2023 M. NCAA Championships: Can Cal Win a Team Title AND the 400 Free Relay Together?


The individual speed in the 100 freestyle leans East, with four of the top five seeds, and seven out of the top nine seeds, all coming from schools in the eastern U.S.

But the top two relays in the event so far this season are from Pac-12 teams: Cal at 2:45.67 and Arizona State at 2:46.14.

Cal won this race in 2021 but were 3rd last year. In spite of having a really good sprint group for a number of years, they hadn’t won this race since 2011 when Nathan Adrian was part of the squad.

Last year, Cal might have had the best 400 free relay on paper, but with a “just don’t blow this” lead coming in over Texas, they added time to finish 3rd. That was in spite of the fact that they dropped from seed in each of their other four relays at the meet.

In each of the last two years where Cal won NCAA team titles (2019, 2022), it was the Texas men who won this 400 free relay. But Texas doesn’t appear to have the horses to contend for the title this year – they enter the meet as the 10th seed.

That means that Cal will have a new batch to battle with, and there appear to be three primary contenders.

The Main Contenders

This year’s NCAA Championship team of destiny, the Arizona State Sun Devils, are seeded about half-a-second behind Cal. This relay has a lot of pieces this year. Leon Marchand, the best 400 IM/100 free combo we’ve seen since Phelps, swam leadoff at Pac-12s. Veteran Grant House is on the relay and should be faster than he was at Pac-12s. Patrick Sammon is the unsung hero of this group, splitting 41.18 after a 41.98 flat-start earlier in the meet. And Jack Dolan has really come into his own this season (as has most of the Arizona State team, if we’re honest).

I see that relay as House and Dolan having some room to drop, with Marchand and Sammon maybe closer to their ceilings. The Sun Devils’ potential might come down to how much momentum they, or Cal, have coming into the final race. If Arizona State has been swimming well all week and have a chance for 2nd place as a team or, dare I say, 1st, we could see that wave carry them out. But if Seeliger, the NCAA’s fastest 100 freestyler this season, does something demoralizing early in the relay, it could be over.

Cal is a little less ‘even’ than Arizona State in this relay. They have three great legs in Seeliger, Matt Jensen, and a rising star Jack Alexy, but their weakness is leadoff leg Dylan Hawk.

He split 42.34 on the leadoff at Pac-12s, and has a best of 42.19 from Pac-12s last season. If he can’t flat-start a 41 at NCAAs, Cal has some real work to do.

But they have two guys with 40.8 splits on rolling starts. That’s hard to compete with.

Unless you’re Tennessee.

Tennessee has two young and talented sprinters in sophomore Jordan Crooks from the Caymans and freshman Gui Caribe from Brazil. Caribe split 41.43 on a leadoff at SECs and Crooks split 40.59 on the second leg of the relay.

On paper, Tennessee should have the lead halfway through this race.

Then it’s up to Bjorn Kamman (42.06) and Aleksey Tarasenko (42.17) to hold on. It’s clear that the entire Tennessee sprint group benefitted from that strategy at SECs – both Kamman and Tarasenko were way better than they’ve been individually on that relay. But Tennessee’s fate in this event might come down to whether-or-not Crooks can hold on to his all-time, all-time meet at SECs.

Tennessee hasn’t always hit their taper at NCAAs, but the Volunteer women reversed that a little this season and were close-to-flat (actually slightly positive) last weekend.

Will the men replicate as a whole? Maybe. Will Crooks replicate as an individual? That would be electric. As a swim-fan, I hope so. It’s hard to wrap my head around another drop on such huge drops this season, but that’s where the real geniuses of swimming history are made.

And then there’s Florida, who were 2nd at SECs, and couldn’t run down that Tennessee lead (though they got close). They too have a stud freshman, Canadian-born Josh Liendo, who split 40.74 at the conference meet.

Adam Chaney is an elite sprinter too (41.18), and anchor Julian Smith has been a pleasant surprise this year (41.06).

This relay hasn’t gotten the same buzz as the 200 free and 200 medley relays for Florida, which many expect to chase some really-legendary NCAA Records. The difference? Macguire McDuff led off with a 43.44 flat-start leg.

But that was an anomaly. He was 41.59 in the individual event earlier in the race. If he matches that 41.59 on the relay leadoff, Florida is the top seed in this by a wide margin, and in fact would have been pretty close to NC State’s Record from 2018 of 2:44.31.

Florida has added time at two of the last three NCAA Championships, but given the McDuff split, I don’t expect that trend to continue this year. It’s just a matter of how much they can drop.

Splits Comparison:

Cal Arizona State Tennessee Florida
1st leg Dylan Hawk – 42.43 Leon Marchand – 41.61 Gui Caribe – 41.43
Macguire McDuff – 43.44
2nd leg Bjorn Seeliger – 40.87 Grant House – 41.86 Jordan Crooks – 40.59
Josh Liendo – 40.74
3rd leg Matt Jensen – 41.57 Patrick Sammon – 41.18 Bjorn Kamman – 42.06
Adam Chaney – 41.18
4th leg Jack Alexy – 40.80 Jack Dolan – 41.49 Aleksey Tarasenko – 42.17
Julian Smith – 41.06
Total Time 2:45.67 2:45.67 2:46.25 2:46.42

Disruptors Returning Full Relays

NC State was 5th last season at NCAAs and return all four legs of a veteran relay. The ACC Champions enter with a seed of 2:47.32 – already within .03 seconds of what they went at NCAAs last year (which was a time add).

