College Swimming Previews: #7 Ohio State a Threat in the Pool and On the Boards

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. 

#7 Ohio State Buckeyes

Key Losses: Paul DeLakis (23 NCAA points), Justin Fleagle (NCAAs relay swimmer)

Key Additions: Alex Quach (Australia – free/fly), Fabio Dalu (Italy/McKendree transfer – free), Luke Paxton (OH – back/fly), Michael Cooper (MI – IM), William Bansberg (AZ – back/IM), Karl Helmuth (OH – breast), Mohammed Noaman (Iowa Transfer – diving)

5th Years: Colin McDermott (NCAA Qualifier), Jacob Siler (26 NCAA points), Joey Canova (6 NCAA points)

GRADING CRITERIA

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

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.

2020-2021 LOOKBACK

In a tight battle at Big Tens, Ohio State came in third behind winners Michigan and runners-up Indiana. Michigan was just 79 points ahead of Ohio State. Despite that, Ohio managed a seventh-place finish at NCAAs, just behind Indiana again, but five places ahead of Michigan. The seventh-place finish was Ohio State’s best in 56 years, and marked the program’s best back-to-back NCAA finishes in over 50 years as well.

That wasn’t the only history Ohio State made last season, though. This past summer, Hunter Armstrong became Ohio State’s first U.S. Olympian since 1956. Armstrong qualified for the American team in the men’s 100 back, finishing 2nd at U.S. Trials behind Ryan Murphy.

The Buckeyes’ diving squad was a huge factor in their NCAA finish, as they had four scoring divers at the meet, three of whom qualified for at least one A final. Relays were another strong point for the team, highlighted by a fourth-place finish in the 200 medley relay. They were, however, DQ’d in the 400 medley relay, where they touched tied with Michigan for sixth. On the plus side, the points from that relay finish wouldn’t have been enough for Ohio State to overtake Indiana, so the disqualification didn’t affect their final placing in the meet.

Sprint Free: ★★★

Starting with the highlights of this sprint free group, the Buckeyes have excellent top-end speed in both the 50 and 100 free, and are very deep in both events as well. Hunter Armstrong led the team with a 19.04 50 free last season, and led in the 100 as well with a 42.22. Both times would have been good enough to final at NCAAs, but Armstrong was off in prelims of the 50, swimming a 19.45, and he didn’t swim the 100 free on Saturday because he raced in all five Ohio State relays. This year, it’s less clear whether or not Armstrong would compete in all five relays at NCAAs, since the Buckeyes lost their fastest 200 freestyler in Paul DeLakis.

Sem Andreis was right behind Armstrong in the 50 last year, coming in at 19.05. Had they been at their best times in prelims at NCAAs, both Armstong and Andreis would have qualified for the A final. Coincidentally, Andreis was also 0.01 seconds behind Armstrong in the 100 free last year, coming in at 42.23.

The Buckeyes also pulled in a brand-new sprinter in Alex Quach from Australia. Quach has never raced yards before, but he’s an excellent SCM sprint freestyler. As he enters OSU’s program, his best time in the 50 converts to 19.6 in yards, and his 100 free best time converts to 43.6. That means Quach is not only someone who could make a big impact for the Buckeyes at Big Tens, he looks like a swimmer who could be right on the edge of qualifying for NCAAs individually as well.

The loss of DeLakis does leave the 200 free looking somewhat lacking for Ohio State this year. DeLakis was a 1:31.90 200 last year, and took fifth at NCAAs in the event. Behind him, the fastest 200 free on the team was Shaw Satterfield at 1:35.50. That may be misleading, however, as Satterfield was just a freshman last year, and improved by nearly four full seconds in the event to get down to 1:35.5. So, if Satterfield is able to knock another second or two off his 200 this year, he may be able to not only help score big points at Big Tens, but also help keep Ohio State competitive in the 800 free relay, as they’ve been the last handful of years.

The team also sees the return of Ruslan Gaziev, who did not compete last year. Gaziev will be a huge boost to this sprint free group, as he brings 19.34/42.51/1:34.83 SCY personal bests back to the team.

Distance Free: ★★★

Charlie Clark was brilliant for the Buckeyes last season as a freshman, adding some much needed strength to the distance group. Clark improved massively in the 1650, dropping from 15:07.84 pre-Ohio State to 14:40.70 at NCAAs last year. The swim was good for eighth at NCAAs last year, and you can pretty much count on a 14:40 scoring at NCAAs every year. Clark also improved greatly in the 500 free, coming down from 4:25.75 all the way to 4:17.74 at Big Tens. He has a bit more to come down in the 500 before he’ll be in scoring contention at NCAAs, but he was still the only Buckeye under 4:20 in the event last year.

