The 32 Most Valuable Swimmers at 2016 Men’s NCAA’s

I screwed up… In what I’ll call a mix of a demanding work schedule, focus on women’s NCAA’s, and utter procrastination, our fourth annual Most Valuable Swimmer” men’s NCAA mega-preview won’t hit it’s usual 7,000-9,000-word threshold.  There are less than 12 hours from 2016 Men’s NCAA’s, so we’ll get right to it.


Given it’s our fourth year running this preview, many of you are familiar with how we do this, but just as a refresher, here’s how we defined “most valuable” for each of the last three years:

This isn’t a ranking of “which swimmer is fastest” or how a particular swimmer is going to do, it’s just how valuable/important that individual is to their respective team next week.  There are so many key athletes, and you could make a great argument to move most of these guys up or down a few spots.  We didn’t have a hard-and-fast method in choosing, and there weren’t many extreme calculations/metrics done (though some numbers were crunched) ; we wanted to move this away from being strictly a statistical measure of “worth”.  

Factors we considered:

-Estimated individual finishes/point totals.
-Relay value is critical.
-No divers.
-What happens to the team if that swimmer can’t compete?  Is the team completely at a loss without him?  Or does the team that have a reliable/fast “replacement”?
-Slight weight towards the teams that are likely to finish higher in the rankings.

Our final rankings:

32. Justin Lynch – Cal Golden Bears
2 B-finals, 4-5 relays
2015 rank: n/a, 2014: n/a, 2013: n/a

Lynch is light-years ahead of where he was last season, best exemplified when he really stepped up at Pac-12’s when Cal was without many of their big guns, clocking Cal’s fastest relay splits (relatively) across the board.  With Tyler Messerschmidt in a funk and Seth Stubblefield gone, Lynch has been playing a significant role in the sprint freestyle group this season, and will a cornerstone for their 200 and 400 free relays this weekend.

His best event is the 100 fly–he’s seeded 6th heading into this weekend in a tightly-bound field–but the biggest task of the weekend lies in the 400 medley relay, where he’ll have to hold off Joe Schooling on the fly leg in what should be an outstanding rematch from last years’ record-setting final.

31. Sam Perry – Stanford Cardinal
2 B-finals, 4-5 relays
2015 rank: n/a, 2014: n/a, 2013: n/a

Perry (19.3/42.7 in the 50/100 free) is the #1 sprinter for a Stanford team that is loaded with swimmers in the 200 of stroke (five qualifiers across the three events), IM (four guys under 1:44 in the 200 IM, two guys under 3:41 in the 400, plus Pan Ams medalist Max Williamson), and distance freestyle (two guys under 4:15 and 14:55) events, but really thin in the sprint events.

Their lack of sprint depth leaves them in an interesting spot from a team perspective; relays are the difference-makers at NCAA’s, and the Cardinal don’t have a single relay seeded in the top 8 (and are fringe-scorers in a pair of them).  Stanford’s ability to creep into the A-final in relays will depend on Perry’s ability to drop sub-19 and sub-42 splits 8 times over a three day span.  Also, don’t be surprise if you see him on the 800 free relay in lieu of the 100 fly (his third event).

30. Brandon Fiala – Virginia Tech Hokies
2 A-finals, 1 B-final, 1 relay
2015 rank: n/a, 2014: n/a, 2013: n/a

Here’s a list of swimmers seeded in the top eight in three individual events this week:

Never heard of that last guy?  Well, honestly, unless you’re an ACC die-hard, you wouldn’t have a particular reason to.  Fiala, a junior, has never finished higher than 35th individually at NCAA’s, and has only just one night relay swim to his resume.  That should change this week.

Fiala exploded at ACC’s last month, nearly pulling off a triple-win individually (he was upset in the final of the 100 breast).  Check out his time drops this season:

100 breast: 53.23 to 51.86 (T-3rd seed at NCAA’s)
200 breast: 1:55.72 to 1:52.87 (5th)
200 IM: 1:43.73 to 1:42.26 (2nd)

The Hokies don’t have the same caliber of relays they’ve had in recent years (they qualified just one), but between Fiala, Robert Owen (7th seed in the 400 IM), and their group of four divers, Virginia Tech still has good odds at a top 20 team finish.

29. Joe Patching – Auburn Tigers
2 A-finals, 1-3 relays
2015 rank: n/a, 2014: n/a, 2013: n/a

In one of the more interesting event transitions you’ll ever see, Patching dropped the 100 back in turn for the 400 IM, and it’s turned out pretty well.  He clocked a 3:42.71 at SEC’s (albeit with a paaaaaiiiiiiinful back-half) to position himself for a top 16 finish this weekend in the event.

