College Previews: Strong Core Should Help Blunt Key Losses for #9 Ohio State Men

We’ll be previewing the 2022-2023 seasons for the top 12 men’s and women’s programs from the 2022 NCAA Division I Championships – stay tuned to our College Swimming Previews channel to catch all 24. 

#9 Men: Ohio State Buckeyes

Key Losses: Sem Andreis (2 NCAA relays), Hunter Armstrong (15 NCAA points, 5 NCAA relays)

Key Additions: Alex Axon (Canada – D Free), Mason Edmund (TX – D free, IM), Tomas Navikonis (Lithuania – freestyle), Carson Smith (OH – freestyle)

 Returning Fifth Years: Jacob Fielding (13 points), Hudson McDaniel (2 NCAA relays), Jason Matthews (15 points, 2021 NCAAs)

GRADING CRITERIA

Three years ago, we unveiled a new, more data-based grading criteria based on ‘projected returning points’, a stat of our own making that featured 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.

2021-2022 Lookback

It was a bit of a mixed bag for the Buckeyes last year. On one hand, they were in the thick of the battle for the Big Ten conference championship until the final few events. Ultimately they ended up 2nd behind Indiana, an improvement on their 3rd-place showing in 2021. The Buckeyes bookended the meet with championship records in the 200 medley and 400 free relays, as the sprinter crew and the divers helped propel the squad to a strong Big Ten showing.

The team took a small step back at NCAAs, however, dropping two spots from 7th in 2021 to 9th last year. The relays delivered, with all five scoring and the 200 free relay finishing 7th. The diving crew didn’t quite match the 74 points from the year before, but got a still-excellent 47 points. They were led by Lyle Yost, who amassed 34 points across all three diving events to lead all Buckeyes in individual scoring.

Hunter Armstrong came in swinging after his Olympic showing, winning two events at Big Tens and taking 2nd in a third, which ironically, was the 100 back, the event in which he qualified for the Olympics. He finished 5th in that event at NCAAs, which was his only individual scoring swim.

Freshman Alex Quach was a revelation, quickly developing into a NCAA scorer in the 100 fly, and showed strength in the 200 IM and 200 fly as well. The Buckeyes also got NCAA scoring performances from Ruslan Gaziev (the only swimmer to score in multiple individual events), distance ace Charlie Clark, Fabio Dalu, and diver Jacob Fielding.

SPRINT FREE: ★★★

Unfortunately for the Buckeye faithful, Armstrong has opted to focus on his long course career, and has gone pro and also followed former OSU coach Matt Bowe to Cal to train. OSU also loses Sem Andreis, who’s been a sprint free stalwart for the Buckeyes the last few years. He didn’t pick up any individual NCAA points last season, but he was the next-fastest man after Armstrong last season, going 19.15 at Big Tens. 

That leaves Ruslan Gaziev as the top sprinter heading into this season. He only went 19.52 in the 50 free at NCAAs, but he made the B-finals in the 100 and 200. He owns lifetime bests of 19.34/41.56/1:32.24, with those latter two times coming from 2022 NCAAs. He’s clearly capable of going faster in the 50 free — he split 18.56 anchor the Buckeyes 200 free relay at NCAAs, so he could end up scoring there as well.

Lithuanian national teamer Tomas Navikonis will join the Buckeyes mid-season, and he should provide some immediate depth to the sprint crew. His LCM bests convert to roughly 19.66/42.93/1:33.31. If those conversions hold, Navikonis should certainly score at Big Tens, and also help fill free relay gaps caused by the loss of Armstrong and Andreis.

Alex Quach didn’t swim any individual free events, but solidified the 200 and 800 free relays with splits of 19.18 and 1:35.17. Jay Johnson and Shaw Shatterfield were the next two fastest men in the 200 free after Gaziev, posting 1:35.6s each.

There’s probably not much immediate help from the domestic side of the freshman class, but Carson Smith goes 21.39/45.54/1:37.86, and with the Buckeyes seeing some 1:35s on 800 free relay legs last season, Smith could show up on that relay before too long.

DISTANCE FREE: ★★★

Charlie Clark was one of the biggest freshman names in the NCAA during the 2020-2021 season, and he successfully evaded the sophomore slump last year. Instead, Clark improved from 4:17.74 to 4:13.77 in the 500 and 14:40.70 to 14:35.38 in the 1650. That 1650 time came at NCAAs, where he took 8th place overall. He’s coming off a strong summer during which he qualified for the USA’s World Team and competed at World Championships.

