College Swimming Previews: #3 Florida Men Pull No Punches Despite Growing Pro Team

It’s that time of the year again. SwimSwam will be previewing the top 12 men’s and women’s teams (and then some) from the 2022 NCAA Championships. Follow along with the College Swimming Preview Channel. Want to read even more? Check out the latest edition of the SwimSwam magazine

#3 FLORIDA GATORS

Key Losses: Bobby Finke (turned pro; 42 individual NCAA points), Kieran Smith (turned pro; 44 individual NCAA points; 4 NCAA relays), Will Davis (graduated; 6 individual NCAA points; 2 NCAA relays), Isaac Davis (graduated)

Key Additions: Josh Liendo (Canada — sprint fly & free), Jake Mitchell (transfer — distance free & IM), Dawson Joyce (FL — sprint free & fly), Gio Linscheer (TX — distance free, IM, breaststroke), Cameron Abaqueta (NC — backstroke, sprint free, breaststroke), Daniel Gordon (PA — sprint freestyle)

Returning Fifth Years: Dillon Hillis (16 individual NCAA points; 2 relays)

GRADING CRITERIA

Three 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

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. Use these grades as a jumping-off point for discussion, rather than a reason to be angry.

2021-2022 LOOKBACK

The Florida men were dominant at the 2022 SEC Championships, winning with 1414 points, out-pacing runners-up Tennessee by a staggering 476. This is even more impressive considering two-time Olympic gold medalist Bobby Finke had to miss the meet due to COVID.

At the 2022 NCAA Championships, Florida placed third with 374 points, comfortably ahead of NC State though 62.5 points behind second-place University of Texas. Though Florida had numerous ‘A’ and ‘B’ finalists at NCAAs, their accomplishments in the sprint relays were arguably more impressive and vital for team points.

The Gators started their NCAA campaign with a victory in the 200 medley relay, establishing new NCAA and US Open Records in the process in 1:21.13, 0.23 ahead of Texas. The following day, Florida blasted a 1:14.11 in the 200 free relay, the second-fastest performance of all-time. Florida also notched a third-place finish in the 400 medley relay, a sixth-place finish in the 400 free relay, and a seventh-place finish in the 800 freestyle relay.

The Gators’ only individual NCAA champion in 2022 was Bobby Finke, who won the 1650 freestyle by over nine seconds (despite adding 10 seconds to his lifetime best). In total, Finke scored 42 points at NCAAs. Kieran Smith, the American Record holder in the 500 freestyle, also had an impressive season and earned 44 points for the Gators at NCAAs, though he failed to defend his 2021 title in the 200 free. Both men, however, are foregoing their fifth-year seasons to turn pro and focus on long course.

Head Coach Anthony Nesty will lead the Gators while also managing one of the most impressive pro groups in the country. This will be Nesty’s fifth season as Head Coach since Gregg Troy‘s 2018 retirement. In the previous four seasons under Nesty’s guidance, the Florida men have won four SEC Championship team titles (2019, 2020, 2021, 2022), and placed sixth (2019), third (2021), and third (2022) at the NCAA Championships.

Sprint Free: ★★★★

Canadian World Championship medalist Josh Liendo‘s commitment to join the Gators for the 2022-2023 season is a huge addition to Florida’s sprint freestyle contingent, and one that the Gators will need without Smith and the Davis brothers (Will and Isaac). Liendo will also be a major relay factor, but we’ll get to that later. Liendo’s long course times converted to yards put him at 18.74 in the 50 and 41.39 in the 100, with his short course meters times coming in just a little quicker at 18.70 and 41.27. Given his results on the major international stage, these conversions seem to be pretty conservative.

Junior Adam Chaney was Florida’s second-highest point-scorer in sprint freestyle at NCAAs in 2022, earning nine points, five points less than Smith earned for his fifth-place effort in the 200. Chaney earned his points in a mere 18.75 seconds, placing ninth in the 50. Chaney just missed getting a second swim in the 100, finishing 17th with a 41.97 in prelims, though he has a best time of 41.74 from 2021.

Eric Friese didn’t earn any individual points at NCAAs last season, placing 29th in the 50 (19.36) and 24th in the 100 (42.22), though he put up a massive 18.39 on the 200 freestyle relay, helping Florida to victory. At SECs, Friese placed ninth in the 50 (19.23) and sixth in the 100 (42.65), while also earning a silver medal in the 100 fly (44.86).

