College Previews: #6 Louisville Men Return Core, Minus Harting

We’ll be previewing the top 12 men’s and women’s programs for the 2019-2020 season – stay tuned to our College Swimming Previews channel to catch all 24. Can’t get enough college swimming news? Check out the College Preview issue of SwimSwam Magazine for more in-depth college swimming coverage, including a bird’s-eye view of the flood of coaching changes and our ever-popular rankings of the top 50 individual swimmers in college swimming.

#6 Louisville Cardinals

Key Losses: Zach Harting (13 NCAA points, 4 relays), Marcelo Acosta (13 NCAA points)

Key Additions: Greyson Alarcon (TX – fly/back), Caleb Duncan (TX – sprint free),  Jeremiah Holmes (Kentucky – sprint free), Abdelrahman Sameh (Egypt – fly/free), Ilia Sibirtsev (Russia – distance free),

GRADING CRITERIA

We’re unveiling a new, more data-based grading criteria in this year’s series. Our grades this year are based on ‘projected returning points’, a stat of our own making. We started with our already-compiled “no senior returning points” (see here and here), which is effectively a rescoring of 2019 NCAAs with seniors removed and underclassmen moved up to fill those gaps. In addition, we manually filtered out points from known redshirts and swimmers turning pro early, while manually adjusting points for outgoing and incoming transfers and adding in projected points for incoming freshmen with NCAA scoring times, as well as athletes returning from injury or redshirts who are very likely NCAA scorers.

Since we only profile the top 12 teams in this format, our grades are designed with that range in mind. In the grand scheme of college swimming and compared to all other college programs, top 12 NCAA programs would pretty much all grade well across the board. But in the interest of making these previews informative, our grading scale is tough – designed to show the tiers between the good stroke groups, the great ones, and the 2015 Texas fly group types.

  • 5 star (★★★★★) – a rare, elite NCAA group projected to score 25+ points per event
  • 4 star (★★★★) – a very, very good NCAA group projected to score 15-24 points per event
  • 3 star (★★★) – a good NCAA group projected to score 5-14 points per event
  • 2 star (★★) – a solid NCAA group projected to score 1-4 points per event
  • 1 star (★) –  an NCAA group that is projected to score no points per event, though that doesn’t mean it’s without potential scorers – they’ll just need to leapfrog some swimmers ahead of them to do it

We’ll grade each event discipline: sprint free (which we define to include all the relay-distance freestyle events, so 50, 100 and 200), distance free, IM, breaststroke, backstroke, butterfly and diving. Bear in mind that our grades and painstaking scoring formula attempts to take into account all factors, but is still unable to perfectly predict the future. Use these grades as a jumping-off point for discussion, rather than a reason to be angry.

2018-2019 LOOKBACK

Despite lacking a superstar like Mallory Comerford that the Louisville women have had, the men’s team has been steadily rising in the NCAA ranks over the past few seasons, a rise which culminated in a program-best 5th place finish at last year’s NCAAs.

The season started quietly, as they won their share of dual meets, but didn’t have any eye-popping times heading into the ACC Championships. They erupted at ACCs, winning the 800 free relay on the first night by over four seconds, and then closing out the meet with a victory in the 400 free relay, highlighted by Zach Harting’s 41.50 anchor leg. They couldn’t overcome NC State’s depth, but held off UVA for a 2nd-place finish.

The Cardinals then rode that momentum into NCAAs. Sophomore Nicolas Albiero led the way with 37 individual points, including two A-final appearances and a B-final win and also contributed on four relays.

Behind him, the Cardinals had a balanced attack, scoring points in every discipline except diving and finishing in the top 8 of every relay except the 200 free, where they finished 10th.

In the end, the Louisville men ended the season with school records in all five relays, and having gone from 11th at NCAAs in 2017 to 9th in 2018 to 5th last year.

Sprint Free: ★★

Andrej Barna 2017 USA Swimming Winter nationals (photo: Mike Lewis)

Rising senior Andrej Barna is the best sprinter the Cardinals have had since Joao DeLucca graduated and has made the B-final in an increasingly-cutthroat 50 free each of the last two years. He’s less of a threat in the 100 free, but Louisville tends to have swimmers who’s aren’t sure-fire scorers drop that event to focus on the 400 free relay, an approach that seems to have paid dividends. He also ranges up to the 200, having gone 1:34-mid last year, and having previously been on Louisville’s 800 free relay.

