It’s that time of the year again. SwimSwam will be previewing the top 12 men’s and women’s teams (and then some) from the 2022 NCAA Championships. Follow along with the College Swimming Preview Channel. Want to read even more? Check out the latest edition of the SwimSwam magazine.
#1 California Golden Bears
**Gonzalez is currently training in Spain but hasn’t ruled out the possibility of returning to Cal for the winter semester.
Three 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.
Cal had a tremendous 2021-2022 season, winning the NCAA title by a healthy margin over the defending champion Texas Longhorns. Like Virginia at the women’s NCAAs, Cal managed their victory without any diving points, which is a testament to just how incredible their swimmers are.
The Golden Bears put together an astonishing 330.5 points in individual events, led by their class of fifth years, including Daniel Carr, Trenton Julian, Bryce Mefford, and Sean Grieshop. Cal’s top scorer was sophomore Destin Lasco, who was exceptional at NCAAs, winning the 200 back, taking second in the 200 IM, and fourth in the 100 back, which earned him 52 points.
Cal also won titles in the 400 IM (Hugo Gonzalez) and 400 medley relay.
SPRINT FREE: ★★★★
This sprint crew is led by junior Bjorn Seeliger, who finished second in both the 50 and 100 free at NCAAs last season. Interestingly, Seeliger was faster in prelims than finals in both events, swimming 18.45 in the 50 and 40.75 in the 100 in the morning—both of which would have been fast enough to win at night.
Last year, Jack Alexy had a phenomenal season as a freshman, swimming 19.27 in the 50 free and 41.77 in the 100. It’s notable, however, that Alexy split 18.78 on the second leg of Cal’s 200 free relay at NCAAs, which indicates that he might have a sub-19 flat-start in him.
The loss of Trenton Julian will hurt Cal in the 200 free, as he finished seventh in the event at NCAAs last season. Cal isn’t without scoring swimmers in the 200, however, since Robin Hanson was a ‘B’ finalist at NCAAs last season as a freshman. Notably, Gabriel Jett, who was also a freshman last year, had a season best of 1:32.52, which would have been fast enough to make the ‘B’ final as well.
In his sophomore season, Dylan Hawk clocked huge lifetime bests in both the 100 and 200 free. In the 100 free, Hawk was Cal’s third-fastest performer, coming in at 42.19. He was #4 in the 200 free, having swum a 1:33.14.
The addition of Patrick Callan should have an impact here as well. Callan was a bit off his lifetime bests last season at Michigan, but his personal best of 1:32.63 in the 200 free is right on the bubble of scoring at NCAAs.
DISTANCE FREE: ★★★
This is the area where Cal has received the biggest boost. Though they lost their top two milers from last season, Will Roberts and Sean Grieshop, Cal brings in freshman Matthew Chai, who has already been 14:45 in the 1650 before setting foot on campus. It would take a very modest improvement from Chai to safely be in scoring range at NCAAs this season.
The 500 free is looking promising for the Golden Bears, thanks in large part to the addition of Patrick Callan. The fifth-year has a personal best of 4:11.79, a time which he swam at the 2020 Big Ten Championships. Gabriel Jett was Cal’s fastest swimmer in the event last season, clocking a 4:13.90 as a freshman. After a phenomenal summer of LCM swimming, Jett could be significantly faster this year.
Cal also brings in the freshman Chai, who is the fastest 500 freestyler in his class. Chai has a personal best of 4:15.91, making him one of the fastest high schoolers ever in the event. It took a 4:13.81 to qualify for the ‘B’ final at NCAAs last season.
Both Destin Lasco and Bjorn Seeliger were ‘A’ finalists in the 100 back last year, and both return for their junior seasons this year. Sebastian Somerset swam great in the back events last year, clocking a 45.87 in the 100 back, which was about half a second off what it took to make the ‘B’ final at NCAAs.
Though Carr and Mefford were phenomenal 200 backstrokers, Cal still returns the defending NCAA champion in Destin Lasco. The sophomore won the event convincingly last year, swimming a 1:37.71 to touch the wall first by over a second. Colby Mefford was a ‘B’ finalist last year as well, also breaking 1:40 with a 1:39.66. The younger Mefford brother in entering his senior season this year.
Somerset was just off qualifying for the ‘B’ final as well last year, swimming a 1:40.66 in prelims to finish 21st.
The Golden Bears bring in a few backstrokers with this freshmen class as well. Tommy Roder comes in with a personal best of 48.19 in the 100 back and 1:47.27 in the 200. Zachary Tan, who is primarily an IM’er, but could swim the 200 back at championship meets, is 48.98 in the 100 back and 1:46.56 in the 200.
This breaststroke group has the potential to be absolutely incredible. Of course, Reece Whitley returning as a fifth year is huge, as he’s an NCAA title contender in both breaststroke events. Whitley scored 27 points in breaststroke events at NCAAs last year, taking fourth in the 100 breast (50.84) and seventh in the 200 (1:50.83). Whitley’s season best in the 200 breast was a 1:49.96, which he swam at Pac-12s.
