College Swimming Previews: #8 Georgia Men Battling A Sates-less Season

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

#8 Georgia Bulldogs

Key Losses: Matt Sates (36 NCAA points), Harrison Wayner (NCAA qualifier, 7 SEC points), Jeffrey Durmer (5 SEC points), Keegan Walsh (1 SEC point), Zach Allen (previous NCAA qualifier)

Key Additions: Kevin Li (China – diver), Sam Powe (TN – back/free), Roman Valdez (GA – free/fly), Colton McGrady (GA – free), Steven Insixiengmay (NC – breast/IM), Aaron Seymour (GA – back/free/fly), Clayton Whetstine (VA – back/IM), Cooper Cook (GA – free/back), Kristian Pitshugin (Israel – breast)

Fifth Years: Ananda Lim (10 SEC points)

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

Georgia had a relatively tough season last year after graduating some of their top speed. The team’s fourth-place finish at the 2022 SEC Championships, two places lower than in 2021, and eighth place showing at NCAAs, four spots lower than in 2021, reflected that. But, their younger crew led by freshman Matt Sates, alongside sophomores Luca Urlando and Jake Magahey, stepped up last season to fill the gaps left by the Dawgs’ graduated seniors. 

Urlando continued to make his mark at Georgia last season as the team’s highest NCAA point-scorer, becoming the national runner-up in the 100 and 200 fly and competing on four NCAA relays. He also placed third in the 200 IM, becoming the first Dawg on the podium in this event since two-time Olympian Chase Kalisz placed second in 2014. The team had a mid-season boost when South Africa’s Sates joined them and won the national title in the 500 free and third place in the 200 free. He also reinforced the butterfly corps by claiming 2nd place behind Urlando in the 200 fly at SECs.

The Georgia men had solid relay performances last season, placing highest in the 800 free relay with a second-place showing at NCAAs with Sates, Urlando, Zach Hils, and Magahey. These relays boosted their points, while backstroke, breaststroke and diving were some of their weak spots. In April, Sates announced he was returning to South Africa and concluding his NCAA career after three months of competition.

Head coach Jack Bauerle recruited a large 2022-2023 freshman class with a wide range of specialties before retiring after his 43rd season with the Dawgs. They look to triple Georgia’s SEC diving score last year and revamp the freestyle, backstroke, and breaststroke groups the most. 

Sprint Free:

The Dawgs had one NCAA finalist in the 50 free last season and that was current senior Dillon Downing who placed 16th. He also led the team in the 100 free, placing 36th. Their field behind him last year was thin even at SECs where they only had one other swimmer earn a second swim in the 50 free in the ‘C’ final, continuing the Dawgs’ legacy of lacking sprint freestylers. But, they did have fast 100 freestylers who did not race the event at NCAAs like Hils who was a valuable relay swimmer, 200 IMer and 200 backstroker instead. 

Sates was the star of the show in the 200 free, placing third at NCAAs shortly after winning the SEC title, but he also had Magahey close behind him in fourth at the conference meet. Magahey ultimately placed 29th at NCAAs, but the time he swam at SEC’s would have made it back to finals so he is definitely within reach of scoring at NCAAs this year. He also was dealing with undisclosed health issues at the time, but his summer results (winning the 400 free at U.S. Nationals) indicate he is back to full strength. The question is, will that be enough to make up for Sates’ absence?

This training group is not losing any of their top finishers to graduation, giving them a head start at building a deeper sprint group this season that may be reinforced by incoming freshmen like Roman Valdez (44.51/1:35.65) and Cooper Cook (44.82/1:37.01).

Distance Free:

Sates and Magahey were the fastest 500 freestylers in the country last season, proving it by taking first and second place at NCAAs. They didn’t have a deep field behind them, so a Sates-less season will leave the responsibility of scoring to Magahey this year. Bradley Dunham was able to step into Andrew Abruzzo’s shoes and place 23rd, so he may soon be able to score ‘B’ final points for the Dawgs here.

While Georgia has one of the best 1650 freestylers in the country in Magahey, that event still has an uphill battle for them in the SEC with only a few swimmers backing him up. The race was Gator fodder last season with Florida dominating by claiming first place with Olympic medalist Bobby Finke, third, and fifth through ninth place at SECs. At NCAAs, Magahey finished fourth, scoring 15 points with no Dawgs entered behind him.  

