College Swimming Previews: #7 Stanford Men Aim To Keep Last Year’s Momentum Going

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

#7 Stanford Men

Key Losses: Conor Casey (11 NCAA points, 40 Pac-12 points), Grant Shoults (14 NCAA points, 34 Pac-12 points), Daniel Roy (11 NCAA points, 27 Pac-12 points), Alex Liang (34 Pac-12 points), Mason Gonzalez (NCAA relay qualifier, 2 Pac-12 points)

Key Additions: #2 Josh Zuchowski (Back/IM), #3 Liam Custer (Free/IM), #11 Zhier Fan (Breast/IM), #15 Andreas Dupont (Free), HM Henry Morrissey (Distance Free)  

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.

2021-2022 LOOKBACK

The 2021-2022 season was the Stanford Cardinal’s most successful season since 2018 on the men’s side, driven largely by their underclassmen. At Pac-12s, the freshmen and sophomores earned just under half of Stanford’s 760 points. With their diving boost, they led Pac-12s for much of the meet before being caught by Cal on the final day and placing second. However, they return the most individual points in the conference, an important marker for them as they gear up to take on Cal, the defending national champions, and a fast-rising ASU team. 

At the NCAA Championship level, they vaulted from 14th to seventh place in one year, finishing five points behind ASU. Andrei Minakov powered that effort, as he won the 100 butterfly (becoming Stanford’s first national champion since 2018), finished third in the 100 freestyle, and gave up one of his individual events to swim on all five scoring relays. Their other individual ‘A’ finalist was Leon MacAlister, who finished fifth in the 200 backstroke. 

Eight of the 11-man NCAA team return, including all of their individual point-scorers. That’s another good sign for a team looking to build last season’s success and continue their upswing. 

SPRINT FREE: ★★

The 50 freestyle was the event that Minakov, Stanford’s main returning sprinter, scratched out of to race all five relays. Had he swum, he would have been in position to make the ‘B’ final. Sprint freestyle is one of Stanford’s weakest areas, and it’s a discipline that’s only getting faster at a national level. At NCAAs last year, it took a blistering 18.94 to make the ‘A’ final, and 19.16 for a second swim at all. With 6 of the ‘A’ finalists from last year returning, Stanford can’t count on a regression to make life easier for them.

With Minakov out of the 50 freestyle, their highest placed finisher was Luke Maurer at 38th in 19.50. Maurer’s best is a 19.40 from winning the consolation final at Pac-12s, and he was just off that in Atlanta. As we continue this preview, you’ll see that was a big trend for the Cardinal last year; they swam lights out at Pac-12s and then, with a few exceptions, were unable to match that speed two weeks later.

It was the same story in the 100 freestyle, with Minakov getting third and Maurer adding time and finishing outside the scoring in 42nd. However, it’s the 200 freestyle where Maurer really shines. There, he finished 14th, setting a lifetime best of 1:32.58 in prelims. Maurer has cut almost two seconds off his 200 free lifetime best since arriving at Stanford.

Preston Forst also adds serious depth to the 200 freestyle. He holds a lifetime best of 1:32.48 from the 2022 Pac-12s where he was the runner-up behind ASU’s Grant House. That makes him and Maurer (who finished fifth) a strong 1-2 punch for the Cardinal in that event. Forst added time at NCAAs and missed out on finals, but he’s more than capable of making it back. And with lots of space freeing up in the 200 free at the NCAA level, there’s plenty of room for both to move up the ranks.

The main addition to their sprint group is Andres Dupont Cabrerawho has bests of 20.07/43.68/1:35.60. He’ll need to drop from those to be competitive in the post-season, but depending on how he develops at Stanford over the course of the year, he could add much-needed depth to their sprint group.

DISTANCE FREE: ★★★

Liam Custer Commits to Stanford 2026

As a 200 and 500 freestyler, Forst straddles our distinction between sprint and distance freestyle. The rising junior is the defending Pac-12 champion in the 500 freestyle. He followed that win up a few weeks later by winning the NCAA consols in a lifetime best 4:11.56. Forst shed three seconds in the 500 free last season, and has a good shot at making it to the ‘A’ final this year if he can stay at (or improve) his best.

Liam Custer, on paper, looks to be the freshman who’s going to make the biggest immediate impact on the team. He holds a best of 4:18.49 in the 500—good enough for 12th at Pac-12s–but where he really shines is the mile. His lifetime best is 14:37.86, which is the fastest in his high school class. Not only would that time have won Pac-12s last year, it also would have been good enough for ninth at NCAAs, just ahead of Stanford’s (now graduated) Grant Shoults. In a sprint-heavy NCAA format, Custer still stands out as someone who’ll be a huge asset to a Stanford team trying to keep rising up the ranks.

