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.
#1 CAL GOLDEN BEARS
Key Additions: #6 Aaron Shackell (IN- FR/FL), #9 Keaton Jones (AZ – everything but breaststroke), #12 Roman Jones (NJ – FR/BR), Nikolas Antoniou (Cyprus – FR), BOTR Samuel Quarles (CA – FR/FL/IM), BOTR Humberto Najera (CA – BK/IM)
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 2022-2023 Cal Golden Bears repeated as NCAA Champions, winning the title by a relatively comfortable margin over Arizona State. This was a stacked Cal roster, seeing 13 swimmers score individually. Though they didn’t win any relay titles, Destin Lasco earned the individual crown in the 200 back. That event was actually a 1-2 punch for Cal, as Hugo Gonzalez came in 2nd.
Cal was helped greatly by their fifth years last season: Hugo Gonzalez, Reece Whitley, Lucas Henveaux, and Patrick Callan. That group combined for 85 individual points at NCAAs and accounted for three relay legs.
For the first time in a while, Cal actually had a scoring diver at NCAAs. Just a freshman, Joshua Thai managed to score three points for the Golden Bears thanks to a 14th-place finish on platform diving.
Despite the national title, Cal did relinquish the Pac-12 championship trophy after a string of five titles dating back to 2018, as ASU claimed their first-ever conference title by 78.5 points. With the Pac-12 essentially disbanding after this season, perhaps both squads will put a little extra precedence on securing the conference title in 2024.
SPRINT FREE: ★★★★★
A staple of the Cal program, the Golden Bears will be featuring one of the premier sprint free groups in the NCAA this season. They return all of their scorers from last year: Bjorn Seeliger, Jack Alexy, Liam Bell, and Gabriel Jett.
The 50 free was Cal’s best sprint free event last season, seeing three swimmers score at NCAAs. Seeliger was the Golden Bears’ fastest 50 freestyler, clocking 18.46 in the NCAA prelims before taking 3rd in the final at 18.67. Similarly, Alexy clocked his season best of 18.77 in prelims before placing 6th in the finals (18.87). Bell was also sub-19, taking 13th at NCAAs in 18.96.
In the 100 free, Seeliger once again took 3rd, touching in 40.93. His season best in the event was 40.90, which he swam at Pac-12s. Alexy was Cal’s leading 100 freestyler last season, having swum 40.88 in the prelims at NCAAs, which also earned him the top seed for the final. He then clocked 40.92 in finals, which was good for a runner-up finish.
Jett was Cal’s only scoring swimmer in the 200 free last season, but the upside to that is he came in 2nd (1:30.74). Dylan Hawk and Robin Hanson each posted season bests that put them just outside what it took to score at NCAAs, giving Cal something to build on heading into this season. Hawk topped out at 1:32.79 last year, while Hanson had a season-best of 1:33.01.
That group of returning scorers combined for 83 points in the sprint free events last year, representing one of the top sprint groups in the NCAA.
On top of the returners, the Golden Bears are also bringing in some real talent in the sprint free events. Nikolas Antoniou, a freshman from Cyprus, could make a big impact in his freshman season. Having been born and raised in Cyprus, Antoniou hasn’t competed in yards before, however, he has some excellent personal bests in LCM. Antoniou boasts a PB of 22.51 in the LCM 50 free. Of course, conversions should be taken with a grain of salt, but for what it’s worth, his 22.51 LCM converts to 19.55 in yards.
Antoniou is also a great 100 freestyler, having been 49.67 in LCM. That conversion comes in at 43.30, again, for whatever that is worth. He also has a very solid 200 free, coming in with an LCM personal best of 1:52.12.
Samuel Quarles is another member of the freshman class who excels in all three sprint free events. A California native, Quarles comes in with a PB of 20.02 in the 50 free. He’s also been 43.17 in the 100 free and 1:35.69 in the 200 free. That 200 free might be Quarles’ best event, but he might end up opting to race the 100 fly over it, given those two races coincide at championship meets.
There’s also Aaron Shackell. Shackell is extremely fast in a number of events, including the sprint free events. He holds a PB of 1:32.85, which is nearly unheard of for pre-college swimmers. It took a 1:32.61 to qualify for the ‘B’ final at NCAAs last season, so Shackell is already right there. The 200 is probably the only sprint free event Shackell will race individually at championship meets, but he also has a 43.63 100 free and a 20.32 50 free to his name.