After Barna, no else projects as an immediate scorer, but there’s plenty of solid relay options. Mihalis Deliyiannis swam a lifetime best 19.54 last year and split 18.8 on the 200 free relay. Albiero has been a free relay stalwart and would potentially score if he wasn’t focused on the back and fly events.

Look for Tanner Cummings to make more of an impact this season; last year as a freshman went from 20.92 to 19.93 and 45.92 to 43.93 in the 100 and split 19.17 at NCAAs.

Freshman Caleb Duncan is coming in with lifetime bests  of 20.09/44.80, and could make an immediate impact for the Cardinals. Fellow freshmen Jeremiah Holmes has been 20.66, and joins a gaggle of returning swimmers in the 20-mid range.

Louisville could also get a boost from Egyptian Abdelrahman Sameh, who sports a lifetime best of 22.4 in LCM, which suggests he should at least be sub-20 in yards.

One of Louisville’s strengths is international recruiting, and Bartosz Piszczorowicz is the most recent example of Louisville plucking a foreign recruit seemingly out of nowhere. He was totally off our radar until ACCs, where he broke out with a 1:32.48 split on the 800 free relay,  a gold medal in the individual 200 free with a 1:33.51, a B-final final appearance in the 100 free (43.03), and a 42.08 leg on Louisville’s victorious 400 free relay.

The other mid-distance swimmer of note is Colton Paulson, who improved from 1:35.94 to 1:34.52 last year as a freshman and split 1:32.85 at NCAAs.

Distance Free: ★

With Marcelo Acosta, gone, the Cardinals do not have any returning swimmers who swam at NCAAs in either of the distance events. That’s not to say the cupboard is bare, however, and this is discipline where the Cardinals have the potential to vastly outscore their projections,

The aforementioned Paulson improved his 500 free time from 4:20.86 to 4:16.53, barely half a second off what it took to qualify for the 500. In the 1650, Hayden Curley and T.C. Smith were 15:03.54 and 15:04.42 as a freshman and sophomore, respectively. They may not be looking at NCAA scoring yet, but it wouldn’t take massive improvements for either to at least qualify for NCAAs.

The distance crew should get a big boost as junior worlds medalist Ilia Sibirtsev of Russia is joining the team this year. He has lifetime bests of 3:50.45/7:48.05/15:05.17 in long course and set the course record in the 800m at European Juniors this summer. While the direct conversions don’t suggest he’s a slam-dunk NCAA scorer, the fact that he won bronze in the 1500 at junior worlds this year, along with Louisville’s strong track record with high-caliber foreign recruits, means it shouldn’t be a surprise if he turns into a multi-event scorer, either this year, or down the road.

Backstroke: ★★★

Mitchell Whyte had one of the more dramatic stories of the 2018-2019 season. He initially committed to Eastern Michigan, then was left looking for a new program when EMU cut its men’s team last spring. Coming instead to Louisville, he had a quiet season until he dropped a 45.34 in a 100 back time trial at ACCs. He was just off of that time at NCAAs, finishing 17th in prelims, but he did take 11th in the 200 back, as well as lead off on Louisville’s 5th-place 200 medley relay. He should be a two-event scorer this season, and could also end up on the 400 medley relay if Albiero moves to fly.

Albiero has finished 6th in the 100 back each of the last two seasons, and his lifetime best is a 44.88 from the 2019 ACCs, making him one of the fastest returners this season. He’s also solid in the 200 back, but don’t expect him to compete in it at any championship meets, given that he’s even better in the 200 fly.

Nikos Sofianidis also qualified at NCAAs in both backstroke events, finishing 26th in the 100 with a 46.00 and 1:42.45. That 46.0 would’ve scored as recently as 2016, and while it took a 45.37 to score last year, Sofianidis has an outside shot of picking up some points.

Breaststroke: ★★

There’s not a lot of depth here, but Evgenii Somov scored in both events last year, finishing 7th in the 100 and 14th in the 200. His relay split times were in the middle of the pack for both A-finals, and only two returning swimmers split faster than him on relays at NCAAs (Texas’ Charlie Scheinfeld and Minnesota’s Max McHugh).

If Somov goes down, this could quickly become a liability for the Cardinals, as no one else last year was faster than 54.09/1:56.61.

