It’s that time of the year again. SwimSwam will be previewing the top 12 men’s and women’s teams (and then some) from the 2023 NCAA Championships. Follow along with the College Swimming Preview Channel. Want to read even more? Check out the latest edition of the SwimSwam magazine.
#11 OHIO STATE BUCKEYES
Over the years, we’ve gone back and forth on how to project points, ranging from largely subjective rankings to more data-based grading criteria based on ‘projected returning points.’ We like being as objective as possible, but we’re going to stick with the approach we’ve adopted post-Covid. 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 posted 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.
Also, keep in mind that we are publishing many of these previews before teams have posted finalized rosters. We’re making our assessments based on the best information we have available at the time of publication, but we reserve the right to make changes after publication based on any new information that may emerge regarding rosters. If that does happen, we’ll make certain to note the change.
The Ohio State men fell out of the top 10 teams (11th) at the NCAA Championships for the first time in five years, but the 2022-23 campaign was still successful in many ways for the Buckeyes in their 14th season under head coach Bill Dorenkott.
They notched their fourth consecutive top-11 finish — the longest streak since seven straight from 1969-75 — despite the loss of Hunter Armstrong. Lyle Yost took home a national title on the 1-meter, marking Ohio State’s first individual NCAA crown since 2016. He led a group of three divers who totaled more than 70 points together as a group.
In the pool, Canadian freestyle specialist Ruslan Gaziev enjoyed a breakout season that culminated with a 4th-place finish in the 100 free at NCAAs. Meanwhile, distance star Charlie Clark continued his consistency with his third A-final appearance in a row at NCAAs in the 1650 free.
All five individual scorers will be back next season — which will be the final year of eligibility for Yost and Gaziev — but the Buckeyes have some questions remaining after the departures of Alex Quach, James Ward, and Thomas Watkins.
Sprint Free: ★★★
Gaziev was the Buckeyes’ top scorer in the pool at last year’s NCAAs, highlighted by a breakthrough 4th-place finish in the 100 free (40.98). He was one of only five men in the country to break 41 seconds in the event last season, shaving more than half a second off his lifetime best throughout his fourth collegiate campaign.
The Canadian Olympian returns his 20.5 individual NCAA points for his fifth year, which included 14th-place efforts in both the 50 free (19.10 in final, 19.00 in prelims) and 200 free (1:32.85). Last season, Gaziev dropped a few tenths off both his best 50 free time from 2019 and 200 free time from last year’s Big Tens. It could be easier for him to break into a second A-final other than the 100 free without freestyle aces Brooks Curry, Van Mathias, Nyls Korstanje, Grant House, and Jack Dahlgren in the mix next season. Gaziev will also be aiming to defend his Big Ten title in the 100 free next year after winning last year with a meet record of 41.38. He told SwimSwam he’s still not sure whether he’s going to compete in the fall.
Ohio State lost their next-fastest 100 freestylers in James Ward (42.39) and Alex Quach (42.97), but there’s some young talent blossoming behind Gaziev. Keep an eye out for rising junior Daniel Baltes, who got under 20 seconds in the 50 free for the first time in March of 2022 (19.98) before dropping .45 seconds off his lifetime best with a 19.53 at Big Tens this year. He was a three-sport athlete in high school, so he could be a late-blooming breakout candidate this season. Then there’s rising sophomore Tomas Navikonis, a Lithuania native who dropped five seconds in the 200 free (1:33.60) and almost two seconds in the 100 free (43.14) during his first year racing short-course yards in 2022-23.
The Buckeyes also bring back rising senior Mario McDonald, who swam on their NCAA freestyle relays last year as their fourth-fastest 50 freestyler (19.57). Incoming freshman Josh Bedford is the program’s fastest recruit coming to campus this fall in the 100 free (44.87).
Distance Free: ★★★
There are questions surrounding the Ohio State men this year, but their distance freestyle group remains one of the surest bets in Columbus thanks to soon-to-be senior Charlie Clark.
Clark contributed 12 points at NCAAs last season with a 7th-place finish in the 1650 free (14:41.43). Clark had claimed the last two Big Ten titles in the event and placed 8th at NCAAs in both 2022 (14:35.58) and 2021 (14:40.70). Although his showing at NCAAs this year was the slowest of his three performances, he brings valuable consistency, leadership, and international experience as a member of the past two U.S. World Championship rosters.
Mason Edmund could provide a potent 1-2 punch for the Buckeyes in distance events if he continues his trajectory from last season.
At the 2023 Big Ten Championships, the rising sophomore from Texas placed 7th in the 500 free (4:18.63) and 8th in the 1650 free (15:05.62). Then at Ohio State’s Last Chance Qualifier, Edmund clocked a personal-best 14:53.54 in the 1650 free to qualify for NCAAs, where he placed 28th (14:57.58).
During his freshman campaign in Columbus, Edmund shaved five seconds off his lifetime best in the 500 free and about 28 seconds in the 1650 free. He would need to drop about five seconds in each event next season in order to dip within NCAA scoring range from last season.
The Buckeyes will need new faces to step up after losing their top two backstrokers from last season. Thomas Watkins (team-leading 46.01 100 back, 1:41.28 200 back) opted to move home to New Zealand over the offseason instead of using his fifth year, and Alex Quach (the backstroker on both medley relays at NCAAs) is taking a redshirt season back in Australia to prepare for the Paris 2024 Olympics.