Fifth-year Alberto Mestre rounds out Florida’s short-sprint specialists. Though Mestre did not compete at NCAAs, he placed sixth in the 50 and ninth in the 100 freestyles at SECs, notching NCAA ‘B’ cuts in each race.

As for the 200 freestyle, the Gators will rely on Trey Freeman, Alfonso Mestre, Oskar Lindholm, and Michigan transfer Jake Mitchell to get the job done and fill Smith’s void.

Freeman earned six points at NCAAs with an 11th-place finish (1:32.49) in the 200 freestyle, though he, Mestre, and Lindholm, all members of Florida’s seventh-place 800 freestyle relay, also specialize in the 500 and 1650, whereas Mitchell swam the 400 IM and 500 free at NCAAs in 2022. Though the Gators have a chance of scoring in the 200 at NCAAs, they are far more dangerous at the conference level.

Distance Free: ★★★★

Losing both Finke and Smith really stings for the Gators, but it’s not as though their distance crew has been decimated. Freeman and Mestre both scored individually in both the 500 and 1650 at NCAAs, with Freeman earning a total of 14 points (six in both the 200 and 500 freestyles, and two in the mile), while Mestre brought in 19 points (12 in the 500 and seven in the mile). Lindholm also picked up individual points with a 14th-place in the mile, adding another three points to Florida’s haul.

Freeman represented Team USA at the 2022 FINA World Championships, qualifying for the team with a sixth-place finish in the 200 free and a second-place finish in the 400 free at U.S. Nationals in Greensboro. In Budapest, Freeman placed eighth in the 400 freestyle (LCM), and took home a gold medal as a prelims member of the 4 x 200 freestyle relay.

At SECs, Florida put five men in the ‘A’ final of the 500, four of which are returning for the 2022-2023 season. As for the mile, the Gators had seven men score, placing first (Freeman), third (Tyler Watson), fifth (Lindholm), sixth (Mestre), seventh (Nicholas Hernandez-Tome), eighth (Jack VanDeusen), and ninth (Brennan Gravley).

Michigan transfer Jake Mitchell represents another opportunity for the Gators to have an individual point scorer at NCAAs in the 500 or 1650. Though Mitchell failed to make an individual final at the 2022 NCAA Championships, his lifetime bests in each race would have scored at the meet.

Incoming freshman Gio Linscheer has SEC-scoring potential in both the 500 and 1650. In fact, Linscheer’s lifetime best in the mile would have placed him sixth in the race at the 2022 SEC Championships and is already under the NCAA ‘B’ cut standard.

Backstroke: ★★

Backstroke was a powerful albeit small discipline for the Gators in 2022. Sprint specialist Adam Chaney and middle-distance ace Kieran Smith were Florida’s top backstrokers, each scoring in the Championship final at NCAAs and each winning one of the backstroke events at SECs. However, it is also noteworthy that Chaney and Smith were Florida’s only swimmers in the 100 and 200 backstroke, respectively, at the SEC Championships.

Chaney placed third in the 100 backstroke at NCAAs, and was a key member of Florida’s medley relays. As for the 200 back, now-pro Smith was the sole representative for the Gators, placing fourth.

Beyond Chaney, freshman Cameron Abaqueta shows SEC scoring potential in both the 100 (47.51) and 200 (1:47.06) backstroke. Similarly, freshman Eduoard Fullum-Huot of Canada has a lifetime best of 26.86 in the 50 long course backstroke, which could develop into a strong 50/100 backstroke in short course yards. While Abaqueta and Fullum-Huot could develop into eventual replacements for Chaney, who is a junior, backstroke is a discipline Florida will need to focus on replenishing.

Breaststroke: ★★½

Breaststroke is another one-man show on the national level for the Gators. Dillon Hillis was Florida’s only competitor in both the 100 and 200 breaststrokes at NCAAs in 2022, scoring a total of 16 points, placing sixth in the 100 and 14th in the 200. Hillis, however, did not swim either of these races at the 2022 SEC Championships. While Hillis was the only Gator to race breaststroke individually at NCAAs, Florida did boast a strong breaststroke group at SECs.

Beyond Hillis, junior Amro Al-Wir is Florida’s top breaststroker, holding lifetime bests of 52.66 and 1:53.90 in the 100 and 200 breaststrokes. Al-Wir also put up a notable 51.82 split on the Gators’ medley relay at SECs. Despite this, Al-Wir did not get an invite to the 2022 NCAA Championships. Kevin Vargas also raced in the ‘A’ final of the 200 breaststroke at SECs, placing fifth in 1:54.45, though like Al-Wir, Vargas did not race at NCAAs.

