2019 M NCAA Previews: Wide Open Field to Fill Dressel-Sized Shoes in 50FR



  • NCAA Record: Caeleb Dressel, Florida, 2018 – 17.63
  • American Record: Caeleb Dressel, Florida, 2018 – 17.63
  • U.S. Open Record: Caeleb Dressel, Florida, 2018 – 17.63
  • Meet Record: Caeleb Dressel, Florida, 2018 – 17.63
  • 2018 Champion: Caeleb Dressel, Florida – 17.63

After four years of Dressel in the NCAA men’s 50 free race, it is now time to crown the first non-Dressel champion in the 50 free since 2014. When considering who has the potential to fill the shoes, hundredths of a second matter more than ever. In the same way, prelims is just as important as finals, making every swim matter. When surveying the psych sheets, the thought to consider is what swimmer will be able to hold on to their spike in momentum or rally on to their full potentials.

At the top of the pysch sheets is SEC champ and Swimmer of the Meet Robert Howard (Alabama). At the SEC meet, Howard broke 19 seconds for the first time in prelims (18.80) and dropped even more in finals (18.74).  From 2018, Howard improved 0.26s off his former PB of 19.00, which aided in his 7th place finish at NCAAs. Maintaining this momentum can really give Howard the drive to a better NCAA finish.

Next down the list is Longhorn Tate Jackson, coming in with an 18.79. Jackson is a strong sprinter, however, the 50 free can really be tricky to maintain consistency in if not careful. In 2018, Jackson came into the NCAA meet with an 18.95, which is very respectable. In prelims, Jackson unfortunately took a big hit and gained to a 19.23, failing to qualify for the top 16. This year, Jackson appears to be turning his luck and focusing on the 50 at NCAAs. At Big 12s, Jackson finished prelims with a 19.30, but opted out of finals. If Jackson appears to be saving up his 50 free for the prelims of NCAAs, he can set himself up for a big redemption.

Both Pawel Sendyk (Cal) and Kyle DeCoursey (Tennessee) earned their seeds from great finals swims. Sendyk clipped 0.26s from his prelims time to win Pac-12s and DeCoursey chopped 0.30s to take second at SECs. The pair are also the only 2 seeds in the top 8 who swum their lifetime bests at finals of their respective conference meets. These finals swims could potentially question if they are able to equal or better that swim. For DeCoursey in 2018, his 19.12 seed time was swam too fast too early and resulted in his drop to 37th place with a 19.46. Sendyk, on the other hand, was the 4th-place finisher at NCAAs and improved from both of his swims.

The next two seeds on the psych sheet are the top 2 from Big Tens: Bowen Becker of Minnesota and Gus Borges of Michigan. Only one one-hundredth separated the duo in finals where Becker had the narrow advantage and won the title. While the racing was great practice for Borges, Becker could be looking for way more. Becker’s lifetime best is a 18.69, the fastest in the field, from prelims at 2018 Big Tens. Trying to replicate a big swim can prove to be difficult, especially if swum before a meet like NCAAs. This year, Becker has not gone under 19 yet. If Becker is deciding to follow a similar resting strategy like Jackson, we could see some pretty fast times.

While most seeds have been following the path of saving up until the big meet, there are some seeds that just have not hit their best mark. For Cal’s Ryan Hoffer, his lifetime best of 18.71 had him in heavy contention for winning NCAAs even when Dressel was in college. But, Hoffer has not hit that mark since. Last year, Hoffer reached 18.97 in the NCAA final, which got him 5th place. Now that he is well past his rookie season, Hoffer could really be saving up and come back like a lion and prove his collegiate dominance.

In heavy contention for the 100/200 free races is NC State’s Justin Ress, who was member of the winning 800 free relay at last year’s NCAA meet. Stacking up his 50 free into the mix, it definitely is more of a third-event for Ress, as his success lies more within the 100/200 free and backstroke. In 2018, Ress was sub-19, but failed to repeat that at NCAAs and missed the A-final. Once again, Ress comes in this year with a 19.14, which is off his personal best of 18.96. For Ress, A-finalling in the 50 free this year would bring in more points for the Wolfpack and really show his sprint versatility.

After the switch to Indiana, Zach Apple will most definitely become another big contender in all of his individuals. In 2018, Apple had a slight gain from his seed, but finished in 5th overall (tied with Hoffer). This year, Apple finished only in 4th at Big Tens in the 50 free. Like Ress, Apple has proved to be more in the running for the 100 and 200 free events. And also like Ress, proving himself in this event will also unveil more power from his sprint versatility.

Top 8 Picks:

Place Swimmer Team Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Bowen Becker Minnesota 19.00 18.69
2 Zach Apple Indiana 19.18 18.82
3 Robert Howard Alabama 18.74 18.74
4 Pawel Sendyk Cal 18.83 18.83
5 Justin Ress NC State 19.14 18.96
6 Tate Jackson Texas 18.79 18.79
7 Ryan Hoffer Cal 19.12 18.71
8 Kyle Decoursey Tennessee 18.95 18.95

Dark Horse: In 2018, Harvard’s Dean Farris went from 19.68 to 19.16 in prelims and pushed through to the B-final. If applying his 2.7% improvement to his seed time of 19.43, Farris could have the potential of swimming sub-19. Since not swimming the event at Ivies, Farris could shake up the top 8.

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3 years ago


Becker is seasoned and hungry

3 years ago

It’s not about the size of the Apple in the fight, It’s the size of the Zach in the Apple.

2 Cents
3 years ago

Here is a bold prediction that will get probably the most down votes in history (if enough people see it). Dean will not finish in the top 4 in any of his events at NCAAs.

Reply to  2 Cents
3 years ago

I happen to think he’ll get there in the 100 but…it wouldn’t be the most surprising thing ever if he didn’t.

3 years ago

My top 5 will be Dean, Dean, Dean, Dean, and Dean, cause he spits hot fire!

3 years ago

Becker. Gonna go out on a limb here and guess he hasn’t rested much at all this year. That, along with his consistent improvement curve since freshmen year suggests to me he’ll show up big time when it counts.

3 years ago

Dean Farris. Doing breaststroke.

3 years ago

Even if DeCoursey doe this typical NCAA tie add he should be around 19.32…which that score? Becker also adds time at NCAAs but I imagine he can still B Final. Looking like Apple and Howard at the wall with Howard getting the win.

Reply to  googoodoll
3 years ago

He was way off at BIG 10s tho I think he’s waiting for this to taper

3 years ago

I think Hoffer is hungry after last season and will be fast coming into here. I don’t see him winning it against the likes of Howard or Becker but I’ll take a shot he will be top 3 I say Howard Becker Hoffer with Apple within a tenth of hoffer

About Nick Pecoraro

Nick Pecoraro

Nick Pecoraro started swimming at age 11, instantly becoming drawn to the sport. He was a breaststroker and IMer when competing. After joining SwimSwam, the site has become an outlet for him to research and learn about competitive swimming and experience the sport through a new lenses. He graduated in …

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