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.
#5 NC State Wolfpack
Key Losses: David Curtiss (2.5 NCAA points, 2 NCAA relays), Will Gallant (25 NCAA points), Mason Hunter (2 NCAA relays), Nyls Korstanje (21 NCAA points, 3 NCAA relays), Giovanni Izzo (11 NCAA points), Bartosz Piszczorowicz (2 NCAA relays)
Key Additions: #8 Hudson Williams (OH – sprint free/back), #16 Chase Mueller (CO – back/free), HM Will Heck (FL – breast/IM), BOTR Jerry Fox (NC – sprint free), BOTR Mitchell Ledford (FL – fly), BOTR Sam Flack (TN – distance free)
Returning Fifth Years: Bayne Bennett (2022 NCAA qualifier), Noah Bowers (13 NCAA points, 1 NCAA relay), Ross Dant (29 NCAA points), Noah Henderson (7 NCAA points, 2 NCAA relays), Kacper Stokowski (41 NCAA points, 2 NCAA relays), Hunter Tapp (NCAA qualifier)
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.
After reloading with fifth years and a stacked freshman class, the Wolfpack looked prime to make a push to improve on their program-best 4th place NCAA finish.
There were a few challenges along the way, as key freshmen Quintin McCarty and Michael Cotter, along with sophomore Sam Hoover, all missed big chunks of the season. Still, NC State was filthy at the ACC Championships, becoming the first team in ACC history to break 1600 points and winning the title by over 600 points.
Unfortunately for the Wolfpack, that ACC performance didn’t fully translate into an improved NCAA finish. However, it’s not as if NC State swam poorly. In fact, the meet began with NC State shattering the all-time mark in the 200 medley relay, and the final day of competition saw Wolfpack swimmers capture individual titles in the 1650 (Will Gallant) and the 200 fly (Aiden Hayes).
Kacper Stokowski wasn’t able to defend his 100 back title, but he did make three A-finals, part of a total of 11 A-final swims for the Wolfpack. No relay finished lower than 6th place, and despite no diving points, NC State stayed locked in a battle for 3rd place through the final night of competition. While they finished 5th, they were only 11.5 points behind 3rd-place Texas and only 5.5 points behind Indiana.
SPRINT FREE: ★★★
Let’s start with the bad – for a team that’s built its reputation on sprint free prowess, it’s a bit shocking to see them only score 18.5 in this discipline last year, and all those points came from the 50 free. Not only that, but two of the three men who scored in the 50 free last year, Nyls Korstanje (9th) and David Curtiss (14th) aren’t returning this year.
Here’s the good news – this is a team that still has incredible depth in the sprint freestyles, and finished 3rd, 4th, and 6th in the 200/400/800 freestyle relays.
Noah Henderson, the only returning sprint scorer after a 7th-place finish in the 50 free (18.89), clocked an 18.88 relay leadoff on the 200 free relay to hit a lifetime best. He did the same in the 400 free relay, leading off with a 42.31. He
Aiden Hayes is known more for the fly events, but he went 19.09 last season last ACCs, and took 26th in the 50 free at NCAAs (19.25).
At this point, it’s not much of a surprise to see a hitherto unheralded Wolfpack swimmer pop a fast freestyle time, and last season it was Drew Salls who made headlines after going 19.14/42.54 at a last chance meet to qualify for NCAAs. He couldn’t quite replicate that success at NCAAs, but watch for him to crack the Wolfpack free relays this season.
After finishing 4th in the 200 free in 2022, Luke Miller totally missed scoring in that event, finishing 17th in prelims with a time of 1:32.68 the day following his 1:31.55 leadoff on the 800 free relay. He split 18.59 on the 200 free relay, and he was the fastest man on the team last season in the 100 free (41.87), despite opting to swim the 200 fly over the 100 free at NCAAs.
As we mention in the intro, a trio of then-underclassmen missed large chunks of last season, and all are poised to make an immediate impact if back in shape this year. Quintin McCarty and Michael Cotter were ranked #2 and #3 in the high school class of 2023, and own best times of 19.35/42.61 and 20.19/43.09/1:33.80. Neither was able to improve on those times in their shortened seasons, but McCarty went 19.44/43.27 in a brief early in the season, indicating that he was poised for big drops.
Sophomore Sam Hoover also missed much of last season, but he’s back in the groove he should be a player on the 400 and 800 free relays; he owns lifetime bests of 42.43 and 1:32.62.
Hunter Tapp missed qualifying for NCAAs last year. Like Hoover, he’ll contribute if on form, owning bests of 42.51/1:32.72.
