College Previews: No Lone Star for #1 Texas Men As They Aim Horns at 16th Title

by Robert Gibbs 18

November 02nd, 2021 College, News, Previews & Recaps

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. 

#1 Texas Longhorns

Key Losses: Austin Katz (16 NCAA points, 1 NCAA relay), Sam Pomajevich (20 NCAA points), Chris Staka (10 NCAA points, 4 NCAA relays), JT Larson (5 NCAA points), Jake Sannem (15 NCAA points, 3 NCAA relays)

Key Additions: #4 Anthony Grimm (VA – back/fly), #8 Tim Connery (NC – free/IM), #10 Luke Hobson (NV – free), Cameron Auchinachie (NY/Denver transfer – free), Nathan Quarterman (ID – back), Adam Fusti-Molnar (TX – breast), Christopher O’Connor (OH/Alabama transfer – back)

Returning Fifth Years: Alvin Jiang

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

It was a weird year for everyone, but the Texas Longhorn men weathered it as well as anyone else, culminating in a dramatic NCAA championship.

We’ve gotten pretty used to Eddie Reese working his guys hard during October (aka, Rocktober), but perhaps with a different training approach due to the pandemic, the Longhorn men swam fast all season long. Drew Kibler and Carson Foster threw down historic times in October, followed by the fastest 800 free relay ever outside of NCAAs in December.

With the fast times all season long, it was not surprising to see a historic 26 swimmers qualify for NCAAs. With an 18-person roster limit and a strong dive crew, the Texas coaching staff had to leave 10 swimmers who qualified at home.

The Longhorns won the opening event, the 800 free relay, then had a decent day two (including a win in the 400 medley relay) before pressing the accelerator on day three. They didn’t get any individual swimming wins, and while some guys couldn’t match the impressive times from earlier in the season. Still, Texas arguably had its best top-to-bottom success during this recent era of success, as every single man on the Texas roster scored at least one point, and the Longhorns piled up 595 to beat Cal by 27 points.

One postscript that bears mentioning: Two days after the meet, Eddie Reese announced he was going to retire, only to change his mind a few months later. So, the legendary coach returns for his 44th season in Austin.

Sprint Free:★★★★★

The Longhorns have traditionally been known as a 200 freestyle powerhouse, and they did have four scorers in that event last season, but they’ve got plenty of talent reaching down into the shorter freestyles as well.

Drew Kibler, Texas

Drew Kibler, Texas
Courtesy: NCAA Photos

Prior to making the US Olympic team this summer, Drew Kibler led the Longhorn swimmers in individual scoring with three A-final appearances, including a pair of 2nd-place finishes in the 200 free (1:30.30) and the 100 free (41.59, 41.45 prelims). He’s got NCAA-scoring ability in the 50 free as well, but has forsaken that event (and the 200 free relay) for the 500 free.

Daniel Krueger had already made the 100 free final as a freshman in 2019, but last year he added a 6th place finish in the 50 free (19.08) to go along with a tie for 2nd in the 100 free (41.59). His personal bests are 19.04 (2021 200 free relay leadoff) and 41.26 (2020 Big 12s). He’s also got a lifetime best of 1:33.29 in the 200 free, from back in 2019, a time which would’ve put him 17th in prelims this season.

Peter Larson made the 200 free A-final final, ultimately finishing 8th in 1:33.67 after going 1:32.53 in prelims. Larson could make the jump to the Longhorns’ 800 free relay this season, as could Coby Carrozza, who finished 14th in the 200 free (1:32.70 in prelims). Larson’s been 19.45/43.14 and Carrozza was 20.58/43.57 in high school, so either one could eventually up on the 200/400 free relay as well.

While it’s been a couple years, Cameron Auchinachie clocked bests of 19.13/41.81/1:34.24 while at Denver. He didn’t compete last season, but he would’ve made the A-final of both the 50 and the 100 free at 2021 NCAAs with those times.

Versatile freshman Tim Connery arrives with a 1:34.77 in the 200 free, and should eventually find himself on the relay, even if he opts for one of the stroke 100s individually. Connery’s 100 free time of 49.3 (LCM) and 44.1 (SCY) makes the 100 free an intriguing option for him as well.