Fabio Dalu also qualified for NCAAs by virtue of his 1650 time, and he went 14:49.68 in Atlanta to finish 13th.

Navikonis is one of those rangy freestyle types, and his 400m time converts to a 4:17.40. That’s fast enough already that he could end up swimming the 500 over the 50 at championship meets, so it’ll be interesting to see which way the OSU coaching staff opts to go.

Freshman Mason Edmund arrives with bests of 4:23.72/15:21.35, plus a 9:11.78 in the 1000. That 1650 free time is particularly intriguing, as it’s nearly two years old, suggesting that he could be line for a big drop there.

Another freshman, Alex Axon, represented Canada this summer in the Open Water 5k at Worlds. He owns best of 15:25 in both the SCM and LCM versions of the 1500, which indicates he may be close to NCAA qualifying range if he can translated those performances to yards.

BACKSTROKE: ★

Despite what you might expect from the presence of a star like Hunter Armstrong, this discipline may have been the weakest for the Buckeyes last season.

They only got two splashes in the individual backstroke events, and those were Armstrong’s two swims in the 100 back.

The next-fastest Buckeye in the 100 back was Colin McDermott at 46.69, and he was a senior last season. It doesn’t look like he’s returning for for a fifth year, the mantle of fastest returner gets passed to Thomas Watkins, who went 47.24 last year and owns a lifetime best of 46.88.

It doesn’t get much better in the 200 back, where Watkins led the team last year with a 1:42.80, almost two seconds away of what it took to get an NCAA invite, although he has been as fast as 1:41.81, which puts him closer to a NCAA invite. Owen Conley is the next-fastest returner, having been been 1:43.86 back in 2021.

BREASTSTROKE: ★★

Hudson McDaniel was the Buckeyes’ top breaststroker last year, and the OSU coaching staff has indicated that he’s returning for a fifth year. That’s huge for the relays, as he was the only Buckeye under 53s in the 100 breast last season. His best time was 52.03 last year, but he’s been as fast as 51.55, which puts him into NCAA scoring range.

Interestingly, the coaching staff also indicated that Jason Mathews, who last competed as a senior in 2021, is returning. That’s potentially massive, as he’s been 51.30/1:52.56, although it’s tough to predict what he’ll actually do after a one year hiatus — the SWIMS database doesn’t show a single swim for him during the 2021-2022 season.

There’s a bit of depth, as three different men have been 53-point in the 100 breast, although no one besides Matthews has been faster than 1:56 in the 200.

BUTTERFLY: ★★

Australian Alex Quach made a big splash in his first season competing in the NCAA. He exploded at Big Tens for a 44.74, which put him at 6th on the NCAA psych sheets in the 100 fly. He didn’t quite match that time at NCAAs and ended up 11th in finals. He’s also been 1:41.81 in the 200 fly; he sat out of that event at NCAAs, but that time would’ve put him 17th in prelims, and this looks to be an event in which he’s likely to eventually score.

Rising senior Chachi Gustafson also swam both fly events at NCAAs. He hit a lifetime best of 45.90 to finish 33rd in the 100 fly, and he’s stronger in the 200 fly, where he was seeded 14th with a 1:41.39, and would’ve made the B-final had he matched that time, but faded to 23rd in prelims with a 1:42.63.

Jean-Pierre Khouzam adds some Big Tens scoring and future NCAA qualifying potential with lifetime bests 46.59 and 1:44.06. Those are still shy of what it’ll likely take to make NCAAs, but fast enough that it wouldn’t take an unreasonable amount of improvement for the rising junior to get an invite.

IM: ★★

The Buckeyes only got one NCAA splash in the IM event last year, and that came from Fabio Dalu, who hit a lifetime best of 3:45.54 in the 400 IM to finish 30th in prelims.

Alex Quach, meanwhile, was entered in the 200 IM, but DFS’d, presumably to focus on relays. His best time of 1:42.47, from Big Tens, would’ve put him 17th in prelims at NCAAs, so he looks like a potential scorer down the road.

DIVING: ★★★★

Not only is this Buckeyes’ strongest discipline, but they actually return move diving points (47) than they do individual swimming points (37).

OSU’s robust diving crew is led by rising senior Lyle Yost. He scored in all three diving events last season, finishing 5th in the 1m, 9th in the 3m, and 9th in the platform. 

Jacob Fielding appears to be returning for a fifth year, and that’s another boost for the OSU diving crew. He only scored in one event, but that was an A-final appearance, where he took 6th in the platform.

