College Previews: Can #8 NC State Get on Track to Challenge Cal/Texas Hegemony?

After a one-year hiatus due to the uncertainty surrounding the 2020-2021 season, our college previews are back! We’ll be previewing the 2021-2022 seasons for the top 12 men’s and women’s programs from the 2021 NCAA Division I Championships – stay tuned to our College Swimming Previews channel to catch all 24. 

#8 NC State Wolfpack

Key Losses: Luke Sobolewski, (1 NCAA relay), Erge Gezmis (1 NCAA relay)

Key Additions: #1 Aiden Hayes (OK – fly/free), #7 Arsenio Bustos (CT – IM/free), #9 David Curtiss (PA – free), #12 Sam Hoover (NC – free/IM), HM Garrett Boone (NC – free), Noe Ponti* (Switzerland – fly/free), Bartosz Piszczorowicz (Poland/Louisville transfer – free), Will Gallant (Indiana/transfer – distance free), Nathan Kempiak (AZ – breast), Alexander Norgaard* (Denmark – distance free)

Returning Fifth Years: Eric Knowles

GRADING CRITERIA

Two years ago, we unveiled a new, more data-based grading criteria based on ‘projected returning points’, a stat of our own making that involved a lot of manual calculations involving departing seniors, redshirts, freshmen, etc. We liked the objectiveness of that stat, but given that there’s still a lot of uncertainty for this year, we’re adopting a hybrid approach this year. The “stars” will rely heavily on what swimmers actually did last year, but we’ll also give credit to returning swimmers or freshmen who have times that would have scored last year.

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. Use these grades as a jumping-off point for discussion, rather than a reason to be angry.

2020-2021 LOOKBACK

With all top five of their individual scorers from the 2019 NCAA Championships having either graduated or taken a red-shirt year, the Wolfpack had its worst season since at least 2015. Granted, it was one of those “down seasons” that most teams, even many who routinely finish in the top ten at NCAAs, would be pretty satisfied with.

Beset by an untimely relay disqualification, NC State had its streak of six straight ACC team titles snapped by a surging Louisville squad. That’s not to say NC State had a bad meet. The 800 free relay won on the first night, sophomore transfer Kacper Stokowski won the 100 back at his first ACC Championships, and six different swimmers scored 60 or more points — four of them sophomores. Despite losing 64 points to a relay DQ, they hung on until the very end of the meet, winning the 400 free relay and losing the overall team battle by a mere two points.

The Wolfpack men still managed to qualify a whopping 14 swimmers for NCAAs, with eight of those being underclassmen. Sophomore Ross Dant led the team in individual scoring at NCAAs with an 8th place finish in the 500 free and a 3rd place finish in the 1650, while Stokowski took 2nd in the 100 back in an impressive 44.37. The relays weren’t quite as strong as they’d been in previous years, but they were still plenty strong enough to propel the team to 164 point and an 8th-place finish in the overall team standings.

Sprint Free:★★★★

Even in a down year, the Wolfpack had eight NCAA splashes across the 50/100/200 freestyles and came away with two B-final finishes, which isn’t shabby. But the Pack has reloaded for this year and their sprinters should do some serious damage.

Nyls Korstanje returns after sitting out essentially two seasons due to Olympic preparation. When we last saw him stateside, as a freshman, he walked away from the 2019 NCAA Championships with B-final appearances in both the 50 free and the 100 free. His lifetime best of 19.10 in the 50 free would’ve made the A-final this past season, and his 100 free best of 41.91 would’ve finished 10th in prelims.

Giovanni Izzo scored four points last season with a 13th-place finish in the 50 free (19.38), and also took 24th in the 100 free. Then-freshman Luke Miller nabbed a 15th-place finish in the 200 free and is also is a 42.52 100 freestyle (39th in 43.27 at NCAAs).

Rising junior Hunter Tapp swam the 50/100/200 at NCAAs, and owns personal bests of 19.6/42.5/1:33.8, but he’s also been a free relay stud for the Wolfpack.

That kind of returning sprint depth would be the envy of most teams, but the bounty of fresh freestyle talent arriving in Raleigh would by itself rival the top end of many teams.

David Curtiss is one of the few high schoolers ever to already have a scoring time in the 50 free, with a 19.11, which he pairs with a not-quite-as-amazing-but-still-very-good 42.80 in the 100 free.