Adding some strength into this distance squad, and likely giving Clark a much-needed training partner, is Fabio Dalu, who transferred to Ohio State this season after spending his first two NCAA season with DII McKendree. Dalu is the NCAA DII record holder in the 1650 free, and he was the first DII swimmer to crack 15:00 in the event. He’ll probably need to come down a little bit from his personal best of 14:55.12 to qualify for NCAAs this season, but even so, he’s not too far off from scoring range as he enters the program. He also adds another sub-4:20 500 to the team, as he holds a personal best of 4:19.88.

Rising sophomore Jonathan Edwards is another swimmer to watch. While Edwards was last among Ohio State’s milers last season, he made massive improvement in his freshman year. Edwards entered OSU with a personal best of 15:34.76 in the 1650, and got down to 15:16.18 Big Tens last year. Another year with an improvement of that size would put Edwards under 15:00 in the mile this year. If he improves just half as much this year as he did last year, he would get down to 15:06 this season. While neither scenario would provide NCAA points, it would certainly boost Ohio State’s scoring potential at Big Tens, which is already looking good between Clark and Dalu.

Backstroke: ★★★

The Buckeyes return all of their key backstrokers from last year, and add a few freshmen into the mix. Given the size and experience of the group, Ohio State has a case to be made that they have the second-best backstroke group in the Big Ten, behind only Indiana.

Olympian and 44.92 100 backstroker Hunter Armstrong, a junior, returns to the team. Armstrong scored at NCAAs last year, finishing 9th in prelims, then 13th in finals of the 100. Fifth-year Colin Mcdermott was the next-fastest 100 backstroker on the team last year, coming in at 46.19, while Thomas Watkins was 3rd in 46.91.

Watkins is more suited for the 200 back, in which he led the Buckeyes last year with a season best of 1:41.15. McDermott was right behind in 1:41.81. Watkins’ time last year was just outside what it took to qualify for finals at NCAAs, as 1:41.08 placed 16th in prelims last season. McDermott was also just off being an NCAA finalist last year, taking 20th in prelims of the 100 back.

Freshmen Luke Paxton and William Bansberg add 48.3 and 48.5 100 backs into the mix respectively. Bansberg is also a 1:47 200 backstroker as he begins his college career.

Breaststroke: ★★★

Despite the loss of Paul DeLakis, the Ohio State school record holder in the 200 breast, as well as an NCAA A finalist (2019) and B finalist (2021), the Ohio State breaststroke group is still looking formidable. The silver lining to the loss of DeLakis is that he only competed in the 200 breast, which leaves the 100 breast group largely untouched. The Buckeyes did lose Evan McFadden and Connor Isings as well, both of whom were Big Ten B finalists in the 100 breast last year, in what was a stellar B1G field in the event.

The Buckeyes return Jason Mathews and Hudson McDaniel, who finished fourth and fifth respectively at Big Tens last year. Mathews is a 51.30 best time, while McDaniel is a 51.59. The pair went on to finish 10th and 11th at NCAAs as well, although time-wise they have the potential to be A finalists. It took a 51.73 in prelims of NCAAs last year to qualify in the top 8.

Mathews is an equally good 200 breaststroker, as he won the B final at NCAAs last year in a season best 1:52.56. McDaniel isn’t quite as formidable in the 200, coming in at 1:57.76 at his best last year. McDaniel still has scoring potential at Big Tens in the event however.

The freshmen class brings a bit more depth to the breast events as well. Michael Cooper comes in with a sub-2:00 200 breast, having been as fast as 1:59.2 before. Karl Helmuth enters the NCAA with a 54.6 100 breast under his belt.

Butterfly: ★

The fly group is probably the weakest discipline on Ohio State’s roster this year, but that doesn’t mean it lacks depth. The group took a hit just a few weeks ago, when rising sophomore Justin Fleagle, who was the Buckeyes’ leading 100 flyer last year, announced he had left the school and moved to Florida.

Fleagle was also the flyer on the 200 medley relay, which took 4th at NCAAs, and returns the other 3 legs. Fortunately, the Buckeyes do return Jean-Pierre Khouzam, who was their leading 200 flyer last year as a freshman (1:45.42).

Fleagle was a 46.63 100 flyer, but thankfully, Samuel Andreis, who is returning, was just off that time last year, posting a 46.70. Ohio State is bringing in a bit of help with this freshmen class, particularly in the 100 fly, which is also great news for their medley relays in light of Fleagle’s departure.

Australia’s Alex Quach has a 51.22 SCM lifetime best in the 100 fly, which converts to 46.0 for yards. While meters to yards conversions aren’t always spot-on and can vary from person to person, it seems likely that Quach will be at least as fast as Fleagle’s 46.6 this season. OSU also brings in Luke Paxton, who’s been 48.0 before.

