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Key Additions: Zack Warner (Auburn transfer – breaststroke), Andreas Vazaios (Greece – fly/IM), Mark McLaughlin (IA – sprint free/fly/back), Coleman Stewart (PA – back/fly), Daniel Erlenmeyer (FL – distance free), Tyler Rice (FL – sprint free), Lucca Martins (CA – back/fly)
The NC State Wolfpack have consistently been rising to the top of the heap in the NCAA over the last few seasons, and they continued their march into the upper echelon of teams last year.
They continued their ascent up the NCAA ladder, coming from 13th in 2014 all the way down to 4th last year. Though the psych sheets scored them to finish 2nd to the eventual champs Texas, finishing 4th overall was a breakthrough result for the evolving program.
The two teams that snuck by them for 2nd and 3rd, Cal and Florida, both saved their best performances for NCAAs whereas NC State may have put more stock in their conference championship meet (which in turn gave them better seeds).
The Wolfpack have now reached the level where they can start saving their best performances for NCAAs, and don’t necessarily have to go all-in for ACCs to claim the title. They won their second straight ACC Championship definitively by over 300 points last year and look to have a stranglehold on that conference for the time being.
The ACC win and NCAA 4th were the highlights of their season, but they didn’t stop once the college season was done. They gained more momentum and confidence with freestyler Ryan Held qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Team and proceeding to swim in the 400 free relay final where the Americans won gold. Though now graduated, their other top swimmer last year Simonas Bilis was successful in Rio as well, qualifying for the final in the 50 free representing Lithuania. Swimmers having success at the highest level of the sport will only fuel and inspire the team to new heights this year.
Sprint Free: A+
Sprint free has been NC State’s bread and butter over the last few years, with the Wolfpack a consistent contender for the national title in the sprint free relays the past several years. Their 200 free relay wasn’t disqualified at NCAAs for the first time in three years this past March, but they fell to the Texas Longhorns who gained momentum from that upset and ran away with the overall title. In 2014 they were DQed in prelims and looked to have a good shot to win in the final, and in 2015 they actually touched 1st in the final only to be disqualified again. They redeemed themselves in the final race of the meet, beating Texas by four-one-hundredths of a second in the 400 free relay for their first ever NCAA relay title.
The team is losing their top man Bilis, but Ryan Held should be brimming with confidence after his big summer and will be a contender for a top-3 finish in all three free events at NCAAs. Along with Held, they return Andreas Schiellerup and Soeren Dahl, the other half of the national champion 400 free relay. Along with them, Joe Bonk will also return as a member of the 200 free relay. All three will enter their senior year and will leave a big hole once they’re gone. Among their incoming freshman, Mark McGlaughlin looks to be the front-runner to fill in for Bilis as the #4 man on each respective relay, and Tyler Rice will also be a viable option.
Held, Dahl and Justin Ress also form three quarters of the NCAA runner-up 800 free relay from last year.
Distance Free: A
Though their distance free crew isn’t nearly as deep as their sprinters, both Anton Ipsen and Adam Linker scored in the 500 and 1650 at NCAAs, giving them solid contributions throughout all the freestyle events. Ipsen was a top 8 scorer in both events, amassing 26 points.
Their impact is even greater at the ACC Championships, where Ipsen won both titles last year and Linker finished 2nd and 4th respectively.
Among their first years, Daniel Erlenmeyer already comes in with times good enough to put respectable points on the board at ACCs, and some improvements could see him putting some up at NCAAs, if not this year then in the years to come.
Their medley group took a hit losing both Christian McCurdy and Austin Snyder, both of whom were right on the bubble for NCAA points in IM, with McCurdy making the B-final in the 200. They finished 3rd and 4th in the 400 IM at ACCs, but the team isn’t losing all of its IM talent. Soeren Dahl and Justin Ress stay on as potential NCAA scorers in the 200, while backstroker Hennessey Stuart also mustered an A-final appearance at ACCs in the event.