Connery’s classmate Luke Hobson is yet another one of those rangey freestylers that Eddie Reese loves, and he arrives with best times of 19.98/43.34/1:35.09, while Anthony Grimm is more of drop-dead sprinter (at least for now) at 19.6/44.0.

We’ll mention here that 2019 NCAA qualifier Matt Willenbring still appears on the roster, but his status for the season is uncertain. He only logged a single swim in 2021, a 100 free (LCM) in May, but he told us that he’s been dealing with some health issues, and isn’t sure if he’ll be able to compete this season.

Distance Free: ★★★★

It’d been a fairly lean few years for the Texas distance crew. In 2018, two men scored in the 500 free; in 2019, it was only one man. While Townley Haas won the 500 free both of those years, Texas had no one score in the 1650. Furthermore, while some other Texas guys had scoring times in the 500 and 1650, they weren’t matching those best times at NCAAs.

That all changed in 2021. Five different men scored in at least one of the two distance events, two scored in both events, and another guy scored in the 1650 and finished 17th in the 500 free.

Drew Kibler had a historic 500 free in October, clocking a 4:08.26 that made him the 4th-fastest performer ever at that point. He couldn’t quite match that at NCAAs, going 4:10.04 for 5th in finals. But, assuming he sticks with the 500 and doesn’t drop down to the 50 free instead, you can pencil him in for an A-final appearance.

Alex Zettle took 11th in the 500 free at 4:15.54, with his lifetime best of 4:13.01 coming in prelims. He also clocked a lifetime best 14:42.20 in the 1650, finishing 9th overall.

David Johnston missed the B-final in the 500 by a few tenths of a second, placing 17th with a 4:14.36, but he bounced to make the top 8 in the 400 IM and the 1650, where he finished 7th with a 14:40.13. He had a pretty strong showing at Trials, and seems to have a good chance to score in the 500 this season.

Senior JT Larson is gone after placing 16th in the 500 and 13th in the 1650, but his younger brother Peter Larson returns and could be a scoring threat in the 500 after going 4:14.58 for 19th in prelims. Like Larson,  Coby Carrozza is a strong middle distance freestyler who scored in the 200 free and wasn’t too far outside of scoring in the 500, placing 21st in 4:15.72. His best of 4:14.31, though, would’ve put him at 17th ahead of Johnston.

It seems reasonable to expect that at least one of Johnston, Larson, and Carrozza (and possibly all three) should move up into scoring range this season.

Ethan Heasley got left off of the roster, but has lifetime bests of 4:16.06 and 14:48.10 in the distance events. That 1650 time would’ve put him at 13th, just ahead of JT Larson, had Heasley made the team and repeated that time at NCAAs.

Luke Hobson in the main distance guy in the freshman class, and he arrives in Austin with bests of 4:16.56/15:20.29. That 1650 time, though comes from January 2020, and he also sports a lifetime best of 8:58 in the 1000 free.

Backstroke: ★★★★

For the first time in well over a decade, the Longhorns don’t seem to have an obvious two-distance, NCAA-scoring backstroker on hand in the mold of Cole Cragin, Kip Darmody, John Shebat, Austin Katz, etc. Having said that, this is still a very strong group.

Alvin Jiang returns after finishing 4th in the 100 with a 44.60 last season. Jiang didn’t even swim the 200 back in a dual meet last season, and instead opted for the 200 fly on day 4.

With Austin Katz graduated, Carson Foster is the Longhorns’ highest-returning scorer in the 200, where he finished 6th with a 1:39.23. Peter Larson was just out of scoring range, going 1:41.35 for 17th.

Jason Park did go 46.32/1:41.14 last season, but didn’t make the NCAA team. The same goes for Ethan Harder, who went 46.61/1:41.68.

That already-solid backstroke crew is getting a good number of reinforcements this season.

Anthony Grimm originally burst onto the swimming scene with a 20.8 medley relay leadoff as a high school sophomore. He’s primarily a sprinter, as evidence by that time and his 45.60 mark in the 100 back, and it’ll be interesting to see if/how his 200 back develops in college; his current best time of 1:48.27 comes from the fall of 2019.