While any NCAA points in fly events seems unlikely this season for the Buckeyes, Quach appears to have the potential to be a Big Ten A finalist in the 100 fly, and maybe even an NCAA qualifier. Andreis will be able to provide scoring depth at the conference meet with his 46-mid 100 fly, and Paxton may be able to develop enough in his first year with the program to get down in the 46-range too. The 200 fly isn’t looking as rebuilt as the 100 is, however, Khouzam should be able to score for the team at Big Tens without at problem.

IM: ★

Losing Paul DeLakis is a big hit to the Buckeyes IM squad, as he was their only swimmer with NCAA scoring speed in an IM race. DeLakis took 11th in the 200 IM at NCAAs last year, and was Ohio State’s fastest 200 IMer by six full seconds. With DeLakis out of the picture, the fastest returning 200 IMer from last year is Ryan Trichler, who swam a 1:47.79 last year as a freshman. Trichler did drop almost four seconds last season to get to 1:47, so if he has another year of significant development, he could be a bigger scoring threat at Big Tens this year.

Thomas Watkins led the Buckeyes in the 400 IM last year, clocking a 3:48.43. The addition of Fabio Dalu will be a big help to this IM squad, as he brings a 3:45 personal best to the table. That’s huge for Ohio State, as they didn’t have any swimmers finish in the top 12 at Big Tens in the event last year, and Dalu is looking like a good bet to be an A finalist this season.

The Buckeyes have also brought in a number of IMers with this freshmen class. William Bansberg brings a 1:48.7 200 and 3:50 400 IM to the program, while Michael Cooper adds a 1:49.3 200 IM, and a 3:48.0 400 IM. Luke Paxton clocks in at 1:49.4 in the 200.

While at this point it looks like Ohio State’s only hope of scoring points at NCAAs in an IM rests on how much Dalu is able to improve in his first year with the program, the Buckeyes have added quite a bit of depth here that should help them when Big Tens come around next winter.

Diving: ★★★★★

Five-star ratings are rare in our grading system, but in the case of Ohio State’s diving squad, it’s very well-deserved. The Buckeye divers accounted for 74 points at NCAAs last year, and all four scoring divers return. For context, if Ohio State had only sent their divers to NCAAs last year, they would have finished 18th in team scoring.

Lyle Yost led the team at NCAAs last year, finishing sixth on the 1-meter board, 13th on the 3-meter, and seventh on platform as just a freshman. Entering his sophomore year, Yost is certainly likely to be an NCAA finalist again, and perhaps even to make the A final in all three events this year. The return of Jacob Siler for his fifth year is another huge boost to the Buckeyes’ diving squad, as Siler was the No. 2 performer at NCAAs last year for the team. Siler was off in prelims of 1m at NCAAs, but he bounced back in spectacular fashion, finishing seventh on 3-meter and fifth on platform. This time around, Siler should be able to at the very least match his 26 points from last year.

The Buckeyes had a third All-American last year, as Jake Fielding took sixth in platform at NCAAs. Joey Canova — another Buckeye fifth-year — also scored at NCAAs last year, finishing 14th in both 1-meter and 3-meter.

In addition to the returning NCAA scorers, Ohio State has an unbelievably deep group of divers. They received transfer Mohamed Noaman from Iowa, who left the Hawkeyes program after it was eliminated. Noaman was a top diver in the Big Ten while at Iowa, finishing third in 1-meter and 7th in platform at the 2020 Big Ten Champs. Junior Hunter Grannum is a 2-time Big Ten B finalist with the Buckeyes.

As for the freshmen, Clayton Chapline was a member of USA Diving’s 2020 High Performance Squad. Mike Parker was a 4-time high school All-American, and an Ohio state champion.

While the Buckeyes’ NCAA squad may ultimately end up looking the same as last year, the team is slated to bring in a truly massive haul of points at Big Tens with the new additions to the team.

Relays

The Buckeyes are looking at a bit of a mixed bag in relays as we begin this season. They lost at least one relay member from their NCAA squads in every relay, but they appear to have more or less covered for those losses with their new additions. The relay that took the biggest hit was the 800, which lost Paul DeLakis, a multiple-time All-American in the 200 free. DeLakis led the Ohio State team off in 1:31.93 at NCAAs last year, which was the team’s fastest split by 1.5 seconds. The team came in 14th at NCAAs last year with a 6:16.63, and frankly, it seems like a very tall order for the Buckeyes to get back down to that time again this year. The return of Ruslan Gaziev will certainly help here, however, as Gaziev provides a 1:34.83 flat-start 200 free.

