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.
#9 Virginia Tech Hokies
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 Hokies continued their steady improvement under head coach Sergio Lopez, culminating in a 9th-place finish at NCAAs, the best finish in program history.
Twelve men qualified for the Hokies, including two divers. If you’re one of those glass-half-empty Hokie fans, you might lament the fact that only two swimmers scored at NCAAs. But those two swimmers, plus a diver and relays, combined for 133 points, helping Virginia Tech crack the top 10 and finish ahead of ACC rivals Louisville and Virginia.
Egyptian Youssef Ramadan led the way for Virginia Tech, winning two events at ACCs, and helping VT to a 2nd-place finish there, then grabbing the 100 fly title at NCAAs. That was the culmination of promise that Ramadan had shown since freshman year, when he burst onto the scene at ACCs as one of the fastest freshmen ever in multiple events.
Junior Carles Coll Marti picked up 14 points, finishing 15th in the 200 IM and 7th in the 200 breast, and diver Noah Zawadzki earned 6 points on the boards. Additionally, four relays scored, capturing a total of 68 points, a solid improvement on the 56 points from the year before.
SPRINT FREE: ★★★
Virginia Tech’s sprint group has made some impressive strides over the last few years, led by Youssef Ramadan. He may have captured his first NCAA title in butterfly, but he’s also an accomplished sprint freestyler, and he led the Hokies last season with season bests of 18.68/41.15, finishing 5th in the 50 free and 8th in the 100 free.
Luis Dominguez was the only other Hokie to get an NCAA splash in the 50 or the 100 free, as he swam 42.63 in prelims of the latter event. He was the fastest guy on the team last year in the 200 free, where he went 1:32.72. He also swam on all three sprint free relays, splitting 19.04/41.88 on the shorter two.
Carles Coll Marti is primarily a breast/IM type, but he’s got sprint chops, and he also swam on all three free relays, splitting 18.91/42.63/1:33.04. He actually swam the 200 free at NCAAs in 2022, where he clocked a lifetime best of 1:33.05, but opted for the 100 breast last season.
Will Hayon and Nicolas Garcia rounded out the Hokie sprint free relays. Hayon, a freshman last season, split 19.04/42.13 on the shorter two relays (with individual bests of 19.65/43.12 at ACCs), while Garcia split 1:35.28 on the 800 free relay. Mario Molla Yanes didn’t swim any relays at NCAAs, but he’s been 19.59/42.78/1:34.45, so he could definitely be a factor.
As if that’s not enough depth, the Hokies add two newcomers who should make immediate impacts.
Brendan Whitfield, who we ranked 10th in the high school class of 2023, arrives with lifetime bests of 19.48/42.67/1:33.97, so it wouldn’t take too much of an improvement for him to qualify for NCAAs, and he could end up all three sprint free relays this season. Lithuanian national Daniil Pancerevas has been 22.95/49.68/1:48.93 in LCM, and while we won’t bother with the SCY conversions, those times suggest he could find himself on the Hokie relays this season too.
DISTANCE FREE: ★
There’s not nearly as much depth on the distance side. Luis Dominguez ranges up to the 500 free. He went 4:15.80 at ACCs, over three seconds out of scoring range at NCAAs (where he finished 27th in 4:16.26). Nicolas Garcia, better known as a backstroker, went 4:18.75 at NCAAs to place 35th.
Indian national Vedant Madhavan is one of those rangy freestyle types, but his time suggests he may make more of an impact on the distance side, where he’s been 8:17.28 and 15:57.86 in the 800 and 1500 (LCM). Freshman Alex Zoldan arrives from Pennsylvania having been 4:32.22/15:44.96 in yards. That 1650 time in particular suggests he could contribute at the ACC level with a reasonable amount of improvement in the next year or two.
In 2022, then-junior Forest Webb scored in the 100 back at NCAAs, clocking a personal best time of 45.36. He wasn’t able to qualify this past season, but he did lead off the Hokies’ 400 medley relay in 45.77, and he set a personal best in the 200 back at 1:40.80 at the Tennessee Last Chance meet. He’s one of several Hokies returning for a fifth year this season.
Olympian Nicolas Garcia qualified for NCAAs after going 1:39.49 to win the ACC title. That time would’ve made the ‘A’ final at NCAAs had he repeated that time in prelims; instead he ended up 22nd in prelims in 1:41.30.
Virginia Tech’s fastest man in the 100 last year was actually Youssef Ramadan, who led off the 400 medley relay at ACCs with a time of 44.59, setting a school record.
This group is one of the Hokies’ stronger ones, but it also had mixed results last year. On the positive side, Carles Coll Marti made the ‘A’ final in the 200, finishing 7th with a time of 1:51.20. However, he missed scoring in the 100, despite coming into the meet seeded 14th. Still, lifetime bests of 51.50/1:49.69 mean he’s a threat to score in both events in this discipline. That 200 breast lifetime breast ranks 3rd among likely NCAA swimmers this season, behind only Leon Marchand and Matt Fallon.