Stanford also adds Henry Morrissey, whose lifetime best in the mile is 14:57.96, which would have put him fifth at Pac-12s. His 500 free checks in at 4:23.45, so he’ll need to drop to be competitive in that event, but he’s a good addition to the Stanford distance group.

BACKSTROKE: ★★★

We’ve talked about Minakov being one of the main forces behind Stanford’s push up the standings. Also playing a critical role in that drive was backstroker Leon MacAlister, whose performance last year may have flown under the radar a bit. Nevertheless, the rising senior was a crucial part of both the Pac-12 and NCAA teams.

MacAlister made huge strides over the course of his junior season—he dropped lifetime bests and went from not even qualifying for NCAAs in 2021 to placing fifth in the 200 backstroke, setting a Stanford record of 1:38.95 in prelims. He served as the backstroker on the 200 and 400 medley relays, earning Pac-12 titles in both. As Stanford aims to keep moving up the rankings, MacAlister will continue to play a key role in that effort.

The backstroke group doesn’t end with him though. This fall, Josh Zuchowski joins the team and should have an immediate impact. After making big improvements as a junior in high school, Zuchowski didn’t have big drops his senior year, which will make it interesting to see how he responds to college training. Still, he’s had a solid summer in long course with two second-place finishes at Junior Pan Pacs in the 100 and 200 backstroke, and setting a junior national meet record in the 200 back. His best yards times easily score at Pac-12s. His best time in the 200 back, 1:41.20, would have tied him for eighth. Having another swimmer capable of making an ‘A’ final on the final day of the meet will be huge for Stanford in the race against Cal, especially in an event that the Bears are known for.

Also adding backstroke depth is Aaron Sequeira, who made a pair of ‘A’ finals in the 100 and 200 backstroke at Pac-12s. He also qualified for NCAAs, though he didn’t score in any of his events. That will be the next big step for Sequeira, whose backstroke bests are 45.72 in the 100 and 1:40.99 in the 200. 

BREASTSTROKE:

Zhier Fan. Photo: Jon Reiter

With Daniel Roy, their only NCAA scorer in breaststroke, graduating, breaststroke is a weak spot for Stanford. They still have Ron Polonsky, who put up stellar times as the breaststroke leg on their medley relays, including a 23.10 split on the 200 medley relay and a blistering 50.98 on the 400 medley relay. Polonsky just missed scoring in the 200 breaststroke at NCAAs after (say it with me now) putting up a lifetime best at Pac-12s. Polonsky, like MacAlister, flew under the radar but was a key part of the engine that drove Stanford’s achievements last season. 

They’re also getting a major boost in the form of Zhier Fan. Fan had the top 200 breaststroke time in the high school class of 2022, and should make a nice training partner for Polonsky. His lifetime best 1:52.92 would’ve been seventh in the Pac-12 and in the 100, he’s been as fast as 52.97, which would’ve finished 11th. While he (like many of his incoming class) doesn’t have the 2022 NCAA invite times yet, his 200 breast time would’ve wound up 19th, just a few places out of finals. Depending on how he develops, he could challenge Polonsky for a spot on the medley relay as well. 

Rounding out the breaststroke group are Ethan Dang and Hayden ZhengNeither Dang, a rising junior, nor Zheng, a rising sophomore, has set a personal best in a breaststroke event while at Stanford. Dang’s been close to both his 100 (52.76) and 200 (1:55.26) bests though, hitting 52.81 and 1:55.60 and swimming in a pair of ‘B’ finals at Pac-12s.

Zheng was further off his 53.09 and 1:54.98 bests, posting season-bests of 53.83 and 1:56.26. Even with Fan coming in, this breaststroke group could use a boost, and getting either Dang or Zheng to hit a personal best would be a big lift. 

BUTTERFLY: ★★★

In theory, Andrei Minakov‘s NCAA title in the 100 butterfly alone is enough to give the state of Stanford butterfly four stars. However, given that he was the only NCAA scorer across both the 100 and 200 butterfly, we’ve opted to go with three stars.

It’s not that Stanford lacks butterfliers–they have a solid group that includes Minakov, Sequeira, Ethan HuAffeld, Forst, and Mihm across both distances. So far, though, they haven’t made the jump to scoring at an NCAA level. Only Minakov made it past prelims in the 100 fly at NCAAs, with Affeld adding a tenth of a second and earning 21st in 45.45. Sequeira was 27th in 45.57, also adding a bit of time.