Sophomores Julian Smith and Peter Bretzmann had strong freshman campaigns in 2022 and will be vital to Florida making an impact in this discipline again in 2023. Smith notched NCAA ‘B’ cuts in the 100 and 200 breaststrokes at SECs, stopping the clock at 52.73 in the 100, placing 12th, and 1:55.82 in the 200, placing 19th. Bretzmann, meanwhile, placed 12th in the 200 breast in 1:55.58, another ‘B’ cut.

Euros Junior gold medalist Aleksas Savickas of Lithuania provides a welcomed boost to Florida’s breaststroke group. Savickas holds lifetime bests of 28.63/1:01.29/2:13.35 in the 50/100/200 breaststroke in long course meters. Converted to yards, these times are 24.89/53.41/1:56.53, which gives Savickas SEC scoring potential.

While stronger overall than the backstroke group, breaststroke is an area Florida will need to focus on revamping, especially once Hillis’ eligibility is up.

Butterfly: ★★★★

Canada’s Josh Liendo is a huge addition to Florida’s butterfly group. In the summer of 2022, Liendo won bronze in the 100 butterfly at the 2022 FINA World Championships, clocking in at 50.97, just off of his best time of 50.88. At the 2022 Commonwealth Games, Liendo won the 100 fly, touching in 51.24, beating out veterans including James Guy (GBR), Matt Temple (AUS), and Chad le Clos (RSA).

Though Liendo is primarily a sprint free and fly specialist, he also holds a lifetime best of 2:00.52 in the 200 LCM butterfly, which converts to a 1:46.07 in yards, though he is unlikely to swim the 200 fly at the conference or national level, given his strength in both the 50 and 100 freestyles.

Eric Friese is another sprint free and fly specialist with a particular affinity for the relays. At NCAAs in 2022, Friese threw down a monster 19.36 50 fly split on the 200 medley relay, which is tied for the fastest-ever relay split for the 50 fly, helping Florida to set the NCAA and U.S. Open Records in the 200 medley relay. Friese also posted a 44.41 butterfly split in the 400 medley relay, helping the Gators to a third-place finish. Individually, Friese failed to make finals in the 100 fly, posting a 45.60 to place 30th. Friese was much better at SECs, posting a 44.86 to place second in the 100 fly.

Florida also has a strong group of 200 flyers, led by Jace Crawford. Crawford swam both the 100 and 200 fly at NCAAs in 2022, though like Friese, he failed to make the finals in the 100, placing 35th in 46.10, just off his lifetime best of 45.92 from SECs. Crawford finished fourth at SECs in the 200 fly, recording a 1:42.12, which he improved upon at NCAAs, nailing a 1:41.38 to place 13th. Mason Laur joined Crawford in the 200 fly at NCAAs, placing 35th in a 1:44.92, though he was slightly faster at SECs, where he went 1:44.68 to finish 12th. Joaquin Gonzalez Pinero rounds out Florida’s 200 fly crew. At SECs, Gonzalez Pinero won the ‘B’ final of the 200 fly in 1:43.14, well under the NCAA ‘B’ cut time, though not quite fast enough to make it to the meet.

IM: ★★½

Florida’s strength in the IM comes overwhelmingly from the 400-yard version of the race.

Bobby Finke and Kevin Vargas were Florida’s only finalists in the IM at the 2022 NCAA Championships, each making it back in the 400 IM. Finke, who won the 400 IM in 2021, placed fourth in 2022, while Vargas finished 11th. Finke, of course, is no longer with the team, leaving Vargas, Mason Laur, Tyler Watson, Jack VanDeusen, Joaquin Gonzalez Pinero, and transfer Jake Mitchell to fill the gap.

Laur, another 400 IM specialist, finished 23rd in the 400 IM and 49th in the 200 IM at NCAAs, while breaststroke specialist Dillon Hillis placed 25th in the 200. Representing Michigan, Jake Mitchell placed 36th in the 400 IM, though his lifetime best of 3:41.39 from the 2022 Big Ten Championships would have placed him 17th. VanDeusen, meanwhile, placed 33rd at NCAAs in the 400 IM.

At the conference level, Vargas, Watson, VanDeusen, and Gonzalez Pinero made up the bulk of Florida’s IM crew at the 2022 SEC Championships, which was propped up by Kieran Smith‘s victory in the 400 IM. Overall, Florida finished first (Smith), fourth (Laur), ninth (Vargas), 10th (VanDeusen), 14th (Bretzmann), and 17th (Gonzalez Pinero) in the 400 IM at SECs. Fly specialist Jace Crawford, meanwhile, led the Gators in the 200 IM with a fourth-place finish at SECs, followed by Gonzalez Pinero (ninth) and Laur (12th).

