We’ll be previewing the top 12 men’s and women’s programs from the 2017 NCAA Championships – 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 some inside looks at the life of a college swimmer as told by college swimmers themselves, plus full-length profiles of a few of college swimming’s biggest names, including our cover athlete, Simone Manuel.
#12 AUBURN TIGERS
Key Losses: Michael Duderstadt (23 NCAA points, 2 NCAA relays), Joe Patching (14 NCAA points, 2 NCAA relays), Kyle Darmody (4 NCAA relays)
Key Additions: Hugo Gonzalez (Spain – back/IM), Spencer Rowe (VA – breast), Christian Ginieczki (VA – fly/back)
We’ve tightened up our criteria from last year, where our first stab at a letter grading system got hit by a little bit of classic grade inflation. Again, 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
The Auburn men slipped a bit from 2016, going from 10th to 12th over the course of a season. Still, they had several individual scorers across different events and were impressive on relays across the board.
Michael Duderstadt touched 5th in the 100 breast and 9th in the 200 breast at the 2017 NCAA Champs, raking up 23 points on those two events alone and providing essential legs on Auburn’s medley relays. Both Joe Patching and Zach Apple reached finals in three events, while all five Auburn relays scored, the top one being the 200 free relay. Apple, Kyle Darmody, Peter Holoda and Ziv Kalontarov combined for a 1:16.34 to touch 6th, getting an 18.86 on the end from Holoda.
Known for its sprint program, that was the Tigers’ strong suit last year– on the other end of things, they had no NCAA entries in the 500 free or 1650 free.
Sprint Free: B+
While Kyle Darmody will be hard to replace, Zach Apple and Peter Holoda are coming off of huge summers.
Apple surprised many at the 2017 U.S. Worlds Trials, blowing up his previous PR of 49.43 in the 100m free with a 48.14 in prelims. He ended up qualifying for World Champs in the final, then swam the 4×100 free relay in prelims at Worlds, splitting a 48.16 on the third leg. Apple also popped a 22.00 in the 50 in Indianapolis, shaving nearly seven tenths off of his old PR.
Meanwhile, Holoda swam on Hungary’s 400 free relay in finals, splitting a 48.48 (but a 48.08 in prelims) and helping them to a historic bronze medal.
Hugo Morris had an off year in the 200, but he has a best time of 1:33.39 from 2015. Meanwhile, he cracked 20 seconds in the 50 (19.83) last season and also went a PR in the 100 free, and a good senior year from him would go a long way for the Tigers.
Both Apple and Holoda are key returners for Auburn, as they were on both free relays and Holoda anchored both medleys at NCAAs. Meanwhile, Ziv Kalontarov is a strong relay piece, but there’s no guarantee that anyone is scoring at NCAAs besides Apple and Holoda.
Distance Free: D-
Auburn seriously struggled last year in distance, and this year is looking to be no different. They had only one SEC scorer in the 1650 free in Alec Morris, who finished 21st, though he has exhausted his NCAA eligibility since. In the 500 at SECs, they had zero scorers.
From there, not surprisingly, they had no entries in either event at the 2017 NCAA Champs. With no newcomers this year specializing in distance free, Auburn will not be making a significant appearance on the national distance scene anytime in the near future.
With Joe Patching graduating after scoring in both IM’s at last year’s NCAAs, the IM group has taken a noticeable hit.
Freshman Hugo Gonzalez from Spain could be huge here, though. He’s been 1:59/4:14 in the IM’s in long course, the 400 especially suggesting that he’s talented enough to score at NCAAs (he just won the World Junior title in this race). He’s also a very strong backstroker, and could end up filling Patching’s role as an IM/backstroke talent to a T. Whether that happens after just one season in SCY or multiple, though, is another story.
Thomas Brewer and Petter Fredriksson were solid in the 200 IM at the conference level, both scoring in the SEC B final last year. Brewer, a junior, and Frederiksson, a sophomore, could further develop, especially the Swedish Fredriksson, who joined the Auburn program over winter break and has only had one semester with them.
Still, the eggs are in the 200 IM basket for the time being, and these eggs are dependent on transferring long course speed to the college pool.
Luis Martinez and Santiago Grassi are two Latin American talents that head the fly group along with Liam McCloskey.
Martinez (45.92) was just .05 from scoring in this race last year at NCAAs, with McCloskey (46.1) and Grassi (46.3) not far behind. Grassi joined Auburn for the spring semester, so, like Fredriksson, another season in SCY should do him good for his development in yards. They all swam the 200 fly at NCAAs, though Foster Ballard was the top finisher at 30th (1:44.41).
Ballard’s 1:42.91 season best would’ve been on the bubble of scoring in that event at NCAAs, so there’s something to work with here in the 100 and 200 for the Tigers. Freshman Christian Ginieczki comes in with bests of 48.60 and 1:47.21, so he’ll be one to watch as he adjusts to his new training home in Auburn.
Hugo Morris has been 1:40.5 in the 200 fly, a fantastic time, but he didn’t swim it at NCAAs last year. If he does swim it this year, he could bring that grade up to a B- at least considering he’s on form.
Darmody and Patching were both great backstrokers, with Darmody projecting to the sprints and Patching the 200.
With them gone, the Tigers will be relying on Gonzalez’s contributions in his first year in the States. Again, this is dependent on a smooth transition to yards, but he’s very skilled from the 50 to the 200, having been 25.3, 54.1, and 1:56.6 in LCM. With those times, Gonzalez looks to have the talent to score in both backstrokes at the national level, and he’s coming off of a World Junior Champs where he won gold in the 100 and 200 back and silver in the 50.
Fredriksson went 1:41.9 last season and was an A finalist in the 200 back at SECs, and he’ll pair nicely with Gonzalez, especially in the 200. While there’s really no certainty here as to either of them progressing enough to become national scoring threats, they have the potential to do so.
Without Duderstadt, Auburn will have to make it work with junior Thomas Brewer and freshman Spencer Rowe.
Brewer only scored in the 200 at SECs last year with a 1:57, but he was significantly faster at the Bulldog Invitational later that month with a 1:54.06 and a 53.37 100 to go along with it. At NCAAs, he was 18th in the 200 at 1:54.8, though his PR would’ve slid him into the B final. Being thrust into the top breaststroker role could spell success or failure, but he went a PR in LCM this summer in the 200, which is certainly a good sign.
Rowe has bests of 54.3 and 1:57.2, and he seems suited more for the 200. If he isn’t able to produce PRs in his freshman year, though, it’ll only be Brewer at scoring speed, and he’s only on the bubble.
Despite the low grades, all is not lost for Auburn. Remember, these grades are based on face value– we’re only looking at what Auburn has right now, and freshman improvements/LCM to SCY transitions are taken with a big grain of salt.
There’s definitely something to work with in most strokes for Auburn, and Gonzalez could end up being a huge pickup if he can translate to yards. Meanwhile, let’s focus on what’s working in Auburn: the sprints. The sprint free group is very strong right now, and from the looks of Apple and Holoda of late, it’s only going to get better this season.