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.
#4 NORTH CAROLINA STATE WOLFPACK
Key Losses: Joe Bonk (1 NCAA relay), Soeren Dahl (13 NCAA points, 3 NCAA relays), Derek Hren (2 NCAA relays), Adam Linker (8 NCAA points), Andreas Schiellerup (2 NCAA relays), Scott Johnson (1 NCAA relay)
Key Additions: Jacob Molacek (free/breast), Giovanni Izzo (free/fly), Eric Knowles (free/IM), Gil Kiesler (free)
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
Last season, the Wolfpack tied their highest ever NCAA finish in program history, taking 4th at the NCAA Championships with 272.5 points. One of their highlight performances came in the 800 free relay, where they dethroned Texas and roared to a new NCAA and U.S. Open Record. All-in-all, they nabbed 25 All-America honors, 10 Honorable Mention All-America honors, 4 ACC Records, and 8 school records throughout the meet.
In addition to their NCAA success, NC State won its 3rd-straight ACC Championships title, giving them their first 3-peat in 35 years. After winning 7 gold medals at the meet and sweeping his individual events, sprint star Ryan Held was named the ACC’s Most Valuable Swimmer.
SPRINT FREE: A+
Though they lost a few relay members from last season (Dahl, Bonk, Johnson, and Schiellerup), NC State has plenty of sprint talent returning to help keep those relays in the top 8. The first to come to mind is Olympic gold medalist Ryan Held, who was a finalist in both the 50 and 100 freestyles last season, finishing 2nd only to Caeleb Dressel in the 50 free. They have another returning NCAA scorer in Justin Ress, who placed 12th in the 100 free last season and could have a huge season if he’s able to replicate his improvements from this summer in the long course pool.
Joining the team this season will be Auburn transfer Jacob Molacek. He’s been 19.08 in the 50 free, putting him just 2 hundredths shy of what it take to make the NCAA final last season. He’s been 42.3 in the 100 as well, making him an immediate scoring threat in both sprint events. Molacek isn’t the only newcomer who could make waves, though, as freshman Giovanni Izzo comes in with bests of 22.0 and 49.3 in the long course pool. He’s put up some fast relay splits as well, rolling to a 21.7 in the 50 and 48.6 in the 100.
DISTANCE FREE: A-
Anton Ipsen, the top distance swimmer for the team over the last couple of seasons, returns for his senior year. He was a finalist in the 500 free at NCAAs last season, and also placed 7th in the mile. He’ll likely be a finalist in both events again this season. Other than Ipsen, their best returning distance swimmer looks to be Daniel Erlenmeyer, who scored in the B final of the 500 free as a freshman at 2017 ACCs.
They’ve lost a little bit of depth since NCAA scorer Adam Linker graduated, but a few guys could step up to make up for those points. That includes newcomer Eric Knowles, who already has conference scoring potential with his 4:23 in the 500. Israeli distance standout Gil Kiesler could also make a mark. He comes in with long course bests of 3:52 in the 400 free and 8:03 in the 800 free.
Andreas Vazaios returns for the Wolfpack after placing 7th in the individual 200 IM last season and winning the ACC title. He had an explosive swim in prelims at NCAAs, breaking into the 1:40-range, but wasn’t able to match it in finals. If he replicates his best in the final this year, he’ll be in contention for a top 3 finish. Anton Ipsen is their only other returning scorer, having placed 11th in the 400 IM.
Justin Ress was a finalist in the 200 IM at ACCs last season, but didn’t swim it at NCAAs, entering 2 events and swimming on all 5 relays instead. With his lifetime best 1:43.2, though, he’s already fast enough to have scored at the NCAA meet. In addition to Ress, they have returning conference scorers Matthew O’Donnell (400 IM) and Hennessey Stuart (200 IM).
Between Ryan Held and Andreas Vazaios, the Wolfpack should get plenty of butterfly points. Held is a returning finalist in the 100 fly, while Vazaios is a returning finalist in the 200 fly. There’s a chance we may see Vazaios in the 100 fly as well, where he’s a top 8 threat. He placed 3rd in the event at ACCs last season, but opted for the 100 back instead at NCAAs.
Freshman Giovanni Izzo and sophomore Coleman Stewart show promise in the 100 fly. Izzo doesn’t have any yards experience yet, but he comes in with a best of 53.3 in the long course 100 fly. Stewart, on the other hand, swam the event at ACCs last season. He was a finalist, taking 5th in 46.28.
NC State has a loaded backstroke group, headlined by U.S. World Championships team member Justin Ress and 100 back All-American Andreas Vazaios. Having Vazaios in the 100 back was slightly unexpected, as he swam the 100 fly at ACCs, but it worked out well as he made the final and served as the backstroker on the 400 medley relay. Ress’ best time in the 100 back is a 47.81, which doesn’t seem to accurately reflect his scoring potential in the event given his display of backstroke speed over the summer. He hasn’t swum that event at a taper meet in awhile, but it’s safe to say he could be in the 45 to 46 range after his huge time drop to a long course 53.2 at U.S. Nationals. We also could see him dip under 1:40 in the 200 back. He didn’t swim it at NCAAs, but his best time (1:40.2) is already fast enough to score
Though Hennessey Stuart wasn’t at his best last season, he has the potential to score in the A finals of both backstrokes if he can get back to his 2016 bests. He was an All-American in 2016, clocking in at 45.5 in the 100 back and 1:38.5 in the 200 back. Coleman Stewart is another potential scorer here after swimming both backstrokes at last season’s NCAAs. He broke through the 46-barrier as a freshman, placing 14th at NCAAs in the 100 back.
And keep an eye on Florida State transfer Noah Hensley, who has been 46.9 in the 100 back and hit lifetime-bests in both backstrokes last spring while sitting out a year to complete his transfer.
The Wolfpack lost relay breaststroker Derek Hren to graduation, but they’ve picked up Auburn transfer Jacob Molacek to help in that department. His best time in the 100 is a 52.45 from the 2015 SEC Championships. While he wasn’t able to break 53 at the 2016 SEC meet, Molacek had some big swims in 2017 and didn’t swim the event at his taper meet, so we may not have seen all he can do in this race yet. With his 52.45, though, he’s already within hundredths of what it took to qualify for the B final at last year’s NCAAs.
Aside from Molacek, fellow Auburn transfer Zack Warner would’ve been NC State’s fastest breaststroker, but he isn’t currently listed on NC State’s roster for this season. Warner, who boasts a best time of 52.55 from 2015 SECs, competed for NC State during the regular 2016-17 season and traveled to 2017 NCAAs as a relay alternate, but didn’t compete individually at ACCs. We’ve asked both Warner and NC State for comment on his status with the team, but have not yet received a response, and as such, he doesn’t factor into our grade here.
Though they lost a few key relay guys from last season, the Wolfpack is in good shape to challenge for another top 5 finish. Their only real weak spot at the NCAA level is the breaststroke events, as they have multiple swimmers who are likely to score in every other area. With the talent they have coming in, they should be challenging for relay titles again this season as well. As far as the ACC Championships, they’re in good shape to extend their streak to a 4-peat.