The IM focus has also clearly paid dividends over the 200 distance, where Patching won the SEC title in 1:42.21, good for the top seed on Thursday morning.  He’s maintained his backstroke speed (1:40.14 in the 200 with a great opening 100), too, giving the Tigers a relay option on both medleys.

28. Connor Oslin – Alabama Crimson Tide
2 A-finals, 2 relays
2015 rank: “last guy out”, 2014: n/a, 2013: n/a

Really is “just” a backstroker, but at 45.25/1:40.42, I think we’ll let it slide.  Scored 18 individual points for the Tide last season, and gives their medley relays the front-half they need to get into the A-final in both.

27. Townley Haas – Texas Longhorns
2 A-finals, 1 B-final, 2 relays
2015 rank: n/a, 2014: n/a, 2013: n/a

26. Clark Smith – Texas Longhorns
2 A-finals, 1 B-final, 1 relay
2015 rank: n/a, 2014: n/a, 2013: n/a

Calling Haas and Smith the same swimmer isn’t fair, but given their event profiles (200-500-1650 freestyles), there’s a bit of a natural grouping.  Haas has always had more speed (hence, his spot on Texas’ 400 free relay), while Smith is some sort alien who has altered the space-time short course distance swimming continuum.

Both of these guys are also the first of many swimmers on this list who have an interesting wrinkle that needs to be considered: will Olympic Trials affect how they approaches NCAA’s?  It may be the difference, for example, between Smith maybe going 4:07 or [gulp] 4:06 in the 500, and going 4:09 or 4:10 (still insanely impressive).  For the sake of this article, we’ll assume everyone is all-in for NCAA’s to avoid speculation (although the Cal Bears has made it clear there’s at least a hint of Trials focus in their preparations).

Given what we’ve seen Smith do in practice or sanctioned meets (1:33.3/4:08.8/14:31.29 in the 200/500/1650 free), it’s safe to say that barring a disastrous swim (or an incredible performance from a competitor), Smith is probably walking away with two individual titles.  Throw in a potential third A-final, as well as a 1:32 relay split opening night on the 800 free relay, and it’s easy to see why Smith belongs on this list.

Haas is an interesting case.  He’s a true freshman, and Texas competes in the most pedestrian major conference in the country Big 12, so he had the luxury of not needing to be particularly rested at conferences, but he also has very realistic Olympic aspirations that could hold him back a bit.  I’m banking on him being all-in this weekend, including a 1:32-low 200 freestyle.

25. Reed Malone – USC Trojans
2 A-finals, 2-3 relays
2015 rank: n/a, 2014: n/a, 2013: n/a

Well, USC’s NCAA team looks completely different from last season.  Here’s the highlights:

– Cristian Quintero (50 individual points, 4 relays)
– Santo Condorelli (17 points, 3 relays)
– Luca Spinazzola (13 points, 2 relays)
– Dylan Carter (5 points, 4 relays)
– Andrew Malone (2 points, 1 relay)

– Carsten Vissering
– Patrick Mulcare
– Alex Valente

Malone provides a much-needed bridge between the gaps of those two squads, and can reliably give the Trojans at least an A-final in the 500 free.  The 200 free field is loaded, and Malone had a terrible individual swim last year, but (1) he’s been 1:33.08 already this season, and (2) he rebounded after that individual 200 for a stone-cold 1:31 anchor leg to win the 800 free relay.  He’s also probably USC’s #1 100 freestyle option not-named “Ralf Tribuntsov”, which counts for something, too.

24. Jan Switkowski – Florida Gators
1 A-final, 2 B-finals, 4 relays
2015 rank: n/a, 2014: n/a, 2013: n/a

Caeleb Dressel is the star of this team, but Switkowski is the unsung hero and the straw that stirs the drink for the Gators.  His arrival in Gainesville this year freed up ensured Gregg Troy he could use #1 backstroker Jack Blyzinskyj as the medley leadoff, and leave #2 sprinter and relay stud Corey Main on the end.  Switkowski’s 20.3/45.3 50/100 fly splits were the SEC’s fastest, and legitimately makes you think for a split second about including Florida in the 400 medley relay conversation with Texas and Cal.

Did I mention he was Florida’s fastest swimmer on their 800 free relay (1:32.73)?  Fast enough that he dropped the 100 fly individually for the 200 free this weekend?

23. Dylan Bosch – University of Michigan
2 A-finals, 1 B-final, 2-3 relays
2015 rank: #18, 2014: #34, 2013: n/a

Interesting move out of Ann Arbor last week: Bosch dropped the 400 IM in favor of the 100 fly.  It was likely an energy-saving move; two 400 IMs on the middle day in a loaded field (10 guys already under 3:42) would be brutal for a guy who may have to pick up a couple of extra relay swims.

