The University of Georgia was undoubtedly one of the top teams in college swimming last year, winning the women’s competition and coming fifth in the men’s. The men were also able to place third overall at the SEC Championships behind Auburn, who they were able to beat at the NCAA Championships by one place.
Heading into the 2014-2014 season, Georgia hasn’t been handed any heavy losses as they say goodbye to last year’s graduating class. Only three of the graduates scored individual points at the NCAA Championships last year with the likes of William Freeman and Andrew Gemmell in the 1650, along with Douglas Reynolds in the 100 fly. That leaves six swimmers who scored points remaining on the roster for the 2014-2015 season.
With the remainder of their 2013-2014 powerhouse team still intact, Georgia might even be better this year as they’ve added some excellent recruits. The three Litherland brothers all signed with Georgia along with Gunnnar Bentz which should add excellent depth to the roster and potential for more scoring opportunity.
Last Season Recap
Last season the Georgia Bulldogs displayed one of the best teams they’ve ever had in college swimming, finishing fifth overall ahead of powerhouse teams such as Auburn, Arizona, and Stanford. That was the first time Georgia cracked the top five since 1997 when they finished third overall; this was their second best performance ever in NCAA history.
The team started off by finishing third behind Florida and Auburn at the SEC Championships. That didn’t deter Georgia’s success as they were able to finish ahead of Auburn at the NCAA Championships, yet still two placements behind Florida who finished third.
At the NCAA’s Georgia swimmers were able to score in a multitude of events, earning points in every individual event besides the two sprint freestyles and the 200 fly. Chase Kalisz was one of the stars of the team who came away with a gold in the 400 IM and a silver in the 200 IM.
Matias Koski earned himself fourth place finishes in the 200 and 500 freestyles to be the main factor in middle-distance freestyle at Georgia. Koski played a very important role on the relays as well, displaying the fastest split on the 4×200 freestyle relay as well as anchoring both medley relays including the 4×100 medley relay that finished fourth overall.
With Koski swimming the freestyle on the medley relays, a huge help came from Nic Fink who had a great NCAA Championships earning points in both breaststroke races. In the 100, he finished second behind Kevin Cordes who set a new national record of 50.04, and in the 200 he was third behind both Cordes and national team member Cody Miller.
A total of nine individual swimmers were able to score points for the bulldogs, an incredible feat that showed the great depth in the program. Six of those nine will be returning for the 2014-2015 season where they’ll mix with incoming freshman talent to put up some more impressive results.
Georgia did some solid recruiting to grab a ton of IM swimmers and middle-distance freestyle swimmers that will only add to the already large training groups at Georgia. There are many IM swimmers at Georgia making it one of the best training grounds for those events.
Four swimmers that will benefit from the IM success, which includes three swimmers who placed at last year’s NCAA Championships in the 400 IM, and two in the 200 IM, will be Mick Litherland, Jay Litherland, Kevin Litherland, and Gunnar Bentz.
Jay Litherland and Gunnar Bentz are the two best IM swimmers out of the four, and have a ton of potential to make the B-final at the very least come the 2015 NCAA Championships. Jay Litherland’s best time in the 200 IM sits at 1:45.99, Bentz’ at 1:45.17. It took a 1:43.66 to make the B-final in the event last year. Put them into a training group with Chase Kalisz and the new training environment of college swimming and the time drop necessary to get into finals is quite realistic.
The 400 IM however, might be a better bet for the two swimmers. Jay Litherland is faster than Bentz in that event sporting a 3:45.20 compared to Bentz’ 3:45.80. It took a 3:45.13 to make the B-final last year in the 400 IM, and a 3:42.85 to make the A-final. There’s no doubt that these times are achievable for the two, Bentz being a Junior World Champion in both the 200 and 400 IMs.
The other two Litherlands, Mick and Kevin, are both within range of these times as well. They’re not as close as Jay or Bentz and will need to drop a decent amount of time in order to score in their freshman year, however it’s very likely that these two will catchup in the next few years and get into a scoring range.
Bentz was one of the most desired recruits for this season, and his IM’s aren’t his only strong point. Bentz swims a 55.00 in the 100 breast along with a 1:56.59 in the 200 breast. Those times aren’t exactly in scoring contention, however are a few seconds away from getting him into a consolation final. His personal best in the 200 freestyle of 1:37.02 might be consideration for getting him on the 4×200 freestyle relay.
Last year, Nic Fink swam the third leg of the relay and split a 1:36.2. Bentz can most likely swim a similar time by the time NCAA’s roll around, so there’s a possibility he could replace Fink on the relay depending on how Fink swims this season.
Other than the IM’s, the Litherlands have some steady freestyle times especially in the middle distance. Jay holds a best time of 4:20.79 and Kevin swims a 4:21.13. Mick is a little behind the two with a 4:26.33. Kevin, who is also decently close to scoring in the 400 IM with a 3:49.44 personal best, also swims a very solid 1650 holding a personal best of 14:58.77. With William Freeman and Andrew Gemmell gone, Kevin Litherland could fill that distance freestyle gap without a doubt.
