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.
#12 Georgia Bulldogs
Key Losses: Andrew Abruzzo (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.
In some ways, the biggest storylines for the Bulldogs’ season revolved around who wasn’t there.
It started just one month after last year’s NCAA Championships, when South African Matt Sates opted to turn pro shortly after concluding his first season stateside.
Two months after that, and on the other end of the longevity spectrum, Jack Bauerle announced his retirement after over 40 years as Georgia’s head coach. The Bulldogs didn’t look far for his replacement(s), as assistant coaches Stefanie Williams Moreno took over the women and Neil Versfeld took over the men.
The season started strong, including an upset dual meet victory over Florida in October. But just when it seemed the team was settling into a groove, Luca Urlando‘s season ended prematurely after dislocating his shoulder at the FINA World Cup in Indianapolis, two months into the season.
Given all those changes, the Bulldogs still had a decent season, although they took a bit of a hit at both SECs and NCAAs. At SECs, senior Bradley Dunham led the way with 81 points across three A-finals, as the Bulldogs slipped just a bit, from fourth in 2022 to fifth last year.
The loss of Sates and Urlando made an even bigger impact at NCAAs. But, they still had three men score individually, put up points in three relays and ended up 12th with 96 points, four spots back of their eighth-place showing in 2022.
Note: Urlando recently confirmed that he will not compete collegiately during the upcoming season, although he did not specify if he’d be training at Georgia or another location heading into the Olympic year.
SPRINT FREE: ★★
Dillon Downing led the sprint squad last year as the only UGA man to swim the 50 or the 100 free at NCAAs. He finished 22nd in the 50, just 0.06 off of his season-best of 19.09, and 40th in the 100 free. He’s been 18.81/42.19, and that 50 time, set in 2021, would’ve been enough to make the ‘A’ final. Downing was a senior year last year, but he’s one of five UGA men who’ve already revealed they’ll be taking advantage of their fifth year of eligibility this upcoming season, and their return should prove to be a huge boost to the Bulldogs.
Reese Branzell was only 19.82 in the 50 free, but he dropped an 18.79 relay split, then went 42.32 leading off the Bulldogs’ 400 relay, at NCAAs. That time topped the team last year, and he’s one to keep an eye on for this upcoming season.
Since we include the 200 free in the sprint section, we’ll mention Jake Magahey here. He didn’t score in the 200, but his season best of 1:32.42 would’ve made the consolation final. Rising fifth-year Bradley Dunham is primarily a backstroker, but he’s got some mid-distance juice as well — he finished seventh at SECs with a time of 1:33.76, and he improved that time by nearly a tenth of a second leading off the 800 free relay at NCAAs.
Seven years after his older brother, Matias Koski graduated, Tomas Koski joins the Bulldogs this year. Like his brother, he’s a versatile freestyler, but unlike his brother, he tends more towards the sprint side, boasting bests of 19.91/43.27/1:33.85. Those times could make him an immediate player on all three freestyle relays, and he’s not far off of qualifying for NCAAs already.
Transfer Miles Simon should make an immediate impact as well. The fifth year arrives from Howard with best times of 19.42/43.47/1:36.29. At a minimum, he should slot into the 200 free relay, and watch for his 100/200 free times to drop at Georgia, as well.
DISTANCE FREE: ★★★★
Georgia has long been notable for its distance freestyle progress, and while the depth isn’t really there right now, the top end still is, primarily in the form of Jake Magahey. The rising senior finished 3rd in the 500 free at NCAAs with a time of 4:09.24, and he finished 3rd in the 1650 with a time of 14:33.82.
The downside is that his best times in each event (4:06.71/14:24.96) both come from the 2021 SEC Championships during his freshman year. When a pair of ‘A’ finals is your “floor,” you’re in pretty good shape, but you have to think that Magahey would love to put up some lifetime bests this year. If he can, he should vie for NCAA titles.
Again, it’s not a super deep distance group, as only Magahey and Andrew Abruzzo swam the 500 at NCAAs, and only Magahey and Tommylee Camblong registered 1650 swims at any point in the season. Camblong just missed qualifying for NCAAs, as his 14:55.10 from SECs put him 33rd on the pre-selection psych sheet, about two seconds away from an NCAA cut.
Freshman Tristan DenBrok should provide an immediate boost to the already-strong group. The Georgia native arrives in Athens with best times of 4:16.62/14:58.81, meaning he’ll only need modest improvements to qualify for NCAAs this season.
The Cal Bears may be “Backstroke U,” but the Bulldogs have one of the stronger backstroke squads in the country. Ian Grum led the group, point-wise, with a fourth-place finish in the 200 back, netting 15 points in 1:38.47 after going 1:38.39 in prelims. Grum is also a 45.82 100 backstroker but opts to swim the 400 IM on Day 3.
