2018 Men’s NCAA Coach of the Year: Ray Looze, Indiana University
What was widely expected to be a four-team battle for the NCAA men’s team title quickly turned into a five-team matchup. And by the morning of the final day, it was that surprise fifth team who was leading the pack.
Coach Ray Looze‘s Indiana Hoosiers shocked the nation through three days of NCAAs, and while they weren’t ultimately able to upset Texas for the team title, their third-place finish was easily the most impressive showing of the top few teams.
IU wasn’t deep. In fact, only six swimmers scored individually. Three more added scoring finals relay legs. A 6-man group (plus three key divers) went up against Cal (14 swimming scorers individually) and Texas (10 individual scorers, plus 3 divers) and led for three of four days. That’s because Looze managed to spread his stars across individuals and relays in the perfect combinations to reap maximum points.
Indiana won the 400 medley relay, getting historic splits from breaststroker Ian Finnerty (50.33 split) and freestyler Blake Pieroni (40.62). Looze had his team fired up for the meet-opening 800 free relay, with Pieroni becoming the first man ever under 1:30 with a 1:29.63 lead-off leg. And Indiana’s attention to versatility in training paid off big: the Hoosiers took second in that relay while fielding one true freestyler (Pieroni) along with a backstroker/freestyler (Mohamed Samy), a flyer (Vini Lanza) and, shockingly enough, a breaststroker (Finnerty).
Besides Pieroni’s stellar 200 free, the swim of the meet for Looze’s crew was Finnerty’s barrier-shattering 49.69 in the 100 breast. Finnerty broke NCAA, American and U.S. Open records with that swim, and he went on to win the 200 breast the next day with a gutsy swim, going out at breakneck pace (51.28 at the 100 turn) and holding off a hard charge from Cal’s Andrew Seliskar. That race played to Finnerty’s strengths (sheer speed), but also showed enough endurance training to hang on in the key moments of the final 50.
Indiana’s small crew had a number of other impact swims. Pieroni was in the NCAA title hunt in the 200 (2nd in 1:30.23), finished fourth in an insanely fast 100 free (41.51) and even eked out an 8th-place finish in the 50 free (18.93 in prelims, 19.17 in finals). Lanza was also an A finalist in three events (6th in 200 IM, 3rd in 100 fly, 3rd in 200 fly). Samy was 4th in the 200 free (1:31.73) and 13th in the 100 back (45.52) in an insanely difficult double with only the 100 breast in between. And senior Levi Brock joined Finnerty in the 100 breast A final, going 51.38 for fifth.
In no particular order
Gregg Troy, Florida: Troy’s group was even thinner than Looze’s, but Troy got absolutely historic production out of his top few swimmers. Caeleb Dressel‘s unreal meet (17.63 in the 50 free, 39.90 in the 100 free, 42.90 in the 100 fly) deserves all the accolades in the world, and it was Troy’s oft-maligned focus on yardage, endurance and versatility that allowed Dressel to be so dominant despite 14 swims in three days. Troy also cobbled together an NCAA champion 200 free relay out of two true sprinters and two IM types, and he trained NCAA champions in the 50 free, 100 free, 100 fly (a Florida 1-2) and 200 IM (a Florida 1-3).
- Eddie Reese, Texas: How do you fault the guy who led his team to a fourth-consecutive NCAA title? The Longhorns didn’t even swim their best at NCAAs, but Reese and his crew did what they do best: finding a way to come out on top when it counts. Getting John Shebat to bounce back after a bad first backstroke swim (45.60 on a 400 medley relay that wound up 9th out of prelims; the next day he rebounded to 44.59 and an NCAA runner-up spot) was a massive boost. Townley Haas‘s NCAA and American record 1:29.50 in the 200 free was a jaw-dropper of a swim. Texas also managed to win the team title without winning a single relay.
- Dave Durden, Cal: It was clear that it would be tough for anyone to knock off Texas’s talented roster, but Durden’s Cal men ultimately came the closest. Finishing just 11.5 points back, Durden’s group got massive production from a whole wave of unproven freshmen: Bryce Mefford was a double A-finalist. So was Ryan Hoffer. Daniel Carr played key roles on relays and scored individually. Trenton Julian made an A final. And Sean Grieshop came through with points in both distance races. Add to that Andrew Seliskar‘s great year across a whole bunch of events, and you’ve got a spectacularly deep team that scored 437.5 NCAA points without winning a single event.