On the other hand, he just went 3:41.6 in the 400 IM at Big Ten’s, he’s been a top 7 finisher each of the past three seasons in the event, and the 100 fly field is almost as deadly (7 of last year’s top 8 have returned, plus Caeleb Dressel).  Yikes.  Bold strategy, Cotton.

Regardless of the outcome, Bosch has been consistently great since he arrived in Ann Arbor, he’s in position to enter truly elite company this weekend as a 12-time individual NCAA All-American, and will be a huge part of Michigan’s relay efforts (400 medley, 800 free, and potentially the 400 free).

22. Gunnar Bentz – Georgia Bulldogs
2 A-finals, 1 B-final, 4 relays
2015 rank: n/a, 2014: n/a, 2013: n/a

Bentz is the Bulldogs’ most valuable swimmer in a year they’re without Chase Kalisz (not that that bears repeating), and just lost one of the nation’s top breaststrokers (Nic Fink) to graduation.  In addition to being a returning double-A-finalist in the IM events, and while the splits are nothing to write home about (24.3/53.1), he’s pulled breaststroke duty on both medleys for a team in desperate need of a breaststroker.

Can’t forget his freestyle abilities either; he was 42.7/1:33.5 in his 100/200 free splits at SEC’s.

21. Kyle Darmody – Auburn Tigers
2 B-finals, 4 relays
2015 rank: #10, 2014: #7, 2013: n/a

With splits of 18.8/41.8/1:33.7 at SEC’s, Darmody is still really fast, but—at least until this weekend—he’s no longer Auburn’s #1 sprint option.  Ultimately, though, it doesn’t really change the story; he will still be on four relays for the Tigers (all three freestyles and the 200 medley), and is a three-event scoring threat capable of elite-level relay swims at the drop of a hat.

20. Anders Nielsen – Michigan Wolverines
2 A-finals, 2-3 relays
2015 rank: n/a, 2014: n/a, 2013: #29

Nielsen has spent the last three seasons slowly morning from a 500 guy that trends up to the 1650 and down to the 200, to a 200 guy (1:32.3 this year) that trends up to the 500 (4:12.8) and down to the 100 (43.1).  Given the situation of Michigan’s sprint freestyle group, the Wolverine faithful are grateful he has that speed.

Outside of Paul Powers, the Wolverines don’t really have a second sprinter, and Nielsen has been instrumental in keeping their relays competitive, with 19.1/42.5 splits at Big Ten’s.  The 200 free relay may be a problem at NCAA’s (it’s directly before the 500 free), but that 42.5 split on day three could be the make-or-break difference in making the 400 free relay A-final.

19. John Murray – Texas Longhorns
2 A-finals, 2-4 relays
2015 rank: n/a, 2014: n/a, 2013: #29

I was genuinely surprised to see Murray seeded as high as he is individually (8th, 11th, and 21st in his three individual events); normally things aren’t particularly pretty for the Texas senior before NCAA’s, but he’s known for dropping time like a bad habit once taper rolls around.

Murray’s value for the ‘Horns, though, has been his ability to step up on relays over the years, splitting 18.4-18.9 on their 200 free relays, 23.4-23.6 as a breaststroker on their medleys (giving Will Licon a much-needed break before his 400 IM), and low-42’s on 400 free relays.

18. Matt McHugh – Ohio State Buckeyes
2 A-finals, 4 relays
2015 rank: #32, 2014: n/a, 2013: n/a

Four reasons McHugh makes it for the second year in a row:

  • He’s a top-five seed in both the 100 fly (45.46) and 100 back (45.07), and continues to improve across each championship meet
  • He’s returning double individual scorer (+1 for experience)
  • He’s the only Buckeye seeded to score, and has just one teammate seeded in the top 25
  • He’s Ohio State’s fastest swimmer on four relays (all with scoring potential)

Moving along now…

17. Josh Prenot – Cal Golden Bears
3 A-finals, 0-1 relay
2015 rank: #24, 2014: n/a, 2013: n/a

It’s entirely possible Prenot never wins an individual event in college; swimming the same events as David Nolan, Chase Kalisz, Kevin Cordes, Will Licon, and Andrew Seliskar probably has something to do that.  But that shouldn’t shed any sort of negative light on just how consistently great Prenot is (he’s finished between 3rd and 6th in 8 of his 9 individual events so far in his NCAA career), and how easy he makes it look (fourth swimmer from the top):

Kalisz and Licon are faster 400 IMers, but Prenot seems to make the back-half of a sub-3:40 400 IM look absolutely effortless.  Regardless of who you’re watching this weekend, be sure to glance over at Prenot’s lane at least for a moment in the latter part of his races.