Keaton Jones is primarily a backstroker and he’s a fantastic 200 IMer and 500 freestyler as well, which means he probably won’t end up racing the sprint free events individually at championship meets, however, he still has some great sprint free times to his name. Jones has been 1:34.31 in the 200 free, which is a phenomenal time for an incoming freshman. He’s also been 43.36 in the 100 free and 20.23 in the 50 free. While Jones may not end up swimming any of those events at NCAAs, he may end up being able to make it onto some of Cal’s free relays in the future.
Roman Jones has the fastest 50 free personal best in Cal’s freshman class at 19.75 in the 50 free. He’s also the fastest 100 freestyler among the freshmen, having been 43.17.
DISTANCE FREE: ★★★
Distance free is probably this Cal team’s weakest discipline in the swimming events, though they could prove to have a great 500 free group. Lucas Henveaux was a huge piece for Cal in the distance events last season, having taken 9th in both the 500 free and 1650 free last season. Unfortunately for Cal, Henveaux is no longer on the roster, which also means they’ve lost their only scoring swimmer in the mile.
Let’s start with the 1650, as it’s the only event where Cal doesn’t have a returning swimmer who scored at NCAAs last season. Matthew Chai is the Golden Bears’ top returner in the mile, having swum a season-best of 14:55.68 last year. Chai is an interesting case, as his personal best in the 1650 is 14:45.37, which he swam in December of 2021. Now that Chai is in his sophomore season with Cal, it’s possible he could get back to form in the event, in which case, he would be an NCAA-scoring caliber swimmer.
Moving on to the 500 free, Cal returns their top swimmer in the event from last season in Gabriel Jett. Jett came in 6th in the 500 at NCAAs last season in 4:12.52. That actually wasn’t that great of a swim for him either, as Jett swam a season-best 4:09.66 at Pac-12s. As a sub-4:10 500 freestyler, Jett represents a very likely ‘A’ finalist for Cal in the event once again this season.
The Golden Bears are adding great depth in the 500 with this freshman class. Leading the way is Aaron Shackell, who comes in with a 500 free personal best of 4:15.35. Keaton Jones is right there with him, holding a PB of 4:15.54 in the 500. It took a 4:13.59 to qualify for the ‘B’ final at NCAAs last season, which means both Shackell and Jones are within striking distance of putting up points if they drop some time.
A storied program when it comes to backstrokers, Cal is set up to be exceptional in this discipline once again. Destin Lasco returns for his senior year, which is huge for the Golden Bears, as Lasco is probably the best backstroker in the NCAA. Lasco won the 200 back at NCAAs last season in a blistering 1:35.87, just missing Ryan Murphy’s (another Golden Bear) NCAA Record of 1:35.73. As far as returning swimmers go, Lasco was more than two seconds faster than the next-fastest swimmer in that NCAA final. Cal’s Hugo Gonzalez came in 2nd last year with a 1:36.72, but he was in his final season of eligibility, so he won’t be back.
Lasco also earned a 3rd-place finish in the 100 back at 43.94, having set a PB of 43.93 in the NCAA prelims.
Bjorn Seeliger is also a very fast 100 backstroker, having taken 10th in the event at NCAAs last year with a 45.00. That time was also Seeliger’s season best in the event. That’s notable because Seeliger clocked a 44.58 in the 2021-2022 season, so we’ll be looking for him to get back to top form this season. If he’s at his best in the event. Seeliger could be an ‘A’ finalist.
Cal also returns Colby Mefford, who is using his fifth year of NCAA eligibility. Mefford scored in the 200 back last season, earning a 12th-place finish with a 1:39.88. Mefford had a season-best of 1:38.83, which would have been fast enough to qualify for the ‘A’ final at NCAAs.
Sebastian Somerset is another fifth year for Cal. Somerset scored one point at NCAAs last season, thanks to a 16th-place finish in the 200 back. He clocked his season best of 1:40.04 in prelims at NCAAs, which put him in the ‘B’ final.
Adding to their four returning scorers from last year, Cal is bringing in some electric backstroke speed with this freshman class. They are led by Keaton Jones, who is one of the top backstroke recruits we’ve seen in recent years. Jones is an exceptional 200 backstroker, already having been 1:40.32 in the event. That time would have qualified for the ‘B’ final at NCAAs last year. Jones has a PB of 46.97 in the 100 back. He represents what could be the next backstroke superstar for Cal, with Lasco and Seeliger both being seniors this year.
