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.
#2 Arizona State Sun Devils
Key Additions: #4 Ilya Kharun (NV – fly/free), transfer Cam Peel (Michigan – free), Asher Havenhill (IA – back/free), Quinlan Gould (OR – back/free), Kaden Guzman (NE – free/breast), Leo Roden (GA – sprint free), Jackson Schuster (CO – free/fly), Filip Senc-Samardzic (Toronto – free/fly)
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.
French superstar Leon Marchand carried Arizona State to new heights last season.
After leading the Sun Devils to their first Pac-12 title in program history, the versatile 21-year-old broke U.S. Open records in all three of his individual events at the 2023 NCAA Championships, cruising to victories in the 200 IM (1:36.34), 400 IM (3:28.82), and 200 breast (1:46.91). The sophomore also threw down three relay splits that were the fastest in history between his 50 breast relay split (22.27), 100 breast relay split (49.23), and 200 free relay split (1:28.42).
Among Marchand’s mind-boggling stats from last season are that he owned nation-leading times in seven different events at one point in February — the 100 back, 100 breast, 200 breast, 200 fly, 200 IM, 400 IM, and 500 free — and finished the season undefeated in individual events (26-for-26), the first perfect season by an NCAA champion since Natalie Coughlin.
While Marchand cemented his status as the most dominant collegiate swimmer in the country (and one of the top two men in the world), his supporting cast stepped up in a big way at NCAAs to help ASU secure its best finish ever. The Sun Devils placed 2nd overall after having never finished better than 6th in seasons prior, reaching unchartered territory thanks to breakout performances from freshmen Hubert Kos (37 individual NCAA points) and Owen McDonald (27 points) along with veteran contributions from Grant House (30 points) and Jack Dolan (25 points). Over the summer, they kept their momentum rolling when Marchand and Kos won more world titles in Fukuoka than all the American men combined.
House is one of two individual NCAA scorers from last season who won’t be returning this year, but there’s reason to believe the Sun Devils have what it takes to capture their first national championship in program history. Headlining the group of newcomers is No. 4 recruit Ilya Kharun, who broke a school record in the 100 fly (44.88) during his NCAA debut last weekend.
Sprint Free: ★★★★
ASU doesn’t boast any title-contending sprint freestylers on its roster, but eighth-year head coach Bob Bowman and associate head coach Herbie Behm have cultivated impressive depth in this department. The Sun Devils return two ‘A’ finalists in the 200 free from last season between fifth-year Julian Hill (1:32.25) and junior Patrick Sammon (1:32.67), and they also have a chance of putting a pair into both the 50 free and 100 free ‘A’ finals.
Jack Dolan is back for a fifth year after placing 7th in the 50 free (19.15) and 16th in the 100 free (42.56). Jonny Kulow is entering his second season in Tempe following a freshman campaign that saw him place 11th in the 100 free (41.66) while missing the 50 free consolation final by just one one-hundredth of a second. Kulow dropped more than a full second in the 50 free and more than two seconds in the 100 free during his first season with Bowman and Behm, so another big leap could be coming for the Wyoming native, especially after an impressive summer.
The Sun Devils didn’t go crazy in the transfer portal over the offseason, but they did snag fifth-year Cam Peel from Michigan to help offset the losses of House and Andrew Gray (11th in 200 free, 13th in 500 free). Peel is more of a 50/100 specialist with best times of 19.22 and 42.73, which sit within a couple tenths and one second of NCAA scoring range from last season, respectively. He got off to a strong start at last weekend’s dual meet against Georgia with a 4th-place finish in the 50 free (19.95).
Among recruits, 20-year-old Jackson Schuster owns best times of 19.6, 43.13, and 1:37.85 in the sprint freestyle events, positioning him in ‘C’ final territory at Pac-12s. Canadian freshman Filip Senc-Samardzic also impressed during his NCAA debut last weekend with a 44.15 in the 100 free.
Distance Free: ★★★
Zalan Sarkany isn’t currently on ASU’s roster, but he’s expected to return in December following a stint training back home in Hungary. That’s huge news for the Sun Devils, who are relatively thin in distance freestyle events this season.
Sarkany won the Pac-12 title in the 1650 free (14:41.65) before going on to place 8th at NCAAs (14:42.80) as a freshman (and spring semester enrollee). He also placed 29th in the 500 free with a 4:16.61, just a few seconds outside of scoring range. He figures to be ASU’s best bet of scoring in both distance events after the departure of Gray, the team’s top 500 freestyler last season (4:14.61).
Daniel Matheson seemed to solve his tapering issues as a sophomore. After going 14:51.19 at the 2022 Pac-12 Championships and 15:04.43 at the NCAA Championships, he posted personal-best times of 14:48.52 and 14:48.21 at Pac-12s and NCAAs, respectively, this year. The latter time earned him a 14th-place finish in the 1650 free for a three-point showing at NCAAs.
None of the Sun Devils’ newcomers appear to be distance specialists. They are getting back age-group phenom Lleyton Plattel after he didn’t compete last season, but his best times of 4:21.58 and 15:03.81 (from 2019) are well outside of scoring range.
The emergence of freshmen Hubert Kos and Owen McDonald elevated ASU’s backstroke group from good to great last season. Kos took 3rd in the 200 back (1:37.96) at NCAAs in March, then went on to win a world title in the same event four months later in Fukuoka. Meanwhile, McDonald came out of nowhere to become the team’s top 100 backstroker, dropping more than two seconds in the event as a freshman en route to a 6th-place finish at NCAAs (44.85).