Arguably their best recruit, Greek transfer Andreas Vazaios comes in just off a LC European Championship title in the 200 IM, not to mention an 11th place finish at the
Olympic Games. He boasts impressive best times in all four strokes, but IM is where he’ll really make his mark. It remains to be seen how he fares in yards, but the worst case scenario would probably be B-final NCAA points. His ceiling is high, and could be a game changer for NC State this year.
Butterfly would have to be considered the teams overall weakest stroke last year, and the loss of both McCurdy and Snyder didn’t make things any better. McCurdy was the ACC Champion last year in the 200 fly and finished 5th at NCAAs, while Snyder also made the A-final at ACCs.
Though McCurdy was a top player in the 200, the 100 was their weakest event. It was the only one where they failed to send someone to the A-final at the ACC Championships, and they didn’t even have anyone contest it at NCAAs.
Vazaios will likely be the go-to guy in this area as well, boasting SCM bests of 50.45 and 1:54.58. That 100 in particular roughly converts to somewhere in the 46s. Other freshmen who will lend a helping hand to the butterfly group are Coleman Stewart and Mark McLaughlin who are both 48-second 100 flyers, and Lucca Martins who goes 1:47.0 in the 200.
Hennessey Stuart has developed into one of the best backstrokers in the country, and he backed it up last year with two championship final appearances at NCAAs. That included finishing just six-one-hundredths behind 200 back runner-up Jacob Pebley of Cal, who has since expired his eligibility opening the door for Stuart to have a shot at the #2 spot behind incumbent Olympic champ Ryan Murphy.
Stuart has a strong partner in each of the backstroke races, with Andreas Schiellerup in the 100 and Justin Ress in the 200. Schiellerup actually took out Stuart at ACCs in the 100, taking the runner-up spot over his teammate by five-one-hundredths and scored at NCAAs. Justin Ress’ 3rd place finish in the 200 at ACCs gave NC State four backstroke podium finishes, and he posted a time fast enough to score at NCAAs, though he added a bit at the big meet.
These three alone form a formidable backstroke group, accumulating 40 NCAA and 110 ACC points on their own last year.
The Wolfpack failed to register any breaststroke points at NCAAs last year, though Derek Hren was the ACC champ in the 100 breast. A tie for 18th at NCAAs left him just outside of a finals berth, but the team will get a big boost with the addition of Auburn transfer Zack Warner. He comes in with a best of 52.55, fast enough to score at NCAAs and challenge for a berth in the A-final.
As for the 200, Warner’s best of 1:55.40 would also be good enough for a second swim at NCAAs. Hren hasn’t shown the ability to perform in the 200 yet, but Switzerland’s Patrik Schwarzenbach put up a 1:56.4 last season in his freshman year to make the A-final at ACCs.
Overall, the Wolfpack are looking great heading into the 2016-17 season. The big losses of Bilis and McCurdy are countered with the major additions of Vazaios and Warner, though Bilis is arguably an irreplaceable relay piece.
Held will take over as the linchpin on the free relays, while Vazaios will have big shoes to fill in both the fly and IM slots. Along with them, the team is filled with top end talent including Ipsen, Stuart, Warner and Dahl.
They should have no problem winning their third straight ACC title, but it’s the NCAA Championships they’ll be gunning for.
After moving up five spots in 2015 and four more last year, the question will be whether or not they can break into the top three. The loss of Bilis is a major blow, and both Cal and Florida had great recruiting years including the Bears with the #1 class and the Gators with the #1 ranked recruit in Maxime Rooney.
If they manage to put it all together in March, they definitely have a shot to crack the top three. Cal looks to be the front-runner for 2nd as of now, and you can’t count out the #5 Georgia Bulldogs who bring Olympic silver medalist Chase Kalisz back into the fold. Texas remains the undisputed favorite for a third straight title.