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

To make this more digestible, we’re splitting this into a three-part preview.

There are so many intriguing storylines at this year’s NCAA’s that needed to be mentioned.  For starters, this is the most interesting NCAA team race we’ve had on the men’s side in… ever?  When you sift through all the conference results, the event lineups, the number of qualifiers, and NCAA tendencies, there are eight legitimate teams that will challenge for the top four spots at NCAA’s if they get hot this week in Austin.  There are at least another five that could eclipse 150 points without much of stretch.

The fallout?  There just aren’t that many points to go around, meaning it could very easily take only around 400 points to win the meet.  For years, we’ve typically seen a fallout somewhere around fifth place (with the rare exception of last year), and then another more massive one between ninth and eleventh, where the rest of the teams involved in the meet don’t have a particularly big impact on the team standards.

Not the case in 2014.

There are three teams widely considered to be clear-cut “favorites” to be in the title race (Michigan, Cal, Florida), but with Texas not showing any cards yet, Auburn being sneaky good at SEC’s, Arizona’s deadly medleys, the NC State Wolfpack (no further explanation required), Stanford potentially scoring almost 150 individual points from just three athletes, and the Trojans bringing a bunch of horses to the table, we have a ton of teams stealing points from each other.

Things get even more interesting with the next group of teams, where any combination of Louisville (big supporting cast this year), Georgia (legitimate relay threats for the first time in a while), Indiana (Ress, Miller, Wells, Schmuhl, and divers galore), Alabama (Alabama?!), Florida State, Ohio State, and Tennessee could easily top 150 points.

With this much parity, the “value” is naturally a little more spread out in this year’s list, including swimmers from every team listed above.

What Do We Mean by “Most Valuable”?

We ran an article like this, but just as a refresher, here’s how we defined “most valuable” a year ago:

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

Last five out (no particular order):
Dylan Carter – USC
Dmitri Colupaev – USC
Tony Cox – Cal
Kip Darmody – Texas
Seth Stubblefield – Cal

Relay guys worth mentioning:
Caryle Blondell – Louisville
Matt Ellis – Texas
Kristian Gkolomeev – Alabama
Corey Main – Florida
John Murray – Texas
Caleb Weir – Texas

…And here are numbers 36 through 24:

36. Clay Youngquist – Texas
1 A-final, 1 B-final, 2 relays
2013 rank: 32nd

Youngquist is the opening entry on the list for the second year in a row, coming in as a two-time All-American in the 200 freestyle and key relay swimmer for the Texas Longhorns.  After two seasons where he was only a single event scorer, Youngquist has shown massive improvement in his secondary events, cutting multiple seconds off his previous bests in the 200 fly and 500 freestyle at Big 12’s to follow up a strong summer season.  Another encouraging point from his Big 12 performance: he was more than a half second slower than his season best of 1:33.7 in the 200 freestyle, so it’s likely he has even more left in the tank.  It’s nice to see Youngquist–one of the better all-around freestyle prep swimmers ever–make strides towards being an elite (where are you, Elite-O-Meter?) three-event swimmer.

He’ll only be on two relays at NCAA’s this season, however, pushing him down this list a tad.  With the improvements of John Murray and Caleb Weir, along with the additions of Matt Ellis and Jack Conger, Youngquist has been taken off the 200 free relay where he split 19.17 a year ago.  Considering it’s immediately before the 500 freestyle, it’s probably for the better.

Random fact: Texas has scored at least two guys in the individual 200 free for each of the past 10 seasons.  With Jack Conger opting for the 100 fly, unless Sam Lewis comes through with a big swim, the Longhorns will be running solo in that event for the first time in a decade.

35. Kyle Whitaker – Michigan
3 A-finals
2013 rank: 23rd

34. Dylan Bosch – Michigan
3 A-finals
2013 rank: n/a

Whitaker and Bosch are two big individual pieces returning from last year’s NCAA championship team, but are the only swimmers on this list who likely won’t be on a single relay at NCAA’s.

Whitaker is a four-year veteran for the Wolverines, and, up until Connor Jaeger’s explosion last year, has been the biggest individual point-scorer in what has turned into one of the nation’s best senior classes (Jaeger, Mike Wynalda, Hassan Abdel-Khalik, John Wojciechowksi, Sean Ryan, Ryutaro Kamiya).  He has finished in the top eight in at least two individual events every year at NCAA’s (few people can say that), and will be looking to finish off his stellar NCAA career with his first individual win.  Coming off a great Big Ten Championships where he recorded lifetime bests in his three individual events, Whitaker should be in decent position to win an event.