Humberto Najera is another freshman for Cal who is a great 200 backstroker. Najera holds a personal best of 1:42.98 in the 200 back, which is a little over two seconds off what it took to qualify for the ‘B’ final at NCAAs. It’s very much within reason that Najera could qualify for NCAAs in the event and be a bubble finalist this season.
The Cal breaststroke group is taking a hit with the loss of Reece Whitley, though they’re still in good shape as we get into this season. Cal returns Liam Bell, who came in 6th in the 100 breast at NCAAs last season with a 50.88. Given that four of the five swimmers who beat Bell at NCAAs last season are not returning, Bell is coming into this season as one of the fastest 100 breaststrokers in the NCAA. Additionally, Bell has a personal best of 50.50 in the event, so it’s very possible he could end up winning the event this year.
Jason Louser‘s return for his fifth year of eligibility is big for Cal as well. Louser had a great season last year, clocking a new personal best of 1:50.90 in the 200 breast, which he swam for 6th at NCAAs.
Between Bell and Louser, Cal returns an ‘A’ finalist in each of the breaststroke events. Moreover, given the people ahead of them last year who are not returning this season, both Bell and Louser are poised to potentially move up in their respective events this year.
Matthew Jensen had a breakout season in the 100 breast last year, clocking a new lifetime best of 51.42. He swam that time, which was an NCAA ‘A’ cut, at Pac-12s. He swam a 52.17 in prelims at NCAAs, which put him in 25th place, however, his PB would have qualified him for the ‘B’ final.
Jacob Soderlund swam a career best of 51.90 in the 100 breast last season, which puts him right on the edge of scoring range in the event as well. Soderlund is a very good 200 breaststroker as well, having swum a career best of 1:54.45 last season as well. Soderlund has steadily improved during his time with Cal, so if that trend continues, he should reach NCAA scoring times this season.
Roman Jones is a freshman with a lot of promise in the 100 breast. Jones has a personal best of 53.82 in the 100 breast, a speedy time for a freshman. He’s also a solid 200 breaststroker (2:01.48), but he’s a better 100 freestyler, so we probably won’t see him in the 200 breast at championship meets.
Dare Rose leads this Cal fly group into the 2023-2024 season. Rose scored in both fly events at NCAAs last season, notching a 4th-place finish in the 200 fly (1:39.89) and a 10th-place finish in the 100 fly (44.75). Both of his finals performances were career-bests for Rose.
We also can’t ignore the fact that Rose really broke out in the long course pool this summer, making the U.S. World Championship team and winning three medals in Fukuoka, including gold in the men’s medley relay and individual bronzer in the 100 fly.
Cal also sees the return of Gabriel Jett, who came in 3rd in the 200 fly last season with a 1:39.40. Jett was just a touch fast at Pac-12s, where he swam a 1:39.27.
Matthew Jensen was Cal’s 2nd-fastest 100 flyer last season, swimming his best of 45.57 at Pac-12s. He ended up finishing 27th in prelims at NCAAs with a 45.66, however, it only took a 45.24 to qualify for the ‘B’ final, so Jensen was right there.
It’s a relatively thin group that Cal is returning, however, there are some real stars in there with Rose and Jett.
Of course, Cal is also bringing in Aaron Shackell, who should make some noise in the 200 fly. Shackell’s personal best of 1:44.24 is a little bit misleading, as he’s been 1:55.81 in the LCM 200 fly. Given that LCM time, we can reasonably expect that Shackell will be quite a bit faster than 1:44 in the yards 200 fly.
Shackell is also a great 100 flyer, holding a yards personal best of 47.07 and an LCM best of 53.13. That being said, Shackell is such a good 200 freestyler it seems more likely he swims the 200 free than the 100 fly on that day.
Samuel Quarles is another freshman with a great 100 fly, coming in with a personal best of 47.07. Quarles is also a very good 200 freestyler, so we’ll have to see how that plays out as well.
Cal’s fly group is safely in the four-star range, but a bump in finishing position for Rose in the 100 fly (he was 10th last season) and some points from Shackell in the 200 fly could push them into five-star territory.
The loss of Hugo Gonzalez is massive, as he finished 2nd in the 400 IM and 3rd in the 200 IM at NCAAs last season. That represents a loss that won’t be replaced this season for Cal, but even so, Cal will always have high-level IMers.