Like Grum, Bradley Dunham is a rising fifth-year who returns for the Bulldogs after putting up points last season. Dunham, however, made the ‘B’ final in both backstroke events last year. He hit a lifetime best of 45.13 in the prelims of the 100 before going 45.22 in the finals for 13th. He couldn’t quite match his 1:38.90 from SECs at NCAAs, but he did go 1:39.60/1:39.86 to finish 11th overall. Dunham also held down medley relay duties, hitting a lifetime best of 20.93 leading off the 200, and nearly matching his best with a 45.18 on the eventually-DQ’d relay.
Wesley Ng is a bit of an enigma in the sense that his best time in the 100 back came from a dual meet in January. That time of 45.27 was enough to qualify him for NCAAs, where he finished 29th in the 100 (46.08) and 37th in the 200 back (1:43.67), albeit with a lifetime best there. Ng would’ve qualified for the consols at NCAAs had he matched his season-best time, so he’s another potential point-scorer.
And the rich get richer, as the Bulldogs add transfer Ruard Van Renen from Southern Illinois University. As a freshman last year, the South African put up times of 44.67/1:39.73. That 100 time came while winning the B-final at NCAAs, while his 200 back best time came in prelims before ultimately finishing 13th.
While alum Nic Fink has been the linchpin of U.S. breaststroking on the international scene lately, the current Bulldogs didn’t have any swims in this discipline at NCAAs.
Freshman Kristian Pitshugin was the only man under 53 in the 100 last season, going 52.91 at the UGA Fall Invite. That’s about a second slower than what it took to qualify for NCAAs last year. However, he provided solid splits on the relays, and he’s been 58.11/1:00.33 in SCM/LCM, so watch for him to continue to improve this year. Connor Haigh led the team in the 200 at 1:55.17, over two seconds away from las year’s qualifying time.
Even in an abbreviated season, Urlando led the team in the 100 fly with a season-best of 46.19, while distance freestyler Andrew Abruzzo led the team in the 200 at 1:41.82. Abruzzo did swim the 200 at NCAAs, finishing 29th with a time of 1:43.32. Had Abruzzo repeated his season-best time, he would’ve made the B-final.
On the sprint side, Peter Sacca and Wesley Ng both went 46.4. Ng handled relay duties last year, splitting 20.32/45.75 (although the latter time led to a DQ due to a -0.04 RT). Sacca also went 1:45.04 in the 200.
Once again, the big scorer here is Ian Grum, who made the ‘A’ final at NCAAs in the 400 IM with a 3:38.75 morning swim, and followed up by placing sixth at night in 3:38.99. Jake Magahey is also within NCAA scoring range with a lifetime best of 3:41.07. He generally opts for the 200 free on Day 3, but it seems like there is a chance of a lineup change given that he hasn’t scored in the 200 free the last two years.
Zach Hils went 1:42.27 in the 200 IM at SECs, a time that would’ve just snuck into the ‘B’ final at NCAAs. Instead, he went 1:42.92 there to finish 23rd in prelims as the only Bulldog to compete in this event.
This is not a strength for the Bulldogs, as they didn’t qualify a single diver for NCAAs and only scored 52 points at SECs. Thirty-seven of those points came from Nolan Lewis, who led the diving corps with a ninth-place finish in the 3-meter event.
The free relays were a great example of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts, as Georgia netted a couple of scoring swims despite not having any individual scorers in the sprint freestyles. Dunham, Magahey, Hils, and Norton combined for an 11th-place finish in the 800 free on the first day. All four return, and Koski’s best flat start is faster than Norton’s 1:33.87 split on the anchor leg.
The 18th-place 200 free relay could also be buoyed by Koski. Downing and Branzell have the front half locked down, while Georgia would love to find something faster than the pair of 19.4 splits they got from Hils and Dunham on the back half.
All four men (Branzell, Hils, Dunham, and Downing) split 42-something on the 14th-place 400 free relay. Again, all four return, and Koski could factor in as well.
The 200 medley relay may have been a bit of a surprise last year, as the Bulldogs narrowly dodged a DQ with a -0.03 RT on the breast leg and finished 13th with a 1:22.98. The 400 medley relay was within scoring range if it hadn’t been DQ’d on an early takeoff. Van Renen figures to slide in on the backstrokes and should provide an instant boost.
The Bulldogs are in the enviable spot of returning 20/20 relay legs. If they can find some sprint speed and clean up the takeoffs, they should be able to score in all five relays.
Total Stars: 19/40
With the return of the fifth years, there’s really not a ton of difference between last year’s team. All three individual point-scorers are back, and the Bulldogs don’t lose a single relay leg. From what we can tell, this isn’t a huge freshman class, but Koski and DenBrok have the opportunity to make an immediate impact at the conference and possibly even the national level, probably sooner rather than later.
Add in Van Renen, who seems like he could blossom into a double A-finalist, and you’ve got a team that, on paper, at least, should be better than they were last year. Sure, having Urlando back would’ve been a big boost for the Bulldogs. But with last year’s core intact, and a couple freshmen coming in who could contribute early on, and a key transfer, the Bulldogs should once again be on the verge of a top-10 finish.