16. Soeren Dahl – NC State Wolfpack
2 A-finals, 4-5 relays
2015 rank: n/a, 2014: n/a, 2013: n/a

If you were at The Mirage’s sportsbook in February of 2011, and there was a bet on the board for “school that will have three swimmers under 1:33 in the 200 free in the same race within the next five years”, what odds would they have to give you to even bother putting money on NC State?  20,000-to-1?  100,000-to-1?

Well, the unlikely trio of Dahl, Simonis Bilis, and Ryan Held made it happen, becoming the first three swimmers from the same team in the same race to break that barrier.  Bilis and Held are the best 1-2 sprint duo in the country, but the improvement of Dahl has been the catalyst for NC State’s utterly dominant relays this season:

2016 best 2015 best
100 free 42.85 43.21
200 free 1:32.88 1:34.02
200 IM 1:42.50 1:44.06

With Dahl breaking through, the Wolfpack have a serious chance at taking down the 800 free relay NCAA record if they can coax a 1:33-mid out of Justin Ress.

Quick beating-a-dead-horse tangent… Has there ever been a quicker program ascension than NC State these last few years?  The Wolfpack were 8th in their own conference five years ago, and didn’t score a point at NCAA’s from 2007-2013.  Even Northwestern was scoring points at NCAA’s the years right before the Grevers/Bubolz/Alexandrov era in the mid-2000’s.

Another tangent… No, NC State fan commenters, the Wolfpack are not winning the 400 medley Thursday night.  Stop it.

15. Michael Chadwick – Missouri Tigers
2 A-finals, 4-5 relays
2015 rank: n/a, 2014: n/a, 2013: n/a

Maybe the country’s most underrated swimmer.  Chadwick was a top ten finisher in two individual events last March (including a 5th place finish in the 100 free as the top American in the field), while also carrying four top 16 Tiger relays.  If the Olympics were tomorrow, he would have a spot on the 4×100 prelims relay for Team USA.  He’s one of the NCAA’s five best sprinters (19.17/41.89), with enough range in the 200 (1:34.11) to make the Tigers’ 800 free relay dangerous.

He’s one of two swimmers currently slated to score individually (along with Fabian “Maybe the Best Last Name to Ever Grace NCAA Swimming’s Presence” Schwingenschlogl), and the Tigers are seeded 11th as a team heading into this weekend.  So, frankly, that team result largely rests on his shoulders.

14. Grigory Tarasevich – Louisville Cardinals
2 A-finals, 4 relays
2015 rank: n/a, 2014: n/a, 2013: n/a

Time for a quick comparison…

Ryan Murphy’s times from last year’s NCAA’s:
20.64-44.17-1:36.77 backstrokes, 1:41.76 200 IM (prelims), 18.68 200 free relay split, 41.46 400 free relay split

Grigory Tarasevich’s times from this year’s conference championships:
21.28-45.28-1:39.28 backstrokes, 1:44.66 200 IM 19.06 200 free relay split, 1:32.39 800 free relay split

Can we agree that calling Tarasevich a Poor Man’s Ryan Murphy is (1) a fair comparison, (2) a pretty big compliment for the Louisville junior, and (3) an indication of just how good he is?  Louisville is looking for just their second top ten team finish in school history, and need Tarasevich at his best to get them there.

13. Will Licon – Texas Longhorns
3 A-finals, 1-2 relays
2015 rank: #28, 2014: n/a, 2013: n/a

Has lit the pool on fire in each of his last two NCAA meets.  Two years ago, he cut a total of ten seconds from his seeds.  Last season was “merely” nine seconds, along with a pair of upset victories in the 400 IM and 200 breast.  Throw in his 1:40.09 200 IM (making him the third-fastest performer of all time) and 400 medley relay split, and it was one of the best NCAA individual performances in history.

Two important things to mention on Licon’s relay value:

(1) With the move of the 800 free relay, the 200 medley relay is now at the end of the Friday night session instead of right before the 400 IM, freeing up Licon for that spot if Eddie Reese feels so inclined

(2) Licon is a full two seconds faster than anyone else on Texas’ roster in the 100 breast.  No way they’re repeating in the 400 medley relay without him.

12. Peter Holoda – Auburn Tigers
1 A-final, 1 B-final, 4 relays
2015 rank: n/a, 2014: n/a, 2013: n/a

Auburn’s latest #1 sprinter was a relative unknown last season, competing on two Tiger relays at NCAA’s, but not drawing any headlines individually.  He’s already more than a full second under those splits, clocking an 18.57 split on the end of the 200 medley and a ridiculous 41.13 on the end of the 400 medley, and a duel-event A-final threat individually (19.17/42.23).

