2024 M. NCAA Previews: NCAA Record Holder Kos and 2x NCAA Champ Lasco Clash In 200 Back

2024 MEN’S NCAA SWIMMING AND DIVING CHAMPIONSHIPS

Men’s 200 Backstroke

  • U.S. Open Record: 1:35.69 — Hubert Kós, Arizona State (2024)
  • American Record: 1:35.73 — Ryan Murphy, California (2016)
  • NCAA Record: 1:35.69 — Hubert Kos, Arizona State (2024)
  • 2023 NCAA Champion: Destin Lasco, California — 1:35.87

The 1:35s

Over the last few seasons, there have been a handful of swims where it looked like Ryan Murphy‘s NCAA record in the men’s 200 backstroke was going down. In 2021, both Shaine Casas and Destin Lasco made a run at it. Casas missed the mark by two one-hundredths (1:35.75) while Lasco was further back at 1:35.99. Last season, Lasco got even closer, posting a 1:35.87. But the record still stood.

On the final night of PAC-12s earlier this month, it was the 2023 world champion’s turn. Hubert Kos kept Arizona State’s superlative meet going by taking down Murphy’s legendary record, blazing a 1:35.69. With the swim, Kos became just the fourth swimmer in history to break 1:36 and put himself in the driver’s seat of this event.

Kos moved to Tempe in January 2023. It seems like he hasn’t stopped improving since, no matter the length of the pool. He was primarily known for his IM speed before starting to train with the Sun Devils but has taken big strides in backstroke. Now back in yards for his first full NCAA season and a better sense of how yards work, Kos showed that last year’s 3rd place was just him getting started.

After breaking the NCAA and U.S. Open records at PAC-12s, Kos is certainly the favorite. But PAC-12s was missing his biggest rival for the title: Lasco. Lasco was among the group of Cal Bears who raced at the Westmont Pro Swim rather than PAC-12s. Even so, he’s sitting high up on the psych sheet with a season-best of 1:38.34.

We know that he’ll be a lot faster than that in Indianapolis, the question is by how much. He’s the two-time defending champion in this event, and probably would’ve been considered the favorite before PAC-12s. Now, in order to keep his streak alive he’s going to have to face the new NCAA record holder. Lasco had a breakout of his own this summer, making his first senior international team by qualifying for the 2023 Worlds with a personal best in the 200-meter back (1:55.63). He had a misfire later in the semifinals but has shown that he knows how to show up for the big moments at NCAAs.

Kos and Lasco are the clear top two here, though your order may differ from our picks. This is also a clash of two different training philosophies: Arizona State swims fast all year, Cal strikes at NCAAs. That combination suggests that we’re going to see two very fast swims in the final…and it may take a new NCAA record to win.

The Freshmen Factor

There is no shortage of freshmen making an impact in the NCAA this season. It also seems like most of them are entered in the 200 backstroke. There are four seeded in scoring position: Jonny Marshall (2nd), Will Modglin (8th), Keaton Jones (10th), and Daniel Diehl (12th). As if that weren’t enough, there’s also Rex Maurer sitting 17th. Of these five, none but Diehl arrived at university having broken 1:40. Now, they’ve all gotten under that barrier.

Let’s take it from the top and start with Marshall.

Jonny Marshall (courtesy: Florida Athletics)

The Gator freshman made his presence in the NCAA known at midseason. He popped personal bests in the 100/200 back at the Georgia Fall Invite. It turns out that he was just getting started. He swept the backstrokes at SECs, taking down Ryan Lochte‘s 200 backstroke school record en route to his win.

Marshall swam 1:36.68 to win, dropping 1.84 seconds from his midseason PB over the course of the day, and making it a 5.31-second drop on the season. The time makes him the second-fastest freshman behind Lasco.

Now, he’s on the precipice of breaking out on the national stage. His trajectory suggests that he’ll have another strong swim, it’s just not clear whether it will be enough to mix it up with the top two.

Modglin has been one of the bright spots for Texas this year. He broke 1:40 for the first time at the Texas Invitational, bettering his previous personal best of 1:40.54 with a 1:38.99. That’s held up as his fastest time this season, which isn’t really a surprise given the way Texas approaches the Big-12 Championships. Still, Modglin swam his second-fastest time ever at conferences, getting back under 1:40 for the win in 1:39.73. The fact that he was still under his old personal best on presumably little rest should give Modglin a lot of confidence heading into NCAAs.

With only Lasco seeded to make the ‘A’ final, Cal’s 200 backstroke group looks lighter than in years past. But Jones has solidified his position as their #2 200 backstroker by breaking the 1:40 barrier at PAC-12s. He won the ‘B’ final in 1:39.18, which would’ve earned 3rd in the ‘A’ final behind Kos and Owen McDonald. With that pair of Sun Devils set up well to both return to the ‘A’ final, it would be big for Cal if Jones could join Lasco and make it two Golden Bears in the ‘A’ final.