We’ll discuss Aiden Hayes in more detail below, but he’s been 19.20/43.00 in the short freestyles. Arsenio Bustos sports a 19.96/43.27/1:36.31, Sam Hoover has been 20.07/43.10/1:35.57 freestyles, and Garrett Boone has been 20.00/43.77/1:36.30. It almost feels like we’re shortchanging those guys, but suffice it to say there’s a ton of raw sprint talent arriving with this freshman class.

As if that wasn’t enough, Polish national teamer and 2019 ACC 200 free champion Bartosz Piszczorowicz is transferring in from Louisville with lifetime bests of 20.3/43.0/1:33.4.

It somehow simultaneously feels like we’re writing too much and not enough in this section, so we’ll just end with this chart:

Year 50 Free 100 Free 200 Free
Boone Fr 20.00 43.76 1:36.30
Bustos Fr 19.96 43.27 1:36.31
Curtiss Fr 19.11 42.80 1:38.71
Hayes Fr 19.20 43.00 1:41.45
Hoover Fr 20.07 43.10 1:35.57
Izzo Sr 19.37 42.69
Korstanje Jr 19.03 41.91 1:36.23
Miller So 20.08 42.52 1:32.28
Piszczorowicz Jr 20.35 43.03 1:33.49
Tapp Jr 19.60 42.51 1:33.81

And oh, we nearly forgot to mention that backstroker Kacper Stokowski has split 18.88/41.95 on the free relays despite individual lifetime bests of “only” 19.64/44.30.

Distance Free: ★★★★

NC State’s rise came largely on the strength of its sprint corps, but last season, the Wolfpack’s highest individual point scorer was distance ace Ross Dant. The then-sophomore placed 8th in the 500 free (4:12.37) and 3rd in the 1650 (14:31.17). He has some momentum after finishing 3rd in the 800 free at the U.S. Olympic Trials this summer.

Additionally, then-freshman James Plage qualified in both the 500 and the 1650, finishing 34th in both. Eric Knowles returns for a 5th year after finishing 27th in the 500 free (4:16.42) and 24th in the 1650 (15:01.38), but his lifetime bests of 4:12.13 and 14:46.35, both from 2019, would’ve both easily scored last year.

The Wolfpack bring in two more aces to compliment the already-strong distance hand. Danish Olympian Alexander Norgaard was supposed to swim last year, but now is planning on joining the team in January. Assuming that does in fact happen, his 1500 LCM best of 14:47.75 could convert to a 14:30.34 in SCY, putting him in line for a top-three finish at NCAAs. His 400m times convert to roughly a 4:14-4:18 in the 500 yard, which puts him on the verge of NCAA scoring, and his 200m times project around a 1:35-1:36, which means he could eventually end up on the 4×200 free relay.

The group gets even deeper thanks to Will Gallant, who is transferring in from Indiana with an NCAA qualifying time of 14:49.00 in the mile, along with a 4:19 in the 500.

Backstroke: ★★★

Kacper Stokowski, NC State
Courtesy: NCAA Photos

It looked like NC State might be hurting in this discipline after losing Coleman Stewart to graduation, but Florida transfer Kacper Stokowski jumped right into the void when he arrived on campus in the spring semester. While he drew the disqualification that cost NC State’s 400 medley relay, he won the 100 back at ACCs, finished 4th in the 200 back, and split 21.18 on the 200 medley relay. He was even better at NCAAs, leading off the 200 in 20.61, and taking 2nd in the 100 back in 44.37.

With Shaine Casas apparently turning pro, Stokowski is the highest-finishing returner from that race (although we’ll see if Harvard’s Dean Farris elects to race this or the 200 free after a two-year hiatus from college competition). He didn’t swim the 200 back at NCAAs, but his time of 1:41.69 from ACCs doesn’t put him too far away from scoring, so he could opt for that over the 400 free relay, especially given the depth of the Wolfpack’s sprint free talent.

IMer Mikey Moore placed 29th at NCAAs (1:42.73) after taking 13th at ACCs (1:42.45/1:42.86). Ross Dant swims the 1650, but has been 1:42.87 in prelims at ACCs, and senior John Healy didn’t qualify for NCAAs, but took 8th at ACCs in 1:43.79 after going 1:42.34 in prelims.

Freshman Sam Hoover has a 47.9 100, while Garrett Boone has been 1:45.3 in the 200, so either could end up in those events down the road.

Breaststroke: ★

While NC State has had success in every other discipline during the Holloway era, breaststroke continues to be this team’s weak spot. In fact, the NC State men haven’t had an All-American breaststroker since 1979. Last season, Rafal Kusto improved his lifetime bests to 52.40/1:54.67 last season and qualified for NCAAs, but didn’t finish higher than 36th individually.

