The 36 Most Valuable Swimmers at Men’s NCAAs: Part II

To make this more digestible, we’re splitting this into a three-part preview.  Click here for Part I.

Part II:

Picking up where we left off, here is part two of our “36 Most Valuable Swimmers at Men’s NCAA’s”.  As a reminder, here’s an explanation of our rankings:

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.
-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” (hurts guys like Ryan Murphy, moves Nolan up)?
-Slight weight towards the teams that are likely to finish higher in the rankings

To recap, here’s our 36-25 leading into #’s 24-14:

36. Clay Youngquist – Texas
35. Kyle Whitaker – Michigan

34. Dylan Bosch – Michigan
33. Anton McKee – Alabama
32. Bj Hornikel – Alabama
31. Luke Percy – Tennessee
30. Tom Kremer – Stanford
29. Chase Kalisz – Georgia
28. Mitchell Friedemann – Arizona
27. Ryan Murphy – Cal
26. Chuck “Magic Man” Katis – Cal
25. Pavel Sankovich – Florida State

24. Mike Wynalda – Michigan
1 A-final, 1 B-final, 3 relays
2013 rank: n/a

Wynalda… 1:30?  Seriously?  My head almost did this when I saw that split (caution on that link for the squeamish).  How do you go that fast?

Best explanation: like a lot of great swimmers, Wynalda has the right mix of talent, coaching, and work ethic.  Throw his 6’8” frame and powerful stroke (one of the strongest mid-distance freestyles you’ll ever see) into the Michigan program where Mike Bottom and Josh White have churned out more than a dozen superb freestylers, and things like this can happen.

All of a sudden, while he’s still the favorite, Joao De Lucca repeating in the 200 freestyle doesn’t seem like as much of a sure thing (Cristian Quintero could give him a run, too).  If Wynalda has more left in the tank this week, we’ll be in for a treat on night two.

Wynalda has a reasonably demanding schedule throughout the weekend, including likely second swims in at least two individuals, and definite relay swims on the 400 and 800 for the Wolverines.  The question, though, is whether or not he’ll be thrown on the 200 free relay like he was at Big Ten’s, an event Michigan could go anywhere from making the A-final to missing out on scoring entirely.  While they have a serious need for sprint freestylers beyond Bruno Ortiz, Wynalda has the 500 freestyle immediately afterward, and with 9 guys already under 4:15, it will take a near-max-effort to land a spot in the A-final.

23. Dan Wallace – Florida
2 A-finals, 1 relay
2013 rank: n/a

Wallace had one of the most notable swims of the conference championship season (Kalisz’s 400 IM and Michigan’s 800 free relay are probably the only bigger standouts) in the 500 freestyle at SEC’s where he dropped a 4:10.73 bomb, a time that makes him the 11th fastest performer in history and the fastest collegiate swimmer in nearly three calendar years.

It’s tough to imagine Wallace going much faster, but the 500 is actually a relatively new event for him (he’s never competed in it at SEC’s or NCAA’s), so we don’t entirely know what to expect.  If he can top defending champion Connor Jaeger on day one, it could give Florida the spark they need to set themselves up for a title run early in the meet.

He’s also a returning All-American in the 400 IM, where he is one of 12 swimmers in history to break 3:40 more than once, and a member of last year’s 800 free relay title team.  Wallace’s three biggest events (500 free, 400 IM, relay) are huge pivot points for the Gators.  They’re expected to score a ton of points in the 500 freestyle (two guys in the top five), 400 IM (five in the top 16), and 1650 (two in the top five), and will be doing everything they can to keep Michigan’s loaded distance squad off the podium.

22. Connor Jaeger – Michigan
3 A-finals, 1 relay
2013 rank: n/a

Regarding Jaeger, there isn’t much to say that we don’t already know.  We left him off the list last year because, prior to NCAA’s, he didn’t look like a real scoring threat in his third event, and with Michigan so loaded in the mid-distance freestyles, it was entirely possible he could have been left off the 800 free relay.  Jaeger put any speculation to bed with a huge preliminary drop to sneak into the top 8 in the 200 freestyle in addition to his NCAA titles in the 500 and 1650 freestyles.  50+ individual points and a relay swim while simultaneously serving as a team captain and leader of the defending NCAA champions.

… And somehow, he keeps getting better.  His trajectory for the last three years has looked like this.  Just for fun, here’s Connor Jaeger improvements by year since high school:

Connor Jaeger’s Time History

Event

Course

Age

Time

Drop

200 Free

LCM

22

1:47.60

-3.12

200 Free

LCM

21

1:50.72

-1.07

200 Free

LCM

20

1:51.79

-2.92

200 Free

LCM

18

1:54.71

-1.07

200 Free

LCM

17

1:55.78

-0.34

200 Free

LCM

16

1:56.12

-0.06

200 Free

LCM

16

1:56.18

400 Free

LCM

22

3:44.85

-3.21

400 Free

LCM

21

3:48.06

-5.39

400 Free

LCM

20

3:53.45

-7.41

400 Free

LCM

18

4:00.86

-7.01

400 Free

LCM

16

4:07.87

1500 Free

LCM

22

14:47.96

-4.55

1500 Free

LCM

21

14:52.51

-42.59

1500 Free

LCM

20

15:35.10

200 Free

SCY

21

1:33.81

-1.49

200 Free

SCY

20

1:35.30

-2.29

200 Free

SCY

19

1:37.59

-0.69

200 Free

SCY

17

1:38.28

-3.33

200 Free

SCY

16

1:41.61

500 Free

SCY

21

4:10.84

-2.94

500 Free

SCY

20

4:13.78

-8.67

500 Free

SCY

19

4:22.45

-4.75

500 Free

SCY

18

4:27.20

-0.11

500 Free

SCY

17

4:27.31

-6.94

500 Free

SCY

16

4:34.25

1650 Free

SCY

21

14:27.18

-6.94

1650 Free

SCY

20

14:34.19

Something we found: he’s only swam the 1650 eight times in his entire life according to USA Swimming’s database, and never before he turned 20 years old.  Gives hope for all the late-bloomers out there.

21. Shane Ryan – Penn State
2 A-finals, 1 B-final, 4 relays
2013 rank: n/a

Ryan is one of the great comeback tales of the year, returning to the Nittany Lions roster after missing the latter part of last season to make his mark on the national swim scene at Big Ten’s.  He scored 57 individual points highlighted by wins in the 100 back and 100 free to earn Big Ten Swimmer of the Championships honors.

Ranked in the top five in the 100 back (top seed) and 100 free (fourth seed), Ryan puts Penn State in position to score in any of the four shorter relays with his All-American speed.  He’s also proved to be an excellent flyer in a pinch, giving the Nittany Lions the option to hand over the backstroke leg to fellow NCAA qualifier Nate Savoy.  Despite the Lions’ success this season (they should push for a top 15 spot for the first time in over a decade), it still makes us wonder what could have been if 45-second 100 backstroker/butterflyer Sean Grier were still on the roster.

20. Simonas Bilis – NC State
1 A-final, 1 B-final, 3 relays
2013 rank: n/a

19. Jonathan Boffa – NC State
1 A-final, 1 B-final, 4 relays
2013 rank: 27th

18. David Williams – NC State
1 A-final, 1 B-final, 4 relays
2013 rank: n/a

We’re lumping these three together.  It’s only right.

For those unfamiliar with these names, Bilis, Boffa and Williams are three of the nine Wolfpack swimmers who competing individually next week.  All three are sprint freestylers at heart, but all bring something different to the table:

  • Bilis holds the fastest individual times of these three swimmers in the 50 and 100 freestyle, sitting in the top eight nationally in both sprint events with his 19.19 and 42.25 at ACC’s.
  • Williams is the highest-ranked swimmer from my new favorite underdog/Wolf squad, and rightfully so.  After splitting a head-turning 18.45 to close out NC State’s NCAA-leading 200 medley relay at ACC’s, he finished second in the open 50 free in 19.11, good for a top-8 seed at NCAA’s.
  • Boffa, meanwhile, is in a bit of a different spot for NC State this season.  For 2+ years, he’s been “the guy” for the Wolfpack sprint group, ultimately scoring individually at NCAA’s a year ago while simultaneously stepping up with some great relay swims for the up-and-coming team.

It’s hard to believe, but with Bilis and Williams swimming lights-out, Boffa is actually the third fastest guy on NC State in the 50 and the 200, and second fastest in the 100.  Despite those results, even though Bilis was available, Holloway gave Boffa the nod at the end of the 400 medley relay at ACC’s.  Expect the same at NCAA’s.

I think there’s more to see from Williams.  Despite showing plenty of speed, he was “only” able to post a 42.90 in the 100 on the last day of ACC’s.  You could see that from a drop-dead, pure sprinter, but his 1:34.14 in the 200 indicates he has plenty of endurance.  We’re betting on one big final and one B-final from the junior.

Quick side note: a bunch of us have raved about the job Braden Holloway and Todd DeSorbo are doing with the NC State program since arriving in 2011.  But their 2014 ACC Championship performance by itself doesn’t do it justice.  NC State hasn’t had much of anything going for them in the past two decades other than Cullen Jones.

In the 10 seasons prior to Holloway’s arrival (2002-2011), the Wolfpack won seven individual events (Jones accounted for five of those) in the ACC.  In the past two years, NC State has won five individual titles, as well as six* relays (more than the previous 16 years combined):

ACC Finish

NCAA Finish

1994

4th

1995

3rd

1996

2nd

T-30th

1997

3rd

37th

1998

4th

1999

4th

34th

2000

3rd

21st

2001

6th

31st

2002

7th

2003

5th

2004

5th

2005

6th

31st

2006

5th

21st

2007

7th

2008

7th

2009

6th

2010

9th

2011

8th

2012#

5th

2013#

5th

15th

2014#

2nd

?

#Seasons under Braden Holloway
*For the sake of this paragraph I’m counting last year’s 800 free relay.  They were technically DQ’ed after a swimmer jumped into the pool prior to the conclusion of the heat, but they were still the fastest team in the field.