The exodus leaves rising senior Jean-Pierre Khouzam as Ohio State’s fastest returner in both the 100 back (47.58) and 100 fly (45.94). Fortunately, Chachi Gustafson is coming back for a fifth year as the second-fastest returner in both the 100 back (47.72) and 100 fly (46.34). However, both Khouzam and Gustafson are still a couple seconds away from NCAA scoring range in the 100 back. Rising sophomore Tristan Jankovics brings back his 1:44.52 200 back from last season, but it would take a massive drop for him to score at NCAAs based on last year’s scoring threshold (1:40.75).
Help appeared to be on the way when German backstroke specialist Cornelius Jahn was announced as one of seven signees for the Buckeyes’ 2023 recruiting class, but he will now defer enrollment until 2024-25 with his sights set on the Paris Olympics next summer.
Local Ohio recruit Eli Stoll is slated to arrive on campus this fall with lifetime bests of 22.72/48.39/1:45.90 in the backstroke events, so Khouzam and Gustafson will have some young blood to push them this season.
Ohio State may have stumbled upon an elite breaststroker in the transfer portal this offseason. Daniel Garcia, the Division II champion in the 200 breast last season, announced his transfer from University of Findlay in May and should make an immediate impact as a senior in Columbus.
Garcia’s best breaststroke times (51.93/1:54.51) are quicker than the Buckeyes’ best breaststroker from last season, Karl Helmuth (52.54/1:56.49). Ohio State had zero ‘A’ finalists in the 100 and 200 breaststrokes this past season, but Garcia’s best times would have made both. The Colombian Olympic hopeful doesn’t need to drop much more time in order to dip within NCAA scoring range from last season in the 100 breast (51.66) and 200 breast (1:52.26).
Similar to the Buckeyes’ backstroke shortage, they’re also thin in the butterfly department following the departures of Quach and fellow Aussie James Ward, who had two appeals for eligibility relief denied by the NCAA. Ward handled butterfly duties on medley relays at NCAAs (Quach took backstroke instead) while Quach missed scoring in the 100 fly at NCAAs by less than a tenth of a second (45.33).
Khouzam (45.94) and Gustafson (46.34) posted the next-fastest 100 butterfly times among returners last season. They have some work to do to dip under the 2022 NCAA scoring threshold of 45.24, but it’s certainly not out of reach. In the 200 fly, Gustafson was even stronger, posting a top-25 time last season (1:42.24) at Ohio State’s Last Chance Qualifier. The senior went on to place 19th at NCAAs in 1:42.52, just a few tenths away from scoring, and he’ll be back for his fifth year next season.
The Buckeyes’ only two sub-1:45 200 IMers are gone next season — Quach (1:44.43) and Watkins (1:44.47) — leaving rising sophomore Tristan Jankovics (1:45.32), rising senior Owen Conley (1:45.47), and rising junior William Bansberg to fill the gap. They need to drop a few seconds to get within NCAA scoring range from last season (1:42.33).
In the 400 IM, the trio of Bansberg (3:45.29), Jankovics (3:45.32), and Conley lead the way as well, but they’re about four seconds outside of NCAA scoring range from last season (3:41.67).
The Buckeyes boasted three divers who each scored in multiple events last season, and they could be even better this season.
Yost is back for his fifth year as the reigning national champion on the 1-meter springboard, which made him the first winner from Ohio State in any individual event since 2016. He added a 5th-place finish on the 3-meter and a 6th-place showing on the platform, totaling 46.5 points at NCAAs — most among divers. The 22-year-old Yost kept his momentum going this summer by qualifying for the World Championships and placing 13th on the 1-meter.
The Buckeyes also have a pair of rising junior divers who also tallied double-digit scoring efforts at NCAAs last season. Clayton Chaplin racked up 15 points from placing 5th place on the platform and 16th place on the 3-meter while Jack Matthews chipped in 10 points with 12th-place finishes on both the 1-meter and 3-meter.
Although this will be Yost’s last season in Columbus, the future of Ohio State diving is still bright under coach Justin Sochor between the emergence of Chaplin, Matthews, and incoming recruit Tyler Read.
The Buckeyes qualified four relays for NCAAs last season, three of which ended up scoring. Their 400 free relay placed 15th, their 200 free relay placed 16th, their 200 medley relay placed 16th, and their 400 medley relay placed 19th. The loss of Ward (four NCAA relays) and Quach (two NCAA relays) leaves Ohio State with holes to fill on the backstroke and butterfly legs of its medley relays as well as a gap on its freestyle relays.
Navikonis (43.14/1:33.60) is an ideal candidate to step up for the freestyle relays during his second collegiate campaign, but the medley relays might be harder to remedy. As mentioned above, Khouzam is the Buckeyes’ fastest returner in both the 100 back (47.58) and 100 fly (45.94) with Gustafson the next-fastest in the 100 back (47.72) and 100 fly (46.34).
Total Stars: 15/40
The return of Yost, Gaziev, and Clark provides Ohio State with a solid veteran foundation, but the Buckeyes are in need of reinforcements across their backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly groups. After the losses of Quach, Ward, and Watkins, Ohio State will rely on its supporting cast — such as Edmund, Khouzam, Gustafson, Baltes, and Jankovics — to keep its relays competitive and maintain the program’s place among the top 12 in the country.