After a one-year hiatus due to the uncertainty surrounding the 2020-2021 season, our college previews are back! We’ll be previewing the 2021-2022 seasons for the top 12 men’s and women’s programs from the 2021 NCAA Division I Championships – stay tuned to our College Swimming Previews channel to catch all 24.
#11 Virginia Tech
Key Losses: Lane Stone (6 NCAA points – 2019)
Key Additions: Luis Dominguez (Spain – free/IM), Ben Eckerson (NJ – back/free), Luan Grobbelaar (New Zealand – breast/IM), Joseph Hong (PA – breast), Hayden Jay (OH – free), Nikolas Lee-Bishop (VA – sprint free), Jacob Ryan (MI – free/breast), Gabriel Yuk (Hong Kong – fly/back)
Two years ago, we unveiled a new, more data-based grading criteria based on ‘projected returning points’, a stat of our own making that involved a lot of manual calculations involving departing seniors, redshirts, freshmen, etc. We liked the objectiveness of that stat, but given that there’s still a lot of uncertainty for this year, we’re adopting a hybrid approach this year. The “stars” will rely heavily on what swimmers actually did last year, but we’ll also give credit to returning swimmers or freshmen who have times that would have scored last year.
Since we only profile the top 12 teams in this format, our grades are designed with that range in mind. In the grand scheme of college swimming and compared to all other college programs, top 12 NCAA programs would pretty much all grade well across the board. But in the interest of making these previews informative, our grading scale is tough – designed to show the tiers between the good stroke groups, the great ones, and the 2015 Texas fly group types.
- 5 star (★★★★★) – a rare, elite NCAA group projected to score 25+ points per event
- 4 star (★★★★) – a very, very good NCAA group projected to score 15-24 points per event
- 3 star (★★★) – a good NCAA group projected to score 5-14 points per event
- 2 star (★★) – a solid NCAA group projected to score 1-4 points per event
- 1 star (★) – an NCAA group that is projected to score no points per event, though that doesn’t mean it’s without potential scorers – they’ll just need to leapfrog some swimmers ahead of them to do it
We’ll grade each event discipline: sprint free (which we define to include all the relay-distance freestyle events, so 50, 100 and 200), distance free, IM, breaststroke, backstroke, butterfly and diving. Use these grades as a jumping-off point for discussion, rather than a reason to be angry.
The Virginia Tech men seemed to be hitting their stride in their third year under head coach Sergio Lopez. Buoyed especially by some key international recruits, the Hokies broke a bevy of school records, pushed established conference powers like NC State and Louisville at the ACC Championships, and had their best showing ever at the NCAA Championships.
At ACCs, freshman Youssef Ramadan clocked a 44.3 in the 100 fly, making him the fastest freshman in history. While that was VT’s only conference win, the depth netted them five relay ‘A’ cuts, and kept them within 100 points of the champion Louisville Cardinals, taking third.
Those successes gave the Hokies momentum heading into NCAAs, where they scored the most points (135) in school history and also walked away with the highest team finish in school history (11th). Butterflier Antani Ivanov led the way individually with a pair of A-final appearances in the flies. Ramadan scored 18 points between the 50 free and the 100 free, but missed out on the chance for an NCAA title after he drew a disqualification in prelims.
All told, the Hokies downed school records in all five relays plus numerous individual events en route to arguably the most successful in team history.
Sprint Free: ★★★
In terms of individual scoring, the key name is here is Youssef Ramadan. The Egyptian Olympian made the 50 free A-final at NCAAs, finishing 8th, and added in a 10th-place finish in the 100 free, netting a total of 18 points between those two events.
Fifth-year grad student Tommy Hallock returns after qualifying in the 50 and 100 freestyles last season and having been a lynchpin of the Hokie relays over the last few years.
The Hokies rely on stroke specialists Carles Coll Marti and Antani Ivanov to fill out their relays, but butterflier Blake Manoff placed 2nd in the 200 free at ACCs with a 1:32.63, and made the A-final in the 100 free at ACCs as well.
There’s some depth among the Hokies’ freshmen too. Spanish native Luis Dominguez‘s meters times suggest he could make an immediate impact on the free relays. Ben Eckerson, Hayden Jay, Nikolas Lee-Bishop, and Jacob Ryan all have 50 free times of 21.0 or better, giving Sergio and staff plenty of sprint talent to work with.
Distance Free: ★
Virginia Tech’s distance group took a fairly big hit here when 2019 NCAA scorer Lane Stone only competed in a few meets last season, and did not compete at all in the postseason. Stone was a senior last year, and theoretically could’ve come back for a fifth season, but he doesn’t appear on the Hokies’ roster for this season.
The Hokies did manage to get some ACC A-final points in this discipline, however, thanks to Ivanov’s 4th-place in the 500 free. He qualified for NCAAs with a time of 4:14.92, but didn’t swim this event at NCAAs, instead focusing on the 400 medley relay, where he split a swift 44.2.
