2024 Horizon League Championship Fan Guide: Oakland Looking to Continue Streak Post-Hovland

2024 HORIZON LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIPS

  • Wednesday, February 14 – Saturday, February 17, 2024
  • IU Natatorium (IUPUI), Indianapolis, IN
  • Defending Champions:
    • Women: Oakland (10x)
    • Men: Oakland (10x)
  • Live Results
  • Live Video (ESPN+)
  • Championship Central
  • Psych Sheet (not out yet)

EVENT SCHEDULE

Wednesday (2/14)

  • 200 medley relay
  • Women’s 3-meter diving
  • 800 free relay

Thursday (2/15)

  • 500 free
  • 200 IM
  • 50 free
  • Men’s 1-meter diving
  • 200 free relay

Friday (2/16)

  • 100 fly
  • 400 IM
  • 200 free
  • 100 breast
  • 100 back
  • Women’s 1-meter diving
  • 400 medley relay

Saturday (2/17)

  • 1650 free
  • 200 back
  • 100 free
  • 200 breast
  • 200 fly
  • Men’s 3-meter diving
  • 400 free relay

This year’s Horizon League Championship is taking place once again at the IUPUI Natatorium in Indianapolis. It’s a big year for the conference, as this might be one of the most highly contested Horizon League Championships in recent memory. This year marks the first season the Oakland Golden Grizzlies, who have dominated the conference over the past decade, will be without longtime head coach Pete Hovland. At the end of his 43rd season as the head coach at Oakland, Hovland retired, handing the reigns over to Mitch Alters, who has been with the program since the summer of 2021.

Last year, the Oakland women won the meet decisively, outscoring runner-up IUPUI by about 350 points. The Oakland men’s team was given all they could handle by IUPUI and ended up winning the team title by just 11 points. Oakland has won both the men’s and women’s titles in each of the 10 years they’ve been a member of the Horizon League, however, IUPUI, particularly the IUPUI men’s team, has been steadily improving since joining the conference. If last year’s finish wasn’t enough, IUPUI was actually voted the #1 men’s team in the Horizon League preseason poll this year.

All that is to say that while the Oakland women’s team seems like it will be up to business as usual, the Golden Grizzly men are likely going to have a real fight on their hands.

RETURNING NCAA QUALIFIERS

IUPUI’s Logan Kelly, a junior, is the Horizon League’s only returning NCAA qualifier from last season. Kelly competed in the 100 breast and 200 breast at the 2023 NCAA Championship, where he took 33rd in prelims of the 200 breast and got disqualified in prelims of the 100 breast.

There were two other qualifiers from the conference last year, however, neither returned for this season. One was another Jag, diver Alex Scott, who qualified for NCAAs in platform last season. He took 35th in the event at NCAAs but then he ended up transferring to Georgia Tech for this season.

Oakland’s Susan LaGrand was the other Horizon League qualifier, making it to NCAAs for the 3rd year in a row. LaGrand has since moved on from Oakland though, as she was a 5th year last season.

SWIMMERS TO WATCH:

Emmaleigh Zietlow (IUPUI) – This junior has been simply dominant within the Horizon League since she joined IUPUI in the fall of 2021. Zietlow was named the Horizon League Freshman of the Year at the 2022 HL Championship after winning the women’s 1650 free and 500 free. She also placed 3rd in the 200 free. Last season, she was even better, being named Co-Swimmer of the Meet after winning the 200 (1:47.54), 500 (4:47.33), and 1650 free (16:35.62). Going into this meet, she’s primed to sweep her trio of events again this season. 

Just two weeks out from the meet, Zietlow leads the conference in all three events. In the 200 free, which is probably the event where she’ll face the biggest fight, she’s been 1:48.10 this season. She’s the only swimmer in the conference who has been under 1:50 so far as well. Things look even better for her in the 500 free, where she’s already been 4:49.07 this season, which makes her the fastest in the conference by a whopping 8 seconds. While that’s a huge margin, it still has nothing on her lead in the mile. Zietlow has been 16:40.55 in the 1650, which is currently the fastest time in the conference by 29 seconds. 

Jordyn Shipps (Oakland) – Oakland’s Jordyn Shipps, also a junior, is another star in the conference. Last season, Shipps had a perfect meet at the Horizon League Championships, winning the women’s 50 free (22.95), 100 fly (53.82), and 100 free (49.85), while also helping Oakland to victory in the women’s 200 free relay, 400 free relay, 800 free relay, and 400 medley relay.