Help should come from the freshman class. The only pure breaststroker, Nathan Kempiak, comes in with lifetime bests 53.8/2:01.4 and could compete with Kusto for a spot on the medley relays. The versatile Arsenio Bustos is even faster in the 100, sporting a 53.5, and Sam Hoover has been 54.1/1:57.1.

Butterfly: ★★★★

This group (and the team as a whole) took a hit when Olympic bronze medalist Noe Ponti announced he was heading back home, but even if he doesn’t return to Raleigh this season, NC State still has a fly group that would be among the best-ever for the vast majority of college teams.

Classmates and name-sharers Noah Bowers and Noah Henderson both qualified for NCAAs in fly events last season. Bowers finished 39th in the 200 fly, but Henderson just missed scoring in the 100 fly with a 45.83 (18th) and placed 27th in the 200. Zach Brown also qualified for both fly events, finishing 33rd in the 100 and 24th in the 200.

Korstanje’s 100 fly time of 45.62 put him 19th in prelims in 2019, but would’ve just made the B-final this year. He’s also split 19.8/44.9 on the medley relays.

That’d already be a solid fly group, but even more firepower arrives with the freshman class. Aiden Hayes sports lifetime bests of 45.47/1:41.34, both of which would’ve made the B-final last season, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see him make the A-final in either or both events this season. Arsenio Bustos has a 46.51 100 fly in his Swiss Army knife-like set of swimming tools.

IM: ★★

NC State had four different men swim IM events at the 2021 NCAA Championships, and while they didn’t score any points in the discipline, the talent is there. Then-freshman Mikey Moore missed scoring in the 400 by a scant 0.20 seconds, settling for 18th with a lifetime best of 3:44.24. He also finished 30th in the 200 IM.

Noah Bowers placed 40th in the 200 IM, while freestyler Luke Miller actually had a B cut in the 200 IM, but opted not to swim it. Eric Knowles placed 23rd in the 400 IM with a 3:45.31, but his lifetime best of 3:42.09 from 2019 easily would have put him into the B-final had he matched it.

Freshman Arsenio Bustos had the fastest 200 IM time of anyone in the high school class of 2021 — a 1:43.94 that puts him right around an NCAA cut already. This is one event where a lot of guys seem to make a big leap after high school, so it would not be surprising to see him scoring in this event at some point.

Diving: ★

Diving has not been NC State’s forte recently, and the team didn’t qualify any divers for last year’s NCAA championships. Then-freshman Matt Sexton did place in the top 8 in the platform event at ACC Championships. If new head diving coach Wesley Mattice can eventually get some NCAA points out of the dive squad, that’ll help the Wolfpack close the gap on the top few schools.

Relays

Henderson, Tapp, Izzo, and Stokowski all swam the 200 free relay at ACCs and NCAAs, where they finished 2nd (1:16.33) and 8th (1:16.24). It’s fair to assume that Korstanje and Curtiss will end up on there, and possibly Hayes and another freshman competing for spots.

The winning ACC relay consisted of three of those four, with Miller leading off in place of Henderson, and that same group of swam at NCAAs, albeit in a different order. Once again, Korstanje is an easy pick for that relay, with Curtiss and Piszczorowicz (42.08 split) also in the mix.

Miller, Knowles, Gezmis, and Tapp made up the 800 free relay last season. Piszczorowicz is the obvious choice to jump in on that relay, and it’ll be interesting to see how Norgaard, as well as all the freshmen, develop.

The medley relays aren’t quite as complicated as they might’ve been without Ponti. Stokowski figures to lock down the backstrokes, Kusto will continue on the breast unless one of the freshmen supplants him. The fly and free legs get interesting. Korstanje is currently the team’s #1 sprint freestyler, but as we said, he’s been 19.8/44.9 on the fly leg of medley relays. Hayes could end up on fly and Korstanje on free, or we could see Korstanje/Curtiss on the 200 medley relay and Hayes/Korstanje on the 400.

2021-2022 Outlook

After a small hiccup last season in what was a very weird year for everyone, the Wolfpack men seem to be on a great trajectory. The relays were strong despite not having the top-end star power they’d had in previous seasons. A strong group of last year’s underclassmen, Korstanje’s return and one of the best freshman classes ever means that NC State should leap up at least several spots in the NCAA standings.