In three seasons, the Wolfpack program has gone from near-doormat status in a mediocre-at-best conference to a place where they’re contending for the team title a quickly-improving ACC, smashing conference records, and qualifying a slew of swimmers (fifteen individual qualifiers over the past two seasons) for NCAA’s.  I’m confident NC State will impress again this weekend (they were great in the women’s meet), but I don’t expect them to hold their third place team positioning.

Seeing programs like NC State, Louisville, and Alabama develop and come out of the woodwork is part of what has made NCAA swimming in recent years.  I’m rooting for all of these programs to have some long-term staying power.

17. Sebastian Rousseau – Florida
3 A-finals, 2 relays
2013 rank: 17th

After opting out of last summer’s World Championships, Rousseau swam like a man possessed at the U.S. Open in August, recording times good for top 10 in the world in the 400 IM and 200 fly.  He’s picked up where he left off, winning all three of his individual events at SEC’s and taking part in two relays (400 and 800 freestyles) that he’ll all but assuredly take part in at NCAA’s.

Rousseau is swimming a bit of a different lineup at NCAA’s, opting out of the 200 free in favor of the 400 IM, an event that we really haven’t seen him put together a fully-tapered/focused swim in the nearly three years (he DQ’ed in prelims of NCAA’s a year ago, and redshirted in 2012).  Much like his teammate Wallace, the Gators need Rousseau to hold onto his A-final seeds to keep Cal and Michigan at bay.

16. Nic Fink – Georgia
2 A-finals, 1 B-final, 4 relays
2013 rank: n/a

Fink, a bit of a surprise qualifier for the U.S. World Championship Team last summer, has been on fire for over a year now, and doesn’t look to be halting his progress anytime soon, clocking personal best times at SEC’s in all three of his individual events, including a meet/conference record in the 100 of 51.25 that makes him the third fastest performer in history.  That will be a tough performance to top, but with a great swim, we could potentially be looking at the first race ever with two men under 51 seconds.

Fink’s biggest strides, though, have come in his other three strokes, where he has turned into an excellent IMer (his 1:43.03 earned him the 10th seed) and sprint freestyler for the Bulldogs, splitting 19.4 and 42.8 on the 200 and 400 freestyle relays.  Those are some huge swims for a Georgia team that’s always looking for sprinters, giving the Bulldogs an outside shot at picking up some points in the short freestyle relays.

15. Cody Miller, Indiana
3 A-finals, 3 relays
2013 rank: 6th

14. Eric Ress, Indiana
2 A-finals, 1 B-final, 4 relays

It could be that he didn’t rest at all, or it could be that he isn’t taking extra dolphin kicks anymore, but Cody Miller–6th on our list last year–was pretty far off his 2013 Big Ten’s game, where he recorded new conference records in multiple individual events and looked to be on track for multiple top three finishes at NCAA’s.  Things didn’t quite turn out that way in Indianapolis, where Miller scored just over half his projected 54 individual points and was disqualified for a dolphin kick in his 100 breaststroke final.  

By all other standards, Miller had a very good conference meet, repeating as 200 breaststroke champion, finishing second in the 100, and swimming on four relays for the Hoosiers.  He will still be a versatile, likely three-event scorer for Indiana who will swim on at least three relays, but won’t have the pressure and lofty expectations put on him like he did in 2013.

In other news, welcome back, Eric Ress!  The Indiana sixth-year senior hasn’t looked this good since his double-runner-up backstroke performance at NCAA’s in 2011.  After a redshirted 2012 year where he just missed the Olympic team and a mediocre 2013, Ress is on top of his game once again, recording the second fastest time in the country in the 100 back and a career-best 1:38.89 in a 200 back victory at Big Ten’s.  He’s also developed into a very good IM’er, clearing the NCAA ‘A’ standard in the 200 with his 1:42.95.

The Hoosiers are an interesting team.  In addition to their great group of divers, they have a trio of three-event scorers (Ress, Miller, and Steven Schmuhl) and another swimmer who could potentially make an individual A-final (James Wells).  Three of those guys are elite in the 50/100 distance of their respective stroke, and all of them can double up in at least one other discipline.   But they still don’t have any relay sitting higher than 15th nationally right now.  To break through the 8th-11th place team barrier they have been stuck at for quite some time, the Hoosiers need to find a way to score some more relay points.

Come back tomorrow for Part III

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IAMCOMMENT

Little graphic on the video there…might want to watch out for the younger readers. Nice analysis though

swimfan

LOL @ cody miller slam

“It could be that he didn’t rest at all, or it could be that he isn’t taking extra dolphin kicks anymore”

Wahooswimfan

I think I would rank Connor Jaeger – Michigan a bit higher than #22 – 2 event defending champion, and after last summer, I’d predict he’ll repeat those events plus also perhaps content to win the 200 (who else in the field can touch his LC time). He’d make my top 10 if there were a draft

He is amazing, but per this ranking criteria, he’s only on one relay in an event where Michigan has amazing depth.

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 …

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