Brennen Doss and Filip Dal Maso provide a little depth, both scoring in the 1650 at ACCs, but neither was within 25 seconds of the NCAA qualifying time.
The bad news here is that the Hokies only had one man, Sam Tornqvist, compete in the backstroke events at 2021 NCAAs. The good news is that he returns as a fifth-year grad student. Last season, Tornqvist finished just out of scoring in the 100 back, placing 21st with a 46.31, but took 12th in the 200 with a time of 1:40.54.
Forest Webb made the A-final in the 100 back at ACCs and then clocked a season-best time of 46.48 leading off VT’s ACC 400 medley relay. He ended up leading off both of the Hokies’ medley relays at NCAAs, splitting 21.48/46.55.
Lopez, the 1988 Olympic bronze medalist in the 200 breast, has amassed one of the more potential-laden breaststroke groups in the country.
Carles Coll Marti, who like Lopez hails from Spain, led that group last season with a 6th place finish in the 200 breast (1:51.84) and a 29th place finish in the 100 breast (52.89). Teammate AJ Pouch finished just ahead of Coll Marti in the 100 (52.75), but also scored in the 200, finishing 11th with a 1:53.03.
Keith Myburgh, primarily an IMer, added a swim in the 200 breast, and Lopez’s son Cobi made the C-final in both breaststroke events at ACCs.
Freshmen Joseph Hong, Jacob Ryan and New Zealand age group record holder Luan Grobbelear add additional depth, with all three holding 100 breasts personal best of 55 or 56 seconds.
The Hokies have quietly been building one of the better butterfly groups in the nation, and last year turned out to be a breakthrough year for the group, even if there was a bit of disappointment at NCAAs. Freshman Youssef Ramadan sparkled in his first ACC Championship meet, breaking the 100 fly conference record with a stunning 44.32. Ramadan’s DQ at NCAAs cost the Hokies a likely 15+ points, but he should be a solid bet to make the A-final this year.
Meanwhile, Antani Ivanov made the A-final at NCAAs in both butterfly events, finishing 6th in the 100 fly (44.67) and 3rd in the 200 fly (1:39.26) after finishing 2nd in the latter event at ACCs. Dylan Eichberg earned NCAA swims in both fly events as well, grabbing two points with a 15th-place finish in the 200.
But wait, there’s more. Blake Manoff also qualified for both fly events, and just missed scoring in the 100 by 0.02s, finishing 17th in prelims. Had he matched his seed time of 45.50, he would’ve finished tied for 12th in prelims and made the B-final. Additionally, while they didn’t qualify for NCAAs, both Henry Claesson (46.56) and Khalil Fonder (46.99) were under 47 in the 100 fly year, while Ryan Vipavetz clocked a 1:44.32 in the 200 fly.
This is one of those events where there is a lot of depth in terms of NCAA qualifiers, but not much depth in terms of NCAA scorers. The Hokies ended up with six different men swimming at least one IM event at NCAAs, but they left Greensboro without scoring a single point in the discipline.
Coll Marti, Pouch, Tornqvist, Eichberg, and Myburgh all swam the 200 IM, with Eichberg leading the pack in prelims with a 27th place finish, while Coll Marti had the fastest time of the season at 1:43.47 at ACCs. Del Maso and Myburgh both swam the 400 IM, finishing 34th and 27th, respectively.
The Hokies didn’t qualify any divers last season, and their leading ACC diving scorer, Noah Zawadzki, does not appear to be returning for a fifth year.
Thanks to Hallock’s return for a fifth year, the Hokies are in the enviable position of returning all 20 of their NCAA relay legs.
The quartet of Manoff, Ivanov, Coll Marti, and Tornqvist took 2nd at ACCs and 10th at NCAAs in the 800 free relay, highlighted by Manoff’s 1:32.2 leadoff at ACCs and Ivanov splitting 1:32 at both meets.
Three of those four also swam the 400 free at NCAAs, with Ramadan subbing in for Tornqvist. Ramadan, Hallock, David Herbert, and Manoff return for the 200 free relay. Those relays should remain fairly stable, although there is a chance that one of the freshmen, especially Dominguez, could make an impact.
At NCAAs, the Hokies went with Webb, Pouch, Ivanov, and Manoff on the 400 medley relay. The 200 medley relay was half the same, with Coll Marti on breast, and Hallock on free. There is some wiggle room here, as the Hokies could move Manoff to leadoff on the 200 medley relay (he split 21.1 at ACCs), and possibly have Ramadan anchor the 400 medley relay instead.
The bottom line is that the Hokies’ relays — again, all of which set school records last year — are in great shape, and should once again rack up the points at NCAAs.
The Hokies appear to be trending upwards and are poised to run it back with largely the same team as last year, even if there aren’t any mid-season additions. They’ve got elite talent in guys like Ivanov and Ramadan, and plenty of supporting characters. The ACC has become increasingly competitive, but the Hokies should at least be in the mix for a second-place finish there, and they seem primed to make another run at the top ten at NCAAs.