After a one-year hiatus due to the uncertainty surrounding the 2020-2021 season, our college previews back! We’ll be previewing the 2021-2022 seasons for the top 12 men’s and women’s programs from the 2021 NCAA Division I Championships – stay tuned to our College Swimming Previews channel to catch all 24.
#3 Florida Gators
Key Losses: Clark Beach (12 NCAA points)
Key Additions: Oskar Lindholm (Denmark – free), Raphael Windmuller (Brazil/FL – breast), Mason Laur (FL – fly/IM), Joaquin Gonzalez (Argentina – IM), Peter Bretzmann (NC – breast/IM); Nico Hernandez-Tome (Transfer; distance free); Alberto Mestre (Transfer; sprint free)
Returning 5th-Year Seniors: Gerry Quinn (Distance Free)
Two 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
2020-2021 Look Back
The 2020-2021 NCAA season was a big one for the Florida men, culminating in a first-place finish at the SEC Championships and a third-place finish at the NCAA Championships.
Florida scored a total of 1,401 points at the 2021 SEC Championships. Runner-up Georgia scored 1,324.5 points, while 3rd-place finishers Tennessee were much further behind with 850.5 points. Florida won 8 events at the 2021 SEC Championships, and also recorded 6 more top-3 finishes.
Florida was dominant across all freestyle distances at the NCAA Championships, picking up a win from Kieran Smith in the 200 free and a second victory from Bobby Finke in the 1650. Finke also claimed the 400 IM.
The Gators also earned 3rd and 9th-place finishes in the 50 free, 6th and 13th place finishes in the 100 free, and 2nd- 6th-, 11th-, and 14th-place finishes in the 500 free. In the relays, Florida placed 2nd in the 200 free relay, 2nd in the 200 medley relay, 2nd in the 400 free relay, 3rd in the 400 medley relay, as well as a 5th in the 800 free relay.
Florida had a wildly successful summer at both the 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. At the Trials in Omaha, University of Florida men won all of the freestyle events. Granted, two of those victories came from alumnus Caeleb Dressel, who captured both Trials and Olympic titles in the 50 and 100 freestyle.
As for current Florida swimmers, Kieran Smith won the 200 and 400 freestyle at the Olympic Trials, while Bobby Finke won the 800 and 1500 freestyle. In Tokyo, Smith claimed bronze in the 400 and placed 6th in the 200 freestyle. Smith also led off the men’s 800 freestyle relay in 1:44.74. Finke was one of the most exciting swimmers to watch in Tokyo as he claimed gold in both the 800 and 1500 freestyles, producing astonishing splits over the final 50 meters of each race.
Sprint Free: ★★★★
Florida has about the best situation possible for its sprint freestyle squad this season. First and foremost, Florida returns all of its 50, 100, and 200 freestyle 2021 NCAA invitees. Among the pure speedsters, sophomore Adam Chaney leads Florida’s sprint group. Chaney placed 3rd in the 50 free and 25th in the 100 free at NCAAs in 2021. While the 100 free might not sound terribly impressive, consider that he led off Florida’s 400 free relay in 41.74 at the end of the meet—a time that would’ve tied for fourth in the individual ‘A’ final.
Kieran Smith is another one of Florida’s greatest sprinters, though he is better known for his middle-distance success. Smith placed 6th in the 100 freestyle at NCAAs in 2021 and has been as fast as 41.79. Smith has also split 18.59 on the 200 freestyle relay. He is also, of course, the 2021 NCAA champ in the 200 freestyle and the only man to break 1:30 more than once. And we haven’t even covered the swimmers Florida placed in ‘B’ finals.
Eric Friese, Will Davis, and Trey Freeman create depth for Florida in sprint freestyle and round out the 200 and 400 free relays, while Freeman and Alfonso Mestre compliment Smith on the 800 freestyle relay. Stanford-transfer-turned-Florida-grad-student Alberto Mestre (older brother of Alfonso) adds to the Gators’ sprint onslaught, boasting lifetime bests in the 50 and 100 freestyles with substantial SEC scoring potential. Mestre’s 50 freestyle may also score at NCAAs, as well as bolster the Gators’ already lethal 200 freestyle relay.
Distance Free: ★★★★★
Florida has both top-end talent and depth enough in distance freestyle to both win conference and national titles and pick up additional points in the ‘B’ finals.
Double Olympic gold medalist Bobby Finke is the reigning NCAA Champion and record holder in the 1650, while Kieran Smith is the NCAA and American Record holder in the 500, as well as the U.S. Olympic Trials champion and Olympic bronze medalist in the 400.
Alfonso Mestre, Tyler Watson, and Brennan Gravley are also SEC scorers in the 1650 free. At the conference level, Florida is absolutely dominant in the 500. At the 2021 SEC Championships, Florida placed 1st (Smith), 3rd (Freeman), 4th (Mestre), 5th (Finke), 7th (Watson), and 15th (Gravely). Furthermore, then-freshmen Jace Crawford and Jack VanDeusen placed 20th and 21st, respectively, in the 500 free at the 2021 SEC Championships. Alabama transfer Nico Hernandez-Tome joins with potential to score in the 500 at both SECs and NCAAs. Hernandez-Tome announced his intention to transfer to UF in 2020 and sat out the 2020-2021 NCAA season. If he matches or improves upon his best times he could be a major contributor at SECs and possibly score at NCAAs.