But I can’t pick him.  Although he’s won nine Big Ten titles and is seeded first and second in the IM events, it’s tough to pick Whitaker to win an event strictly because of his track record at NCAA’s (yes, I used this an abridged version of this chart a year ago):

 Kyle Whitaker

Year

Event

Big Ten’s/seed

Prelims/place

Finals/place

Point differential

2011

200 fly

1:43.52, 8th

1:46.05, 23rd

N/A

-11

2011

200 IM

1:43.23, 2nd

1:43.80, 4th

1:43.92, 7th

-5

2011

400 IM

3:41.06, 2nd

3:43.82, 3rd

3:41.69, 2nd

0

2011

800 FR

1:33.41 (split)

N/A

1:36.85 (split)

[relay]

2012

200 fly

1:43.25, 6th

1:44.63, 17th

N/A

-13

2012

200 IM

1:43.40, 5th

1:43.20, 3rd

1:43.91, 7th

-2

2012

400 IM

3:41.04, 2nd

3:44.33, 2nd

3:41.37, 2nd

0

2012

800 FR

1:34.41 (split)

N/A

1:36.00 (split)

[relay]

2013

200 IM

1:42.61, 4th

1:43.55, 8th

1:43.26, 7th

-4

2013

400 IM

3:40.94, 3rd

3:44.03, 10th

3:43.15, 9th

-7

2013

200 fly

1:43.18, 9th

1:43.51, 7th

1:43.84, 8th

+2

In his 11 events at NCAA’s Whitaker has never swam faster than his seed time, and has moved up from his seed in only one event, the 200 fly last year where he jumped from 9th to 8th.  As cool as it would be to see Whitaker to go out on top in the 200 or 400 IM, I just don’t see it happening.

Similar to Whitaker, Bosch, a sophomore from South Africa, came in and had immediate success in the 200 IM, 400 IM, and 200 fly as a true freshman.  He was off his seed times in all of his swims (another Whitaker parallel), but was fast enough to earn All-American honors with top 8 finishes in each event.

Bosch and Whitaker might not be able to go any faster for Michigan this week (1:41 and 3:38/3:39 are ridiculous times), but they have to lock down A-finals spots in their combined six individual swims.

33. Anton McKee – Alabama?!
2 A-finals, 2 relays
2013 rank: n/a

32. Bj Hornikel – Alabama?!
1 A-final, 1 B-final, 4 relays
2013 rank: n/a

Six things about this year’s Alabama team, a team whose performance at SEC’s makes them the leader in the clubhouse for the unofficial title of “Pleasant Surprise of the Year”:

  • The Crimson Tide broke team records in 9 of 16 swimming events at SEC’s
  • The Crimson Tide are seeded tenth on the psych sheet heading into this weekend.
  • Their fourth place finish at SEC’s was their highest since 1994, which was also the last time they finished in the top 10 at NCAA’s.
  • They have five swimmers competing individually at the meet, more than the previous three seasons combined.
  • Alabama hasn’t had five swimmers compete individually since 2005.
  • On the opening night of the meet, the Crimson Tide coaching staff elected to have Vlad Caciuc instead of Kristian Gkolomeev.  Although Caciuc split a very respectable 19.15, Gkolomeev actually recorded a 19.23 flat start in the open 50 free final.  With just a decent takeoff, Gkolomeev very well could have been in the 18.7-18.8 range.  Never would have seen this coming earlier this season, but we were one swimmer substitution from Alabama winning the opening event at the 2014 SEC Championships.

McKee, a freshman from Iceland, was arguably the biggest star for the Crimson Tide at SEC’s, finishing second in the 100 breast before upsetting Nic Fink in the 200.  Even with only mediocre swims, McKee should get into a pair of A-finals, and he even has a chance of scoring in the 500—wait, what?

Yep, his third event is the 500, and he’s pretty good at it, too; with a personal best of 4:17.82 from SEC’s, he actually has a decent shot at scoring.  His biggest swims, however, will be on Bama’s medleys (his only two relay swims, which is why he’s this far down the list), where he is the cornerstone for an upstart quartet looking to sneak their way into the top 8.

Hornikel, a 2013 All-American in the 100 free, likely won’t score as many individual points as McKee, but he has a strong chance to score in the 100 and 200 free, and (along with Gkolomeev) gives Alabama a legitimate threat to finish in the top ten in four relays, where the Crimson Tide haven’t scored a point since 2007.