Butterfly: ★★★

It’s tough losing Zach Harting, who’s represented the USA at Pan Pacs and the World Championships the last two summers, but Albiero has the ability to score 30 points by himself in the two fly events. He finished 9th last year in the 100 with a 45.13, so he should be in line for the A-final this season.

He’s even better in the 200, where he finished 4th last year with a 1:40.08. With the top two finishers from last year now graduated, Albiero could be in the mix for a NCAA title in the event.

Backstroke specialists Sofianidis and Whyte are both solid in the 100 fly, with each sporting 46-mids last year.

The Cardinals also get a boost here from the addition of Sameh, who’s probably a better sprint flyer than freestyler. He’s the Egyptian national record holder in the 50 fly (LCM), and his time of 23.57 converts to roughly a 20.5. He’s only been 55-mid in the 100, which converts to roughly 48.72, but at the very least he should be able to help out on the medley relay, and could very well develop his 100.

Freshman Greyson Alacorn provides even more depth, coming in with a best time of 47.81 in the 100.

IM: ★★★

Daniel Sos (photo: Mike Lewis)

Louisville returns its only scoring IMer, Daniel Sos. He made the B-final final in the 400 IM last year, and finished 21st in the increasingly-competitive 200 IM. The 200 IM was a senior-heavy event last year, and with six of the eight A-finalists and nine of the 20 swimmers ahead of Sos in that event now gone, he’s got a good shot of making the B-final.

Much as in breaststroke, there’s not much depth after Sos. Somov went 1:45.47 at ACCs, and Jarrett Jones had the 3rd-fastest 200 IM on the team with a 1:47.34 and the 2nd-fastest 400 IM with a 3:45.58.

Diving: ★

The Cardinals haven’t qualified a diver for NCAA since 2016, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen this year. The top returners are Daniel Pinto, who finished  6th in the platform and 10th in the 1m at ACCs and Kivanc Gur, who finished 15th in platform and 23rd in 1m.

Relays

One of Louisville’s hallmarks over the past few years is that their relays tend to perform, and they return 16 of 20 relays legs, with the only gaps due to Harting’s graduation.

All four legs from the 200 free relay are back, and they feel like they should be right at the front of the B-final once again.

The 400 and 800 free relays may miss Harting the most. He anchored the 400 free relay in 41.50 at ACCs and 41.80 at NCAAs and split 1:31.14 at NCAAs.

On the surface, no one seems likely to come close to replicating Harting’s times, but they make up some of the ground if Piszczorowicz can match his ACC times on those two relays ( 42.08/1:32.48) at ACCs 42.81/1:33.90 at NCAAs).

Albiero and Barna are locks for the 400, and the other two legs should come from some combination of Cummings, Duncan, Paulson, and Piszczorowicz. Barna could also swim all five relays and replace Harting in the 800 — he split 1:33.91 at NCAAs in 2018, and went 1:34.56. They may slide a few spots in each relay, but not too far.

The medleys appear to be in good shape. Sameh could slide in on the fly leg for both medleys, or Whyte could take over backstroke duties for the 400, while Albiero slides over to do fly.

2019-2020 Outlook

It’s never easy to lose a pair of double-digit scorers, much less someone who’s been a relay contributor like Harting. Still, the core is intact, and the Cardinals should be poised to follow the same formula they did last season.

That formula is fairly simple: score in all five relays and have on or two solid scorers in each discipline. There’s enough depth and fresh blood that relays should be close to where they were last year.

Albiero is a threat to make three A-finals, and could emerge as one of the NCAA’s brightest stars in his 3rd college season. Whyte, Somov, and Sos could all be multi-event scorers, and Sameh and Sibirtsev seem to have tons of potential. There’s probably not enough individual scoring depth to crack the top four, but it’s hard to imagine them not being in the middle of the top ten once again.

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MKW

Louisville gets overlooked compared to some of the big named schools but they’ve been consistent when it counts the last few years…Coach Albiero doing a great job, I think his son is gona have a monster year

James Beam

I agree. To top it off, he’s one of the nicest guys in the sport.

Meeeeee

except when you tell him you are attending a different school.

Swimmer

Louisville does a great job putting a competitive team together given the level of recruits they get. Kudos to coach Albiero and his staff.

Daddy

Max McHugh isn’t quite returning

volmenusa

A brilliant and hard working coach and team. Best wishes to UL men and women this season.

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