2021 NCAA MEN’S SWIMMING & DIVING CHAMPIONSHIPS
- When: Wednesday, March 24 – Saturday, March 27, 2021
- Where: Greensboro Aquatic Center / Greensboro, NC (Eastern Time Zone)
- Defending champion: Cal (1x) – 2019 results
- Championship Central
- Psych Sheets
- Live Results
Following the dominant four-year reign of Ryan Murphy, which ended in 2017, the men’s backstroke events finally opened up and several contenders were in the running to grab the national titles.
In the 200, then-freshman Austin Katz took full advantage of the opportunity presented in 2018, using a huge back-half to win the NCAA title in a time of 1:37.53 – not far off of Murphy’s winning time in his first year (1:37.35).
While it looked like Katz had a great chance to run the table all four years in the event like Murphy, a few roadblocks got in the way.
First, it was senior teammate John Shebat holding him off by .03 for the title in 2019 — in what was Shebat’s first individual NCAA title in his last race — and then, of course, the 2020 meet was cancelled. Katz’s time at those 2019 NCAAs was 1:36.45, which was faster than Murphy as a sophomore (1:36.77) and remains the fastest best time in the 2021 field.
Prior to last season’s cancellation, Katz appeared to be in the running to reclaim the crown, coming in seeded second to Texas A&M’s Shaine Casas by .15.
This year the gap between the two is more than four seconds.
It’s been a tale of two seasons — Casas has been on fire, including recording a 200 back time of 1:36.54 in November which ranks him fourth all-time behind Murphy, Shebat and Katz. Katz, on the other hand, has raced infrequently and holds a 1:40.83 season-best which only slots him into 15th on the psych sheets.
And while their performances this season don’t indicate they’ll be particularly close in the event at NCAAs, Katz’s resume tells us he’s the only one with a real shot at Casas – who otherwise looks like a solid bet to sweep all of his individuals.
At his previous three Big 12 Championship appearances, Katz has been in the 1:39s. This season it’s 1:40-high. If the trend continues and we see a 2-3 second drop at NCAAs, it’s puts him in the thick of the ‘A’ final battle, but likely won’t be enough to overtake Casas.
Other than those two, the other primary contenders come predominantly from Cal, who had an incredible 1-2-3-4-5-6 sweep in the event at Pac-12s. Winning that race? Freshman Destin Lasco, who may be destined for a similar trajectory to Murphy and Katz (while this statement may be premature, Lasco is already the third-fastest freshman ever behind those two, and has yet to fully taper).
Lasco put up a time of 1:38.13 at Pac-12s, and should have more in the tank given that the entire Cal roster appeared unshaven.
His senior teammates Daniel Carr and Bryce Mefford should also factor into the ‘A’ final, both having recorded top-five finishes in 2019. Mefford was fourth as a freshman in a best of 1:38.48 and then third two seasons ago (1:38.65), while Carr (10th in 2018, fifth in 2019) dropped a personal best of 1:37.87 at the 2020 Pac-12s.
The only other swimmer in the field who’s cracked 1:40 this season is Louisville junior Mitchell Whyte, who won the ACC title in 1:39.98 after placing second to Coleman Stewart as a sophomore (in a best of 1:39.46). As a freshman, Whyte dropped a tenth from conference to nationals, though it’s tough to say that’s any type of trend given last season’s NCAAs didn’t happen.
Others who have been 1:39, just not this season, are Javier Acevedo, Clark Beach, Gabriel Fantoni and Jack Dahlgren, with Ian Grum and Samuel Törnqvist right there at 1:40.05 and 1:40.10, respectively. They’ll all figure into what should be a dog fight for a top-eight placing in the prelims.
Acevedo, who took a redshirt year last season, was 1:40.38 at SECs, right around his conference times in both 2018 and 2019 before going 1:39 at NCAAs. The senior also won’t have to juggle the NCAA/Canadian Olympic Trials conundrum that he was expecting to, with the Trials shifting from early April to late May.
The other intriguing name entered in this event is Texas freshman Carson Foster, the back-to-back World Junior silver medalist in the long course version of this event who has shifted more to a freestyle/medley focus in recent years. While Foster seems to have his eye on the 200/400 IM and 200 free for the Olympic Trials, he’s opting to avoid any doubles here (400 IM/200 free would be an all-time killer) and is taking this event on for Day 4 at NCAAs.
The 19-year-old was less than three-tenths off his lifetime best at Big 12s in 1:40.34, and given that he was five seconds off his early season time in the 400 IM, there should be a sizeable drop incoming.
There’s also a plethora of guys into the 1:40s this season that will keep everyone honest in the heats, including Alabama’s James Marcum, Cal’s sophomore duo of Colby Mefford and Sebastian Somerset, Virginia’s Justin Grender and Michigan’s Wyatt Davis.
TOP 8 PREDICTIONS
|Place||Swimmer||Team||Season Best||Lifetime Best|
|1||Shaine Casas||Texas A&M||1:36.54||1:36.54|
Darkhorse: Peter Larson, Texas – The sophomore set his first best time in the event in more than two years at Big 12s, clocking 1:41.14 despite racing the meet as exhibition. Larson actually reset PBs in the 50, 200 and 500 free at the meet as well, earning a spot on Texas’ national roster. Can he carry the momentum forward at his first NCAAs?