At ACCs, the Wolfpack used David Curtiss (42.09) on this relay instead of their star Nyls Korstanje, but Korstanje only swam three relays at that meet. That’s actually a net-positive: Curtiss’ split was faster than Stokowski’s was at NCAAs last season. He says he’s really been working on the 100 this season, and it showed at ACCs (he was fast in the 100 even if he wasn’t at his best in the 50).

This means NC State is a better relay this year, on paper, but also has an ace-card to sub in if someone is having an off meet.

Virginia Tech (6th seed) also returns all four legs from their NCAA Championship squad last year that placed 10th. All four legs are capable of better than they were last year, so expect a top 8 finish from them.

The sneaky relay in this group is Stanford. With Andrei Minakov back in California and seemingly without having missed a beat, they bring back all four legs from last year – and three aren’t even seniors yet. Ron Polonsky and Luke Maurer have come into their own this year, and that makes this relay really dangerous. Don’t be fooled by their 20th seed – they were DQ’ed at Pac-12s and their seed time is a relay swum mid-season without Minakov. This is a 2:47 relay at its fullest potential.

Indiana, a short-handed Virginia, and a few other teams will battle for a top 8 finish too, but seem to lack the big hammer they need to make up for their weaknesses and aim for higher than that.

And that brings us back to the Texas Longhorns

Old faithful. As much as we’ve talked this year about Texas’ lack of sprinters, a 2:49.15 at a dual meet is still pretty good pre-NCAAs with not a lot of sprinters.’

Texas does have that hammer I was talking about above, Daniel Krueger, but he hasn’t been at full power this year. His season-best in the 100 free is 42.12, which is slower than his lifetime best of 41.26 from the 2020 Big 12 Championships.

This Texas relay feels kind of like a black box right now. Caspar Corbeau‘s development as a freestyler is holding things together, Peter Larson has been better in his individual swims than in his relay swims, and Luke Hobson has really shifted his focus downward from distance to sprint to try and help the team (he’s not swimming the mile at NCAAs this year).

How is that all coming together at NCAAs? I really don’t know. Could be spectacular. Could be not spectacular. It feels like throwing very large darts at a very small dart board.

SwimSwam’s Top 8 Predictions, Men’s 400 Free Relay:

Rank School Season Best
2022 NCAA Finish (Time)
1 Florida 2:46.42 6th – 2:47.39
2 Cal 2:45.67 3rd – 2:46.42
3 Arizona State 2:46.14 2nd – 2:46.40
4 NC State 2:47.32 5th – 2:47.29
5 Tennessee 2:46.25 16th – 2:49.85
6 Stanford 2:50.38 8th – 2:48.21
7 Texas 2:49.15 1st – 2:46.03
8 Virginia Tech 2:48.06 10th – 2:48.61


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Cheeky boy
2 months ago

Just being a realist… Texas has ZERO shot at winning this event. They’ll have no sub 40 splits and are lacking a solid 4th leg (not even counting Corbeau’s ‘42.06’ split in 2022). Y’all forget they had absolute power houses, Kibler and Auchinache last year. Cal, Florida, ASU, and NC state will be on top.

Texas prove me wrong 🤷🏼‍♂️

Octavio Gupta
2 months ago

Florida is going to curb stomp this relay.

2 months ago

A fair analysis, I think.
. . . . And yet the comments so far see that of all the teams mentioned, Texas is perhaps the biggest wild card in this event. Can they do it? I sure hope so, but realism means: tune in and watch. Popcorn and refreshments are almost ready!

2 months ago

Of all the relays (excluding the 800 free) I think this is Texas’ best chance to move up. I get the feeling that their guys will step up and a crew of Krueger, Corbeau, Larson/Foster/Hobson can piece together a top 5 finish

2 months ago

Sub out a leg for Lasco. Only reason he wasn’t on this relay at Pac-12s was needing to sub in a 50 back on the 200 medley relay with Bjorn out sick.
Lead off Seeliger, then Alexy, Jensen/Jett/Hugo/Hawk/whoever might swim a decent 100 free at the end of the meet and Lasco.

Last edited 2 months ago by SwimmerTX
Former Cal Student
Reply to  SwimmerTX
2 months ago

Agreed. Still don’t think they’ll have enough firepower to take on Florida if Maguire McDuff is on.

Sidenote: Was McDuff’s progression this year expected? As someone who mostly just follows Cal/Pac-12, it definitely felt like he came out of nowhere to start kicking butt. I love when athletes start making massive improvements/dropping time/scoring at NCAAs

Grant Drukker
Reply to  SwimmerTX
2 months ago

Almost talked myself into switching cal for 1st with this logic, but then switched back to Florida.

2 months ago

I think in order for Texas to truly contend they need Daniel Krueger to be in his best form, Hobson continuing the trajectory he was on last season into the summer, and then I think you roll with Corbeau, Larson, or C. Foster – whoever has the hot hand throughout the meet.

Reply to  RealSlimThomas
2 months ago

Expanding. Lead off Corbeau in 42.00, C. Foster 41.25, Hobson 40.75, Krueger 40.50 is an aggregate 2:44.50.

Krueger in his best could split 40-high. They’ll all have to be firing on all cylinders at the end of a very long meet, but I think it’s incredibly possible.

Reply to  RealSlimThomas
2 months ago

If Hobson splits under 41.0 I’ll eat my shorts

Reply to  Queens
2 months ago

I could see him 41.3 if he channels his inner Townley Jr.

Reply to  Queens
2 months ago

Lead off 1:29 change your mind?

Bear Alum
Reply to  RealSlimThomas
2 months ago

Lead off 1:29 change your mind?

Or an 18.65 anchor?

Reply to  RealSlimThomas
2 months ago

carson is NOT splitting 41 low lmao

Hobson also nowhere near 40 high

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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