11. Blake Pieroni – Indiana Hoosiers
1 A-final, 1 B-final, 4 relays
2015 rank: “last guy out”, 2014: n/a, 2013: n/a

Ray Looze is churning out sprint freestylers.  I’ve considered making myself a totem to be sure we aren’t in a dream or alternate universe.

Did you know Indiana went 1-2-3 in the 100 free at Big Ten’s this year, all of whom are seeded in the top 16 at NCAA’s?  Did you know they won the 200 free relay, 400 free relay, AND the 400 medley relay at Big Ten’s?  Why do am I asking these questions?  Here’s why:

  • Indiana hasn’t had an NCAA scorer in the or 100 free and just one scorer in the 50 (Daniel Kanorr, 2013) since 1992
  • Indiana has only had two scorers (Pieroni last year and Colin Russell back in 2004) in the 200 free in the last 20 years
  • Until last month, Indiana hadn’t won the 50, 100, or 200 free at Big Ten’s since 1996 (20 years!)
  • Until last month, Indiana hadn’t won a 200 or 400 free relay at Big Ten’s since 1991 (25 years!!)
  • Indiana has only made one A-final in the 200 (a paltry 8th place in the 200 in 2008) and 400 free relay (6th in 1994) since 1977 (39 years!!! The first year of Jimmy Carter’s presidency!)

I’m not making this up, I swear.  Either way, it looks like Looze and his staff have adjusted their methods to churn out three of the country’s best sprinters in Pieroni, Ali Khalafalla, and Anze Tavcar.  Pieroni is the best of the bunch, with a clear shot at a win in the 200 free, and another All-American finish in the 100 free.  That, and he’s the key swimmer on each of Indiana’s four top 8 relays.

Seeing how well their women performed last week… watch out for Pieroni and the Hoosiers; they have a real shot at finishing in the top 6 as a team.

10. Paul Powers – Michigan Wolverines
1 A-final, 1 B-final, 4 relays
2015 rank: n/a, 2014: n/a, 2013: n/a

We covered this a bit in with Nielsen earlier, but Michigan’s sprint group is thin this year, with Powers easily coming in as the best one.  Although he still hasn’t quite figured out the 100 (just 42.7), he definitely has enough burst, with an 18.85 in the 50 that would put him in title contention for any year not involving Caeleb Dressel.

9. Andrew Seliskar – Cal Golden Bears
3 A-finals, 1-4 relays
2015 rank: n/a, 2014: n/a, 2013: n/a

Seliskar was the toughest guy to place on this list; I was placing him everywhere from 20th up to 7th before finally settling here.  Apart from debating his NCAA focus vs. holding off for Olympic Trials, Seliskar could be on anywhere from 1-4 relays, with the 800 being almost a certainty and the 400 highly likely.  He’s incredible in all four strokes, but slightly better suited for 200’s than 100’s or 50’s, and not at the level of Ryan Murphy or Justin Lynch.  The breaststroke spot isn’t completely solidified (though Connor Hoppe has been excellent), but he’s clearly been focusing on butterfly events as his primary stroke.  Sprint-wise, it’s debateable if he cracks Cal’s top four 50 guys.

Individually, however, his value can’t be denied.  Even while looking a bit sluggish at Pac-12’s, he walked away with three individual titles, including a sub-3:40 400 IM.  With even a modest improvement over his efforts in Federal Way, Seliskar should bring a minimum of 40 individual points, and if he’s truly ready (and knowing Dave Durden’s teams, he will be), we could see a 50-55 point performance.

8. Kristian “Greek Freak” Gkolomeev – Alabama Crimson Tide
2 A-finals, 4 relays
2015 rank: #7, 2014: n/a, 2013: n/a

Definitely wasn’t as sharp at this year’s SEC’s as 2015, but 19.2/42.6 with lifetime bests of 18.6/41.5 still earns a top-ten rank.  Especially when he’s the primary guy on a thin team with four potential top eight relays.

7. Michael Duderstadt – Auburn Tigers
1 A-final, 1 B-final, 4 relays
2015 rank: “last guy out”, 2014: n/a, 2013: n/a

Why so high?  This is easily the best Auburn squad since their 2009 team title, and Duderstadt is the focal point on four Tiger relays. Much like Kyle Owens in backstroke events a couple years ago, he’s Auburn’s only breaststroke option, with a season best more than two full seconds clear of the next best option for the Tigers.  Again, like Owens, Duderstadt is a double-A-final threat (seeded 5th and 8th in the 100 and 200 breaststrokes), and a huge part of their sprint freestyle relays (18.9/42.7 splits at SEC’s).

