We’ll be previewing the top 12 men’s and women’s programs for the 2018-2018 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 Florida Gators
Key Losses: Caeleb Dressel (60 NCAA points, 4 NCAA relays); Ben Lawless (7 NCAA points); Blake Manganiello (5 NCAA points); Enzo Martinez-Scarpe (1 NCAA relay); Jan Switkowski (54 points, 4 NCAA relays); Mark Szaranek (41 points, 4 NCAA relays)
Key Additions: Miguel Cancel (FL – IM); Isaac Davis (GA – Free); Will Davis (GA – Sprint Free/Fly); Robert Finke (FL – Distance Free); Trey Freeman (TN – Free); Kieran Smith (CT – IM); Kacper Stokowski (Poland – Back)
As the NCAA finish order is determined by points, we base our grading scale on projected NCAA points. Versatility and high ceilings are nice, but they don’t win you NCAA titles unless they bring points with them. Bear in mind that all of these grades are projections more than 6 months out – and as none of us has a working crystal ball, these projections are very subjective and very likely to change over the course of the season. Disagreeing with specific grades is completely acceptable; furiously lashing out at a writer, commenter or specific athlete is not.
- A = projected to score significant (10+) NCAA points per event
- B = projected to score some (3-10) NCAA points per event
- C = projected on the bubble to score likely only a few (1-2) or no NCAA points per event
- D = projected to score no NCAA points
We’ll grade each event discipline: sprint free (which we define to include all the relay-distance freestyle events, so 50, 100 and 200 plus the 200, 400 and 800 free relays), distance free, IM, breaststroke, backstroke and butterfly.
2017-2018 Look Back
Heading into the 2017 season, the Florida Gators looked stacked at the top-end with seniors led by Caeleb Dressel, Jan Switkowski, and Mark Szaranek. Additionally, they had only lost 2 seniors following the 2016-17 season with Jack Blyzinskyj (3 NCAA relays) and Mitch D’Arrigo (12 points, 1 NCAA relay) – so their outlook was bright.
The trio of aforementioned swimmers alone ended up accounting for 155 of the 183 individual points (85%) Florida scored at the 2018 NCAA Championships. Also, at least two of them were on each of the 5 relays that Florida placed in top 5. Dressel immortalized himself in the NCAA record books by smashing the NCAA and American records in the 50 free (17.63), 100 free (39.90), 200 IM (1:38.13), 100 fly (42.80), and 100 breast (50.03).* Although he may have been overshadowed by Dressel in the headlines, Switkowski was equally as productive, putting up a whopping 54 NCAA points (only 6 less than Dressel) for the Gators individually (a win in the 200 IM and a pair of 2nd place finishes in the 100 and 200 fly) and contributing to 4 of the 5 relays. Szaranek was a powerhouse as well with a pair of top 3 NCAA finishes (3rd – 200 IM, 3rd – 200 breast). Khader Baqlah, Ben Lawless, and Blake Manganiello also scored individual NCAA points.
The Gators finished 5th at the NCAA Championships (347 points) behind NC State (385), Indiana (422), Cal (437.5), and Texas (449). They also won their 6th consecutive SEC Championship.
* That performance was set during February’s SEC Championships. Indiana’s Ian Finnerty would go on to break it at the NCAA Championships in March with a 49.67.
Sprint Free: Grade (B+)
Obviously, losing the fastest sprint freestyler of all time in Dressel knocks the Gators down a notch in this category. Their NCAA-winning 200 freestyle relay last year was composed of 4 seniors and their 2nd place 400 free relay was comprised of 3 seniors and a sophomore. That sophomore – Baqlah – is their saving grace right now on paper. He is the Gators’ only retuning scorer in the 50-100-200 free, placing 5th in the 200 (1:31.98) and 15th in the 100 (42.17). While he had a disappointing NCAA’s, junior Maxime Rooney will be a major scoring threat. His lifetime best in the 200 (1:32.18) puts him in position to be a top 5 finisher – if not, better. With a 42.45 to his name in the 100 free, we will be poised for B-final points if he can knock off a few tenths.
Looking at the incoming class, Will Davis has posted times of 19.79 and 43.98 in the 50 and 100, respectively. While those times are not immediate scoring threats, he will likely be called to step up for relay purposes. Trey Freeman will likely have the most immediate impact. His lifetime best of 1:33.06 in the 200 would have placed 9th at NCAA’s last year. All in all, the Gators will favor the 200 and have holes to fill the further down the distance goes.