Shipps is perhaps the most versatile swimmer in the conference right now, as it seems like she’s going to swim a very different individual event lineup than she did last season. She doesn’t currently lead the conference in the 50 free or 100 free this season, however Shipps does hold the top HL time in the 100 fly (53.75), 200 fly (1:59.44), and 200 IM (2:01.20). While Shipps could end up in the sprint free events again as the defending champion, it seems like she’ll be switching it up this year. The 100 fly is a given, as she’s the defending champion and she’s already been faster this season than she went to win last year. Just based off the conference rankings, Shipps ought to be in the 200 fly and 200 IM this season, as she’s the top swimmer in the 200 IM by well over 3 seconds and the top 200 flyer by just shy of 3 seconds. 

Christian Bart (Oakland) – Christian Bart, an Oakland 5th year, is back for his final season with the Golden Grizzlies. Bart has been with Oakland for a long time now and has had a very successful college career. He was a freshman in the 2018-2019 season, however, he didn’t compete. He officially started his career at Oakland in the fall of 2019, and in the four seasons since, he’s racked up 8 individual Horizon League titles. 

Bart has been dominant in the men’s 100 free, having won the event at each of the last 4 Horizon League Championships. His time has also been very consistent, as he won in 43.76 in 2020, 43.38 in 2021, 43.32 in 2022, and 43.43 last year. Bart has also won the men’s 50 free twice, once in 2021 (19.71) and again last year (19.77). He also came in 2nd in the event in 2020 (19.91) and 2022 (19.85). Additionally, Bart is a great 100 breaststroker. He won the race in 51.91 last year, also winning in 2021 with a 52.56. In 2020 and 2022, Bart came in 2nd, going low 53s in both of those years. 

Moving into this season, Bart holds the top time in the conference in all 3 of his primary events. In the 50 free, Bart has already been 19.92 this season, which makes him the fastest in the conference, although there are 2 other swimmers who have been under 20 seconds as well. Perhaps most impressively, he’s already gone 43.26 in the 100 free this season, which is the top time in the conference and is also faster than he’s ever swum to win the event at a Horizon League Championship. He’s actually in the same position in the 100 breast as well, having gone 51.90 already this season, which is 0.01 seconds faster than he went to win the event last season. 

It’s not just more conference titles that are on the line for Bart this season, he’s also chasing his first NCAA Championship berth. He was the first swimmer out in the 100 breast last season, having gone 51.91 when it took a 51.90 to earn an invite. Coincidentally, Bart has already gone 51.90 this season, which means he already has a shot at qualifying, but if he can improve that time at all at this meet, he’ll stand a very good chance. 

Logan Kelly (IUPUI) – The only returning NCAA qualifier from the conference, IUPUI junior Logan Kelly is absolutely one of the Horizon League’s stars. He was exceptional as a freshman at the 2022 HL Championship, winning the men’s 100 breast in 52.38 and the 200 breast in 1:55.16. He was named the Horizon League Swimming and Diving Men’s Athlete of the Year last year as a sophomore when he became the first IUPUI swimmer in history to qualify for the NCAA Championship. At last year’s conference meet, he won the men’s 200 breast in a huge new personal best of 1:52.86, which was the swim that earned him an NCAA invite. He also went on the win the men’s 100 breast at the CSCAA National Invite Championship.

As for this season, Kelly leads the Horizon League in the men’s 200 breast, having posted a season best of 1:54.78. He’s also ranked 2nd in the 100 breast with a 52.94. Kelly’s 3rd event is the 200 IM, where he currently ranks 3rd in the conference with a time of 1:48.73. 

It’s also worth mentioning that Kelly helped the Jags to victory in the 200 medley relay and 200 free relay at last year’s conference meet. 

Jonas Cantrell (Oakland) – A junior at Oakland, Jonas Cantrell was good for the Golden Grizzlies through his first 2 seasons, however, he’s already taken a huge leap forward this season, propelling him into star status within the conference. 

At last year’s Horizon League Championships, Cantrell won the men’s 500 free in 4:22.87, then took 2nd in the 200 free (1:36.63), and 3rd in the 1650 free (15:30.64). While those are already very solid times for a sophomore, Cantrell was on fire a few months ago at the Zippy Invite. He clocked a personal best of 1:36.11 in the 200 free, which is both a personal best and leads the Horizon League this season. In what I would argue was his biggest race of the meet, Cantrell blasted a personal best of 4:18.47 in the 500 free, shattering the 4:20 barrier and putting up a time that currently leads the conference by nearly 8 seconds. 

As for his 3rd event, given Oakland’s depth in the event, which isn’t very deep, I would guess Cantrell will swim the 1650 again this year. He went 15:45.91 at the Zippy Invite, which was a decent mid season time for him and ranks him 3rd in the conference this season. That being said, Cantrell did also put up a 44.84 100 free at the Zippy Invite, which ranks him 8th in the conference currently. The tricky part there is Oakland has plenty of depth in the 100 free, evidenced by Cantrell being their 5th-fastest in the event this season, so it seems very unlikely in would race it, at least individually, at the HL Championship.