6. Joe Schooling – Texas Longhorns
2 A-finals, 5 relays
2015 rank: #13, 2014: n/a, 2013: n/a

Defending champion in the 100 and 200 fly with great freestyles, as well.  In another interesting wrinkle to the meet, the Longhorns have elected to utilize Schooling in five relays and just the two fly events.  Getting Schooling out of the 200 IM (where he finished 9th last year) gives Eddie Reese even more options to toy with, particularly on a crowded Thursday schedule where most teams’ relay swimmers have three events in both the morning and night sessions.

5. Ryan Held – NC State Wolfpack
3 A-finals, 4 relays
2015 rank: #17, 2014: n/a, 2013: n/a

4. Simonas Bilis – NC State Wolfpack
3 A-finals, 4 relays
2015 rank: #6, 2014: n/a, 2013: n/a

Re-upping this from last year: only ten schools have won a relay at NCAA’s since 1991.  That’s 10 schools winning the 125 possible relays, with the top eight schools on the list doubling as the eight most relevant schools from the last 15-20 years:

Auburn (26 relay titles)
Stanford (25)
Texas (25)
Cal (19)
Arizona (11)
Michigan (7)
Florida (4)
USC (5)
Tennessee (2… both in 1996)
Northwestern (1)

So, Northwestern is the only non-traditional power to have won a relay since 1996.  Somehow (okay, we remember how), NC State managed to not win a relay last year, keeping that streak alive.  This is the year the trend is shattered, and we welcome a new school into the void.

Held and Bilis are the slightly-larger pair of heads from the three-headed freestyle [wolf?] monster down in Raleigh.  Bilis gets the edge as the senior leader with the most big-meet experience and versatility (doubles as a sprint butterflyer and a slightly-better 200 freestyler), but really, choosing one over the other is just semantics.  The duo are both seeded in the top five in all three individual events, and give NC State the best 1-2 relay punch in the country.

3. Jack Conger – Texas Longhorns
3 A-finals, 4 relays
2015 rank: #4, 2014: #2, 2013: n/a

After coming into college as the unquestioned most versatile NCAA swimmer of all-time, Conger has honed in his event choices a bit, dropping the 500 free and slowly moving away from the backstrokes, while concentrating more on butterfly and shorter freestyle events.  Texas is loaded to the gills, particularly in Conger’s events, but his freestyle chops (18-low, 40-high, 1:32-low) boost Texas’ relays at least 20 points collectively, in addition to his three individual A-finals.

2. Ryan Murphy – Cal Golden Bears
3 A-finals, 4 relays
2015 rank: #3, 2014: #27, 2013: n/a

He’s fast.  Murphy put in a performance for the ages last March, and it’s tough to imagine how he’ll top it: a pair of NCAA backstroke records and American records, along with 18.7/41.1 sprint free relay splits and a 1:41.76 200 IM.  Nothing like having a 1-2 second 400 medley relay buffer over every other team in the country from your leadoff guy, too.

Could we see our first 43-second 100 backstroker Thursday or Friday?

1. Caeleb Dressel – Florida Gators
3 A-finals, 4 relays
2015 rank: #2, 2014: n/a, 2013: n/a

Not even a question this year.  When you can have a ‘meh’ meet and still come away with a pair of individual NCAA titles, multiple top-five relays, and a top four team finish, you know you’re in the discussion.  When you “fill in” with elite-level splits in your third-best stroke, it helps.  When you split an 18.4, and everyone asks “why was he so slow?”, you know you’ve hit another level.  Dressel is the #1 guy this year, and it’s not even close.


In This Story


  1. bobo gigi says:

    Sure you would ask me to rank these guys individually in terms of “who is the best”, it would be a little bit different. Even more if we talk about long course. But here we talk about NCAA and you mention well it’s not a ranking about the individual value of each swimmer. It’s a ranking of what can bring each guy to his team. Well different.
    Great job.

    Morgan, you write that “Townley Haas is a true freshman”.
    What is a false freshman? 🙂

    • DravenOP says:

      As opposed to a “redshirt freshman”

    • Swimmer A says:

      Haha you know I’ve never thought of that, but a false freshman would be the converse of a true freshman. Logic.

    • Pvdh says:

      It differentiates between a redshirt freshman. Whenever someone redshirted, they forego competing that season, but still conserve their 4 years of eligibility. True freshman don’t take a year off and come in immediately and compete.

  2. Wethorn says:

    Great list. I do think Licon should be higher. You project him to win all three of his events, and while he’s likely only on 400 medley relay, his impact on that relay is substantial as Texas doesn’t really have any substitutes. Texas likely would’t win that relay without him.