Freshman Nathan Quarterman arrives with bests of 47.9/1:44.5, while Tim Connery has been 47.2.

Alabama transfer Christopher O’Connor holds bests of 47.10/1:42.23, with that 200 time not too far off from NCAA qualifying. Grad transfer Cameron Auchinachie has been 21.1 leading off Denver’s medley relay two years ago, and has been 46.23 in the 100.

Breaststroke: ★★★★

Just like in distance free, Texas had its best performance in this discipline since at least 2017, and arguably even before that. After scoring 0 points in 2018, and 6 in 2019, the Longhorns netted 40 breaststroke points in 2021.

Caspar Corbeau led the crew with a pair of A-finals. He took 6th in the 100 with a  51.62 (a time which he clocked on three separate occasions last seasons), and he placed 4th in the 200 with a 1:51.43.

Jake Foster and Braden Vines both opted for the 400 IM on day 3, but each made the B-final in the 200. Foster finished 10th with a 1:52.59, while Vines finished 12th with a 1:53.08 after going 1:52.51 in prelims, missing the A-final by 0.21s.

There’s even more talent available, though. Charlie Scheinfeld didn’t match his lifetime bests last season, or make the NCAA team, but he if can back to bests of 51.41/1:52.78, from the fall of 2018, he has potential for another 20 points.

Senior Andrew Couchon went 52.44 in the 100 last year, while freshmen Anthony Grimm (52.51) and Tim Connery (53.19/1:57.16) have strong potential, but may not even up swimming breaststroke events at NCAAs.

Four stars feels just a tad conservative here, so we’ll note that this group has potential for 70+ points if Scheinfeld gets back to form and Foster or Vines can move up to the A-final.

Butterfly: ★★★

This group really gets saved with the turn of Alvin Jiang, who was one of two Longhorns butterfly scorers last season. With Sam Pomajevich moving on after graduation, Jiang is the only one who returns.

Jiang exploded in the fall of 2019 after transferring from UNC, and he took 4th in the 100 fly last season in his first NCAA appearance as a Longhorn, clocking a 44.50. He’s more of sprint fly/back type, but he also managed to sneak into the B-final of the 200 fly, finishing 16th with a 1:43.76 after going 1:42.46 in prelims.

Coby Carrozza is primarily a freestyler, but finished 23rd in prelims of the 200 fly with a 1:43.36.

Zac Van Zandt improved from 46.6 to 45.8 in the 100 fly as a freshman last year, and while he didn’t make the NCAA roster despite qualifying, he’s only about two-tenths of a second shy of what it took to score last year.

Ethan Harder (1:42.18), Cole Crane (1:42.21), and Andrew Koustik (1:42.38) all put up 200 fly times last season that would’ve made the B-final at NCAAs, but…yes, you guessed it… none of them made the NCAA team despite qualifying.

In yet another trope of this preview, Anthony Grimm (46.50) and Tim Connery (46.73) could end up swimming the 100 fly…or they may not…at the very least they give the Longhorns plenty of future medley relay flexibility.

IM: ★★★★★

If there was a moment at the 2021 NCAAs where it really felt like the momentum clearly shifted to Texas’ favor, it was probably when the Longhorns unexpectedly put four men into the A-final of the 400 IM. All told, Texas pulled in 84 points across the two IMs, which alone would’ve ranked them 17th in the final team standings.

The group is led by Carson Foster, who as a freshman finished 4th in the 200 IM (1:40.99) and 2nd in the 400 IM (3:38.25). The kicker is that he was even faster in the 400 in the fall than he was at NCAAs, as he ripped a 3:35 to become the 2nd-fastest man ever in the event.

Jake Foster is no slouch in the IMs either, and he coupled a 5th place finish in the 400 (3:40.16 after 3:39.69 in prelims), with a 10th place finish in the 200 (1:42.17). Braden Vines had a remarkably similar performance, going 3:40.18/3:41.28 for a 6th place finish in the 400 IM and taking 12th in the 200 IM 1:42.71 after sneaking into the B-final with a 16th place finish in prelims.

