2020 Men’s ACC Champs Fan Guide: Losses Hurt, But NC State Still the Favorites

by Robert Gibbs 22

February 26th, 2020 ACC, College, News

2020 ACC Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships

  • When: Wednesday, February 26th to Saturday, February 29th Prelims 10:00 am | Finals 6:00 pm (1650 prelims Saturday at 4:00 pm)
  • Where: Greensboro Aquatic Center, Greensboro, North Carolina (Eastern Time Zone)
  • Defending Champion: North Carolina State University (NC State) (29x, 5th-straight) (results)
  • Streaming: ACC Network
  • Championship Central: Here
  • Detailed Timeline: Here
  • Psych Sheets: Here
  • Live Results

Last year, NC State once again won easily, making it five in a row. The Wolfpack has lost a strong senior trio of Jacob Molacek, Justin Ress, and Andrew Vazaois, and on paper, at least, they’re appear more vulnerable than they have in years. Still, they have to be considered the favorites for now. They’ve retain two big studs in Coleman Stewart and Nyls Korstanje, who will form the core of their relays. The distance crew has continued to thrive under associate head coach Mark Bernadino (the former longtime head coach at Virginia) and remains an asset.

The big question for the Wolfpack – and one that will be echoed for some of the teams in this preview – is what will their freshmen do? Over the past four or five years, it seems like most NC State swimmers don’t really break out until their sophomore year, but this is also the first time that Braden Holloway & Co have had an absolute loaded class to play with; we ranked their freshmen as the #2 recruiting class in the nation. Ross Dant has already put up some strong times, and Hunter Tapp seems to be plugged in on the free relays; if guys like Noah Bowers and Noah Henderson can produce big, that’ll make the gap between NC State and everyone even wider than it already appears to be, and could have implications for NCAAs as well.

The Louisville Cardinals came in 2nd last year, holding out against UVA and winning the 800 and 400 free relays in mild upsets over NC State. They’ve lost some big points in Marcelo Acosta and Zach Harting (who also had some lights-out relay swims), but there’s plenty left. Nick Albiero is one of the biggest names in the conference, and he’ll be a lock for three A-finals and four relays. Last year, freshman Mitchell Whyte was one of the feel-good stories of the season, as he went from being committed to an Eastern Michigan team that was cut to joining Louisville and scoring at NCAAs. Junior worlds medalist Ilia Sibirtsev has been fairly quiet so far this season, but just cracked 15:00 in the mile for the first time last weekend. Andrej Barna was out for the first semester, but the luster of his return has been tarnished a bit by the news that  Bartosz Piszczorowicz will not be competing. In his absence, the Cardinals are going to need some underclassmen to step up to solidify the free relays.

Last year, Virginia showed up in force at ACCs, and nearly clipped Louisville for a 2nd place finish. Continuing the theme of the top three, UVA lost Brendan Casey, Zach Fong, and Bryce Keblish, three big scorers from last year. They’ve typically kept their cards close to their chest in season, but this freshman class, led by top-ten recruits Jack Walker and Jack Wright, has the potential to score big points. Like the Cardinals, the Cavaliers are hurt a bit by the last-minute loss of Cooper Wozencraft, who in addition to scoring 50.5 points individually last year, was probably going to swim on four relays. There should be the depth here to help weather that, again, especially if the freshmen pull through.

It’s a bit tougher to peg Virginia Tech, now in Sergio Lopez’s second year as head coach. They lost a couple of key senior sprinters, but have looked strong recently, including at their home invite a couple weeks ago, where guys like Blake Manoff and Samuel Tornqvist put up some great times a couple weeks out from the big show. Meanwhile, Manoff and Antani Ivanov could challenge veterans like Albiero for the 200 fly title. Relays are a potential source of concern, however, as they’re only seeded in the top five in one relay, the 800 free.

Notre Dame had a rough go of it at the 2019 ACCs, where the team didn’t seem to live up to expectations. Guys who were seeded highly like Marci Barta and Zach Yeadon didn’t match their seed times, and then didn’t perform any better at NCAAs.  Still, there’s a lot of to be positive about for fans of the Fighting Irish. Yeadon, freshman Jack Hoagland, and Sadler McKeen form the core of a strong distance group that will rack up big points if they hold onto their seeds. The sprint relays are more of a question, although like some of the other schools, there are some freshmen who could be poised to show up big and make an impact.

