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

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

Part III:

Finishing this off.  By now, you know the drill of how this works.  Before we dive in, though:

My top ten teams without explanation:

  1. Cal
  2. Michigan
  3. Florida
  4. Texas
  5. Arizona
  6. Auburn
  7. Stanford (homer alert!)
  8. NC State
  9. USC
  10. Georgia

Top five things to be excited for this weekend:

  1. Nail-biting team race
  2. Seeing how NC State, Alabama, and Louisville battle with the traditionally more relevant teams
  3. 800 free relay battle with Michigan, Florida, and USC
  4. Cordes’ breaststrokes
  5. Being able to unapologetically refer to every NC State relay as “The Wolfpack of Four” (questionable language and content towards the end of that clip)

To recap, here’s our 36-14 leading into #’s 13-1:

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
23. Dan Wallace – Florida
22. Connor Jaeger – Michigan
21. Shane Ryan – Penn State
20. Simonas Bilis – NC State

19. Jonathan Boffa – NC State
18. David Williams – NC State
17. Sebastian Rousseau – Florida
16. Nic Fink – Georgia
15. Cody Miller, Indiana

14. Eric Ress, Indiana

13. Giles Smith – Arizona
1 A-final, 4 relays
2013 rank: 10th

Smith is one of the more interesting cases on this list because you could probably make the argument he belongs ten spots lower.  After two years of developing into a pretty good sprint freestyler (scoring in the 100 in 2012 and cutting another half second off his lifetime best a year ago), it seems like he’s taken a step back this season, while simultaneously continuing to improve his butterfly.  He’ll still likely swim on a pair of sprint free relays for the Wildcats, but at this point, his scoring chances individually in the 50 and 100 look to be slim.

On the other hand, what would have happened if his second-semester injury lingered?  Smith is the nation’s best sprint butterflyer on a team looking to double up in the medley relays en route to a top three NCAA team finish, and the fallout after him is pretty substantial; their next fastest guy in the 100 fly is Andrew Porter, over 1.5 seconds behind.  In addition, despite the addition of Bradley Tandy, the Wildcats still have a big need for sprint freestylers.  Even though he hasn’t looked as sharp in those events, Smith unquestionably remains one of Arizona’s best options.  The Wildcats don’t have a ton of space to move up individually, but they have plenty points to gain in the freestyle relays.  Smith is a big component to make that happen.

12. Cristian Quintero – USC
2 A-finals, 1 B-final, 4 relays
2013 rank: 15th

Has any NCAA swimmer in history had as much range as Quintero?

50 free: 19.65
50 free split: 18.89
100 free: 42.47
200 free: 1:32.81
200 free split: 1:31.92
500 free: 4:12.56
1650 free: 14:45.78

Sub-19 speed all the way up to 14:45?  Yeeeeesh.

Quintero ran through the Pac 12 Championships, breaking meet records in his 200 and 500 freestyle victories, and also recording a 42.47 to finish second in the 100 free.  Between Quintero, Dimitri Colupaev, Jack Wagner, Dylan Carter, Santo Condorelli, and Reed Malone, USC is up there with Auburn and Cal as having the most complete group of freestylers in the three relay distances (50-100-200) even without Vlad Morozov.  He’ll be a three-event scorer, and almost certainly will be top 5 in both the 200 and 500 freestyles.

11. Joao De Lucca – Louisville
2 A-finals, 1 B-final, 4 relays
2013 rank:

Don’t look now, but Louisville has four scoring relays, including a third-ranked 400 free and three (400 medley, 200 free, 800 free) sneaky-good ones where they could very easily end up in the top 8.

De Lucca, of course is the point man for all of those, leading the nation in the 200 free after his near-record performance in December, along with an impressing sub-42 100 free (good for second nationally).  Beyond those two clear-cut A-finals, he adds a pretty strong 50 freestyle to the table, as well (19.45, good for 26th).

De Lucca scored just four points in the 50 free last year, and with Louisville having such a strong supporting cast, for a while, it looked like they could have been better off from a team perspective having De Lucca drop the 50 in favor of strengthening all five relays.  That mindset has changed, though, with Caryle Blondell morphing into one of the country’s better sprinters, De Lucca isn’t totally necessary on the end of that 200 medley relay. 

