmer, but only entered in two events, and her status is a bit uncertain as she juggles training and law school. Michael Andrew is always an intriguing name, but he is, as usual, splitting his time between all four strokes and six events. That leaves him in only the 100 and 200 breast. Andrew Wilson and Emily Escobedo are entered in all three breaststrokes, but Escobedo also includes fly and the 200 IM. That’s important because no other Team Sandeno member is entered in an IM race except Smith in the 400. You could start Smith as an IMer and hope she wins the 400, but that’s throwing away a lot of near-guaranteed freestyle points as a flex or free play. The best play from a roster perspective is probably starting Wilson at breaststroke and Escobedo at IM, hoping she can eke out a point in the 200, where she’s seeded 18th.

Discipline Eligible Events Starter
Free 50-1500 Zane Grothe
Back 50-200 Jacob Pebley
Breast 50-200 Andrew Wilson
Fly 50-200 Jack Conger
IM 200-400 Emily Escobedo
Flex Any 2 events Leah Smith

Probable Medley Relay: Pebley, Wilson, Gibson, L. Smith

Relay Outlook

Team Krayzelburg Team Lezak Team Coughlin Team Sandeno
Matt Grevers Justin Ress Ryan Murphy Jacob Pebley
Nicolas Fink Josh Prenot Molly Hannis Andrew Wilson
Amanda Kendall Regan Smith Tom Shields Sarah Gibson
Olivia Smoliga Mallory Comerford Melanie Margalis Leah Smith

All four teams have very good male backstroke legs, so the race could be extremely close in the early goings. The male breaststrokers are a bit of a crapshoot, as any of them could be better on the day of the relay, but they should all spot ballpark five second margins over Hannis, who has no male breaststroke teammates in Austin.

Team Lezak is forced to use Regan Smith a little out of her element in butterfly. Gibson and Kendall should both be solid legs, and expect Shields to charge hard. The difference is really on the anchor leg, where Comerford and Smoliga should be tough to beat for a Margalis/Leah Smith duo known more for distance/mid-distance races. Give the advantage to Team Krayzelburg, which doesn’t really have a weak leg and should be among the best in all four splits.

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Andysup

This is going to be fun but I have one question. I thought the pool of swimmers for each of the teams comes from the national team. How is Ryan Lochte on Krazelburg’s team?

Hannah

2016 Olympians are allowed to participate. That’s why Dana Vollmer is also on a team

Andysup

I see that on the USASwimming website and a roster note now. Thank you.

SwimPop

Still can’t believe how badly USA swimming blew this opportunity to engage the fans by creating a site that allowed the fans to draft and compete against the Olympians. It’s not like this technology hasn’t been available for 10+ years now.

Pineapple

Yeah, I don’t care much if Lezak beats Sandeno for instance but I do think it would be fun to make a league and compete with my college teammates

zswam

you forgot meili on the medley relay. that’ll be a way better option than asking leah smith to swim the 100 free?

Meili’s best LC 100 free is 55.05 (tapered). Smith’s is 55.93 (untapered).

Tammy Touchpad Error

I dont think anyone meant having Meili swim Free. Maybe swapping her into breast and switching things around

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson just can’t stay away from the pool. A competitive career of almost two decades wasn’t enough for this Minnesotan, who continues to get his daily chlorine fix. A lifelong lover of writing, Jared now combines the two passions as Senior Reporter for SwimSwam.com, covering swimming at every level. He’s an …

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