They’re probably still short a few more guys who could land in multiple A-finals. If Ponti ends up returning, that’d certainly help. Right now, it’s hard to imagine them cracking the top three at NCAAs this season, but if Holloway and company and can develop elite talent like Hayes and Curtiss the way they’ve previously developed diamond-in-the-rough types like Ryan Held, Justin Ress, and Coleman Stewart, the Wolfpack may not be too far away from breaking the Cal-Texas chokehold on the top two spots the NCAA Championships.

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Big mac #1
2 months ago

Is dean confimed to be back?

GowdyRaines
Reply to  Big mac #1
2 months ago

He does appear on the roster this year. He wasn’t on last year so it seems he’s back!

https://gocrimson.com/sports/mens-swimming-and-diving/roster

Coach Macgyver
2 months ago

Not happening with the lack breast/IM talent. With how good NC recruits, I’m surprised they weren’t able to pull bigger breaststroke talent.

Reid
Reply to  Coach Macgyver
2 months ago

They got Molacek and Warner a few years ago and neither progressed (in breaststroke) while they were there

Binky
2 months ago

Narrator: Can #8 NC State Get On Track to Challenge Cal/Texas Hegemony?

No, they cannot.

Yup
Reply to  Binky
1 month ago

when have the Wuffies ever challenged Cal/Texas?

sticky rice
2 months ago

Great recruit class and transfers but still missing a few pieces to challenge for top 2.

Admin
Reply to  sticky rice
2 months ago

Their rise really accentuates how good Cal and Texas have been the last decade. Even a really good team, that’s putting pieces in place, still isn’t really that close to the top 2.

sticky rice
Reply to  Braden Keith
2 months ago

100% agree. With a few more years of good recruiting and talent development I think they can get there but Texas and Cal are just too solid right now.

Swim nerd
Reply to  sticky rice
2 months ago

Once nc state can recruit a top level breaststroker they will get closer

austinpoolboy
Reply to  Swim nerd
2 months ago

and some divers

samulih
Reply to  Swim nerd
2 months ago

as somebody above on other comments note,they have but they have not developed them

Joyful h8er
Reply to  samulih
2 months ago

May I ask which top tier breaststroker NC state has gotten in the past??

Packfan
2 months ago

Wolfpack #1

Breezeway
2 months ago

Straight 🔥🔥🔥🔥Go Pack🐺
I think y’all are missing some stars on the Sprint/Distance reviews. Backstroke too. Just sayin

Last edited 2 months ago by Breezeway
Uh oh stinky
2 months ago

Are y’all just being stingy with 5 stars? The distance trio of Ross, James, and Will with their best times, not even counting their massive drops this summer would put up 25+ in the mile. That’s not even including Eric knowles and the potential Alexander Noergaard.

Say's Phoebe
Reply to  Uh oh stinky
2 months ago

“With their best times.”
Plage (34th last year) and Knowles (24th) will have to be at their best at NCAAs.
Knowles grabbed 16th in the 1650 in 2019 and I believe he can score again.
Norgaard was 15:28 in the 1500 at the Olympics; that’s close to 3 seconds per 100 off his best of 14:47.
Braden has a very strong distance group this year, but they aren’t close to locked in to 25 points in each of the distance events.

Say's Phoebe
Reply to  Robert Gibbs
2 months ago

Here are three groups from 2021 NCAAs that scored more than 50 points:

Texas backstroke: Jiang (15), Staka (7), Katz (2), Katz (14), C Foster (13) = 51points
Georgia fly: Murphy (16), Urlando (11), Urlando (15), Murphy (14) = 56 points
Cal distance: Julian (15), Greishop (12), Yeadon (9), Yeadon (13), Greishop (3) = 52 points

It’s a big stretch to project NCSU as a five star distance group.

Swim Guy
Reply to  Robert Gibbs
2 months ago

I think y’all have overlooked Plage a tad. His best time in the mile from last short course season would have scored his freshmen year, and he did it the week before NCAAs. He didn’t preform up to expectations at ACC or NCAA, but if he figures out how to preform when it matters he could be dangerous.

SWIMFAN
2 months ago

Pre Season prediction, NC State will reclaim it’s 4X100 Freestyle Title, They have the following 100 Free Splits returning, Korstanje 41.34, Tapp 41.57, Miller 41.60, all those time swam as freshman and sophomore’s. So you shave time off those underclassman swim’s and a roster deep enough for another sub 42 and you have a sub 2:45 squad!