That said, it’s an entirely different story at Pac-12s. Last year, Cardinal caps took up half the lanes in the 100 fly ‘A’ final. Minakov won the race, with Sequeira taking fourth, Hu sixth, and Affeld seventh, giving the Cardinal 60 points in the event. That’s 20 points more than ASU, and 40 more than Cal in the event. Thus, they’ve proven themselves a force to be reckoned with at the conference level; now, they’ll try to translate that to NCAAs more successfully.

The 200 fly group is less stacked, even at the conference level. Where Stanford got four into the Pac-12 100 fly ‘A’ final, they had only Forst in the 200 fly. Forst finished fifth, in a lifetime best 1:41.70. Then in the ‘B’ final, there was the trio of Rick MihmMatt Fenlon, and Hu finishing 12th, 13th, and 16th, respectively. Affeld scratched the 200 fly at Pac-12s, but later placed 26th and NCAAs, and holds a lifetime best of 1:41.42, which he swam at the 2022 Stanford/Cal dual meet.

The group projects to look much the same as it did last year: none of the incoming freshmen project as a pure butterflyers, with Rafael Gu coming closest as he’s listed as a free/fly specialist on Stanford’s roster.

IM: ★★★

Polonsky leads Stanford’s IM group with lifetime bests of 1:39.96 in the 200 IM and 3:39.49 in the 400. Last year, he finaled in both events at NCAAs, winning the ‘B’ final of the 200 IM and placing 12th in the 400 IM. As we already discussed, Polonsky is capable of putting up stellar times in breaststroke, but the IMs are where he shined in his first year at Stanford. Now a sophomore, the Cardinal will rely on him not only to continue improving, but also to take over more of a leadership role. 

We haven’t talked much about Affeld, but he’s one of the most versatile swimmers on Stanford’s roster. His three NCAA events were the 200 IM, 100 fly, and 200 fly, but he’s also the freestyler on Stanford’s medley relays. He placed 18th at NCAAs in the 200 IM, just .05 off his 1:42.52 best. Stanford didn’t have more than one swimmer make it back in a single event at NCAAs, so it would be huge for them if Affeld could claw two places up the rankings and secure a second swim. It took 1:42.35 to final last year, so he’s certainly capable of it.

Mihm adds to their depth in the IMs, making the 200 ‘A’ final and 400 ‘B’ final at Pac-12s. He set lifetime bests in both events last season, 1:43.13 in the 200 and 3:43.52. He needs to drop a second in the 200 and 2.5 in the 400 to be within range of finaling at NCAAs, but at the conference level, he’s proven to be a valuable piece for the Cardinal.

There’s also a lot of potential in the incoming freshmen class—Custer, Fan, and Zuchowski could all add an IM as their third event, depending on how they develop once they arrive on campus. Adding even one of them to an already solid IM group will be a boost for the Cardinal. In the 200 IM, Zuchowski currently holds the fastest time of the three in 1:45.51, with Custer and Fan at 1:46.82 and 1:46.99, respectively. The 200 IM is an event where we often see swimmers have big drops when they get to college, so keep an eye on that. Custer and Zuchowski are separated by hundredths in the 400 IM, both owning 3:45.4s, and could develop that event as well.

We ranked them at three stars, but on a Stanford team that’s in some ways still searching for an identity, the IM group could be the core of what powers them this season. 

DIVING:

The single star is a bit of a brutal rating for this group. However, the fact is that Conor Casey, the Cardinal’s highest-scoring NCAAs diver, has graduated. It’s a loss for sure, but Stanford still has a reliable core of divers, including Jack Ryan, who placed 12th on 1-meter at NCAAs. Diving has always been one of Stanford’s strengths, particularly at the conference level, where they brought a 133-point lead over Cal and 102-point lead over ASU into the first day of swimming at Pac-12s. 

Building a similar cushion again will be essential for Stanford if they have their sights on a Pac-12 championship. They have a squad of four divers: Ryan, Hunter Hollenbeck, Ethan Foster, and newcomer Peyton Donald who they’ll be relying on for that. Donald was part of the 2018, 2019, and 2021 national teams and will be a welcome addition to an already strong diving group. 

Casey won both the 1-meter and 3-meter boards in 2022, but rising sophomore Ryan was just behind him. Ryan placed second on 1-meter, third on 3-meter, and eighth on platform. He will be a critical part of filling the hole that Casey leaves behind. Hollenbeck also scored at Pac-12s, placing eighth on both 1-meter and 3-meter.

RELAYS: ★★★★

As they were powered by their underclassmen last year, Stanford returns all but one of their twenty relay legs–Mason Gonzalez in the men’s 200 free relay. We previously mentioned that Minakov only swam two individual events at NCAAs in order to be on all five relays; if he doesn’t opt for that again, they’ll also have to exchange him for someone else on one of the relays. 