Distance Free: Grade (A-)
What Florida loses in Lawless and Manganiello, they gain (and then some) with incoming freshmen Freeman, Robert Finke, and Kieran Smith. In the 500, Freeman (4:15.06), Smith (4:16.96), and Finke (4:17.79) are all on the bubble of scoring as it took a 4:14.98 to make the B final at NCAA’s last year. However, it’s not out of the question to think that at least one of those guys (if not, all) can make a push to get into scoring position. Baqlah, who has a lifetime best of 4:14.48 from SEC’s last year, will be leading the pack here and making a play to pick up points as well.
The biggest asset right off the bat is Finke’s mile. His lifetime best of 14:37.49 would have placed 5th at NCAA’s last year – good for 14 points. Smith (15:04) and Freeman (14:59) are also more than capable milers, but aren’t in scoring position yet and have other events in their respective lineups that could take precedence over the 1650.
IM: Grade (B-)
Historically, Florida has been more than proficient in pumping out NCAA scorers in the IM events. However, losing the only 2 NCAA scorers in the 200 and 400 last season in Switkowski and Szaranek doesn’t help that cause. Instead, the Gators will be relying heavily on returners Grant Sanders and Alex Lebed (more so in the 200) along with newcomer Smith.
In the 200, both Lebed (1:43.95) and Sanders (1:44.04) posted times last season that would have been off the fringe of scoring. More intriguing is Sanders’ 3:42.81 in the 400, which would have been a major threat to get into the B final. Based off of his high school times alone, Smith has B final potential (as a freshman, at least) with lifetime bests of 3:43.20 in the 400 and 1:44.08 in the 200.
Butterfly: Grade (C)
Again, losing Dressel and Switkowski is a major blow to the Gators’ butterfly core – especially considering those were the only 2 swimmers to qualify for NCAA’s last season in a butterfly race. Their fastest returner is Erge Gezmis who swam 46.94 and 1:43.43 in the 100 and 200, respectively, last season. As it stands, he is on the outside looking in for NCAA scoring purposes, but stealing a point or two in the B final of the 200 wouldn’t be out of the question for him next season.
Davis, their fastest incoming freshman flyer, has been 47.65 in the 100 – a very good high school time, but not quite in the picture to score. A wildcard here could be Rooney as he looks to iron out his lineup. He swam a 1:43.11 last season in the 200 – which likely isn’t enough to signal dropping the 100 free, but something to consider.
Backstroke: Grade (B-)
The backstroke were arguably the weakest (overall) for the Gators last season and losing their best one, Michael Taylor, to a redshirt season while he deals with medical issues doesn’t do them any favors. In his absence, senior Bayley Main will have to be the one to take charge – at least in the 100 and for relay purposes. He was Florida’s fastest performer in the 100 last season with a 46.01 and, with the massive slew of 45-second 100 backstrokers, will be in the hunt to score at NCAA’s next year – likely in the B final. In the 200, Taylor’s baton will be passed down to sophomore Clark Beach and senior Brennan Balogh who swam 1:41.06 and 1:41.19 last year, respectively. Both of those times are on the outside looking in to score, but it’s possible to see at least one of them get into the B final next year.
The biggest asset for the Gators in the backstroke events next season will be freshman Kacper Stokowski. While he has yet to compete in short course yards, his short course meters times of 23.40/50.53/1:51.76 convert to 21.08/45.52/1:40.68. It’s hard to predict how an international swimmer will fare, especially their freshman season, but Stokowski has a lot of scoring potential that puts Florida over the hump in these events overall.
Breaststroke: Grade (C)
Florida has a trio of 52-high/53-low 100 breaststrokers and 1:54/1:55 200 breaststrokers who will look to fill the holes of Dressel and Szaranek with Marco Guarente (52.89/1:55.13), Chandler Bray (53.26/1:56.06), and Ross Palazzo (54.17/1:54.95). Realistically, the best case scenario is to see 1, maybe 2, of these guys in the B final of both the 100 and 200. The one with the most experience from last season is Bray, who did not swim an individual event at NCAA’s but was on their 3rd place 200 medley relay team (23.83 breaststroke split).
The biggest elephant in the room that has yet to be discussed in this article is the departure of longtime head coach Gregg Troy. After 20 years with the University of Florida, Troy retired from collegiate coaching this spring – although he will remain with the club program to train the professional athletes. Troy has been a pillar of Florida’s success over the past 2 decades and his absence leaves a question mark. Fortunately for Florida, the new head coach – Anthony Nesty – has also been with the Gators for 20 years, which will make for a smooth transition.
Objectively, Florida will be in a bit of a rebuilding year after losing 85% of their individual NCAA points from last season. However, they will still likely be vying for a top-10 NCAA finish. The biggest question for them will be whether or not they can continue their 6-year running SEC Championship streak.