Diehl was not expected on the Wolfpack’s roster until next season, but he graduated high school early and enrolled at NC State in January. Diehl said the decision was largely to give him the best preparation for the upcoming Olympic Trials, but he’s already seen drops in yards.

At ACCs, Diehl logged 1:39.30 for the silver medal, cutting .32 seconds off his personal best from December 2022. Diehl is seeded 12th, the highest seed for the Wolfpack. (2023 ‘A’ finalist Kacper Stokowski swam 1:40.61 after returning from 2024 Worlds and basically going straight to ACCs.)

No one with a 1:39-mid personal best is going to be able to fool around in the morning; in 2023 it took 1:39.54 to make the ‘A’ final and 1:40.75 for the ‘B’ final, but Diehl could certainly jump up from his seed to earn a championship final swim.

And finally for the freshmen contenders, there’s Maurer. He arrived at Stanford known for his rangy freestyle skills but has really developed his 200 backstroke during his first year on The Farm. He arrived on campus with a best time of 1:42.30, which he blew away at the Texas Invite with a 1:39.75 for a 2.55-second drop. Maurer was just off that mark at PAC-12s, clocking 1:39.83 and finishing 3rd.

He’s in the same position as the other swimmers in this field with 1:39 PBs; depending on what he’s saved for the final day of his first NCAAs he could end up anywhere from the ‘A’ final to out of scoring position.

Georgia’s Backstroke Crew

The Dawgs have no shortage of potential scorers here in the 200 back; at SECs, they put four swimmers into the ‘A’ final and went 2-4-6-8. Now, the name of the game is going to be translating that conference success to some big points on the national scene.

Leading the way for the Dawgs is Bradley Dunham, who earned the silver medal at SECs. Dunham reset his personal best twice at the meet, bringing it all the way down to 1:37.80 in the final. He and his teammate Ian Grum are both projected to make the ‘A’ final as the 5th and 7th seeds. It would be Dunham’s first ‘A’ final appearance in the event: he did not final in 2021 or 2022, then finished 11th in 2023.

Grum, on the other hand, is looking to return to the ‘A’ final after finishing 4th last season. He swam a 1:38.39 to make the championship final, then was just off that with a 1:38.47 at night. This year, he holds a season-best of 1:38.88, which he swam at the Georgia Fall Invite. He was 1:39.36 at SECs, earning another 4th-place finish. For both Dunham and Grum, there’s the added motivation of this being their fifth and final NCAAs.

Georgia isn’t just relying on their fifth-years for points here. They’ve got even more depth, with transfer sophomore Ruard van Renen seeded 14th and Sam Powe at 22nd. Both have swum lifetime bests this season.

van Renen arrived in Athens after spending his first season at SUIC. At the 2023 NCAAs, he was the top male mid-major scorer after winning the 100 back ‘B’ final and finishing 13th in the 200 back. He’s shaved .19 seconds off his 200 back personal best at Georgia, swimming 1:39.54 for 6th at SECs. That’s exactly what it took to make the 2023 ‘A’ final so van Renen will need to be at his best or better to make the jump to the big heat.

Even More Contenders

Owen McDonald has exploded since arriving at Arizona State as a freshman last season. He held a 1:42.63 personal best when he got to Tempe and over the course of the season, lowered his best to a 1:39.01. He swam that at 2023 PAC-12s, then followed up with a 1:39.34 for 5th place at NCAAs.

This season, McDonald has continued to improve. He put up another 1:39.3 at midseason, then crushed his PB this month at PAC-12s with a 1:37.70 for 2nd behind his NCAA record-breaking teammate. The swim marked a 1.31-second drop for McDonald, who will now set his sights on continuing to drop time at NCAAs this season and improving his 5th-place finish.

It’s also worth keeping an eye on the Stoffle brothers. The 200 back is Aidan Stoffle‘s strength while his younger brother Nate Stoffle leans more towards the 100 back, though both have hit lifetime bests this season.

A. Stoffle won the ‘B’ final out of Lane 1 at the 2023 NCAAs with a then-lifetime best of 1:39.30. He broke 1:39 for the first time at the Georgia Fall Invite, posting the 1:38.57 that also stands as his season best. N. Stoffle just missed breaking that barrier at the same meet, turning in a PB of 1:39.01. Auburn only had one ‘A’ finalist at the 2023 NCAAs and relied largely on their relays to earn them a spot in the top 10. It would be a huge boost for them if they could get two scorers in this event (in whatever configuration) as they’re under pressure from rising teams like Notre Dame to retain their top 10 spot.

Speaking of Notre Dame, they’ve got Tommy Janton in the mix for a finals lane. The sophomore broke through last season at NCAAs, breaking 1:40 and finishing 10th with a 1:39.45 PB. He clipped that time last month at ACCs, posting a 1:39.21 for the win. At 11th, he’s on the bubble of the ‘A’ final, but he improved from ACCs to NCAAs last season and is certainly capable of leap-frogging a couple of swimmers to grab a lane.

