Welcome to Season 2 of SwimSwam’s NCAA recaps! It’s been a long summer, but now it’s the end of September and college swimming is (slowly but surely) kicking into gear.
Each week in these recaps, we take a look at some of the highlights from around the NCAA, do some deep dives, discuss any trends we’re seeing, that kind of fun stuff. As we’re starting a new season, if you have any suggestions for what you’d like to see in these recaps, please politely let us know in the comments and we’ll see if it’s something that we can make work.
This week, we’re looking at some of the trends we’re seeing through the first week of NCAA competition. But first, we need to talk about this weekend’s major discussion–
Will the ASU Men Win NCAAs?
This is the big talking point after the first week of the season. Arizona State hosted Georgia for a two-day affair over the weekend. Day 1 was long-course and featured off events like 150s of stroke before following a traditional NCAA dual meet format on Day 2.
If you’re ASU, there was a lot to like about how the men’s meet went, and the biggest takeaway is the huge impact that Ilya Kharun is going to make as a freshman. Kharun arrived at ASU after establishing himself on the international scene with a fourth-place finish in the 200-meter fly. However, his performance was still shocking.
Ilya Kharun, ASU vs. UGA Day 2 (Yards)
- 100 butterfly — 44.88 (personal best, school record)
- 200 butterfly — 1:40.68 (personal best, #3 in program history)
- 50 butterfly — 19.51 (relay split)
- 100 freestyle — 41.93 (relay split)
Individually, those times would’ve put him 6th in the 200 fly and 11th in the 100 fly at 2023 NCAAs–another 19 points for the Sun Devils. And, he clearly adds relay value, especially in the medleys; his 50 fly split was faster than what ASU’s butterflier split on their NCAA relay.
ASU has made no secret of the fact that they want to win a national championship. So, is Kharun the missing piece they needed? He’s clearly an asset both in individual and relay events. It’s what he brings to the relays that’s particularly intriguing to me–will he help break Florida’s grip on the relays?
There’s a couple things that factor into answering that question. First, it’s September. Second, Cal hasn’t raced a dual meet yet, though many of their swimmers did compete at King of The Pool. For our pre-season power rankings, the SwimSwam writers went 4-3 in favor of ASU.
Full disclosure: I put ASU ahead of Cal because I think their incoming talent will see more immediate drops, they didn’t lose many key swimmers, I don’t think Hubert Kos is near his yards ceiling, and I favor their relays. But, Cal’s freshman class can’t be ignored, nor can the talent they retain and the improvements their sprinters could see under Josh Huger.
No matter what side of the debate you fall on, this is an exciting time. It’s not often that we get to have serious discussions about national titles in September.
And as an aside, Leon Marchand kept his undefeated streak alive.
Early Season Speed
Early season speed was on display in more places that the desert. Across the country, swimmers were firing off fast times, including Gretchen Walsh. UVA hasn’t even had a meet yet, but she’s already put up a sub-21 50 free relay split. At the Cavaliers’ class relay competition she anchored the juniors with a 20.94, which is just .01 off her personal best flat start.
She followed that up with a casual 50.05 100 backstroke at the end of a practice. That time would’ve been 3rd at 2023 NCAAs, behind only her NCAA record 48.26 and Katharine Berkoff (49.13). Walsh is known for dropping fast times at any given point in the NCAA season, but it’s no less eye-popping each time she does it.
On the men’s side, there were a few 50 freestylers worth paying attention to. Last year, Division I saw a record-breaking seven swimmers sub-19 by midseason. Olympic years are notoriously bizarre, but given the drops we’ve seen in the time it takes to earn a second swim at NCAAs, it doesn’t seem like the event is slowing down any time soon. So, that’s a stat worth keeping an eye on–Jack Dolan currently leads the NCAA with a 19.16.
Interestingly, that’s just .01 off his NCAA ‘A’ final time, where he finished 7th after qualifying in 18.87. (Though there was the start controversy in that final.)
Behind him at 3rd and 4th across all divisions are two Division II teammates, Jack Armstrong and Lamar Taylor. The Henderson State teammates clocked 19.57 and 19.58 at the All-Arkansas Invite, both of which would’ve been good enough for the ‘A’ final at Division II 2023 NCAAs. Taylor won that event in 19.04, with Armstrong 2nd in 19.30. In just one meet, they’ve reasserted themselves as the two to beat in March.
Fast is fast all year, and it seems that top talent across all divisions is choosing to hit the ground running this season.
More Newcomers Announce Themselves
As we saw with Kharun, one of the best parts about the beginning of the season is getting to see the newcomers swim in their school colors for the first time. They’ve been training for about a month, and now they finally get to race.
Two more notable newcomers that have announced themselves through the first week of the season are Pitt’s Sydney Gring and LSU’s Jere Hribar. At Pitt’s LCM meet vs. Army, Gring won three races, including setting a personal best in the 200 free by over a second (2:05.38).
That’s a positive sign both for Gring and for Pitt. She’s one of the Panthers’ best additions this year: her 200-yard free PB (1:46.26) is almost four seconds faster than what anyone on the roster went last year. And, given that Pitt had nine women enter the transfer portal last season, Gring could be of of the main headlines of a new-look roster.
In his yards debut, Hribar went 19.96 to win the 50 freestyle at LSU’s intrasquad meet. The 6’8″ freshman from Croatia is now only a few tenths removed from SEC scoring range, which is important to the Tigers as they look for swimmers to step up and fill the holes that Brooks Curry‘s departure leaves. It’s early in Hribar’s yards career so this is likely only the beginning for him.