As if that’s not enough depth, at least three freshmen could make a push for relay duty or NCAA qualifying sooner rather than later. Freshman Hudson Williams arrives with times of 19.55/42.54/1:35.8, Chase Mueller has been 20.34/43.71/1:34.66, and Jerry Fox goes 19.75/43.12/1:36.55.
The three-star rating may seem a bit aspirational, but really all it would take is Luke Miller bouncing back to make the 200 free A-final and Henderson scoring again in the 50 free to get to our 5-14 points per event standard.
DISTANCE FREE: ★★★★
It was another dynamite year under the tutelage of Mark Bernadino, as Wolfpack swimmers finished 1-2 in the 1650. Will Gallant got his hand on the wall first at 14:28.94, followed closely by Ross Dant at 14:30.32.
Further back, Owen Lloyd went 14:46.16 to take 11th, while James Plage just missed scoring with a 14:49.02. Dant also made the A-final in the 500 free, taking 7th in 4:12.59, while Gallant finished 12th in 4:13.98.
Gallant appears to be taking a redshirt season heading into the Olympic year, so that knocks this group down from five stars to four, but there’s plenty of other distance talent in Raleigh who could contribute this season.
Freshman Lance Norris appeared to miss a couple of months, although he did manage to improve his 500 time from 4:19 to 4:17.34, and his 1650 time of 14:59.34 was just off his high school best of 14:58.94.
The backstroke crew is led by 2022 NCAA 100 back champion Kacper Stokowski, who finished 2nd (43.86) and 6th (1:39.35) in the 100 and 200 back last season. That 100 time was actually faster than his 44.04 winning time in 2022, while his 200 back was just a bit off his lifetime best of 1:39.27.
Giovanni Izzo is gone, but Hunter Tapp swam both events at NCAAs, going 45.85/1:41.16 and just missing scoring in the 200. That 100 time was a personal best, while his best time of 1:39.20 in the 200 back would’ve made the A-final. Aiden Hayes went 45.60 in the 100 last season, so there’s an outside chance he could try the 100 fly/back double instead of the 50 free.
Redshirt freshmen Quintin McCarty and JT Ewing didn’t swim much last season, but with high school bests of 46.55 and 47.71/1:41.85 they could both make an impact, while classmate Ryan Weaver improved from 1:49.24 to 1:42.03 in the 200.
Freshman Hudson Williams is a threat to qualify for NCAAs soon with a high school best of 45.77, and he’s been 1:43.51 in the 200. Chase Mueller owns bests of 47.28/1:42.09, with that 200 time looking quite tantalizing.
It might be an exaggeration to say that this discipline has been the Wolfpack’s Achilles Heel over much of their last decade, but it certainly seemed to be the stroke they struggled with the most. And while they lost fifth-year Mason Hunter, who qualified individually and threw down strong relay splits, there are a couple of prospects.
Arsenio Bustos had most of his breakout in the fly and IM, but he also scored in the 200 breast B-final, going 1:52.51. Given the depth in fly (see below), you may see Bustos swimming breast on relays at some point in the season; he went 52.77 in the 100 at the 2022 ACC Championships.
However, freshman Will Heck actually owns lifetime bests of 52.38/1:55.98. That 100 time was the best in the high school class of 2023, and right now he looks like the Wolfpack’s primary breaststroker for the upcoming season.
NC State had an unprecedented (we think) five men under 45.0 in the 100 fly last season, and four of them return. Aiden Hayes led the way with a 44.35. He’s the main 100/200 guy on the team, as he also captured the NCAA title in the 200.
Luke Miller, who normally swims the 200 free at championship meets, was the second-fastest on the team in the 100 fly last season with a 44.50, and he returns as well. Nyls Korstanje (44.56) is gone, but Kacper Stokowski (44.65) and Arsenio Bustos (44.89) return, as does Noah Henderson (45.38).
Given how deep Division I has gotten, they “only” got three A-finalists (and one B-finalist) out of the above times, but they racked up 42 points, the most out of any team in this event.
As if that’s not enough, the 200 is stacked as well. Noah Bowers joined Hayes in the A-final and took 6th in 1:40.85, while Miller finished 11th at 1:42.12.
On top of that, they add freshman Mitchell Ledford, who made our “Best of the Rest” list for the Class of 2023 with times of 46.33/1:45.87.
Arsenio Bustos had a breakout year in the 200, taking 6th at NCAAs with a time of 1:40.63 after hitting a best time of 1:40.24 in prelims. With Giovanni Izzo out of eligibility, Bustos is the only returner with scoring times in either the 200 or 400 IM.