  3. gator says:

    Bobo, “true freshman” isn’t a joke of some kind…it refers to the NCAA eligibility status in comparison to their years in school. Students can take a “redshirt year” where they remain in school, but don’t compete in NCAA athletics. So for example, a student can be a “redshirt freshman” who has been at school for two years, but is only competing in their first year in NCAA athletics. Whereas a “true freshman” is in their first year both at school, and competing in NCAA.

    • PK Doesn't Like His New Name says:

      And the main reason that Bobo hasn’t heard of it is because it’s way more common in Football and Basketball, where there can be value in taking a redshirt year while waiting for an opportunity to play to open up. It rarely happens in swimming.

  4. Plain Jane says:

    I don’t know how a 140.0 200 IMer could possibly be ranked 13th fastest swimmer at the NCAA. Not to mention 149 200 breast stroke and 336 400IM. He is the outright favorite to win 3 events and score 60 points individually. I am referring to Will Licon of course. I still think he should have won swimmer of the meet last year with those performances.

    • SwimGeek says:

      I agree. Licon is ranked too low. Massive impact on the 400 MR too — and this year, he’ll probably also swim the 200 MR.

      But overall, great work on the list — great fun for all of us swim geeks out here! Gets me fired up for the meet to start tonight!

    • Coach Mike 1952 says:

      I agree too. Licon ought to be considerably higher.

    • JP says:

      This isn’t a “fastest swimmer” list, it’s a “most valuable swimmer” list. Licon is not as high as you would first expect because he only contributed on one relay. I do think some shuffling is debatable but he is at least in the right tier as far as I see.

    • Morgan Priestley says:

      I’d only consider moving him up one spot. Michigan, Indiana, and Bama are top 10 teams, all of whom are DOA without Powers, Pieroni, and Gkolomeev, respectively.

  5. bobo gigi says:

    Thanks Gator for that clear explanation. I know the concept of redshirt. I also watch US college track and field and sometimes it’s because of injuries that it can happen. I didn’t know that expression of “true”.
    Now it’s clear.

  6. The Legend says:

    Let’s give credit where credit is due… DENNIS DALE is churning out sprint freestylers. Not a coincidence their sprint group has flourished since his arrival at IU.

    • ZIM SWAMPER says:

      For sure. Conversely, look at how Minnesota’s sprint group is faltering, and quite mediocre within the Big 10.

  7. Williesspeedshop says:

    The recent success of the Indiana sprint group coincides with the addition of former Minnesota head coach Dennis Dale to the IU staff. He has had years of developing excellent sprinters.

    • frank says:

      and the luck of picking up lanza at the last second to swim for them. he dropped their 200 and 400 medleys 1 and 2 seconds right off the bat

  8. SamH says:

    I am so happy! I was worried you guys would not do this article this year.

    As soon as I saw Licon at 13 (which I agree with) I knew Texas fans were going to have a fit. I might even argue Licon, Conger and Schooling be lower on the list for the simple reason that they have guys to replace them. If Will Licon has a bad meet, and placed low in three finals, would not be the end of the world. They have guys like Martens and Roberts to pick up slack in 400IM. If Conger has a bad meet, no big deal because they have Ringgold and a couple other sprinters to fill in relay roles, and not to mention a slew butterfliers. If Schooling has a bad meet, then Conger fills in, then the other sprinters fall in Congers old spot. In fact I would argue that Texas fans should want Licon, Conger, and Schooling to be lower on the list because it speaks to just how deep and talented Texas is. I would still put them in top 10, but not 3-4.

    Here is my argument for why Murphy should be one, Dressel two. Even though I am a huge Dressel fan, both in NCAAs and on the national scene, he has yet to “confirm” himself. He had a surprisingly good SEC’s last year too. Then did well in the 50 at NCAAs and dropped off the map for the rest of the meet. The reason Florida did not make top 8 in 400 free relay last year was because in prelims Dressel went 44!!!! Now I understand he is a different swimmer this year, but I still have reservations about this NCAAs. Murphy on the other has proven he can handle the load of relay duty and triple A finalist no problem. That fact that on day 3 of his meet he can go 1:36 in the 200 back is incredible, then get back up for a monster relay split.

    In the end it’s just a list and does not matter. Great article, probably my favorite annual Swimswam post.

    • JP says:

      I think the fact that Dressel swimming off would have such a big effect on his team just underscores how very valuable he is. The funny thing is, in the event of an off meet for him the biggest difference would be in the medley relays… they just don’t have any other capable breaststrokers. The literally did not have a single person entered in the 100 breast at SECs.