Last year, Florida State’s sprint crew was a veritable wrecking ball here, winning the 50 free, 100 free, 200 free relay, and 100 fly. The Seminoles graduated 3/4 of their relay legs, but seem to be reloading quickly though. Underclassmen sprinters Jakub Ksiazek and Peter Varjasi have been looking strong, and FSU is seeded in the top three in all five relays.

Duke only has a single swimmer seeded in the top ten in any event – senior sprinter Miles Williams, who last year placed 5th in the 100 free. The Blue Devils will look to diver Nathaniel Hernandez to help out the teams’ score.

Caio Pumputis is one of the more underrated stars in the NCAA, and the Georgia Tech junior returns after scoring 92 points here last year and making three A-finals at NCAAs. He’s the prohibitive favorite in the 200 IM, and has a very real chance of sweeping the breaststrokes as well.

Pitt will rely largely on junior Blaise Vera, who is the top seed in the 50 free by 0.01s, and if he can overcome Korstanje and FSU’s sprint crew, he could secure what would appear to be Pitt’s first-ever ACC title.

UNC took a big hit due when Alvin Jiang transfer to Texas, where he’s thriving. But they brought in a big gun in the form of Olympian Mark Gangloff as the new head coach, and the early returns for the Tar Heels have been promising.

Boston College ended up last year, behind even the diving-only Miami, when they DQ’d a relay. The Eagles only have a single swimmer seeded to score, as well as the potential for a few diving points.

SCHEDULE

Wednesday

200 Medley Relay
800 Free Relay

Thursday

500 Freestyle
200 Individual Medley
50 Freestyle
200 Freestyle Relay

Friday

100 Butterfly
400 Individual Medley
200 Freestyle
100 Breaststroke
100 Backstroke
400 Medley Relay

Saturday

1650 Freestyle
200 Backstroke
100 Freestyle
200 Breaststroke
200 Butterfly
400 Freestyle Relay

STARS

Boston College – Matt Clark (freshman IMer), Dale Nickerson (freshman diver) BC’s only individual scorers last year were both seniors, although they only accounted for a few points anyway. Nickerson is seeded in the top 16 in the 1m and 3m diving events, while Clark is seeded 21st in the 200 IM, making these two the Eagles’ best chances, on paper, of earning individual points. 

Duke – Nathaniel Hernandez (senior diver), Miles Williams (senior freestyler) as we said earlier, Williams is the top returning swimmer, and he’s seeded 5th in the 50 free and 4th in the 100 free. While diving is admittedly a bit weird, Hernandez is notably seeded first in all three diving events and scored 47 points last year.

Florida State – Griffin Alaniz (senior backstroker), Izaak Bastian (sophomore breaststroker), Jacob Ksiazek (sophomore sprint freestyler), Max McCusker (sophomore sprint freestyler/fly), Peter Varjasi (freshman sprint freestyler) –  Alaniz has already dropped from 46.4 to 45.4 in the 100 backstroke this season. The other four form the core of the Seminoles new look free relays that should once again challenge NC State (or other teams) for some wins.

Georgia Tech – Christian Ferraro (junior flyer), Caio Pumputis (junior breaststroker/IMer)  Ferraro is seeded 3rd in the 200 fly and 9th in the 100 fly. He was an A-finalist in the 200 fly in 2018 and made both fly B-finals last year. Pumputis was named co-MVP last season and could come away with three individual wins this year.

Louisville Nick Albiero (junior flyer), Andrej Barna (senior sprint freestyler) Daniel Sos (junior IMer),  Evgenii Somov (junior breaststroker) Mitchell Whyte (sophomore backstroker)   – All five Cardinals mentioned here could/should end up in multiple A-finals this week. Albiero is one of the fastest back/fly guys not named “Coleman Stewart,” and should be in the mix for the win in the 200 fly. Barna, who missed the first half of the season, looked to be in pretty good form in his January tune-ups, and should pull in big sprint points. Somov is the top seed in the 100 breast

North Carolina – Valdas Abaliksta (junior breaststroker), Dimitrious Dimitriou (junior d-freestyler), Tyler Hill (junior IMer)  Abaliksta is the Tar Heels’ top returning individual scorer, and contributed on UNC’s free relays last year as well.  Dimitriou is seeded in the top eight in the 500 free, and Hill could bring in points in IM, fly, and free.