The IM is certainly a strong discipline for the Gators, though without Finke and Smith the group is in a minor rebuilding phase, at least on the national level.

Diving: ★★★

Leonardo Garcia was Florida’s top diver in 2022, placing fourth on the platform and eighth on the 3-meter board at the 2022 NCAA Championships, bringing in a total of 26 points. Anton Svirskyi finished 15th on the platform, giving the Gators another two points, making for 28 points total over the three diving events. Garcia and Svirskyi were Florida’s only divers to score points at NCAAs in 2022, as well as the only two divers the Gators took to the 2022 SEC Championships. Garcia and Svirskyi both excel at the 3-meter and platform, though Florida is vulnerable on the 1-meter.

Relays: ★★★★★

The only relay Florida doesn’t have a realistic shot of placing top three at NCAAs is the 800 freestyle relay. As for the other four races, the Gators are stacked.

Florida is the defending NCAA champions in the 200 freestyle and 200 medley relays, and despite the loss of Kieran Smith, the Gators have already reloaded with the addition of Josh Liendo. After falling just 0.03 short of breaking the NCAA and U.S. Open Records in the 200 free relay in 2022, Florida could reset the oldest NCAA Record on the books in 2023.

The Gators remain a top-three threat in both the 400 medley and 400 freestyle relays—again, just plug in Liendo where Smith once was (an upgrade in the sprinting realm). Since Florida already has a strong butterflier in Friese, it is most likely Liendo will swim freestyle on the medley relays.

The 800 free relay is once again Florida’s weakest, and certainly the relay where Smith’s loss will be felt the most. The Gators finished seventh in this relay in 2022, though unless they can find another swimmer capable of splitting 1:31-low or faster, they are likely to find themselves outside of the top eight here.

TOTAL STARS: 27/40

2022-2023 OUTLOOK

There’s no doubt the Florida men will defend their SEC title in 2023. In fact, it’s probable that no one will be able to unseat Florida until 2026 when Texas joins the SEC, and boy will that make for some interesting conference-level competition, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

At NCAAs, Florida should be able to defend its third-place finish. Kieran Smith and Bobby Finke accounted for a total of 86 individual points at the NCAA Championships, and the spread between Florida and fourth-place finishers NC State was 83 points. This would be problematic if Florida had no one to step in and fill the gap left by the absence of Finke and Smith, but that’s not the case.

Josh Liendo will up Florida’s sprint game and should be an adequate substitute for Smith in the 200- and 400-yard freestyle and medley relays. Individually, Liendo is most likely to swim the same events as 2018 graduate Caeleb Dressel: the 50/100 free, and the 100 fly. Needless to say, Florida’s sprint crew will remain extremely strong in 2023, and the Gators remain a relatively safe bet to defend their 2022 NCAA titles in the 200 medley and freestyle relays, though those races are always chaotic and anything can happen.

The men’s 800 free relay is likely to take a hit without Smith, though they will likely still place top 10 at NCAAs (after placing seventh in 2022 with a 1:30.66 lead-off from Smith).

Florida’s distance freestyle and IM crews enter somewhat of a rebuilding phase for the 2022-2023 season, though if Jake Mitchell transfers the form he showed at the Big Ten Championships with Michigan in 2022 to the NCAA Championships in 2023, he could make up some ground for the Gators.

Backstroke is Florida’s weakest discipline, buoyed almost exclusively by Adam Chaney, and the Gators will need to be firing on all cylinders in order to score the same points in diving as they did in 2022. Breaststroke, at least, looks strong, due to the return of Dillon Hillis and the promise shown by up-and-comers Amro Al-Wir and underclassmen Peter Bretzmann, Julian Smith, and Aleksas Savickas. As for the fly crew, the Gators remain strong as ever, thanks to the addition of Liendo.

Can the Florida men move up from third to second at NCAAs in 2023? Most likely not, but they should have enough firepower to hold off the NC State Wolfpack to defend their third-place finish.