Of course, Destin Lasco is returning for Cal in the 200 IM. Lasco came in 2nd in the 200 IM last year with a 1:38.10. While beating Arizona State’s Leon Marchand in an IM is a very tall order, Lasco is still set up very well for another top 2 finish in the 200 IM this season.
Jason Louser is back for his fifth year, and he represents another huge piece of Cal’s IM group. Louser took 5th in the 400 IM at NCAAs last season, swimming a 3:38.69. He also swam a new career best of 3:37.60 at Pac-12s last season, so Louser heads into this season as one of the top 400 IMers in the NCAA.
Louser is also Cal’s 2nd-fastest returning 200 IMer, having swum a 1:41.82 last season. That time would have been fast enough to qualify for the ‘B’ final at NCAAs, however, he was just a touch off in prelims at NCAAs, coming in 19th with a 1:42.60. Still, Louser comes into his final NCAA season with the potential to score in both IM events.
Tyler Kopp, a senior, is just off scoring range in the 400 IM. Kopp holds a personal best of 3:42.62 in the 400 IM, which he swam at the 2022 NCAAs. Last year, it took a 3:41.67 to qualify for the ‘B’ final at NCAAs, so if Kopp is able to get back to best time form, he’ll be right there on the bubble of scoring.
Cal is also bringing in a lot of IM talent with this freshman class. Humberto Najera is a great IMer, boasting personal bests of 1:46.62 in the 200 IM and 3:47.33 in the 400 IM. Keaton Jones is similar, coming in with a 200 IM PB of 1:45.51 and a 400 IM time of 3:47.55. Jones is also a great 500 freestyler, though, so he may not race the 200 IM at championship meets. Either way, 3:47 400 IMs for incoming freshmen are very promising.
Samuel Quarles also joins the team with a career-best of 1:46.94 in the 200 IM.
Long a weakness of the Cal swimming and diving program, it seems as though the Golden Bears might be building a solid diving group. Last season, Cal had their first scoring diver at NCAAs for the first time in a while, seeing freshman Joshua Thai earn a 14th-place finish in platform diving. He also took 32nd in 3-meter at NCAAs, giving Thai something to build on this season.
Now a sophomore, Thai is set to lead a growing dive squad out in Berkeley. He’ll be joined by fellow sophomore Conrad Eck. He was on the roster last season but it appears Eck didn’t compete as a freshman. A Colorado high school state champion, we’ll hopefully get to see Eck compete this season.
The Golden Bears are also bringing in 3 freshmen divers this season in Jack Clark, Scott Garman, and Geoffrey Vavitsas. It can be difficult to project diving prospects in the NCAA, however, Vavitsas was the Canadian Junior National Champion in platform diving in 2023, while Clark and Garman were both successful California high school divers.
Cal still has quite a bit of work to be done with this diving group, but there’s plenty of reason for optimism.
Cal’s relays were excellent last year, with all 5 relays posting top 5 finishes. The Golden Bears topped out in the 200 free and 400 free relays, where they finished 2nd. Moreover, all 8 legs of those relays return this season. The 200 free relay of Bjorn Seeliger (18.59), Jack Alexy (18.12), Liam Bell (18.59), and Destin Lasco (18.52) came in 2nd to Florida. While that’s great for Cal heading into this season, it should be noted that Florida also returns all of their members from last year.
The 400 free relay saw Cal finish 2nd as well, just 0.01 seconds behind Florida, who set the NCAA Record in the event. Seeliger (41.50), Alexy (40.51), Matthew Jensen (41.12), and Destin Lasco (40.95) combined for a 2:44.08. Cal has a real chance to not only win this relay this season, but also set the NCAA Record. While Florida did touch them out last year, Seeliger’s lead-off wasn’t great, as he’d already swum 41.17 and 40.93 in the individual 100 free earlier that day. Had Seeliger just been able to match his time from prelims of the 100 free that morning, Cal would have been the first team to go under 2:44 in the 400 free relay.
Cal came in 3rd in the 800 free relay last season, but it’s also the relay that was most affected by graduation. Cal lost two of their legs from last year in Lucas Henveaux (1:31.90) and Patrick Callan (1:33.63) Fortunately, Cal is well-positioned to replace those legs. That’s partially because they have plenty of talent in the 200 free from which to draw on, and also a function of Henveaux and Callan having the slowest two legs on Cal’s relay last year. For example, Aaron Shackell joins Cal as a freshman with a personal best of 1:32.85 in the 200 free, which is already faster than Callan’s split on the relay from last year.