Right there with Whitley is Liam Bell, who was third in the 100 breast at NCAAs last year, clocking a blistering 50.50. Bell won the ‘B’ final of the 200 breast with a 1:51.36.
This is where we have to note the status of Hugo Gonzalez. A senior last year, Gonzalez is not currently on Cal’s roster and is back home in Spain training currently. However, Gonzalez has told SwimSwam that he could potentially return to Cal for the winter semester and use his fifth year of eligibility. For our scoring on this preview, we’re leaving Gonzalez out, since he’s not currently on the roster, but we still want to note that he could be on the roster by the end of the season.
Gonzalez wouldn’t race the 100 breast at NCAAs, but he would race the 200 breast, where he’s an ‘A’ finals contender. He swam a 1:50.57 at Pac-12s last season, but ended up taking tenth at NCAAs with a 1:51.45.
Jason Louser was also right there last year, swimming a 1:51.91 at NCAAs in prelims, which was enough to get him into the ‘B’ final, where he would take 13th (1:52.08).
Cal also brings in a couple great breaststrokers with this class. Luca Gissendaner begins his collegiate career with a best of 53.50 in the 100 breast and 1:59.32 in the 200 breast. Right behind him is Hank Rivers, who is a 53.91 in the 100 and 2:00.95 in the 200. Zachary Tan is a very versatile swimmer, but he’s particularly fast at breaststroker, where he’s been 54.74 in the 100 and 1:58.17 in the 200.
Further boosting their breaststroke group is the addition of Luke Rodarte, a transfer out of Cal Lutheran who was the Division III national champ in the 100 breast last season (52.71).
This is probably Cal’s weakest of the four strokes, since the loss of Trenton Julian hurts, particularly in the 200 fly. Julian was Cal’s leading 200 flyer last year, finishing fourth in the 200 fly at NCAAs with a 1:39.00.
The good news is Cal returns Gabriel Jett, who was also an ‘A’ finalist last year, swimming a 1:40.22 to take sixth at NCAAs. Not only that, but Jett was exceptional this summer, swimming a 1:54.37 in the LCM 200 fly to win U.S. Nationals in July. Given that performance, it seems as though Jett is primed to dip under 1:40 this season.
The Golden Bears also return Dare Rose, who took 12th at NCAAs last year with a 1:41.23.
The 100 fly will be tougher sledding for Cal. Rose was their only scorer last year, and he finished 16th with a 45.12. Cal’s second-fastest 100 flyer last year, and the only other guy under 46, was Trenton Julian, who is no longer there. Matthew Jensen was close last year as a sophomore, swimming a 46.30 at Pac-12s.
They do bring in a little help in the 100 fly. Though he’s far more likely to swim the 200 IM, freshman Zachary Tan comes in with a 48.25 in the 100 fly. Tommy Roder has been 48.63 in the event before.
Cal had three ‘A’ finalists in the 200 IM last year at NCAAs, but they definitely lose one of them, and another may or may not be back. Trenton Julian took seventh in the 200 IM last year, swimming a 1:40.47, while Hugo Gonzalez was fifth in 1:39.82. Of course, Gonzalez could possibly be returning to Cal for the winter semester, though he hasn’t made that decision yet.
Thankfully for the Golden Bears, they still return their fastest 200 IMer, Destin Lasco, who finished second in the event last year in 1:38.21. Beating Leon Marchand looks like a tall order in the event, but Lasco was the second-fastest 200 IM’er in the NCAA last season by over a second, setting him up very well for his junior season.
Jason Louser was able to make it into the ‘B’ final in the 200 IM last season, where he would finish 14th in 1:41.91.
Gonzalez won the 400 IM at NCAAs last season, breaking the NCAA Record with a stunning 3:32.88. They also had Sean Grieshop, who was a fifth-year, make the ‘A’ final, finishing eighth (3:40.12). Jason Louser won the ‘B’ final in 3:38.23 last year, setting himself up for a bug performance in his senior season.
As a freshman, Tyler Kopp narrowly missed out on qualifying for the ‘B’ final at NCAAs, swimming a 3:42.62 to take 20th in prelims. Cal also picks up terrific freshman IM’er in Zachary Tan, who has been 1:46.77 in the 200 IM and 3:48.84 in the 400. Hank Rivers also looks like he’ll be a nice addition in the 200 IM, where he has a personal best of 1:48.99.
If Gonzalez does end up returning to Cal this year, this IM group unquestionably becomes a five-star group, and probably the best IM group in the NCAA.
Cal had two divers on the roster last season, Max Valasek and Tyler Wesson, though neither competed last season. Valasek didn’t compete in his freshman season either, though Wesson did compete in 2020-2021, where he scored at Pac-12s. Cal hired Pei Lin to revitalize the diving program in April, so we’ll see if the duo are competing this season or not.