Things are looking much more promising in the other relays, however, even though they lost members. Ohio State’s 200 free relay came in 17th at NCAAs last year, and they don’t return anchor Justin Fleagle. The upside here is that Fleagle posted the slowest split on that relay – 19:52. Judging by freshman Alex Quach‘s SCM conversion, he could already split faster than that off a relay start. Another positive to add to the outlook of this relay is that Colin McDermott split 19.91 on the third leg of the relay at NCAAs, which was just 0.03 seconds faster than his season-best flat-start time. McDermott could be replaced by Gaziev, who has a 19.34 50 free personal best. All things considered, Ohio State looks primed for another 1:16 200 free relay at the slowest.

The 400 free relay lost both Fleagle and DeLakis, which came in 12th at NCAAs last year. Again, Fleagle was the slowest split on the relay, coming in at 43.71. It’s also the case in this relay that Quach already appears able to outsplit Fleagle, so that leg should be taken care of. DeLakis anchored the Buckeyes in 42.15, which may be trickier to replace. Luckily, Gaiev brings a 42.5 100 free into the mix, which should be able to replace DeLakis’ split without issue. This year’s Ohio State relay team could break 2:50 again, which puts them well within scoring contention.

The 200 medley relay was Ohio State’s best relay last season, as they finished 4th at NCAAs, just 0.08 seconds outside of 2nd. They lose only Justin Fleagle from that relay, who provided a 20.37 fly split. It looks as though Alex Quach may be the Buckeyes’ savior here as well. The freshman’s SCM 100 fly converts to a 46.16 in yards, indicating he may be able to give Ohio State a low-20-point fly split on a relay. If Quach is able to replicate Fleagle’s fly split, Ohio State will be in NCAA title contention again this season. They’re very fast on the front half of this relay, as Hunter Armstrong had the fifth-fastest back split in the field at NCAAs last year, and Hudson McDaniel clocked a 22.70 breast split to lead all breaststrokers in the field.

Ohio State would have finished sixth in the 400 medley relay at NCAAs last year, if not for Paul DeLakis false starting on the anchor leg. DeLakis is the only member of that relay who isn’t returning and the fix for that appears simple. The Buckeyes will probably end up shifting Sem Andreis to the free leg, and putting Quach in on fly. They could also do the opposite, and leave Andreis on fly, and have Quach swim free, but as things stand right now, it appears more likely Quach can replicate Andreis’ 45.4 fly leg than DeLakis’ 41-high free split.

2021-2022 Outlook

After finishing 3rd at Big Tens last year, Ohio State is in excellent shape heading into this season. They kept three key fifth years, although they do lose Paul DeLakis, arguably their best individual swimmer. Despite DeLakis and a few other losses, it’s hard not to look at this Buckeyes team as improved over last year’s. That’s because of a few key transfers, namely Fabio Dalu from McKendree, and diver Mohamed Noaman from Iowa, both of whom have the potential to score heavily at Big Tens — even if they don’t represent the relay value DeLakis did.

Despite being in a conference that includes Purdue and Indiana, this Ohio State diving group looks like it could wreak havoc at the Big Ten Championships. It features four NCAA scoring divers from 2021, a two-time Big Ten A finalist, and another two-time Big Tens B finalist. We haven’t seen freshmen Clayton Chapline and Mike Parker yet, but both have the potential to make an impact on this team.

In terms of Ohio State’s NCAA prospects, they look primed for another top-10 finish. The relays, with the exception of the 800 free, look like they’ll be right around where they were last season, so we can project a sizable amount of points there. The diving group can be projected for another 70-plus point season, which will get Ohio State a big chunk of the way to the top 10 on its own. Paul DeLakis and his 26 NCAA points are gone, however, the Buckeyes had more than a few near misses in prelims at NCAAs last year.

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OhioSwimmer
11 days ago

Ruslan Gaziev is back…will be a huge help in the mid distance free as he was a member of the Canadian 4×2! Might want to update that!

fairisfair
Reply to  OhioSwimmer
11 days ago

Absolutely! Adding Ruslan into the mix makes this a completely different article…19.3 flat/18.8 relay split in the 50 as a freshman in 2019 (btw, Armstrong split 18.8 at the Scarlet-Gray meet last weekend), and a 1:34 in the 200 free. I’m betting he replaces Delakis and then some…two Olympic sprinters on relays…crazy!

OnWisco
11 days ago

No way IU has Fantoni, Burns, and Steele but you say Michigan has the best backstroke group in the B1G

Last edited 11 days ago by OnWisco
B1Guy!
11 days ago

O-H!

B1Guy!
Reply to  B1Guy!
10 days ago

Fine if nobody else is gonna do it haha….I-O!