31. Luke Percy – Tennessee
1 A-final, 4 relays
2013 rank: n/a

Percy, an Australian freshman freestyler, finished off SEC’s as one of the brighter spots in an otherwise so-so meet from the Volunteers, who scored over 300 fewer points than they did in 2o13 despite bringing back virtually their entire scoring team.  One of the fastest prep sprinters in history, Percy didn’t have any particular eyebrow-raising swims throughout his first season in short course yards until his 100 freestyle at SEC’s, where he placed second to Marcelo Chierighini, clocking a 42.20, good for the fifth overall seed coming into this weekend.  So far, however, Percy, unquestionably Tennessee’s fastest sprinter, hasn’t quite showed the pure speed we would expect from a 22.2 long course 50 freestyler.

It’s not entirely fair to judge the Volunteers’ entire body of work until after this weekend; they still qualified five individuals who are all slated to be scoring threats, including a trio of potential A-finalists (Sean Lehane, Sam Rairden, and Percy).  His real value, though, are in the relays, where the Volunteers will be looking to do a majority of their damage; Tennessee is currently seeded to score in all five relays, including top eight finishes in the three shortest ones where Percy at the helm.

30. Tom Kremer – Stanford
1 A-final, 2 B-finals, 4 relays
2013 rank: n/a

Kremer was one of four freshman to score at least 30 individual points at NCAA’s a year ago, highlighted by his 1:33.07 200 freestyle, good for third place, and the fastest time ever by an NCAA freshman.  Like a good part of the Stanford team, Kremer had an underwhelming Pac 12 performance, but the odds are still in his favor for a great NCAA’s  After a summer season where he crushed his previous lifetime bests in the 100, 200, and 400 freestyles, 100 and 200 fly, and 200 IM, Kremer has equaled or bettered his in-season times across the board, as well.

More importantly for Stanford right now, Kremer has vastly improved in the sprint events since he arrived on the Farm, as well, including a 42.4 relay split on the Cardinal 400 free relay to close 2013 NCAA’s.  With some solid in-season 50 and 100 freestyles (mid 20’s/44’s), he gives Stanford a legitimate second sprinter other than David Nolan to boost their otherwise questionable relay situation.    Stanford has made the A-final in at least four relays in every season going back as far as we could easily find, but likely since the early 1980’s, and to have any reasonable hope at keeping that alive, Kremer will need to have some extraordinary splits for the Cardinal to hang with what is the deepest, most parity-filled NCAA’s in a long, long time.

It’s very reasonable their 400 medley and 800 freestyle relays make the big final, but Stanford will need exceptional races in the 200 medley, 200 free, and 400 free to finish in the top 8, an even more difficult task with Kremer putting four additional races under his belt on the first day of the meet.

29. Chase Kalisz – Georgia
3 A-finals, 2 relays
2013 rank: n/a

Already the nation’s best 400 IMer, Kalisz somehow found a way to hit another level in his summer World Championship debut, cutting three seconds off his previous best prior to last summer, and also crushing his 200 fly, 200 IM, and 200 breast personal records.  Riding that momentum into the 2013-14 short course season, Kalisz has been one of the most consistently fast midseason swimmers in the country, with multiple lifetime bests in dual meets throughout the year.

After just missing our list a season ago, Kalisz looks poised to be 45+ point scorer with three A-finals in the 200 IM, 400 IM, and 200 butterfly, where he is seeded 8th, 1st, and 4th, respectively.  All eyes will be on his 400 IM, where he will be looking to break the NCAA record following his 3:36.89 at SEC’s, the 3rd fastest swim in history.

With Kalisz, their typical distance prowess, and an upstart group of stroke sprinters, the Bulldogs are in position to score four relays (including a pair of A-final medley relays) and challenge the 200-point mark for the first time since 2008.

28. Mitchell Friedemann – Arizona
1 A-final, 1 B-final, 4 relays
2013 rank: 26th

Friedemann has been Arizona’s #1 backstroker for nearly his entire career in Tucson, qualifying for the individual A-final in the 100 backstroke every year and swimming on two NCAA champion medley relays in his first three seasons.  The Wildcats are once again the heavy favorites in the 400 medley, and with the addition of Bradley Tandy, are in the running for the 200 medley relay, as well.

At this point, we know to expect a top 8 finish in the 100 back from the ever-consistent senior (although he’ll be hard-pressed to win), but for Arizona to have a fighting chance at an NCAA team title, Friedemann will need to have a breakthrough and score in a second event (either the 50 freestyle or 200 backstroke) for the first time in his career.