His best time is just a few seconds shy of scoring at the NCAA’s, however the time drop he needs isn’t a very difficult one in order to become competitive in the event.
Ian Forlini is another freshman who will be a very important name for the Georgia Bulldogs this season. There’s no secret that the Georgia men have suffered greatly in the diving portion of the NCAA Championships the last few years and Forlini might be the solution to this problem.
Forlini is a Junior Nationals bronze medallist on the 3 meter platform, and competed successfully at the 2012 Olympic Trials finishing 27th in the 3 meter platform event. The hands of Georgia’s diving might be in Forlini’s hands this year as none of the diver last year scored any points at NCAA’s. If Forlini can, it will help the Georgia team out greatly to improve on their ranking from 2014.
The bulk of Georgia’s point-scorers from last year will be returning this season, and will most likely have opportunities to better their placings from last season.
Arguably the biggest name on the roster is Chase Kalisz, who set a national record at last year’s NCAA Championships in the 400 IM en route to gold, and finished second to Marcin Cieslak in the 200 IM. This season, Cieslak is gone and the opportunity for an IM sweep is completely possibly for Kalisz.
Kalisz also has potential in the 200 fly and the 200 freestyle. He swam the 200 fly last year and failed to make the consolation final, but his times are definitely in contention to score some points if he’s able to get a second swim in the event. He also swims a solid 200 freestyle. Last season, he was a 1:33.8 on the relay, although he didn’t swim the event individually, it took a 1:34.34 to make the consolation final. Kalisz could possibly squeeze into that event if he chooses to swim it, earning more points for the Bulldogs.
Georgia has two more multi-event swimmers who will be returning this season with the likes of Nic Fink and Matias Koski. Fink is known for his breaststroke expertise and will most likely earn himself two silvers, one in the 100 breast and one in the 200. Kevin Cordes is the national record holder in both breaststrokes and the defending NCAA champ, so getting past him will be a challenge and a half for Fink.
The 200 however he’ll most likely improve on his third place finish from last year considering that Cody Miller, the second place finisher from Indiana, is not returning to swim collegiately this season.
Koski will look to add two more great finishes in the 500 and 200 freestyles. He placed fourth in both of those events at least year’s NCAA Championships and even showed great speed in the 100 with a 42.72 split on the fourth place finishing 4×100 medley relay. He also placed eighth in the 1650, an event which he’s finished third in at the 2013 NCAA Championships.
With Koski’s freestyle potential, his performances will be key for keeping Georgia afloat in the top five.
Ty Stewart, Taylor Dale, and Jared Markham were the other three swimmers who scored points at last year’s NCAA Championships. Stewart was a double threat, finishing eighth overall in the 400 IM which was won by Kalisz and touching the wall in 10th in the 200 backstroke. Stewart has the talent to final in both events and improve on his placing from the 200 backstroke and get into that A-final.
Dale’s performance will be particularly important as he’ll swim the backstroke legs on both medley relays. His 13th place finish in the 100 back last year and 46.24 performance were solid. His relay performance was even better splitting a 45.98 on the 4x100m medley relay leadoff.
The medley relays were significantly better than the freestyle relays for Georgia considering that they didn’t even have a single swimmer registered to swim in the 50 or 100 freestyles at NCAAs. The medley relays will be missing a fly swimmer this year with Douglas Reynolds gone. Reynolds was eighth in the 100 fly last year and split a 45.38 on the relay to help his team finish fourth.
This season, it looks as though Pace Clark might be the man to fill in Reynolds shoes. Clark was a 47.36 in the 100 fly last season and will need to improve on that mark drastically if he wants to keep Georgia relay hopes alive.
What To Expect
Georgia wasn’t hit as hard as other schools with losses of senior swimmers, and have the tools to gather even more points than they did last year.
Their returning swimmers have the opportunity to generate even more points than they did last year, and there are at least three freshman who might be able to rack up points in a few events right out of the gates.
With the loss of Andrew Gemmell, William Freeman, and Douglas Reynolds, there’s only a loss of 30 points which could definitely be made up by Gunnar Bentz and Jay Litherland as well as some possible diving points at the hands of Ian Forlini.
The medley relay will be a crucial factor, and Pace Clark will need to drop some time and improve his 100 fly to keep the medley relays placing as high as they did last season.
The Georgia squad has the talent in both their freshman and returning classes to do even better than they did last season. They placed fifth, but this year they could pass fourth place Michigan and get even closer to Florida. There’s no looking past the fact that Georgia has one of the best teams in college swimming at the moment as they grabbed some top recruits.
If Georgia can get all the swimmers with potential to score points to score points, this season will be better than last year.