College Swimming Previews: #10 Arizona Men Building Elite IM Group

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.

#10 Arizona Wildcats

Key Losses: Chatham Dobbs (11 NCAA points, 4 NCAA relays), Matt Salerno (1 NCAA relay)

Key Additions: Ryan Foote (WA – breast), Hunter Ingram (CA – free), Brooks Taner (CA – fly/free), Bjorn Markentin (Canada – diving), Wyatt Matson (AZ – fly)

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 men’s 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

Year 2 under head coach Augie Busch was remarkably similar to year 1. Both teams wound up 16th at the NCAA Championships – a position where the Arizona men have finished in three of the past four years, with a blip in 24th the year before Busch arrived.

All five relays scored, which was the first time Arizona had done that since 2013, and ‘Zona scored about 30 more points, even if it didn’t translate to a higher placement. Freshman IMer David Schlicht was one of college swimming’s best rookies, making the 400 IM A final and B finals of the 200 IM and 200 breast. Sophomore Brooks Fail went from a last-minute NCAA qualifier and non-scorer as a freshman to the national third-placer in the 500 free.

Senior Chatham Dobbs made the 100 fly A final and carried a heavy relay load, while junior Jorge Iga and sophomore Sam Iida chipped in individual points.

Sprint Free: ★★

All of Arizona’s projected points come from now-senior Jorge Igawho is projected to move all the way from 13th into the top 8 in the 200 free with seniors factored out. Iga is also 19.6 in the 50 and 42.6 in the 100 to go along with his 1:32.5 speed in the 200, and could be a legitimate three-event scorer if he continues to improve.

Dobbs graduates away the program’s top 50 and 100 times from last year, and leaves the relays without their leadoff man. They’ll need rising Croatian sophomore Marin Ercegovic to step up to fill the gap. The six-foot-eight Ercegovic was 19.8/43.1 last year and had solid NCAA splits of 19.3 and 42.7.

Things are a little bit better in the 200, where Iga is a rising star and distance man Brooks Fail (1:34.4) could be on his way to scoring as a junior. The depth here is quite good, too: Daniel Namir and Aldan Johnston were 1:34 and 1:35, respectively, as freshmen and now-senior Brendan Meyer was 1:35 as well.

Distance free: ★★★

Brooks Fail has had awesome improvements in his first two years swimming for Arizona, and he could be an NCAA title contender as a junior. Fail was 3rd in the 500 last year and returns as the #2 only a half-second back of Sean Grieshop. 4:26 out of high school and 4:14 as a freshman, Fail went 4:10 last year and continues to heat up each year.

In the mile, Fail narrowly missed scoring in 18th place, but projects to score with seniors factored out.

The depth behind him isn’t great, but is young. Again, it’s the senior Meyer (4:19.8) and the sophomores Namir (4:20.1) and Johnston (4:22.0).

Backstroke: ★

Dobbs was the team’s best sprinter in fly, back and free, so his loss is going to sting. That said, the backstroke group still has senior Thomas Andersonwho has been a solid conference contributor. Anderson was 45.8 and 1:41.2 last year, good enough for an NCAA invite and right on the cusp of scoring, especially when you factor out graduations.

The depth is precariously thin, though. Matt Lujan was the other top backstroker and he’s graduated. 47.5/1:43.8 junior Jack Anderson is the next two-distance guy up, and junior Isaac Stump (1:43.5) could also take a step.

Breaststroke: ★★★

The team graduates Matt Salerno, the team’s sprintier breaststroker from last year, but Sam Iida returns as a junior with NCAA scoring experience. Iida was 13th in the 200 breast last year (1:53.13) and could push for an A final appearance with a number of top names graduating. Iida was more of a two-distance IMer who crossed over into breaststroke last year, but a 53.1 in a dual meet 100 breast might make him a decent full-time breaststroke candidate. At the very least, he’ll probably hold down the medley relay legs.

IM star David Schlicht is another good one, having gone 1:52.33 last year. Both he and Iida were in the B final, and could push each other to the A final this year.

The recruiting class does add a pretty solid breaststroker: Washington prospect Ryan Footewho is 54.6 and 1:58.2.

Butterfly: ★★

The 100 will miss Dobbs again, but senior Noah Reid was 46.1 last year and only narrowly missed an NCAA invite. In the 200, senior IMer Etay Gurevich isn’t far off of NCAA scoring (1:42.54), and mid-distance freestyle senior Brendan Meyer (1:43.2) can also probably contribute.

In the 100, California freshman Brooks Taner will be a much-needed speed addition. He’s 47.5 out of high school, and can also come up to 1:46 in the 200.

IM: ★★★★

David Schlicht. Courtesy: Funky Trunks

IM is the real strength of this team, combining most of the top athletes we’ve already mentioned. David Schlicht was a standout last year, going 3:40.14 in the 400 and 1:42.38 in the 200. He’s quite possibly an A finalist in both this season.

Sam Iida and Etay Gurevich both just missed scoring last season. Iida (1:43.6/3:43.0) was 24th and 22nd in the IMs and Gurevich (1:43.3/3:42.4) 19th and 18th. Both have real shots to score this season, and this IM training group should be a great environment for all three swimmers.

The backstroker Anderson (1:44.9) is also a pretty good 200 IMer.

Diving: ★

Arizona didn’t have any invited divers at NCAAs last year, and Zone E spots are generally pretty limited compared to other zones. They did have two divers compete at Zones, and both Casey Ponton and Eric Correa made finals there.

Relays

Arizona does return 15 of 20 relay legs, but the four from Dobbs will be tough to replace.

On the medleys, it’s probably Anderson on back and Reid on fly. Neither will likely be as fast as Dobbs was, but neither is a glaring liability either. It’s possible the breaststroke legs actually take a step forward with Iida in the mix, and Iga or Ercegovic are solid anchors. They probably remain B final relays, but could actually move up from 16th (200 medley) and 14th (400 medley) last year.

With the 200 free depth this team has, the 800 relay should be loaded. Last year, Iga led off in 1:32 and Fail and Namir both went 1:33. It was actually Schlicht who was a little off his game at 1:35.0 on the anchor. They’ve got plenty of options to swap in: both Johnston and Meyer split 1:34.9 at Pac-12s. And incoming freshman Hunter Ingram is 1:36.1 out of high school with room to grow. If any of the ‘Zona relays are going to crack the top 8, this one seems most likely.

In the sprints, Iga and Ercegovic are the bookends. Anderson was on both relays last year, and did a nice job: 19.1 and 43.1 at NCAAs. They’ll need a fourth swimmer to step up: maybe 20.0/43.5 Reid.

2019-2020 Outlook

Most of the young pieces return for the Wildcats. You have to be excited about their stellar IM group, and the potential of Schlicht in year 2 figuring out the short course yards format. In fact, our projected “no senior” points have them scoring 40 points between the IM events – more than every other team in the NCAA but one.

Fail’s improvement curve is outstanding, and this team really seems to thrive in the mid-distances. The 800 free relay could be scary, and they should pick up solid points through the 200 and 500 frees.

The relays all feel maybe one piece short. There are still about seven months to coach up that final piece, and Arizona will need to do it – relay points are at a premium in college swimming. Without a stellar freshman class, it’ll be up to Busch to coach up the guys already on the roster. But based on a high number of returning points and some solid improvement curves over the past two years, we’ve got Arizona projected to move up from its two years in 16th.

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About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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