With Jack Dolan placing 7th in the 100 back (44.93) and McDonald also placing 5th in the 200 back (1:39.74), the Sun Devils put a pair into both backstroke A-finals last season, and they seem primed to achieve the feat again this year. The talented trio of Dolan, McDonald, and Kos combined for 55 points across the two backstroke events last season, and
ASU’s best backstroke recruits are Asher Havenhill (48.74/1:47.85) and Quinlan Gould (47.80/1:48.01), but they’re well outside the 45.54/1:40.75 it took to score at NCAAs as a backstroker last season. Still, it seems like anything is possible in the Sun Devils’ elite training environment.
Leon Marchand brings back his 20 points from a record-breaking victory in the 200 breast (1:46.91) at NCAAs last season, but he doesn’t have much help in his signature stroke.
Australia’s David Schlicht experienced a breakthrough last season, going 1:52.15 in the 200 breast at Pac-12s to lower a lifetime best that he had been sitting on since 2019. Then he got under 1:52 for the first time at NCAAs with a 1:51.81, placing 11th and earning six points for ASU.
The Sun Devils also recruited Kaden Guzman out of Nebraska, whose best 100 breast time (54.32) is within a few seconds of NCAA scoring range (51.66).
If Ilya Kharun’s NCAA debut last weekend against Georgia was any indication, the Canadian freshman from the powerhouse Sandpipers of Nevada club program might just be the missing piece ASU needs to dethrone two-time defending champion Cal this year.
Kharun clocked a personal-best 1:40.68 in the 200 fly on Saturday — in September — which would have placed him 6th at NCAAs. His 100 fly win came in a lifetime best of 44.88, breaking the school record set last year by now-departed Max McCusker. He would have made the B-final in the 100 fly at NCAAs last season with that time, placing 11th overall for a hypothetical total of 19 points between both events.
Kharun joins fifth year Alex Colson, who placed 7th in the 200 fly (1:41.38) as a senior. Colson’s best 200 fly time is a 1:39.55 from his runner-up finish at the 2023 Pac-12 Championships, a performance that would have placed him 4th at NCAAs a few weeks later in March.
Leon Marchand alone is enough to justify four stars as the defending champion in the 200 IM (1:36.34) and 400 IM (3:28.82), but the Sun Devils could put three swimmers into both A-finals at NCAAs this season if everything goes right in Tempe.
Hubert Kos placed 4th in the 400 IM (3:37.00) and 11th in the 200 IM (1:41.61) as a freshman while David Schlicht placed 9th in the 400 IM (3:38.03) and 10th in the 200 IM (1:41.50) as a sophomore. Owen McDonald also wasn’t far off from scoring as a freshman with his 28th-place finish in the 200 IM (1:43.29).
ASU totaled 71 points across these two events last season, and all but Grant House’s nine (9th-place finish in 200 IM) are returning this year. It probably doesn’t hurt that the Sun Devils’ pro group includes IM stars such as Chase Kalisz, Jay Litherland, and Regan Smith.
ASU returns four divers on its roster this season, only one of whom finaled at the 2023 Pac-12 Championships. Senior Thomas Wesche could be the Sun Devils’ best bet of NCAA qualification in the diving category after he placed 6th on platform at Pac-12s as a junior. Fellow senior Zachory Lundgren is looking for another trip to the Zone E Championships after placing 13th on platform there in 2022. Sophomores Caleb Liban and Lane Stallworth will also be aiming to break through to Pac-12 finals during their second season in Tempe.
The Sun Devils’ medley relays are in great shape heading into the 2023-24 campaign with three of their four members returning. Freshman phenom Ilya Kharun should have no trouble slotting in for butterfly specialist Max McCusker considering Kharun’s collegiate debut in the 200 medley relay saw him split faster than McCusker’s leg at NCAAs last season (19.51 vs. 19.74). ASU placed 2nd in the 200 medley relay (1:21.07) and 3rd in the 400 medley relay (2:59.18).
The Sun Devils’ toughest relay challenge could be the 200 free relay, which placed 5th last season — the only ASU relay to finish outside of the top 3 at NCAAs. The 200 free relay is also the only one that’s tasked with replacing half of its members as both McCusker (18.78) and Grant House (18.79) exhausted their eligibility. The top replacement candidates are Michigan graduate transfer Cam Peel (personal-best 19.22) and junior Patrick Sammon (personal-best 19.33). Sammon should also fill in for House on the 400 free relay.
The other question mark for the Sun Devils is who will replace House on the 800 free relay, which placed 2nd behind Texas at NCAAs last season. Andrew Gray is also gone this year, meaning their next-fastest returner is Jonny Kulow (1:33.67).
Total Stars: 30/40
Between junior star Leon Marchand, sophomore Hubert Kos, sophomore Owen McDonald, fifth year Jack Dolan, junior David Schlicht, fifth year Julian Hill, fifth year Alex Colson, junior Patrick Sammon, sophomore Zalan Sarkany, and newcomer Ilya Kharun, ASU has 10 different swimmers who seem destined for double-digit NCAA points. And they have unfinished business on their minds this season.
“I know we can do better,” Marchand said. “I know we can win. And I want to be a part of it.”
It’s going to take another Dave Durden masterclass in Berkeley to keep this stacked Sun Devil squad from winning it all next March.
MEN’S PREVIEW INDEX:
|Team||Sprint Free||Distance Free||Backstroke||Breaststroke||Butterfly||IM||Diving||Relays||Total Stars|
|#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|