Finally, there’s Brendan Burns. The fifth-year has opted for the 100 fly/100 back double the past couple seasons but he’s going for it this year with the 200 back/200 fly double on the final day of the meet. As the 2022 champion in the 200 fly, Burns will be more of a title threat in that event but he could mix it up the ‘A’ final of the 200 back as well.

He holds a personal best of 1:38.22 from the 2023 Big Tens, which should be enough to land a spot in the ‘A’ final. This season, he’s been as fast as 1:39.50, making him the 13th seed.

SwimSwam Picks

Rank Swimmer School Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Hubert Kos Arizona State 1:35.69 1:35.69
2 Destin Lasco California 1:38.34 1:35.87
3 Jonny Marshall Florida 1:36.68 1:36.68
4 Owen McDonald Arizona State 1:37.70 1:37.70
5 Bradley Dunham Georgia 1:37.80 1:37.80
6 Ian Grum Georgia 1:38.88 1:38.39
7 Will Modglin Texas 1:38.99 1:38.99
8 Aidan Stoffle Auburn 1:38.57 1:38.57

Dark Horse: Hunter Tapp, Fifth-Year (NC State) — Tapp tied for 19th place last year after adding time from ACCs. In 2022, he made the ‘B’ final and finished 11th, swimming his lifetime best of 1:39.30. Tapp has made more of a name for himself in the long-course pool; he swam a lifetime best of 1:56.45 in August 2023 at the LEN U23 European Championships. It would be big for NC State if that translates to a drop here in yards, particularly because they should be locked in a battle for the top five at this point in the meet. 

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Facts
2 months ago

Got Lasco in the 200 IM and Kos in the backstrokes in this little head to head

Justin Pollard
Reply to  Facts
2 months ago

Good facts. I’ve got Lasco in all 3.

Last edited 2 months ago by Justin Pollard
tea rex
2 months ago

This is hard for me to guess, but I’d say a 25% chance the winning time will be under 1:35.0. Which is CRAZY. This being the NCAA, it’ll probably go to whoever goes farthest underwater.

snailSpace
Reply to  tea rex
2 months ago

I think it will come down to wether or not a proper taper will allow Kos to match Lasco’s backhalf. He is more explosive and his easy speed is superior to Lasco’s, but he can’t quite maintain speed like Lasco can. Their underwaters are around the same I’d say. If Kos can match that backhalf, we are almost certainly in the 1:34s, and I don’t think Lasco has a chance in that case. But I think a close race is much more likely with both of them ending up under the current NCAA record.
Or maybe Kos will choose the Leon Marchand way and put up a 45. mid opening 100 and then try to hang on.

RealSlimThomas
Reply to  snailSpace
2 months ago

This all makes sense to me. With how talented he is in the 4IM it feels odd saying he can’t match Lasco’s back half.

Derp
2 months ago

Destin takes it

MarshFAN
2 months ago

Diehl makes the A Final – His coach in Maryland, BRIAN DOWLING, is amazing and the training at NC STATE will get him into the 1:37 TERRITORY.

Tanner
Reply to  MarshFAN
2 months ago

Do you always have to yell

Andrew
Reply to  MarshFAN
2 months ago

NC State training will get him into the 4th place territory, not 1:37.

Phil Espinosa
2 months ago

Can’t say I read many stories on swimming that have the word precipice in them. I hope nobody is offended by my constant persiflage, I can be quite loquacious at times.

Z Tech
Reply to  Phil Espinosa
2 months ago

It’s really cool in any language to learn about words expressing more abstract / specific concepts, and to use them when context makes it a good choice. For example here it could’ve been “he’s on the edge of breaking out”, but precipice invokes more vivid and stark imagery of a steep mountain or something, that’s a good rhetorical choice in my book.

This reeks of missgunst.

Sapiens Ursus
Reply to  Z Tech
2 months ago

Alright, “precipice”, “loquacious”, “persiflage” really aren’t obscure words, my man if you like psychology or something fine but you’re just dropping German in there lol, it works but show off

Old Bruin
Reply to  Phil Espinosa
2 months ago

Where’s poem guy when you need him

Stewart Fenwick
2 months ago

Go Bears!

Hiswimcoach
2 months ago

I appreciate how Andrew always stays on message. A+ for consistency! Is it possible he’s a cal alum trying to fire up the bears?

snailSpace
2 months ago

My new toxic trait is thinking Kos will break 1:35 in the NCAA final.

It’s also really fun how his and Lasco’s top 3 events completely overlap. A great rivalry.

About Sophie Kaufman

Sophie Kaufman

Sophie grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, which means yes, she does root for the Bruins, but try not to hold that against her. At 9, she joined her local club team because her best friend convinced her it would be fun. Shoulder surgery ended her competitive swimming days long ago, …

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