Men

Team Sprint Free Distance Free Backstroke Breaststroke Butterfly IM Diving Relays Total Stars
1
2
#3 Florida Gators ★★★★ ★★★★ ★★ ★★½ ★★★★ ★★½ ★★★ ★★★★★ 27/40
#4 NC State Wolfpack ★★★★ ★★★★★ ★★★★ ★★★ ★★ ★★★★★ 25/40
#5 Indiana Hoosiers ★★★ ★★★★ ★★★ ★★★ ★★★★ ★★★★ ★★★ 25/40
#6 Arizona State Sun Devils ★★★ ★★ ★★★ ★★★½ ★★★½ ★★★★★ ★★★★ 25/40
#7 Stanford Cardinal ★★ ★★★ ★★★ ★★ ★★★ ★★★ ★★★★ 21/40
#8 Georgia Bulldogs ★★★ ★★★★ ★★ ★★★ ★★★ ★★★ 20/40
#9 Ohio State Buckeyes ★★★ ★★★ ★★ ★★ ★★ ★★★★ ★★★ 20/40
#10 Virginia Cavaliers ★★★★ ★★★ ★★ ★★★★ 17/40
#11 Virginia Tech Hokies ★★★ ★★ ★★★ ★★★ ★★★ ★★ 18/40
#12 Louisville Cardinals ★★★ ★★ ★★★  13/40

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DiveDove
7 days ago

Florida is also returning diver Brandon Wegner who qualified to NCAA’s last year and went 21st on tower, that’s well within range to score this year. This along with his two other zone qualifications make it certainly possible for him to be a triple event attendee and a big tool for their diving to compete with the likes of Indiana.

They are also adding Skip Donald, though he’s not on the roster, his instagram shows him training in the pool. He’s qualified through to zones twice during his time at Auburn and he could very well develop further into an addition to their NCAA roster rounding out their fourth spot. Neither of these guys are gaurantees to add to the… Read more »

Snarky
8 days ago

Snarky calling it right now. NCSU wins NCAAS over Texas and Cal and Florida in a shocker. Comes down to last relay! Party on.

Meathead
8 days ago

Just think of stopping practice and putting Jake Mitchell in a get out swim. Hype goes to 10 immediately.

Need a category for hype, and Mitchell earns at least 2 stars

Aquajosh
8 days ago

Kevin Vargas made big boy moves this summer and put himself on the National team, and if this translates to his short course swimming as well, that’s going to be a nice points boost in several events.

UF’s secret weapon is diving. Leo Garcia and Anton Svirskyi are really dialed in and are going to push each other to do big things this year. I’ll be surprised if UF doesn’t at least double what they scored last year on the boards.

USA
8 days ago

Jake Mitchell not listed as key additions?

wolfensf
8 days ago

Backstroke help arrives next recruiting class – the 800 just needs continued improvement from Mcduff he dropped about 6 secs. last year. and small drops from Mestre and Lindholm. to stay around 7th in my opinion.

LaneHugger
Reply to  wolfensf
8 days ago

Why wasn’t McDuff mentioned at all? Who did he piss off:)???

Aquajosh
Reply to  LaneHugger
8 days ago

McDuff had a great freshman year, and he carried it into the summer too. It kinda went under the radar, but he went 22.4 and 49.0 at Futures. He’s already dropped two seconds off his LC times in a year. One to watch for sure.

Laquisha
8 days ago

it’s crazy how all teams that finished 3-7 last year got better. Cal obviously got worse by losing Daniel Carr, Gonzalez, Grieshop, Trenton Julian, and Bryce Mefford. Same deal with Texas that lost Kibler, Auchinachie, and Al-Jiang.

Depending on the development of recruits, Florida has a legit chance to win NCs. This could be one of the best races for top 5 in a LONG time, with even a non-Cal/Texas top 2 finish.

Plausible Deniability
Reply to  Laquisha
8 days ago

I feel like this is said at the beginning of every year. By the time NCAAs rolls around, it’s always the same story as the year before. Cal and Texas are just too good at reloading and getting the best out of their swimmers in March to allow another school to sneak up on them. After all, you don’t win every championship and runner-up spot since 2014 by accident.

Just looking at Cal’s scoring, who probably lose more than Texas:

From the 5 names you mentioned, that’s about 125 points lost. Between just Kieran and Bobby, Florida loses 80ish points. Cal beat Florida by about 110 last year, so removing those 7 guys from the equation results in Florida down… Read more »

Radiogaga
Reply to  Plausible Deniability
7 days ago

Cal with Marsh factor is HUGE! Nasty is a tricky GATOR however. Texas seems poised to fall the 3rd.

About Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson originally hails from Clay Center, Kansas, where he began swimming at age six.  At age 14 he began swimming club year-round and later with his high school team, making state all four years.  He was fortunate enough to draw the attention of Kalamazoo College where he went on to …

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