There’s depth beyond those two returning scorers, though. Clayton Chaplin qualified for NCAAs in all three events last year as a freshman. He didn’t score,  finishing between 23rd and 33rd in prelims, but he certainly appears to be someone who could develop into a future NCAA scorer. Rising senior Hunter Grannum qualified for NCAAs last year in the platform event, where he finished 39th in prelims.

RELAYS: ★★★

Any time you lose someone like Hunter Armstrong, it’s going to sting a little, but the relays, all of which scored last season, are still in solid shape.

The loss of Armstrong and Andreis will hurt the most in the 7th-place 200 free relay, where it’ll be a bit tough to replace Armstrong’s 19.0 leadoff and Andreis’ 18.5 second leg. (Quick aside: The Buckeyes used the same swimmers in the same order for Big Tens and NCAAs, and swam nearly identical times, 1:15.28 at Big Tens and 1:15.30 at NCAAs). The Buckeyes will probably try to fill the holes with Navikonis and perhaps rising senior James Ward, who went 20.00 at Big Tens individually, and split 42.4 on the 400 free relay at NCAAs.

Speaking of the 400 free relay, the Buckeyes return Gaziev, Ward, and Satterfield from last year’s 12th-place team. They could opt to fill Armstrong’s leadoff with either Navikonis or perhaps Quach, who split 42.0 at Big Tens.

The Buckeyes went with Gaziev, Armstrong, Quach, and Satterfield at NCAAs, with Armstrong and Quach replacing Ward and Watkins from Big Tens. That swap improved the relay by four seconds, which was crucial to ensuring they scored, finishing 13th. The easily solution here would be trot out the same NCAA lineup next year, but with Navikonis replacing Armstrong. That should garner them roughly the same time.

McDaniel and Quach should once again provide the middle two legs of both medley relays, which finished 12th and 10th at NCAAs. They’ll also need to replace Andreis, who anchored the 200, while Gaziev returns to anchor the 400. The bigger issue may be the backstroke leg, as they don’t have anyone who’s been within two seconds of Armstrong in the 400. If they don’t get someone leading off under 46.0, they run the risk of missing out on scoring.

TOTAL STARS: 20/40

2022-2023 Outlook

The Buckeyes scored 103 of their 165 points from diving and relays. The freestyle relays should absorb the loss of Armstrong without too much of a drop-off, but they’ll need someone to step up on the backstroke legs of the medley relays, or they face the possibility of not scoring.

At the same time, it’d be super helpful if some more guys stepped up and were able to score in multiple events. Right now, Gaziev is the only returning swimmer who scored in more than one individual event last season. Quach is a threat to score in the 200 IM and the 200 fly, while Clark could add points in the 500 to go along with his 1650.

The diving crew also took a small step back last year after a tremendous 2021 performance. They did a great job of qualifying divers for NCAAs last year, and if they can get a few more scorers out of the qualifiers, that’d go a long way.

All told, this team doesn’t feel quite as strong as last year’s edition, especially due to the losses of Armstrong and Andreis. Based on what we see right now, this is probably a team that’s sitting just outside of the top 10. But the talent is certainly there, and if the revamped coaching staff can work some of the magic we’ve seen out of Ohio State the last few years, there is certainly the potential for a fourth top-10 finish in a row.

MEN’S PREVIEW INDEX

Team Sprint Free Distance Free Backstroke Breaststroke Butterfly IM Diving Relays Total Stars
1
2
3
4
5
6
#7 Stanford Cardinal ★★ ★★★ ★★★ ★★ ★★★ ★★★ ★★★★ 21/40
#8 Georgia Bulldogs ★★★ ★★★★ ★★ ★★★ ★★★ ★★★ 20/40
#9 Ohio State Buckeyes ★★★ ★★★ ★★ ★★ ★★ ★★★★ ★★★ 20/40
#10 Virginia Cavaliers ★★★★ ★★★ ★★ ★★★★ 17/40
#11 Virginia Tech Hokies ★★★ ★★ ★★★ ★★★ ★★★ ★★ 18/40
#12 Louisville Cardinals ★★★ ★★ ★★★  13/40

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Justhereforfun
28 days ago

Yes, I agree that stronger core muscles will help OSU

James Beam
28 days ago

Going to be hard to beat IU at Big10’s this year without Armstrong….but they still could be top 10 at NCAA’s, Bill is doing a nice job at OSU.

Shaddy419
28 days ago

You could almost say they need to find some magic this year on the relays

Swimmer
28 days ago

Under rating the loss of Armstrong on the relays. Medley relays definetly aren’t going to score now a days you need a 45 mid leadoff

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