More known for his distance prowess, David Johnston may have been the Longhorns’ biggest surprise 400 IM A-finalist. He just made prelims with a 3:40.80 performance in prelims, then went 3:43.06 in finals to again finish 8th. Meanwhile, breaststroker Caspar Corbeau placed 15th in the 200 IM with a 1:43.85 after going 1:42.73 in the morning.

While that’s an incredibly talented crew, it seems like a lot broke right for the Longhorns IMers (at least in prelims), and it may be tough to get that many finals slots again. The good news is that more IM depth arrives from Tim Connery (1:44.0/3:53.9). Anthony Grimm doesn’t have a great 200 IM time, but he’s so spectacular at each of the four strokes that you have to wonder what he’s capable of with some Texas training.

Hey, have we mentioned that Texas left some NCAA qualifiers home? One of those guys, Ethan Heasley, owns a lifetime best of 3:43.35 in the 400 IM, while Andrew Koustik has been 3:43.72. Both of those times would’ve made the B-final last year. Matt Willenbring provides additional scoring potential if he returns and can match his 1:41.83 200 IM from the fall of 2019

Diving: ★★★★★

Texas only got two of last year’s seniors to return, but one of them has been probably the best diver in the NCAA over the last four years. That, of course, is Jordan Windle, who scored 52 points last year after earning 47 in 2019 and 45 in 2018.

Noah Duperre also returns after earning 23 points last year as a freshman, when he took 2nd behind Windle in the 1m and 11th in the 3m. Fellow sophomore Brendan McCourt picked up one point with a 16th-place finish in the 1m, while junior Andrew Harness earned 7 points after finishing 10th in the platform.

As if 83 point across four divers isn’t already enough, the Longhorns add Manuel Borowski, who finished 7th in the 3m event at the 2018 Junior World Championships.

Relays

With Jiang’s return, Texas would be needing to fill 11 out of 20 relay spots. His fifth year will help soften the blow, but there’s going to be a lot of turnover. The Longhorns’ depth will help them, but Reese will have a lot of decisions to make.

The 200 free relay was the Longhorns’ lowest-finishing relay last season, and that had three seniors (including Jiang) on it. Krueger led off in 19.04 and Jiang (18.78 split) both return, but it’s not yet clear who will fill in the final two spots. Best times suggest that Auchinachie should be a leading candidate, and Kibler’s good for a 18-low, if Texas chooses to use him. They didn’t last year, but you have to wonder if the Longhorns will give it a shot after seeing Kieran Smith pull off that double. If not, the 4th spot could go to Corbeau (18.9 relay split in high school) or Grimm.

Only Krueger and Kibler return from the 400 free relay. Jiang’s split sub-42 before, so it could very well be him and Auchinachie rounding out the other two spots, with guys like Van Zandt, Larson, Carrozza, or Corbeau as additionally possibilities.

Like we said — Texas has some depth in 200 free, and it’s nice when you can plug a couple 200 free scorers into your two open spots. On paper, Larson and Carrozza should join with Kibler and Foster, and this team could be faster than last year’s, which Texas will need given how deep this event could be this year.

Corbeau, Jiang, and Krueger all return from the medleys, meaning that Texas only needs to fill in a backstroke leg. The simplest and most likely solution is for Grimm to takeover the backstroke leg on both medleys. But, there’s definitely some room for creativity, especially if there are relay prelims this year and Reese wants to rest some swimmers.  Carson Foster, Jiang, or Auchinachie could make an appearance on backstroke. Scheinfeld, Jake Foster, Vines, Grimm and Connery all could appear on breast. Kibler, Van Zandt, Grimm, or Connery could end up on the fly leg, while Auchinachie and Kibler provide free depth.

2021-2022 Outlook

There’s not much to say here that we haven’t said for the last five or six seasons. Texas continues to assemble talent in massive quantities, and last year everything clicked for them in a way that it didn’t even in their 2018 championship. If the Longhorns get it done in prelims like they did this past season, they look to be on track to win again. If there are any hiccups with prelims, relays, or diving, an also-incredibly-stacked Cal team stands ready to capitalize.

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Horninco
2 months ago

The entire meet turned on the Gonzalez/Johnston dynamic in the 400IM

Texas can’t count on that again. Will be an amazing dogfight even without NC State knocking on the door.