      So you’d go from a 50 high/51 low breast split to an optimistic 53 from probably Szaranek (he was 54.8 at OSU Invite last winter).

      Cal, you lose Murphy, you still have good relays. Maybe not AS good, but it’s not the difference between A finals and not scoring.

  9. someguy says:

    any body know why they are saying conger is gonna go, or has gone a 18-low, 40-high, 1:32-low in freestyle? i can see the 200 being right but not the others

  10. IU Alum says:

    I believe Daniel Kanor scored in the 50 free in 2013. I might be wrong, but just for the sake of accuracy. Regardless, huge strides made by this young Hoosier team!

  11. jman says:

    correction on #9. that would be 39 years!

  12. Adam Jerger says:

    How was Hugo Morris left off of this list??? 200 Fly SEC Champ, Potential scorer in 200 Free, Outside chance to score in 500 and huge member of Auburn’s 800 Free Relay. If he doesn’t swim well, Auburn’s chances to get back into the Top 5 diminish greatly.

    • Braden Keith says:

      Adam – since you asked, when we’re talking the 32 most valuable swimmers in the NCAA, swimming one relay spot out of 20 and “an outside chance at” 20 individual points doesn’t really move the needle much.

      • Adam Jerger says:

        Braden –

        See my comment to Morgan as well.

        He is currently ranked 3rd in the 200 Fly behind the two Texas studs. So right now, he is worth 16 points. If he scores in the 200 free, that’s a bonus. Without him on the 800 Free Relay, Auburn has no chance at a Top 8 finish in the 800 Free Relay, which is worth double points. That could be a difference of 20 points or so. Auburn needs him to show up big to make a run at the Top 5.

    • Morgan Priestley says:

      I’ll bite, Adam. Who do you replace on the list?

      • Adam Jerger says:


        I’m not questioning Brandon Fiala as an important individual. He is really good. But you mentioned some weight being given to teams that are actually in contention. Virginia Tech certainly cannot be considered a contender. And without Brandon, would they even score, especially since you’re not including divers which will potentially be all of Virginia Tech’s remaining points? Ever other swimmer on this list is on a “contending team.” Just my 2 cents.

  13. why says:

    why is this never done for the womens meet? unless I missed it.

    • Morgan Priestley says:

      Wish I had more time. It takes a lot of time to write 5-10,000 words, and writing isn’t my full-time gig. Gotta pick and choose where I can invest a bunch of time into an article, and I identify more with men’s NCAA’s than women’s because I competed at one and not the other.

  14. frank says:

    Alabama is going to be in the hurt box next year when gkolomeev opts out of his senior year to go pro. I hear thats what is happening anyway. They are about to go from 10+ qualifiers to like 3…

  15. $0.02 says:

    I would have liked to have seen Clark Smith a little higher. I know that the importance of relays was stressed in the preamble but it seems like placing him in the high twenties is unfair. IMO it’s a stretch to say that the relative points that a strong relay swimmers brings to a deep, top-10 program is significantly more important than the impressive number of individual points we can be assured Clark Smith will bring to the table. Is there something I’m missing here?

  16. Ande says:

    Thank yoU for your excellenT coverage. There’s nothing like NCAAs to bring oUT oUr inner swim nerds & swim savanTs. It comforts Us To know that some seem to have it way worse than I do. As far as these predictions go, time will tell & times will tell. Let the meet begin!

  17. ball is life says:

    in all fairness, the real Greek freak is Giannis Antetokounmpo, who stands 6’11, has a 7’4 wingspan, and can run a basketball court in about 9 strides

  18. Peggy Coulson says:

    You really missed the boat when you overlooked Townley Haas for MVP. He is ready to swim and will prove himself at this meet. He is a true freshman at Texas.

  19. Gamecock says:

    Maybe an outside contender but Akram Mahmoud should be considered for his 2 A finals (where he could be fighting for a victory in both) and relay spot. Winning the 1650 at SECs in 14:35 while not fully rested is something to take into account.

  20. Underrated says:

    No Pebley or Mulcare?

  21. Ryanlover says:

    Does anyone know ryan held’s Instagram account

Leave a Reply

Name will be published. Email address will not. By commenting you agree to our Terms of Use & Privacy Policy.

About Morgan Priestley

Morgan Priestley

A recent graduate of Stanford University and Birmingham, Michigan native, Morgan Priestley started writing for SwimSwam in February 2013 on a whim, and is loving that his tendency to follow and over-analyze swim results can finally be put to good use. Morgan swam competitively for 15+ years, primarily excelling in the …

Read More »

Don't want to miss anything?

Subscribe to our newsletter and receive our latest updates!