Minakov’s choice paid off for the Cardinal, as all five of their relays scored at NCAAs. Their highest finish came in the 800 free relay, where Minakov, Maurer, Polonsky, and Forst combined for third in 6:06.83. As we talked about on the SwimSwam Breakdown’s preview of men’s NCAAs, the name of the game in this relay is to avoid a 1:33 split, or have the fastest 1:33 split. None of the top four teams last year had a 1:33 split, so that’s where the bar is now set. (Texas and Cal were actually all split faster than 1:32). Texas and Georgia finished ahead of Stanford, and while it’s hard to see anyone beating Texas in this relay, with Georgia losing Matt Sates’ 1:30.78 lead-off, there is room for Stanford to move up.

Given their lack of depth in sprint freestyle, it will come as no surprise that their lowest scoring relay was the 200 freestyle relay, where they scraped into the scoring at 14th. They have to replace Gonzalez’s 19.16 split here, and there isn’t an obvious next man up. It will likely come down to Dupont Cabrera or MacAlister, who swam the 50 freestyle as his third NCAA event. 

Their medley relays are in good shape, with MacAlister, Polonsky, Minakov, and Affeld teaming up for eighth in the 200 and sixth in the 400. Given the teams ahead of them, especially in the 400 medley, they’ll have a serious fight to move up much higher. In the 200 medley, there’s a bit more wiggle room, as Louisville (who was just ahead of them at seventh) is in a rebuilding season. 

As for the 400 freestyle relay, the team of Minakov, MacAlister, Polonsky, and Maurer added 1.04 seconds from their Pac-12s time to finish eighth at NCAAs in 2:48.21. That’s reflective both of how well they swam at Pac-12s but also how tiring a meet NCAAs is. The 400 free relay is the last event of the meet, and last year, the only team in the top 8 to drop from their seed was Texas, who won the race. Given that we know they can be faster, it’s clear that the Cardinal are capable of challenging for a top-five spot.

With four relays in the top eight and the overwhelming majority of their legs returning, Stanford’s relays are shaping up to be one of the most solid parts of their 2022-2023 team.

Total Stars: 21/40

2022-2023 OUTLOOK:

The Stanford men ended the 2021-2022 season on an upswing, and look poised to continue to build on the successes of the previous year. They return key athletes, and bring in a promising freshmen class that stands to make an impact on both the conference and national level. 

They made a huge jump in the NCAA standings last year, and as they look to not only hold that place but to improve it, it’s imperative that they have more of their athletes scoring individually, and ideally, more than just one swimmer scoring in a single event.  

After swimming lights out at Pac-12s last year, it looks like they might have their eyes on dethroning Cal, the five-time conference champions. However, that push came at a price last year, as many of their big names added time from conference to NCAAs and missed finals in events where they were capable of making it back. They’ll have to improve their double-taper if they want to move up the standings at both meets.

MEN’S PREVIEW INDEX

Team Sprint Free Distance Free Backstroke Breaststroke Butterfly IM Diving Relays Total Stars
1
2
3
4
5
6
#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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Shaddy419
24 days ago

Feels weird seeing Grant Shoults in the key losses column

maximum mchuge
Reply to  Shaddy419
24 days ago

Longest career in the history of college

Human Ambition
24 days ago

POTUS is very clear on where USA stands in “any kind of sponsoring of the Russian war”.

Have NCAA discussed the elegibility of Russian swimmers during USA’s sanctions?

PK Doesn't Like His Long Name
Reply to  Human Ambition
24 days ago

Given that Medvedev and the other Russians were able to play the US Open, I’d be pretty shocked if NCAA eligibility was affected.

Alex Liangs biggest fan
25 days ago

Imagine not adding Alex Liangs fan page as a loss, goated Instagram account 🤩

GatorGuy
25 days ago

Im loving these reviews! Agree that doing a relative basis for the top 12 would is the most meaningful in this capacity. Im also a big fan of college football recruiting and while it clearly has some faults, I really like what 247sports or ON3 are doing with their rankings.
Can we get a running table at the bottom as they are filled out, working towards the number 1. It would be awesome to see the relatives as well in a matrix of Schools (and a hyper link to the article about that school) going vertical and the strokes + diving horizontal + total stars.

Zone E
25 days ago

Jack Ryan scored on 1M at NCAA’s last year. Zone E is very grateful he did.

About Sophie Kaufman

Sophie Kaufman

Sophie grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, which means yes, she does root for the Bruins, but try not to hold that against her. At 9, she joined her local club team because her best friend convinced her it would be fun. Shoulder surgery ended her competitive swimming days long ago, …

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