However, Owen Lloyd‘s lifetime best of 3:42.16 in the 400 IM is just outside of NCAA scoring range; last year he finished 25th in prelims with a time of 3:43.56. Kyle Ponsler improved from 3:47.75 to 3:42.72 last season, which only puts him about a second outside of NCAA scoring range.
Mikey Moore couldn’t improve on his lifetime bests in either distance last season, but those bests of 1:43.13/3:42.89 also put him near NCAA qualifying and scoring range.
There’s a trio of freshmen coming in with very 200 IM similar times: Hudson Williams (1:46.58), Will Heck (1:46.62), Chase Mueller (1:47.14). All three are versatile, so it’s not entirely clear if this will be part of the championship lineup for all three, but watch for at least one or two of these guys to make an impact at the conference level sooner rather than later.
Renato Calderaro was an NCAA qualifier on the boards last season as a freshman, placing 33rd on 3-meter and 40th on 1-meter. The Italian native would need a significant improvement to get into scoring position, but it is promising for the Pack to have him with three more seasons of eligibility.
Bayne Bennett is the only other NC State diver to make NCAAs over the last five years, with one scoreless appearance in 2022. He didn’t qualify for NCAAs in 2023, but he does return for a fifth year this season.
Again, all of the Wolfpack relays finished in the top six last year. That’d normally earn a five-star rating heading into this season, but there are a few questions about the relay lineup after losing a few key pieces.
The 200 medley relay gets hit the hardest from the losses, as they need to replace a 22.95 breaststroke leg (Mason Hunter), a 19.15 fly leg (Nyls Korstanje), and an 18.21 anchor (David Curtiss). Freshman Will Heck already had a sub-24 breaststroke split to his name and appears to be the obvious candidate to swim that leg. Korstanje had one of the fastest fly splits in history, and while that may not be easy to replicate, someone like Aiden Hayes should be able to fill in. Similarly, guys who can split 18.2 aren’t a dime a dozen, but NC State has plenty of sprint free specialists. They may not be able to replicate the finish from last season, but should be in good shape
Backstroke Kacper Stokowski returns for both the 200 and the 400 medley relays, and that latter relay only needs to replace Hunter on breast. Again, that’s probably Heck’s spot for the moment, while Hayes and Miller return on the fly and free legs.
The 3rd-place 200 free loses Nyls Korstanje and David Curtiss, while returning Noah Henderson and Luke Miller. Again, some combination of Kacper Stokowski (who split 18.6 on this relay in 2022), Hayes, Sells, a healthy Quintin McCarty, etc., should be able to mostly cover the losses here.
Only Henderson returns from the 400 free relay, but Luke Miller, the team’s fastest 100 freestyle last season, didn’t even swim the relay at NCAAs. Again, there’s a stable full of swimmers to choose from here.
Total Stars: 25.5/40
“Are we to be two immortals locked in an epic battle until judgment day and trumpets sound?”
In some ways, NC State reminds me of this quote that Captain Barbossa asks of Captain Jack Sparrow as they duel it out in the original Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Here’s the men’s finishes over the last ten NCAA championships:
- 2014: 13th
- 2015: 8th
- 2016: 4th
- 2017: 4th
- 2018: 4th
- 2019: 4th
- 2021: 8th
- 2022: 4th
- 2023: 5th
Head coach Braden Holloway has built one of the most consistently excellent teams in college swimming. Unfortunately, that rise also coincided with Cal and Texas’ absolute stranglehold on the top two spots. In the comments lately, there’s been a lot of questions lately about whether or not the Wolfpack men have hit a ceiling.
That’s probably a fair question, and if the answer is “yes,” that’s a ceiling of which the vast majority of college teams would be quite envious. For the answer to be “no,” NC State needs more swimmers to develop into threats to make three A-finals. That’s the kind of core that both Cal and Texas have had for the last decade.
That could happen from guys like Hayes, Dant, and Gallant finding a third scoring event, Miller bouncing back a bit, or one of the newer recruits developing rapidly. If that happens, the Wolfpack could conceivably finally crack the top three despite a number of other teams likely to be in the mix.
MEN’S PREVIEW INDEX:
|Team||Sprint Free||Distance Free||Backstroke||Breaststroke||Butterfly||IM||Diving||Relays||Total Stars|
|#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||★★★||★★★||★★★||★||★★★½||20/40|
|#10 Auburn Tigers||★||★★||★★★½||★||★★||★||★||★★★½||15/40|
|#11 Ohio State Buckeyes||★★★||★★★||★||★||★||★||★★★★||★||15/40|
|#12 Georgia Bulldogs||★★||★★★★||★★★★||★||★||★★★||★||★★★||19/40|