Say's Phoebe
Reply to  Horninco
2 months ago

Horninco

In 2021 it was Texas 595, Cal 568, NC State 164.
Please show us the 400 points that NC State is adding to knock on the door.
I know, I know … Nyls Korstanje is back. He’s a great swimmer and he scored 9 points at NCAAs in 2019.

Horninco
Reply to  Say's Phoebe
2 months ago

You ok?

I didn’t say NC State was a threat to win THiS year.

GowdyRaines
Reply to  Say's Phoebe
2 months ago

Even though NC State is not in title contention, that doesn’t mean they are a non-factor. Considering them such shows a lack of knowledge on how scoring works.

NC State has an absolutely lethal sprint group, and if they are able to take 1st or 2nd and push Cal or Texas to a third place finish that could turn the meet in the other teams favor. NC State has a shot to do that in multiple relays. I’d say they are a HUGE factor in the team title race even though they themselves aren’t in the running for the win.

Last edited 2 months ago by GowdyRaines
Say's Phoebe
Reply to  GowdyRaines
2 months ago

Last year NC State was 5th (800 FR), 8th (200 FR), 8th (400 MR), 10th (200 MR), and 5th (400 FR).

Sure, NC State could get in between Cal and Texas in a relay and affect the score by 2 points, but that’s minor. I mean, NC State got in between Cal and Texas exactly zero times in the relay events last year.

Last year Gonzales had a lousy morning swim in the 400 IM, which was (sort of) an 11 point swing (if Gonzales had won the A final), plus another 6 point swing for Johnston (from 8th to 12th theoretically). Gonzales was the second seed and Jake Foster beat him straight up in the second to last… Read more »

CHE_Swimmer
Reply to  Say's Phoebe
2 months ago

Everytime there’s a comment mentioning NC State, I can always count on Say’s Phoebe to respond with some snarky replies. Nothing you’ve said is wrong, it’s just knowing that you’re a Louisville fan, I really applaud the commitment.

Horninco
Reply to  CHE_Swimmer
2 months ago

rivals Guerra

MIKE IN DALLAS
2 months ago

i can’t help it, but two items stick out in my own mind when I consider this excellent article:

  1. The return of 5th-year Alvin Jiang will be SUCH a shot in the arm for UT;
  2. With Shaine Casas apparently out of the collegial swim mix, that can only aid UT immensely; esp. in back stroke.
Swimm
Reply to  MIKE IN DALLAS
2 months ago

The teams that stand to gain the most from Shaine leaving are teams with strong backstroke groups who can capitalize on the opportunity. Cal backstroke > Texas backstroke, and Cal will benefit more from him being gone. Not to say Texas won’t, just that Cal will benefit slightly more

tea rex
Reply to  Swimm
2 months ago

True. The top returning 200 backstrokers are:
Cal – Lasco 1:35.99
Cal – Carr 1:37.87
Cal – Mefford 1:38.31 (if he returns, which I don’t think is ruled out)
Tex – Foster 1:38.41
Harvard – Farris 1:38.99 (from 2018)
Cal – Gonzalez 1:39.05

Say's Phoebe
Reply to  Swimm
2 months ago

I think the team that can benefit the most from Casas not swimming is Virginia Tech. They have a really good chance to be the fourth ACC team in the top 10.

Willswim
2 months ago

“Texas pulled in 84 points across the two IMs, which alone would’ve ranked them 17th in the final team standings.”

Pfff. You think that’s impressive? The women’s meet had 91 points scored by people named Bacon! Coincidentally, that too would have ranked them 17th in the final team standings.

swimgeek
Reply to  Willswim
2 months ago

Team Bacon for the win.

NCAA>ISL
2 months ago

Edit for IM section: Tim Connery times (1:44.0/3:53.9)

Breezeway
2 months ago

hmm, another 5* Sprint Free team

Swim nerd
Reply to  Breezeway
2 months ago

Most sprint talent is concentrated amongst like 4-5 teams. Which ends up having them be 5 star teams

I win, you lose
2 months ago

Tate Jackson

Taa
2 months ago

5 guys decided to not compete this year? Anyone know why sounds like just finishing their degree on time