NC StateRoss Dant (freshman d-freestyler), Noah Hensley (senior backstroker/flyer), Eric Knowles (junior distance/IMer), Nyls Korstanje (sophomore sprint freestyler),  Coleman Stewart (senior backstroker/butterflier)  – Like every year, there are plenty of other Wolfpack swimmers who’d be “stars” on most other teams. Stewart will be going for his 3rd-straight backstroke sweep, and probably wouldn’t mind winning the 100 fly after finishing 2nd there the last two years. Dant leads a strong NC State freshman class, and along with Knowles, could put up big points in the distance freestyle. Hensley seems to be developing into a key relay piece this year, while Korstanje will compete for the sprint free titles.

Notre Dame –  Jack Hoagland (freshman distance free)  Aaron Schultz (senior flyer), Zach Yeadon (junior distance free) – Yeadon and Hoagland are each slated to score 80 or more points after having putting up multiple impressive times in the distance events so far this season, and they have the fastest two lifetime bests in the 1650 of anyone competing at the meet. Schultz has been a relay stalwart for the Fighting Irish for several seasons, and could break into some A-finals this year.

Pitt – Samy Helmbacher (senior IMer), Blaise Vera (junior sprinter)  Helmbacher is seeded in the top ten in both breaststrokes, while Vera has emerged as one of the top 50 freestylers in the country over the last two seasons. 

Virginia – Ryan Baker (senior sprint freestyler), Keefer Barnum (junior breaststroker), Joe Clark (senior backstroker), Casey Storch (sophomore IMer), Ted Schubert (senior IMer) It was tough to narrow this one down, as the Cavaliers have a pretty well-balanced team, and several of their vaunted freshmen could/should bring in a lot of points, too. Baker, Barnum, and Clark have formed the core of medley relays for a few years now, and each made multiple A-finals last year. Schubert made three A-finals last year, and Storch is seeded in the top 4 in three events. 

Virginia TechAntani Ivanov (sophomore flyer), Blake Manoff (sophomore freestyler/flyer) Lane Stone (junior freestyler), Samuel Tornqvist (junior IMer/backstroker),  Ivanov 3rd in 200 fly. Tornqvist made the A-final of both IMs and the 200 back. 

Showdowns

50/100 Free – Pitt’s Blaise Vera leads NC State’s Nyls Korstanje by a mere 0.01s in the 50 free. Those times of 19.10 and 19.11 are lifetime bests for both, and currently sit among the top in the nation. Korstanje has a 0.4s advantage in the 100 free over Vera and the rest of the field. It’s worth noting that Korstanje should have a NCAA locked up, and Wolfpack who swimmers who already have their NCAA tickets punched rarely appear Never underestimated even a new-look FSU sprint corps, who took a bunch of sprint events last year.

500 free – Knowles is the defending champion and probably should be considered the favorite, but Zach Yeadon is definitely dangerous as well. Additionally, there are three freshmen (Jack Walker, Jack Hoagland, and Ross Dant) all seeded in the top five, so if Knowles isn’t on his A-game 

200 and 400 Free Relays – Just a couple years ago, NC State had these locked down, and even set an American Record in the 400 free relay at this meet in 2018. But in between losing a lot of sprint talent to graduation and the rest of the conference contenting to improve, these relays should be much more competitive this year. 

Selections

Men’s diving competed last week, and when you add those results into our Swimulator projections (using season top times), this is what you get:

Team
Swimulator Points
Diving Points Total
1. NC State 1055.5 123 1178.5
2. Florida State 970.5 127 1097.5
3. Louisville 933 104 1037
4. Virginia 855 116 971
5. Notre Dame 755.5 38 793.5
6. Virginia Tech 628 85 713
7. North Carolina 540 124 664
8. Georgia Tech 534 46 580
9. Pitt 498 24 522
10. Duke 337.5 102 439.5
11. Miami (diving only) 0 197 197
12. Boston College 168 0 168

 

NC State has consistently outperformed projections by about 100 points, so they should win their 6th-straight title, although there’s a solid chance it could be closer this year than in years past.