Luckily for Georgia, Finke graduated after last season. And they have a few swimmers who could fill in the space behind Magahey like current junior Tommylee Camblong, who placed 13th at SECs, or incoming freshman Sam Kohm (4:36.54/16:00.10).

Backstroke:

Sprint backstroke was a bit of a weak spot for Georgia last season in the individual events where they had no NCAA finalists. But, Urlando shocked everyone by leading off the 400 medley relay in a blistering 43.35, breaking Ryan Murphy’s 100 back NCAA record and American record. Urlando proved he can pretty much do it all – fly, back, and IM – and it will come down to which races he decides to swim this season. He already had a heavy event lineup in 2021 with the 100 fly, 200 fly, 200 IM and four relays, but if he does race the 100 back this season there’s a great chance he will win it. His lead-off split would have won the event in 2021 by more than half a second.

The future looks bright for Georgia in backstroke with so many up-and-coming swimmers with the potential to rise to the NCAA finals. Last season, Bradley Dunham led the Dawgs’ individual backstrokers, placing 27th in the 100 and 40th in the 200. They also had the versatile Zach Hils taking 34th place and since neither of them has graduated, they are in a solid position to reinforce that training group.

Another one of these promising swimmers is incoming freshman Sam Powe (46.97/1:41.99) whose best times would have made the 100 back and 200 back SEC ‘B’ finals. One thing that does not help the Dawgs in this stroke is that they graduated one of their SEC ‘C’ finalists in the 200 back last season, Keegan Walsh, one of their ‘C’ finalists in the 200 back.

Breaststroke:

Georgia has been a bit stuck with their breaststroke recently – they had no NCAA qualifiers in individual breaststroke events. And they just graduated one of their two SEC ‘C’ finalists in the 100 breast, Harrison Wayner. Luckily the other, Arie Voloschin is a sophomore, but it will be up to the incoming freshman to rebuild that group. Voloschin also leads the 200 breaststrokers after making the SEC ‘B’ final.

One potential game-changing factor is that Georgia’s new head coach, Neil Versfeld, was the 2009 NCAA Champion in the 200 breast. With his insight, we can expect the Dawgs’ breaststroke to improve in the coming seasons.

This is another area Sates will be missed this season. He didn’t race breaststroke in individual events at last year’s NCAA Championships, but he helped the 400 medley relay to a 12th place finish.

Luckily, they have a few freshman coming in like Steven Insixiengmay (54.19/2:01.66), Charlie Stout (55.45/2:01.26), and Kristian Pitshugin whose best short course meters times convert to the 52.35/2:00.96 that the Dawgs need right now.

Butterfly:

The Dawg’s dominant butterfly group is dominated by Urlando, the national runner-up in the 100 and fly. This is a unique Georgia training group that has Urlando at the helm, but not many swimmers behind him. He was the only NCAA scorer in butterfly events, though Sates did compete in the 200 fly and placed 29th.

This group might take a hit, assuming Abruzzo does not return for his 5th year of eligiblity. He was a strong SEC ‘A’ final swimmer behind Urlando in the 200 fly who placed eighth, but he did not compete at last season’s NCAAs. Urlando has at least two more years of eligibility left which secures Georgia’s place at the top of national butterflies, the best thing for them to do would be to develop the younger swimmers to reinforce him. Incoming freshmen with that potential include Aaron Seymour (49.18/N/A) and Tyler Schroeder (48.35/1:48.62).

IM:

Georgia’s 200 IM group is in good hands with Urlando who placed third last season. He was the fastest 200 IMer in the SEC last season by a full second, winning the event at SECs in 1:41.19 and then going sub-1:40 to make the podium at NCAAs in third place. The team is lacking depth here, though, with no other NCAA qualifiers. Zach Hils had a strong performance at SEC’s but was disqualified in the ‘A’ final, so he may be able to reinforce this group this season.

Ian Grum took charge in the 400 IM and placed 10th, a solid finish but he missed the ‘A’ final which he qualified for in 2021. This had less to do with his time (he actually swam 3.3 seconds faster in 2022) than the fact that the entire field got faster. Defending champion Hugo Gonzalez of Cal and ASU freshman Leon Marchand, the defending world champion, are two swimmers we can blame for that.