Meanwhile, AJ Pouch, who returns as a grad student, didn’t score last season, but owns bests of 51.87/1:51.73 from 2022, when he scored 8 points across two ‘B’ final swims. Pouch also swam breast on the 200 medley relay, splitting 23.93, although drawing a DQ for a non-simultaneous touch.
Ethan Maloney had a tremendous freshman campaign, and just missed qualifying for NCAAs with a 51.95 during a 100 breast swim off at ACCs. Maloney was 53.74 coming out of his school, but his 200 breast time (over 2:30, haven’t not swum it since 2018) didn’t even make our list of best times in his commitment article. He knocked a huge amount of time off of the longer breaststroke, culminating in a 1:55.15 at ACCs.
The aforementioned Youssef Ramadan fulfilled the promise he showed when he burst on the scene in early 2021 as a freshman, capturing the Hokies’ first-ever individual NCAA title. His time of 43.15 moved him to #2 all-time, and he followed that performance with one of the most memorable post-race interviews in recent memory.
Mario Molla Yanes was the second-fastest man on the team last year after going 45.44 in ACC prelims. He also split 45.28 on the 400 medley relay there, but then seemed off at NCAAs, finishing dead last in the individual 100 fly and being left off the relay. It seems like he may been dealing with some form of injury or illness the week of NCAAs, and he could be a great bounce-back candidate this year.
Rising sophomore Landon Gentry was one of the top butterfly prospects in the country coming out of high school, and he improved from 46.76/1:44.02 to 46.07/1:42.32 during his freshman campaign. He’ll be aiming to build on his 34th/26th place NCAA finishes this season.
Fellow sophomore Carl Bloebaum should be a factor this season after battling with injury last season. He explored transfer options this spring before opting to stay in Blacksburg. With the injuries, he wasn’t able to build on his high school bests of 45.68/1:42.94, but if he’s able to get back into form, he should contribute.
Freshman Brendan Whitfield has been 46.26 in the 100, and it’ll be interesting to see if he focuses on that or the 200 free this season.
Will Hayon also dropped a PB of 45.69 in the 100 fly at the VT Last Chance Meet in early March, coming in just over a tenth shy of the NCAA cutline (45.57).
This has historically been a fairly strong area for the Hokies, and Carles Coll Marti is one of the fastest men in college swimming, owning a lifetime best of 1:39.63 from 2022. While last season was a bit of a hiccup for him, matching his lifetime best would put him back squarely in the middle of the A-final.
They lose Keith Myburgh, who finished 26th in the 400 IM last season, but they return Nicolas Garcia. The Spanish national finished dead last at NCAAs, but his best time of 3:41.63 would’ve just snuck into the consolation final.
Diver Noah Zawadzki scored six NCAA points with an 11th-place finish in the 1m, but has exhausted his eligibility and graduated.
Then-freshman Jacob Fisher was Virginia Tech’s next-best diver at ACCs last season, and he also qualified for NCAAs, finishing between 46th and 49th in all three events. Freshmen Rocky Ramsland and Zachary Shaddy add to the diving crew this season.
Virginia Tech relays helped power them to their 9th-place finish last year, with four of the five scoring. The Hokies are in the enviable position of not losing a single leg from any of their NCAA relays.
We covered the free relays pretty well in the sprint free section, so we’ll just say that there doesn’t appear to be any reason they can’t repeat their performances (8th/10th/13th-place finishes, in ascending order of distance) from last season. That’s especially true if Molla Yanes is back to his 2022 NCAA form and Whitfield is ready to contribute immediately.
The 400 medley relay did OK without Molla Yanes, moving Webb to back and Ramadan to fly, and that might’ve been a faster combination anyway. Likewise, it’ll be interesting to see if some additional 200 free depth means that Coll Marti gets shifted to breaststroke on the 200 medley, or if Pouch or Lopez Miro swims there.
Total Stars: 20/40
We’ll repeat what we said at the beginning: if you’re a Hokies fan, you can choose to lament that much the team seemed just a bit off at NCAAs, in terms of individual performances, or you can choose to see it as solid room for improvement, even after a program-best finish.
Considering they probably don’t have the depth to go after NC State for the ACC title, it’ll be interesting to see if they try to put a little more emphasis on NCAAs this year at the expense of ACCs. But, returning almost all of the key players from last year (save one diver), and additional talent in both freshman and a hopefully-healthy Bloeblum, this is a team that should have the talent to keep moving up the NCAA ranks.
MEN’S PREVIEW INDEX:
|Team||Sprint Free||Distance Free||Backstroke||Breaststroke||Butterfly||IM||Diving||Relays||Total Stars|
|#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|