Three questions about his 200 freestyle on Friday:

1)  How fast will De Lucca take out the 200?

If Vegas had the over/under at 43.3, what would you put your money on?  He was 43.5 at U.S. Nationals in December.

2) Will Wynalda’s results have any effect on how De Lucca approaches this race?

De Lucca has looked unstoppable in yards since 2012 Short Course Nationals, where he took the next step to establish himself as a national contender in the 200 free, with enough speed to make some waves in the 100 and 50.  He crushed the field in the 200 last season, but with Wynalda splitting a 1:30.6 on Michigan’s 800 free relay, combined with his status as the defending champion, he’s suddenly under more pressure than a year ago.

3) Will De Lucca have anything left in the tank for the 800?

What’s the reward for making it back in the 200 free?  Having to swim another all-out 200 shortly after!  Like a lot of guys who swim three 200’s on day two (including Mike Wynalda, Tom Kremer, and Clay Youngquist last year), De Lucca ran out of gas in the 800 free relay, splitting just 1:34.20.  Had he split 1:32.80 (nothing crazy, still nearly two seconds slower if you gave his individual swim a relay start), Louisville scores 12 more points.  For a Cardinals team looking to break into the top 10, every point counts.

10. Kevin Cordes – Arizona
2 A-Finals, 2 relays, 6 chances for a mind-blowing swim
2013 rank: 11th

I don’t think much more needs to be said than this passage from what I wrote in last year’s preview:

It’s mind-blowing to think about, but what are Cordes’ next steps on the short course level if he breaks Damir Dugonjic’s bodysuit-aided 100 breast NCAA record (50.86)?  Splitting under 23 seconds?  Challenging the 50/1:50 barriers?  Going sub-50 on the 400 medley?  Those are times you’re only supposed to go in a video game.

Right.  Well, Cordes blew away those “video game times”, and somehow found a way to nearly match them this winter at the Texas Invite, where he dropped a 50.70 (new NCAA/American/U.S. Open record) and 1:49.38 (second fastest swim ever), establishing clear NCAA leads in each event.

Cordes moves up a couple spots from a year ago because, while we knew going in he was a cut above everyone else in the country, he pretty much blew those expectations out of the water.  That being said, we’re still “only” going to see him in two NCAA finals where he’s the clear favorite and two relays for the Wildcats.

For the record, we might need paramedics on hand for the crowd next week.  If we see a sub-50 flat-start or a 1:47… well… I don’t even know what the crowd will do.

9. Marcin Cieslak – Florida
3 A-finals, 4 relays
2013 rank: 9th

Isn’t it nice when you have a guy who can swim “slow” at a conference meet and still go 45.6/1:41.7 in the butterfly events and 1:42.3 in the 200 IM?  Cieslak was good at SEC’s, but not astounding, largely because he didn’t have to be.  He was already through to NCAA’s with an ‘A’ cut in the 200 IM earlier in the year, and the Gators were in pretty good shape to repeat as conference champions prior to the meet.

Overall, Cieslak looks to be a great position to match or exceed his results from 2013 and earn his first individual NCAA title.  He stepped up his relay game as well, recording the fastest splits on Florida’s 400 and 800 freestyle relays, as well as being a big difference maker on the medleys; Cieslak and deBorde on the end is probably the second-best backend in the country behind Smith and Tandy for Arizona.

8. Tyler Messerschmidt – California
2 A-finals, 1 B-final, 4 relays
2013 rank: N/A 

There’s no other way to cut it: Messerschmidt was a huge loss to Cal last year (in total, somewhere around 50 points, plus whatever momentum he could have brought) and him returning this season is the most important non-Conger roster addition in the country.  After lighting up the pool his freshman year with multiple NCAA relay titles as Cal’s #1 sprinter, Messerschmidt didn’t compete for the Bears last year, but still managed to post some impressive times at a March 2013 Sectional meet, including a 19.25 and 42.32 in the 50 and the 100 free, which would have been good for 4th in both events at NCAA’s.