2nd place gets a little tricky. FSU is currently projected to score nearly 1100 points, but they have a pretty strong track record of not matching their projected scoring, something that held true for their women last week. UVA and Louisville both should move up a bit, although the losses of Wozencraft and Piszczorowicz definitely hurt both teams. It’s worth noting here that UVA has swum the 800 free relay yet this season.

After that, things get murky. Last year, Virginia Tech did a lot better than projected, while Notre Dame stumbled quite a bit. The VT women weren’t overwhelming last week, but the men have more men toward the top of the conference rankings than did the women. It’s also hard to quite know where to peg UNC in their first season under Gangloff, although the women seemed to impress last week.

Our picks:

  1. NC State
  2. Virginia
  3. Louisville
  4. Florida State
  5. Notre Dame
  6. Virginia Tech
  7. North Carolina
  8. Georgia Tech
  9. Pitt
  10. Duke
  11. Miami
  12. Boston College

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Swimfan

Albiero/Stewart 100 back battle?

SAMUEL HUNTINGTON

Stewart should win easily.

Dbswims

Im waiting for ncaas for that Stewart/Waddell/Casas/Texas Gang 100 back battle.

Nate

Completely forgetting Alaniz with a 45.44 for Albiero with a 46.7

2 Cents

Will Albiero even be the best on his team in the 100 back?? What about Whyte?

ACC swim fan

Sergio’s Hokies are about to blow away this prediction, most of their swimmers were going best times or right near best times 3 weeks out of the meet. Throw a little Sergio taper magic on that and you have a dangerous team

Dabestestman

Hope his men swim better than the girls did!

SAMUEL HUNTINGTON

I think they will. There is clearly more talent on the men’s side.

Buckeyeboy

Can anyone describe for me what exactly “taper magic” is? my experience has taught me that you never miss a taper, but in reality, miss a season of appropriate training.

swimmer

Texas is famous for taper magic. They would sand bag and dog meets all season and then go all in for NCAAs. Dual meets were unimportant and the Big 12 is weak. In season Townley would lose by 4 seconds in the 200 and Clark would lose by 75 yards in the 500. Texas would often times get swept out of events and get the mercy rule handed to them. With only one taper Texas would of course naturally have big time drops at NCAAs. This year will be different. The horns have been swimming fast all year and there will not be any magic this year.

alum15

So not magic. They just trained more and swam more tired than most. And they saw the appropriate results when they finally did rest.

With that being said, managing a swimmer through taper is typically more mental than physical, and takes a special touch to do just right as a coach. Swim coaches become a therapist, to some extent, to keep their swimmers in the correct head space. Some are better at “managing” that taper than others. None better than Eddie Reese, too.

The Texas “taper magic” seems to be as much marketing spin as anything, at least in recent years. Like most teams, Texas does sometimes have strong jumps from seed at NCAAs, they sometimes don’t, and are usually among the biggest jumps in the field but rarely are their jumps the biggest of the field.

Here’s data from 2010-2016, based on times, where Texas did pretty well, similar to Cal and Arizona: https://swimswam.com/ncaa-d1-men-performance-nationals-vs-seed-time/
2018 was not a great year in terms of taper for Texas, relative to the rest of the country, though they still on average dropped: https://swimswam.com/ncaa-d1-mens-improvement-at-nationals/
In 2019, they added time, in fact the most of any major conference teams: https://swimswam.com/who-got-faster-improvement-at-mens-d1-conference-meets/

Pack Mack

There is no taper magic. Texas simply has a huge advantage because the Big 12 meet is so weak that they only have to taper for a single meet, the NCAA’s.

WolfPackFan

Sergio taper magic? Didn’t seem to work for the women. 8th place finish for the second year in a row under Sergio and only what, 3 or 4 top 8 finishes, no podium finishes and hardly any best times? With all the other talented teams in the ACC seems like it will be an uphill battle for the VT men under Sergio.

Swimdad4

The freshman on the psyche sheet are Sergios first “full” recruiting class. There are only 2 seniors on the VT roster this week. Breaking into the upper tier of the ACC is tough but at the end of the weekend i think that Sergios Hokies will open a few eyes. The future is bright in blacksburg.

Togger

“While diving is admittedly a bit weird”. Truth bomb right there.

Guessing you just mean the seeding is weird.

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