Cal’s relays are as good as any team in the NCAA. They scored 157 points in relays at NCAAs last year, out of a possible 200 points if a team were to win all five relays. Their top relay was the 400 medley, where they won in 3:00.36, beating out Indiana by 0.40 seconds. Importantly, that relay was made up of Destin Lasco, Reece Whitley, Trenton Julian, and Bjorn Seeliger, three of whom return this season. Julian won’t be back for fly duties but Dare Rose should be able to provide approximately the same split, or perhaps Gabriel Jett could split 44 as well.
The Golden Bears were second in the 200 free relay last season, with Seeliger, Jack Alexy, Daniel Carr, and Lasco combining for a 1:14.36. While that was a fantastic performance, Florida, who won the event last year, has gained Josh Liendo, so the likelihood Cal will be able to move up in this relay is very low.
In a very tight finish, Cal took third in the 400 free relay last year, seeing Seeliger, Alexy, Hugo Gonzalez, and Lasco team up for a 2:46.42. It’s possible Cal could move up a spot or two this year, though they would be helped greatly in that effort if Gonzalez does indeed return to Cal next semester.
The 200 medley relay saw Cal tie for third with NCAA State, swimming a 1:21.69. They lost two legs from this relay, Trenton Julian, who swam fly, and Daniel Carr, who swam free. Julian will probably be replaced by Dare Rose on fly, and Carr by Jack Alexy on free, though Rose may be a slight downgrade in a 50 fly from Julian. Seeliger and Liam Bell return for the back and breast legs respectively. Notably, Cal had the fastest first 100 in the field last year by a huge margin, with Seeliger splitting 20.08 and Bell 22.71 for a 42.79 on the opening 100.
The Golden Bears were fourth in the 800 free relay last season, and the good news is that they only lost one leg. Once again, it was Trenton Julian, who led the team off in 1:31.57 last year. As the fastest 200 freestyler on the team last season, the loss hurts, though Cal should be able to replace him without too much of an issue. Dylan Hawk improved quite a bit in the 200 free last season, swimming a 1:33.14. While that is a step down from Julian’s 1:31.5, the other three legs were very good for Cal last year. Robin Hanson (1:31.96), Gabriel Jett (1:31.54), and Lasco (1:31.83) were the other legs last year. Notably, Hanson and Jett were just freshmen last season, and Lasco a sophomore, so we may have not seen the best out of them yet.
Total Stars: 30/40
The team lost a lot, there’s no denying that, but they’re so deep that they should be just fine. Cal keeps their top scorer from last year in Destin Lasco, and though they lost a lot of NCAA scorers, they maintain a majority of their relay legs from last year.
Of course, the biggest question is Hugo Gonzalez. If he returns to Cal for the winter semester, it’s had to pick against this team, since he scored 41 points last year and set the NCAA Record in the 400 IM.
Even without Gonzalez, this team looks like they have a very good shot at repeating as champions. Their breaststroke group is incredible, thanks to Reece Whitley returning for his fifth year. Whitley and Liam Bell should both be NCAA ‘A’ finalists in the 100 and 200 breast.
They also boast a fantastic backstroke group, led by reigning 200 back champion Destin Lasco. Bjorn Seeliger is one of the best sprinters in the NCAA currently. Though he finished second in both the 50 and 100 free last year, we should keep in mind that his prelims times would have been fast enough to win both events. He’s also turned into a very fast sprint backstroker who looks as likely as anyone to make the ‘A’ final in the 100 back again this year.
Gabriel Jett is another swimmer to keep an eye on. He was nothing short of exceptional at U.S. Nationals this summer, winning the 200 fly in a huge personal best of 1:54.37 (LCM). He was also 1:47.44 in the 200 free and 52.19 in the 100 fly at Nationals. Jett was just a freshman last year, so don’t be surprised if he takes another step forward this season.
On top of the individual performers, Cal has possibly the best relays in the NCAA when we take all five events into account.
Our prediction is that Cal will repeat as the NCAA champions.
|TEAM||SPRINT FREE||DISTANCE FREE||BACKSTROKE||BREASTSTROKE||BUTTERFLY||IM||DIVING||RELAYS||TOTAL STARS|
|#1 Cal Golden Bears||★★★★||★★★||★★★★★||★★★★★||★★★||★★★★||★||★★★★★||30/40|
|#2 Texas Longhorns||★★★||★★★★★||★★★||★★★★||★★||★★★★★||★★★||★★★★||29/40|
|#3 Florida Gators||★★★★||★★★★||★★||★★½||★★★★||★★½||★★★||★★★★★||27/40|
|#4 NC State Wolfpack||★★★★||★★★★★||★★★★||★||★★★||★★||★||★★★★★||25/40|
|#5 Indiana Hoosiers||★★★||★★★★||★★★||★★★||★★★★||★||★★★★||★★★||25/40|
|#6 Arizona State Sun Devils||★★★||★★||★★★||★★★½||★★★½||★★★★★||★||★★★★||25/40|
|#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|