Additionally, Dylan Hawk (1:32.79 last season) and Robin Hanson (1:33.01 last season) are there and can be put on that relay as well. Keaton Jones coming in as a freshman with a PB of 1:34.31 is potentially great for Cal as well on this relay.
Returning to that 800 free relay are Gabriel Jett, who led off in 1:31.35, and Destin Lasco, who anchored in 1:29.53. We know they’ll be on the relay again this year and can be counted on to provide elite times.
Cal returns every member of its 200 medley relay as well. Last year, Seeliger (20.29), Bell (22.99), Rose (19.85), and Alexy (18.11) combined for a 1:21.24, finishing 4th. There’s no reason to think that relay will change at all this season, so we can expect a very similar relay to last year.
Lasco (44.07), Reece Whitley (51.37), Jett (44.49), and Seeliger (40.45) came in 5th in the 400 medley relay with a 3:00.38. The only leg that doesn’t return this season is Reece Whitley, which actually won’t be a problem for Cal to replace. Liam Bell was already a faster 100 breaststroker than Whitley anyway, so they’ll just plug him in. Bell has a personal best of 50.50 in the 100 breast, so Cal should actually see some solid improvement on the breast leg this season. The only other potential changes from last year’s relay would be possibly putting Rose on the fly leg instead of Jett, and possibly having Alexy anchor instead of Seeliger.
In all, Cal is facing very little change to their relays this season versus last. The relay where they will see the most change is the 800 free, where they also may end up being better than last year given their 200 free group. We can expect top 5 finishes out of all of Cal’s relays once again this year.
Total Stars: 32/40
This won’t come as a surprise, but Cal’s outlook for the 2023-2024 season is very good. The two-time defending NCAA champions face significant losses in Hugo Gonzalez, Lucas Henveaux, and Reece Whitley, however, between a few excellent incoming freshmen and some younger members of the roster who should keep improving, the Golden Bears should be able to take losses in stride.
Destin Lasco, Bjorn Seeliger, Jack Alexy, Gabriel Jett, and Liam Bell are all among the best of the best in their respective disciplines and should score a ton of points individually. Jason Louser had an incredible 2022-23 season and has returned for his fifth year to help lead this Cal team.
Additionally, Cal has a handful of freshmen who could make a significant impact this season. Aaron Shackell, Keaton Jones, Nikolas Antoniou, Samuel Quarles, and Roman Jones are all very promising prospects, who could all be scoring at NCAAs as freshmen with just a little bit of improvement.
When we take it all into account, Cal has a very real chance of three-peating as NCAA champions. They’ll have to contend with Arizona State, which is probably an improved team from last year. It won’t be easy, but Cal has the pieces, the culture, and the track record necessary to come out on top once again.
MEN’S PREVIEW INDEX:
|TEAM||SPRINT FREE||DISTANCE FREE||BACKSTROKE||BREASTSTROKE||BUTTERFLY||IM||DIVING||RELAYS||TOTAL STARS|
|#1 Cal Golden Bears||★★★★★||★★★||★★★★★||★★★★||★★★★||★★★★||★★||★★★★★||32/40|
|#2 Arizona State||★★★★||★★★||★★★★★||★★★||★★★★||★★★★★||★||★★★★★||30/40|
|#3 Texas Longhorns||★★★||★★★½||★★★||★||★★||★||★★★★||★★★||21.5/40|
|#4 Indiana Hoosiers||★★★||★★★★||★★★||★★★||★★★★★||★||★★★★★||★★★★||28/40|
|#5 NC State Wolfpack||★★★||★★★★||★★★½||★★||★★★★★||★★★||★||★★★★||25.5/40|
|#6 Florida Gators||★★★★||★★★||★★||★★★||★★★★||★★||★||★★★★★||24/40|
|#7 Tennessee Volunteers||★★★★||★||★★||★½||★★★||★★||★★★||★★★½||20/40|
|#8 Stanford Cardinal||★★||★★★||★★★||★★||★★★||★★★||★★★||★★★||22/40|
|#9 Virginia Tech Hokies||★★★||★||★★½||★★★||★★★||★★★||★||★★★★||20/40|
|#10 Auburn Tigers||★||★★||★★★½||★||★★||★||★||★★★½||15/40|
|#11 Ohio State Buckeyes||★★★||★★★||★||★||★||★||★★★★||★||15/40|
|#12 Georgia Bulldogs||★★||★★★★||★★★★||★||★||★★★||★||★★★||19/40|