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
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Kieran Smith was well on his way to his first-ever NCAA title during the 2019-2020 season. Then a Florida sophomore, Smith had a history-making performance at the 2020 SEC Championships when he blasted a 4:06.32 to take down Townley Hass’s 2019 NCAA record of 4:08.19, along with Zane Grothe’s 2017 American record of 4:07.25.
That swim for Smith made him the quickest swimmer in the NCAA by nearly 4 seconds as Michigan’s Felix Auboeck ranked 2nd and Notre Dame’s Zach Yeadon was a 4:10.39 for third.
Ultimately, however, the 2020 NCAA Swimming Championships were canceled due to the outbreak of COVID-19 and Kieran Smith didn’t get to fight for a spot on the top of the 500 freestyle NCAA podium. Having put in another year of work at this point, Smith has gotten to the exact place that he reached last year, having posted an identical time at 2021 SECs that he did in 2020: a 4:06.32. Although he will be going into NCAAs with the top seed, his path to victory is a little murkier than it would have been last year.
Since the cancellation of last year’s NCAAs, a new distance threat in the form of Jake Magahey has broken onto the scene. Georgia freshman Magahey quickly joined Smith at the top of the NCAA rankings and nearly fought his way to a SEC title as he touched in a 4:06.71 for silver, right behind Smith.
Magahey has seen incredible improvement in the event over his first year of collegiate swimming, lowering his best time for a 4:12.72 from December 2019 by a full 6 seconds. The SEC duo of Smith and Magahey are separated by only 0.39 seconds heading into nationals this week and have created a situation where it may actually take an American record to win the event.
There’s a lot on the line for this Florida/Georgia showdown as Smith has a shot to do what he didn’t get a chance to do last year while Magahey could come in and upset the would-be defending champion. We’ll give the edge to Smith for our top pick going into NCAAs given his experience at NCAAs and his hunger for redemption.
As previously mentioned, Kieran Smith was the only swimmer to crack 4:10 last season. This season, not only have Smith and Magahey gotten under the mark but another duo of Drew Kibler (Texas) and Trenton Julian (Cal) have been under that mark as well.
Kibler swam a 4:08.26 back in October 2020 and got back under again in December when he swam a 4:09.18. He was quite a bit slower, however, at Big 12s this February when he came second in the final with a 4:15.00. Julian on the other hand swam a season and lifetime best of 4:09.49 to win this year’s Pac-12 title for Cal. With Smith and Magahey leading the pack, Kibler and Julian will likely be among those fighting for 500 freestyle bronze. Kibler’s clearly un-tapered 4:15.00 at Big-12s and his early in-season lead over Julian is enough to make us think that he’s a better bet here for bronze.
While Kibler is the pick, that doesn’t mean that no one else could pull off an upset and vie for a third-place finish. 5th and 6th seed at the meet will be Zach Yeadon and Mark Theall; a pair of seniors from Cal and Texas A&M, respectively. Yeadon has been a 4:10.61 this year which is just off his fastest-ever time of 4:10.39 from February 2020 while Theall has been a 4:10.67 this season, representing his lifetime best.
While Yeadon has 2 NCAA performances (2018,2019) under his belt, compared to Theall’s 1 (2019), it’s actually Theall who has the highest-ever finish in the event. Yeadon has yet to make it past the B-final in the event, having finished 10th in the event in 2018 (4:13.95) and 14th in 2019 (4:14.84), compared to Theall who finished 7th in 2019 (4:16.05). The interesting thing you may have noticed is that both of Yeadon’s times from the 2018 and 2019 B-finals are faster than Theall’s 2019 A-final swim. In fact, if Yeadon had swum those times in the respective NCAA A-final, he would have placed 7th in both 2018 and 2019.
Another component to consider here is the fact that Yeadon has swum for Notre Dame for the first three years in the NCAA and made the decision to transfer to Cal for his final year.
With a clear ability to power through a second swim and a pretty good shot at easily making the A-final this year, newly minted Cal swimmer Zach Yeadon will likely be the one to watch in terms of passing the Kibler/Julian battle and vying for a spot on the podium.
Supplying the 7th and 8th seeds for the 500 free, Jack Hoagland from Notre Dame and Brooks Fail from Arizona will go in with times of 4:11.26 and 4:11.29, respectively. Despite being 8th seed this year, Fail is actually the only one in the top 8 with an NCAA medal to his name in the event. In 2019, Fail swam to bronze in the 500 with a 4:10.77 behind champion Townley Haas (4:08.19) and runner-up Sean Grieshop (4:10.29).
It’s going to take much more than a 4:10.77 to win a medal at this year’s NCAAs so Fail will need to bring his A-game should he look to find his way back to the podium this year.
While 5th through 8th seeds have hit the 4:10s / 4:11s needed to be seeded in the top 8 this year, one final pair of swimmers have made it so that there’s no sure bet at who will make it to the A final.
With the top 8 out of the way, there are another 3 entrants that we need to talk about before we can have a clear picture of what this race will look like later this week.
Bobby Finke, swimming for Florida has been as fast a 4:10.86 which he swam last year to become the 5th-fastest man in the NCAA for 2019-2020. This year though he has only gotten to a 4:13.48 to make him the 16th seed in the event. With only 3 500s under his belt this season, not of which were tapered, Finke is not only likely to grace the A final, but we won’t be too shocked if he manages to see his way to the top three. Bobby Finke recently suffered a foot injury and showed up to SECs in a walking boot but still managed to pull off a solid performance at the meet, picking up a SEC title in the 1650 free, a silver in the 400 IM, and 5th in the 500. With another month to recover, Finke should be ready to fire this weekend.
You would think that 16th seed Bobby Finke would be the slowest seed in the running for a medal. That’s not the case though as Cal senior Sean Grieshop comes into the race as the most recent NCAA silver medalist and 28th seed. Back in 2019, he won silver with a 4:10.29 which if he had swum this year would have given him 5th seed. Grieshop is in the same boat as Finke, having only swum 3 500s so far this season, none of which were tapered. Grieshop has less of a shot at a medal this year than he did in 2019 but we definitely won’t be surprised to see him in the running.
Finally, Grant Shoults has spent time recovering from shoulder surgeries 2 shoulder injuries that he has undergone. Shoults has 2 NCAA fourth-place finishes in the 500 to his name (2017, 2018) and is about to make a comeback following a 3-year hiatus from the meet. With an 18th place ranking and a season-best of 4:13.81, Shoults will likely would up a decent amount from his seed, swimming closer to his PB of 4:10.02.
TOP 8 PREDICTIONS
|PLACE||SWIMMER||TEAM||SEASON BEST||LIFETIME BEST|
Dark Horse Pick: Andrew Abruzzo – 17th seed (Georgia, JR) – Since his NCAA debut as a freshman when he placed a mere 30th in the event, Andrew Abruzzo has gained valuable international competition experience that could certainly manifest this week to provide a solid performance for him. Following his first year at, Abruzzo swam for the USA at the 2019 Pan American Games and wound up winning gold in both the 400 and 800 freestyles. With another 2 years of training under coach Jack Bauerle and a year with Jake Magahey as his training partner, Abruzzo will be coming in ready to race and could certainly work his way up the rankings.