In addition to the clear individual value, Messerschmidt’s presence on relays does two things: (1) it makes the Bears better, and (2) it reduces the workload of teammates Seth Stubblefield, Fabio Gimondi, Ryan Murphy, Shayne Fleming, Tony Cox, and Marcin Tarczynski, as coach Dave Durden now has more flexibility to swap athletes in and out between prelim and finals relays.  While he was topped by Seth Stubblefield in both sprint events at Pac 12’s, Messerschmidt is still the go-to guy for the Bears in tough relay spots, anchoring both medley relays and taking the leadoff role on the 200 free.

7. Kyle Darmody – Auburn
2 A-finals, 1 B-final, 4 relays
2013 rank: n/a

6. Marcelo Chierighini – Auburn
2 A-finals, 4 relays
2013 rank: 5th

After a big 2-3 year dive, the Auburn men’s program looks like it’s coming back around, and even though this is Marcelo Chierighini’s last season, the Tigers’ future is looking brighter than even a year ago, largely thanks to the performances of guys like Darmody.

Although fellow freshman Joe Patching didn’t need to rest for SEC’s (he put together a great midseason to ensure qualification in the 200 backstroke), at this point, Darmody is easily Auburn’s best sprint backstroke option, will be on four relays for the Tigers, and is the biggest piece of what might be the best performing freshmen class in the country.  In addition to Darmody, the Tigers are bringing Patching (should score in at least two events), Michael Duderstadt (Auburn’s one and only breaststroker), and possibly Alex Press (worth taking as a preliminary relay swimmer at least) to NCAA’s.

Darmody was expected to be an early contributor, but few expected him to blow up quite like he did at SEC’s, where he was top three in his individual events and the fastest relay swimmer the Tigers had not named “Marcelo”.  The Tigers’ relays would contend without Darmody, but he pushes their sprint freestyles over the top and keeps their 800 free relay in the top 8.

Chierighini, meanwhile, has been a known commodity since he arrived at Auburn.  He came into this season as the clear favorite in the 50 and 100 freestyles, and although Bradley Tandy and Brad deBorde will certainly challenge in the 50, Chierighini is still significantly better than everyone in the country in the 100.  He still isn’t a total scoring threat in the 100 fly, but he still looks like a 35-40 point swimmer, in addition to his four killer relay swims.

5. Bradley Tandy – Arizona
2 A-finals, 4 relays
2013 rank: n/a

Tandy is going to get the Kyle Owens treatment from a year ago.  Just look at Arizona’s top times list to see who their other sprint options are.  Their #2 guy has to be Giles Smith, who is coming off an injury and is already locked into the fly leg on the medleys.  Friedemann, their top backstroker, is probably #3 when the chips are down.  Jeff Amlee, Brian Stevens, and Renny Richmond have been nice surprises, but nothing to look twice at (yet).

Without Tandy, the Wildcats have trouble cracking the top five.  With him, their prospects jump up quite a bit.  The 30+ individual points help, too.

Side note: does anybody in the country have a better start or relay takeovers than Tandy?  Watch him embrace his inner Roland Schoeman at Pac 12’s…

4. Brad deBorde – Florida
1 A-final, 1 B-final, 4 relays
2013 rank: 22nd

There’s only one way to win men’s NCAA’s: sprinters (including stroke guys).  Florida has been out of the title hunt for decades because, until now, they haven’t had a reliable group of guys in the shorter events, or even a dominant go-to swimmer.  This season, deBorde is that guy.

deBorde shocked a lot of people on day two of the SEC Championships with his then-nation-leading 18.88 50 freestyle victory over Chierighini, throwing his hat into the ring for this event at NCAA’s.  He also had some exceptional relay splits early in the meet, running down the field in the 200 medley with his 18.52, and nearly doing the same in the 400 medley (41.35)

After SEC’s, we thought about putting deBorde in the #1 spot on this list.  Three things held us back, however: (1) Corey Main stepping up (18.77/42.29 splits) gives Florida has a legitimate second option if things hit the fan, (2) his third event has never been strong enough as a scoring threat, and (3) deBorde has never put together a great 100 on the final day at NCAA’s or SEC’s.

3. Bruno Ortiz – Michigan
1 A-finals, 2 B-final, 4 relays
2013 rank: 12th

Why is Ortiz this high?  It’s simple: without Ortiz, Michigan probably doesn’t make the top eight in a single relay other than the 800, which would completely remove the Wolverines from the title conversation.