Adding to this distance onslaught is freshman Oskar Lindholm, a Danish distance specialist who has a best time of 14:57 in the 1500 SCM freestyle. That time converts to a 14:52 in the 1650, and it took a 14:51 to score in the event at NCAAs in 2021.
Florida could have a rough go in the backstroke, though Adam Chaney does have a significant chance of placing in the top 8 at NCAAs in the 100 back. Chaney is also extremely proficient in the 50, providing a major boost to Florida’s 200 medley relay. Beyond Chaney, however, Florida is thin in backstroke.
Florida also brings in Mason Laur who has been 1:47 in the 200 backstroke, putting him on the bubble for scoring in that event at SECs. Regardless of whether he makes the ‘C’ or even the ‘B’ final at SECs, Florida needs to rebuild its depth in backstroke, or see enormous improvements from Laur.
Senior Dillon Hillis returns as Florida’s top breaststroker after a hugely successful junior season, winning the 2021 SEC title in the 100 breast and placing second at NCAAs. In his NCAA performance, Hillis posted a time of 50.96 in the 100 breast, the 2nd-fastest time in program history. Hillis also split 23.26 on Florida’s 200 medley relay at the SEC Championships and 50.27 on the 400 medley relay at the NCAA Championships, the fastest in the field.
Florida had no other men score in breaststroke at the 2021 NCAAs, though returning junior Kevin Vargas did receive an invite in the 200 breast, placing 26h in prelims. Amro Al-Wir, and Mateusz Dubas also all scored at the 2021 SEC Championships and return to Florida for the 2021-2022 season.
Incoming freshman Raphael Windmuller is a Brazilian swimmer who has long course best times that, when converted, put him on the bubble of scoring at the SEC Championships. Florida also brings in Peter Bretzmann, a North Carolina 3A high school state champion who boasts a lifetime best in the 200 breaststroke that also puts him on the verge of scoring at SECs.
Florida doesn’t boast the same butterfly supremacy it has in the past and lacks any significant scoring threats in the 200 fly at the national level. However, Eric Friese placed 7th in the 100 fly at the 2021 NCAA Championships. Isaac Davis also placed 9th in the 100 fly at the 2021 SEC Championships, though he’ll have to drop significant time to score at NCAAs. As far as 200 butterfly specialists go, Dillon Hillis, Jace Crawford, Miguel Cancel, and Tyler Watson all scored at the 2021 SEC Championships, and Crawford and Hillis could potentially get some points on the board at NCAAs if they are able to drop about one second apiece, based on what it took to make the ‘B’ final at the 2021 NCAA Championships. Additionally, freshman Mason Laur is on the bubble of scoring at SECs, based on 2021 times.
Florida’s only problem with the IMs is that their best swimmers in this discipline are also some of their best freestylers. Bobby Finke is the reigning NCAA champion in the 400 IM, and he took second to teammate Kieran Smith in the event at the SEC Championships. Kevin Vargas and Miguel Cancel also finished 4th and 7th, respectively, at SECs in 2021. Finke was Florida’s only scorer at the NCAA Championships in the 400 IM, though Vargas placed 20th and Tyler Watson placed 24th at NCAAs in the 400 IM.
Dillon Hillis was the only UF swimmer to score in the 200 IM at NCAAs in 2021, though Kieran Smith certainly could—Smith has been 1:41.72 in the 200 yard IM, and went 1:57.23 in the long course 200 IM at Olympic Trials, placing 3rd. However, with the 200 IM taking place on the same day as the 500 free at NCAAs, it effectively rules him out of the event.
Leonardo ‘Leo’ Garcia returns as Florida’s only NCAA-scoring diver, though Anton Svirskyi also contributed to the Gators’ SEC campaign with a 12th-place finish on the 3-meter board and a 7th-place finish on platform. Florida also returns Nick Lydon and adds freshman Brandon Wegner. Garcia is a two-time All-American and Florida’s best chance for points on the boards at the national-level, a standard Garcia is capable of achieving. However, Florida’s other divers will need to rise in the ranks to give the Gators any significant points on the boards.
Florida’s relays remain in great shape as the Gators return all 2021 NCAA relay finalists. Florida does better in the short relays than it does in the 800 free relay, though the Gators’ worst relay finish at the 2021 NCAA Championships was still 5th, by way of the 800 free relay. Every team that beat Florida at the 2021 NCAA Championships in the 800 free relay is losing one or more of its swimmers, while Florida’s have had a full year to improve. Notably, Bobby Finke was only a 1:34 on the 800 free relay at NCAAs, and after his golden summer, he should be due to drop in the 200.
As for the 200 free relay, Cal only out-touched Florida by .08 in 2021 and now the Golden Bears will have to get by without Ryan Hoffer. Cal will also have to deal with a Hoffer-sized gap in their 400 freestyle relay and 400 medley relay, each of which beat Florida thanks to Hoffer. (Cal placed 2nd in the 400 medley relay to Texas, though Texas also loses backstroker Chris Staka, which is really more beneficial to Florida than Cal.)
Florida has a good shot at defending its SEC title and 3rd-place finish at NCAAs, though if they place a larger focus on NCAAs than SECs there’s a chance Georgia could upset them at the conference level. Florida is fortunate to lose very few swimmers, though their incoming freshman class, ranked 16th, largely buoy their freestyle and IM groups—areas where the Gators are already very strong. Overall, Florida remains one of the most elite teams in the nation with some of the biggest stars in the sport at the moment.