27. Ryan Murphy – Cal
2 A-finals, 1 B-final, 3 relays
2013 rank: n/a

Does it feel like it’s way too soon to be seeing Murphy’s name on this list?  This is the first time the word “value” really comes into play.  Individually, Murphy should score somewhere between 40-50 points for the Bears this weekend, and he’ll probably be on 2-3 relays that will be in the running for NCAA titles.  He has to be the favorite in what could be the fastest 200 backstroke field in history (Murphy, teDuits, Conger, Ress, Pebley, Sean Lehane, and David Nolan could all be under 1:40), and should be top 3 in the 100 back, as well.

But… individual points aside, Cal could easily cover for Murphy if he happened to leave the program tomorrow.  On nearly any other team, Murphy would be a massive difference maker.  Cal, however, has three other guys who could step into his backstroke relay spots (Cox, Pebley, Tarczynski), and they really don’t need him on any of the three freestyle relays; Messerschmidt, Stubblefield, Cox, Gimondi, Fleming, and Tarczynski would cover the two shorter relays, while Hamilton, Bagshaw, Hinshaw, Williams, and Gutierrez could all fill the 800.

This isn’t a knock against Murphy; he’ll be great for the Bears this week.  It just shows you how loaded Cal is in a number of different events.

26. Chuck “Magic Man” Katis – Cal
1 A-final, 1 B-final, 2 relays
2013 rank: n/a

I’m going to rave about the importance of Tyler Messerschmidt in part II of this article, but the addition of Katis put Cal in position to compete for their third NCAA title in four years.

Katis competed for Harvard for two years, earning an NCAA appearance a year ago before coming down with a case of scarlet fever just before the meet (luckily, that didn’t kill his ability to pull off some card tricks for us).  After a decent summer, he looked into transferring to a bigger program this fall, ultimately settling on Cal in what has been a match made in heaven.  With the graduation of perennial All-American Trevor Hoyt, the Bears were in desperate need of a go-to breaststroker.  For a while, it looked like they were going to use the platoon of Ryan Studebaker and Josh Prenot (who has a busy enough schedule as it is).

Katis gives the big hitter the Bears needed to stay in the top three in the medleys, and should also be good for a pair of second swims individually.

25. Pavel Sankovich – Florida State
2 A-finals, 1 B-final, 4 relay swims
2013 rank: 21st

Fun fact: there are only two male swimmers ranked in the top four in more than two individual events coming into NCAA’s.  Not Conger, not Murphy, not Chierighini, not Jaeger, not Nolan… but Dylan Bosch of Michigan and Florida State’s Pavel Sankovich.

If that name doesn’t ring a bell, it’s understandable.  Sankovich was one of the top swimmers in the country across the board headed into NCAA’s a year ago, but the Seminoles had a very, very forgettable big meet, including a DQ in the 200 free relay, where they were seeded in the top five coming into the meet.  The first night at ACC’s, it looked like Florida State was going to really focus on NCAA’s; their opening relays were good, but not overly spectacular to indicate they went all-in for their conference meet.

But then the ‘Noles—led by Sankovich’s 45-low 100 fly/100 back combo on Friday night—exploded over the final two days of the meet.  How much he has left in the tank remains to be seen, but there’s no questioning Sankovich’s value: he could be good for 40-50 individual points, and he’s the man who really makes FSU’s relays dangerous.

Check back for Part II later tonight

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Peterdavis

Dude, excellent start to this article. Feel like you guys have stepped your game way up here of late, and though I don’t agree with even this first third of the list(are you surprised? 🙂 ), I like to see you’re running with ‘Magic Man’ lol

G

Great post!

PAC12BACKER

Quote: “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.”

Based on the list so far, you should qualify this to “…just how valuable/important that individual is to their respective team OF TEAMS THAT HAVE A CHANCE TO EITHER WIN OR SCORE IN OR NEAR THE TOP 10, next week”. I assume this list will completely ignore swimmers/teams on the lower end of top 20 to 30 teams, like Missou, Purdue, etc.

Otherwise, I like the picks so far!

Peterdavis

I read that with an ‘only’ right before ‘ranking’ in that first sentence, and ‘just’ I switched to ‘also.’ [this is not *only* a list of the fastest swimmers, it is *also* a list of the most valuable swimmers…] It’s a combination of the fastest and the most valuable to their team. Say a Super Bowl winning team only had one kicker for some reason. That kicker should surely be the ‘most valuable player’ on that team, as they are irreplaceable. But the more talented player(read: QB), will win the award, as they should, semantics be damned. If read strictly as you did, the most valuable swimmers would be the ones who score the lone points for their team, increasing… Read more »

Peterdavis

*a

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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