SHOWDOWN RACES

Men’s 100 Breast: 

This will surely be one of the best races of the meet. Defending champion Christian Bart (Oakland) will be going up against Logan Kelly (IUPUI), who came in 2nd last year. Moreover, at the 2022 Championship, Kelly won the 100 breast, while Bart took 2nd. This year will mark the pair’s 3rd and final showdown, as this is Bart’s last year at Oakland.

Bart comes into the meet with the faster season best, having been 51.90 at the Zippy Invite at mid season. Kelly is off that time, having clocked a 52.94 at his mid season meet, however, Kelly went 51.94 at the Horizon League Championship last year, so we know he can match Bart’s time.

This will be a great race because not only will these Horizon League stars be battling for the victory, they’ll also be fighting to put up times that will earn them invites to the NCAA Championships. The duo has a chance to make history, as this could possibly end up being the first time in Horizon League Championship history two swimmers put up NCAA qualifying times in the same race.

They have a great dynamic as well, since Bart is a sprinter, while Kelly is a little more endurance-oriented, given his best event is the 200 breast.

Women’s 100 Free:

The women’s 100 free looks like it should be a great race as well. The defending champion, Oakland’s Jordyn Shipps, might not be racing it this year, as it seems she has a pretty clear path to victory in the 200 fly on the same day. If Shipps ends up swimming the 100 free, she would probably be the slight favorite, although she’s currently ranked 2nd in the conference with a 50.83 season best.

It’s Oakland’s Samantha Thiessen who leads the Horizon League this year, having been 50.73 already this season. Even without Shipps, this should be a great race, as Cleveland State’s Ana Sousa has already been 50.86 this season and Milwaukee’s Janelle Schulz has been 50.99. Given that, there should be a few swimmers in the low-50-point range and knocking on the door of going under 50.

Additionally, Oakland’s Ronja Riihinen is the 5th-fastest swimmer in the conference this season with a 51.20, which is notable because she swam that time at a dual meet with Xavier. That time coming from a dual meet makes Riihinen, who has a personal best of 50.01 in the event, a bit of a wildcard heading into the meet.

Men’s 50 Free:

The 50 free is, of course, typically an exciting race, however, this one looks like it could be great. Oakland’s Christian Bart, the defending champion in the event, enters as the top seed with his season best of 19.92. He has no room to breathe though, as IUPUI’s Kevin Burke has been 19.93 this season. If that weren’t enough, Oakland’s Charlie Brown has put up a 19.98 as well.

With 3 men having been under 20 seconds already this season and all 2 having gone 19.9, this ought to be a fantastic race. Bart would seemingly have the edge, as he’s the defending champion in the event and also won in 2021, but that would really only make me favor him very slightly.

It’s also worth noting that Oakland’s Harry Nicholson has been 20.06 this season, which would make him a little bit of a dark horse contender in this race.

SWIMSWAM PICKS (TOP 3)

MEN

  1. Oakland
  2. IUPUI
  3. Cleveland State

WOMEN

  1. Oakland
  2. Milwaukee
  3. IUPUI

We feel confident in projecting Oakland to win the women’s meet. They won by 350 points last year and there wasn’t enough movement in terms of roster strength to suggest that the gap between the Golden Grizzlies and the rest of the conference, namely Milwaukee and IUPUI, will have shrunk enough for them to be threatened. That being said, momentum is a very real and very significant thing in conference meets, so you can never be too safe.

As for the men’s prediction, it could really be seen as a tossup between Oakland and IUPUI. The Golden Grizzlies won by just 11 points last year, making it their tightest victory in the 10 years they’d been in the conference. Oakland has a little bit stronger roster than IUPUI in the pool, however, IUPUI does have a considerable advantage in diving, an area where Oakland just hasn’t recruited many athletes of late.

The good news for swimming fans is that dynamic should make for another exciting Horizon League Championship.

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HereForTheMems
2 months ago

Go Penguins!

SwimMaxxing
2 months ago

Mitch is an amazing coach who will continue to lead the OU men and women to Horizon league championships for many years to come. Go Grizz 😎!

HereForTheMems
Reply to  SwimMaxxing
2 months ago

He better hire a new dive coach then

K. Zietlow
2 months ago

Lets GOOOO Jags!

K. Barton
Reply to  K. Zietlow
2 months ago

YES! GOOO Jags!

R. Hensler
2 months ago

Go Grizzlies!!