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Key Losses: Josh Prenot (54 NCAA points, 1 NCAA relay), Jacob Pebley (33 NCAA points, 1 NCAA relay), Tyler Messerschmidt (3 NCAA relays), Trent Williams (12 NCAA points, 1 NCAA relay)
Key Additions: Matt Josa (fly/free/IM), Michael Jensen (sprint/mid free), ‘Aukai Lileikis (sprint/mid free), Ethan Young (back), Jack Xie (fly/breast/IM), Andrea Vergani (sprint/mid free), Albert Gwo (sprint free), Pawel Sendyk (sprint free/fly)
Last season, the Bears came together for a 2nd place finish at the 2016 NCAA Championships. At that meet, backstroke stud Ryan Murphy broke the American and NCAA Records in both the 100 and 200 back, and was subsequently named NCAA Swimmer of the Year alongside Joseph Schooling and Caeleb Dressel. Josh Prenot picked up an NCAA title as well, overcoming Will Licon in the 400 IM.
SPRINT FREE: A-
Last season, the Bears didn’t have any individual scorers in the sprint frees at NCAAs, but a loaded freshman class gives them a different outlook this season. They may not have any immediate top 8 scorers, but they should be able to put together some great relays, and a handful of the new recruits look like they could pick up some B-final points.
The incoming class has 5 men with times that are 20.0 and 44.0 or better in the 50 and 100 freestyles: Matt Josa (19.8/42.7), Michael Jensen (19.8/42.7), ‘Aukai Lileikis (19.9/43.6), Albert Gwo (19.9/44.0), and Andrea Vergani (20.0/43.9). In addition, Pawel Sendyk comes in with times of 23.1 and 50.2 in the long course sprint freestyles.
Justin Lynch (19.4/42.7) will return for the Bears after finishing 17th in both the 50 and 100 at NCAAs, but he’s got the speed to score in both. He’ll also be back as a part of the relays alongside Long Gutierrez (19.5/42.9) and Ryan Murphy (19.5/42.8).
Neither Gutierrez nor Murphy typically swam the sprints individually at the big meets last season, but they’ve been a huge contributors for relays. Gutierrez has put up 19-mid and 42-flat splits, while Murphy has been 18-mid and 41-mid.
DISTANCE FREE: B+
The Cal men didn’t bring in any distance free points individually last season, and they’ve now graduated Trent Williams, who was a key player in mid-distance last season with his 7th place in the 200 free. Janardan Burns (4:16.4/14:58.5) is also not listed on the roster for this season.
Returning faces looking to bring bigger results for Cal in the distance races are Connor Green (4:21.4), Nick Norman (4:20.6/14:52.6), and Ryan Kao (4:16.8/15:01.5). They’ll team up with newcomer Shane Forker (4:24.5/15:21) to try and make a bigger impact for the Bears this season.
The 200 free and 800 free relay will also get a lot of help from the freshman class, as Matt Josa (1:34.2), Michael Jensen (1:33.9), and ‘Aukai Lileikis (1:34.8) are all coming in at sub-1:35, making each of them close to or better than the 1:34.2 it took to score at NCAAs.
Returner Long Gutierrez (1:32.7) is a top 8 caliber 200 freestyler, and he’ll be coming back for the 800 free relay with Andrew Seliskar (1:34.9), who split 1:32-low last season. Kyle Coan (1:34.6), who qualified for NCAAs last season, is also a relay option.
Though he’s primarily a backstroker, Ryan Murphy (1:40.2) made big gains in the 200 IM last year to grab a 3rd place finish. He should be able to challenge for the win in this event, but he’ll have to work on his breaststroke split if he wants to hold off Texas’ Will Licon.
Both Matt Josa (1:41.9) and Andrew Seliskar (1:41.6/3:37.5) are fast enough to pick up A-final points in the 200 IM. Seliskar extends his range to the 400 as well, and was a championship finalist in both IMs last season.
Connor Green (3:43.3) could bring in some 400 IM points for the Bears, as his best time is just a tenth shy of what it took to score last season.
Cal is looking really good for the fly races this season, with Justin Lynch (45.6/1:43.0), Andrew Seliskar (46.1/1:39.9), and Long Gutierrez (45.8/1:43.0) all returning. Lynch finished 17th in the 100 fly last season, but if he swims his best at NCAAs this season, he’s good enough to make the big final. Gutierrez also has the potential to grab a top 8 spot, with his best just a couple tenths shy of what it took to get 8th.
Seliskar will likely swim the 200 fly, where he placed 3rd last season after breaking 1:40 for the first time. Other than that, they don’t have as many standouts in the 200 as they do in the 100. Gutierrez and Michael Thomas (1:43.4) aren’t far from the 1:42.9 it took to score, though.
On top of that, Matt Josa (44.8/1:42.9) brings a sub-45 100 fly to the table, which should stack him up against the best butterfliers in the NCAA. His 200 fly isn’t quite as good as his 100, but he’s still within scoring range there.
Senior Ryan Murphy (43.4/1:35.7) has rewritten the NCAA and American Record books in his time with the Bears, and he’ll be looking for a fourth consecutive sweep of the NCAA backstroke races.
While Murphy is a huge asset in the backstrokes, there are some holes in the lineup behind him. The Bears have now graduated Jacob Pebley and Jeremie Dezwirek, their 2 other scorers from last season.
Without Pebley and Dezwirek, their only other returning NCAA qualifier in the backstrokes is Connor Green (48.6/1:42.2). Green would have to dip into the 1:40-high range to score, but he should be able to bring in a good amount of points at conference already.
Ethan Young (46.7/1:43.0) will bring some depth to the table, as he’s already got times fast enough to make the A final in both backstrokes at Pac-12s.
One of the biggest graduation losses for Cal was Josh Prenot, who finished 2nd in the 200 breast and swam the breaststroke leg of their 400 medley relay.
Without Prenot, their fastest breaststroker is now Connor Hoppe (51.8/1:54.4), who scored in the B-final of both breaststrokes last season. Hoppe’s best time would’ve had him in the top 8 in the 100, and his 200 time is almost good enough to put him in the championship final as well, so Cal could be looking at championship final points from him this season if he matches or improves his bests at NCAAs.
In the 200 breast, Hunter Cobleigh (53.1/1:54.8) and Carson Sand (53.0/1:54.9) are fast enough to grab B-final points, and Matt Wittle (53.8/1:55.5) is just a few tenths shy of that mark.
Incoming freshmen Jack Xie (54.9/1:59.4) and Karl Arvidsson (54.9/1:59.9) should also make an impact at the conferrence level.
The Bears will be capitalizing off a very talented freshman class this season, and look like they’ve got a ton of depth for the relays. After finishing 2nd to Texas the last 2 years in a row, they’ll be looking to return to the top at NCAAs, but the Longhorns will be incredibly hard to beat. A boost from Cal’s breaststrokers and distance freestylers would go a long way in helping them achieve that goal.