Diving:

Georgia’s diving squad is looking excellent this season compared to last season, retaining their largest SEC point-scorer Nolan Lewis, and adding Alabama transfer Kevin Li. The Dawgs scored a total of 18 diving points at last year’s SEC Championships. Li scored 43 points for Alabama by himself. While the addition of Li is significant on the SEC level, neither Lewis, Li, or any Georgia divers qualified for NCAAs last season.

Notably, the Dawgs are losing previous NCAA qualifier Zach Allen, but the addition of Li will deepen this group.

Relays:

Sates, Urlando, and Magahey were the golden trio of Georgia’s fastest relays last season and all of them have at least two years of collegiate eligibility left. This is another reason Sates’ absence will largely affect the Dawgs this season, but the fact that Urlando and Magahey are not seniors this year bodes well for the team for the next two seasons. That trio plus Hils placed second at NCAAs in the 800 free relay last year, scoring 34 points for the team.

The relay team that will be second-most affected this season is their 200 medley relay, which had Wayner on breaststroke, but this shouldn’t affect the team too much since this was the only relay they didn’t score in. They’ll have to use freshman Kristian Pitshugin or  Steven Insixiengmay. 

The Dawgs took home 12 points in the 200 free relay and 400 free relay and 10 points in the 400 medley relay. All of those relay members will be returning this season, making for a very fast and stable relay team.

Total Stars: 20/40

2022-2023 Outlook

The Dawgs are looking relatively strong going into this season since most of their highest 2021 point scorers are still on the team. The best non-Florida class was the Georgia returning swimmers who scored 573 out of the Dawgs’ 919 points last season’s SEC Championships. While they won’t be very affected by losing their 2022 graduates and will add the incoming freshman, Sates leaving will be a difficult hurdle to overcome in mid-distance freestyle and relays.

Diving could be a game-changer now with the addition of Li and relays likely won’t change much, unless the freshman hop into some of those fourth spots (especially the 200 medley which is now missing Wayner).

Ninth or 10th place sounds reasonable for Georgia this year as they get back into their groove, strengthen what they have, and reinforce what groups they aren’t so dominant in. Urlando is proving that these are some of the fastest years of Georgia IMers and butterflies in recent history and they should take advantage of that while they still have him for the next couple of seasons.

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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THEO
24 days ago

Why would Urlando not swim the 1back instead of 1fly? Back is a way easier win, no?

tea rex
24 days ago

How is sprint freestyle expected to score 4-15 points per event (12-45 total) ???

  • 50 free: return 1 point
  • 100 free: return 0 points
  • 200 free: return 0 points (9 if Magahey swam a PR in prelims and finals)

In 200 IM, Hils got 17th at NCAAs, which is worth a mention.

Last edited 24 days ago by tea rex
ensee two ayys
25 days ago

cold take

Ghost
25 days ago

Why do you credit Marchand with making 4IM field much faster in 2022 when he got beat by Hugo Gonzalez from Cal. Hugo also set the NCAA record. That is two swimswam articles where Marchand was credited with winning 4im at NCAAs. Give Hugo some love!

Ghost
Reply to  Ghost
25 days ago

They change the article now but don’t comment about to my comment. As if I was making it up

Nealnan
25 days ago

It will be interesting to see if the American record holder in the 100 yd back actually swims it at the NCAAs!

Sec fan
25 days ago

Y’all must hate UGA

Horninco
Reply to  Sec fan
25 days ago

OR, and hear me out here, maybe a team that finished 8th last year AND THEN lost one of their top 2 swimmers, while not signing a freshman class full of difference makers, is actually being given the benefit of the doubt?

Just maybe

Swimmer
25 days ago

Dropping out of the top 10

Reid
25 days ago

You have fly and sprint free at the same level? And you expect Urlando to score <15 points per fly event?

About Annika Johnson

Annika Johnson

Annika came into the sport competitively at age eight, following in the footsteps of her twin sister and older brother. The sibling rivalry was further fueled when all three began focusing on distance freestyle, forcing the family to buy two lap counters. Annika is a three-time Futures finalist in the 200 …

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