With the graduation of Zach Turk, Sean Fletcher, and Miguel Ortiz, brother Bruno is the only returning member of last year’s 200 free relay, 400 free relay, and NCAA record-setting 200 medley relay.  In addition to being a likely two-event (and potentially three-event) scorer, he’s also the only scoring-caliber sprint freestyler on the entire Wolverine roster:

Michigan 50 Freestylers



Bruno Ortiz


Vinny Tafuto


Jason Chen


Aaron Ghiglieri


Michigan 100 Freestylers



Bruno Ortiz


Mike Wynalda


Justin Glanda


Hassaan Abdel Khalik


Can Paul Powers be eligible this weekend for the Wolverines?  Peter Brumm has done an excellent job filling in on the 200 freestyle relay, and Mike Wynalda has the capability to hit another gear, but Ortiz makes or breaks the four shorter relays.  He was much better individually at Big Ten’s than NCAA’s last season, but considering the Wolverines’ weekend depends greater on Bruno than it did in 2013, expect him to be more primed for this meet than conferences.


2. Jack Conger – Texas
3 A-finals, 4 relays, infinite possibilities
2013 rank: n/a

Can we make this our shortest entry on this list?  Conger is capable of everything from splitting 41 in a 100 freestyle, to going 4:10-4:11 in the 500, to breaking the 45-second barrier in the 100 backstroke/butterfly.  By the way, he’s also top 10 in the world in the 200 backstroke, and he’s an even better short course swimmer.  Eddie Reese can throw him in any non-breaststroke spot on any relay and know he’s going to get a world-class performance.

If Texas can swim like they did the final day of the 2011 championships, with the bodies they have and the diving personnel… this might not be just a three-team race.

1. David Nolan – Stanford
3 A-Finals, 4 relay swims
2013 rank: 4th

I didn’t want to do this, but regardless of whatever way you slice it, Stanford’s NCAA prospects live and die with how well Nolan does.  Stanford probably falls ten spots in the team rankings without him, and maybe scores in two relays (800 free and 400 medley).  He’s elite in all four strokes, but is locked into the backstroke leg on the medleys, since he’s their only viable option (nobody else has cracked 47), and is also their #1 sprint freestyle, with Tom Kremer being the only other reasonable option at this point.

Luckily, Nolan is having the best season of his college career in the season where Stanford needs him most.  Through Pac 12’s, Nolan has turned in his fastest pre-NCAA times in the 50 free (lifetime best), 100 free, 100 back, and 200 IM.  Considering how the rest of Stanford swam at that meet… this weekend could be fun.  The sprint freestyles are the most promising; following two years where it looked like he lost his touch there, Nolan has found his freestyle speed again.  In a complete, blatant display of homerism, I’m picking him to repeat in the 200 IM and 100 back.

Through his first two years, the biggest problem for Nolan at NCAA’s has been the necessity for him to shoulder a heavy load with a full 14-swim program over three days, including two 200 IM’s, four 100 backstrokes, and two 200 backstrokes on weary legs the final day of the meet.  He can afford to take a bit off a few of his preliminary swims (particularly the 200’s), but doing a 200 IM or 200 back at 90-95% is far from a cakewalk.

Ideally, Ted Knapp would love to be able to swap out some prelim relay legs like other top teams will certainly be able to do (Texas can sub in Cooper or Darmody to for Conger on a medley, Arizona has Steel for Cordes, Cal has their choice of 3,000 backstrokers, etc.).  This year, with the Cardinal in desperate need of sprinters, there’s no choice but to have Nolan max out every relay swim he has, prelims or finals.

Stanford isn’t going to compete for a title.  Despite that, Nolan, #4 in our rankings a year ago, has to be this high.  There’s nobody on this list that makes you ponder “wow, where would Team X be without Person Y???” more than where Stanford would be without Nolan. 

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Steve Nolan

Ew, you said “video game times” or w/e last year? Gross.

And I hadn’t seen Tandy’s anchor on that 400 medley relay at PAC 12s, hoo boy. Looks like he cruised for 75 yards and then just exploded. Yeehaw.

Morgan, very nice work compiling and annotating these lists. I learned a lot! They will help me enjoy this meet even more.



About Morgan Priestley

Morgan Priestley

A 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 mid-distance freestyles. While …

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