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.
#8 GEORGIA BULLDOGS
Key Losses: Pace Clark (19 NCAA points, 3 NCAA relays), Taylor Dale (13 NCAA points, 3 NCAA relays), Chase Kalisz (34 NCAA points, 2 NCAA relays), John Mattern (1 NCAA relay)
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
A few key players for the Bulldogs performed very well last season and they were solid all around, but the Bulldogs weren’t able to improve on their 5th place finish from 2016. Chase Kalisz and Gunnar Bentz, were the key players for the Bulldogs last season. After taking a redshirt in 2015-16, Kalisz returned to reclaim his 400 IM title and break the American Record. Bentz was the team’s top scorer, finishing in the top 4 of each of his individual events and scoring 46 points.
Georgia took 8th place with 183 points at the 2017 NCAA Championships, marking their 9th top-10 performance at NCAAs in the last 10 seasons. They also had success at the SEC Championships, breaking into the top 2 by placing 2nd behind Florida and moving ahead of Auburn.
SPRINT FREE: D
The Bulldogs don’t have a lot of depth in the sprint department, and they tend to use guys like Gunnar Bentz and Jay Litherland, who aren’t sprint free specialists, on their 400 free relay. Javier Acevedo looks like the team’s best sprinter at this point, but he tends to focus more on the backstrokes individually.
They have a couple of freshmen coming in who will look to develop into the scoring role for them. Teagan Cheney (21.09/44.88) is within 7 tenths of SEC scoring range in the 100 free, and could wind up playing a part on the 400 free relay if he’s able to dip into the 44-low to 43-high range.
The 200 free shows potential for the Bulldogs, as Walker Higgins returns after making the SEC final, but he’s still a little over a second shy of NCAA scoring range there. If Bentz or Litherland decided to swim it, they would be a definite scoring threat, but it’s unlikely that they will since the 400 IM falls on the same day.
DISTANCE FREE: B-
The Bulldogs have a good group of distance freestylers returning between Walker Higgins, Kevin Litherland, and Aidan Burns. They all made big drops in the mile at SECs last season to break 15:10 for the first time, and all 3 went on to compete in the distance freestyles at NCAAs. Jay Litherland also competed in the 500 free at NCAAs and was .06 seconds out of scoring in the event.
Incoming freshman Greg Reed is quickly improving and has the potential to be a scorer. He dropped from a 4:28 to a 4:22 in the 500 free last season, and he also knocked his 1650 free time down by over 30 seconds to a 15:01. Fellow incomer Aaron Apel has already broken 15:00 in the 1650 free. He boasts times of 14:57.71 in the mile and 4:20.41 in the 500 free, making him and SEC scoring threat in both. Also joining the freshman freestyle group is Tal Davis with a best time in the 500 free (4:21.05) that would’ve scored at SECs last season.
Both Apel and Reed have times in the 1500 free that are faster than what Litherland and Burns did at SECs last season and would’ve made them the team’s top scorers in the event. While the returners and the incoming freshmen are steadily dropping time and should bring in a lot of conference points, they’re not likely to get many NCAA points outside of Jay Litherland in the 500 free based on current best times. Kevin Litherland could make big moves this year, though, as he’s only a second outside of scoring range in the 500 free and looks primed for a huge drop in the mile after almost beating his yards time in the meters pool with a 15:10 at long course nationals.
Though they’re without NCAA champ Chase Kalisz in the IMs now, Gunnar Bentz (4th 200 IM, 4th 400 IM) and Jay Litherland will still do plenty of damage for the Bulldogs. Bentz placed 4th in both IMs last season, while Litherland placed 7th in the 400 IM. We’ll most likely see both of them return to the A final, and both are in the conversation for the NCAA title in the 400 IM. Bentz is a title threat in the 200 IM as well, going up against defending co-champion Mark Szaranek.
Georgia has a slew of returning SEC scorers aside from those 2, including Clayton Forde, James Guest, Aidan Burns, and Mick Litherland. Forde and Burns competed in the 400 IM at NCAAs. This is another area where one of the Litherland brothers could make a big difference if they’re able to match their improvements from this summer in the long course pool. Mick Litherland took 3 seconds off his 400 IM time at nationals.
Freshman addition Tal Davis comes in with a sub-3:50 time in the 400 IM, making him an SEC scoring threat.
The loss of Pace Clark has a big impact here. Clark was a scorer in both butterflies at last season’s NCAAs. You could also argue that losing Kalisz will impact them in the butterflies also, but since he was disqualified in the 200 fly final last season, he didn’t earn any points towards their final score.
Gunnar Bentz is their top scoring prospect here. He returns after placing 3rd in the 200 fly in 2017. Mick Litherland could once again have a big impact in this event is he translates his improvements from the long course pool. He was a finalist at nationals in this race, lowering his best time to a 1:57.0 in meters. With his current best yards time of 1:43.3, he’s about a second shy of NCAA scoring range.
Incoming freshman Camden Murphy is a likely candidate for the butterfly role on the medley relays now that Clark has graduated. With bests of 46.25 and 1:44.31 in the butterflies, Murphy is right around what it took to make the A final in the 100 fly at SECs last season, and looks like a shoo in for a scoring spot in the 200 fly as well. The best sprint flyer in his class, he’s also within a half second of what it took to score at NCAAs in the 100, so he has the potential to make an impact there as well.
The Bulldogs graduated top backstroker Taylor Dale last season, but they’ve still got returning NCAA scorer Javier Acevedo. Last season, Acevedo placed 11th in the 100 back, and was nearly a scorer in the 200 back when he missed the B final by just one place. Jay Litherland is also a returning backstroke scorer after placing 10th in the B final at 2017 NCAAs. His best time is a 1:40.03 from last season, but if he’s able to dip into the 1:39-range, we could see him in the A final.
Incoming freshman Youssef Said is the Egyptian Record holder in the 100 back. He doesn’t have any yards experience yet, so it’s hard to tell where he’ll be scoring wise. Since Acevedo is the team’s top freestyle sprinter, Said may end up taking over the backstroke leg of the medley relays.
Georgia lost relay breaststrokers Chase Kalisz and John Mattern to graduation, but James Guest returns as a 2017 SEC finalist in the 200 breast. He was and NCAA qualifier, and nearly scored in the 200 breast, placing 17th in prelims.
Aside from Guest, they don’t have anyone close to scoring at NCAAs, but they do have a few guys to get them points at SECs. Colin Monaghan returns after scoring in the 100 breast, while Basil Orr and Jackson Ford return after scoring in the 200 breast.
The Bulldogs have a little bit of rebuilding to do after losing a lot of scorers to graduation. Taylor Dale, Chase Kalisz, Pace Clark, and John Mattern were all a part of scoring relays at NCAAs last season. It could be tough for Georgia to bring home another top 10 finish now that 3 of their 6 individual scorers from 2017 have graduated, but a few of last season’s NCAA qualifiers could move up into scoring range if they’re able to keep up their steady improvements from last season. The Bulldogs’ success will also depend on how the freshmen perform, as Camden Murphy and Youssef Said will likely play a part in the relays. All-in-all, the Bulldogs have some weak spots, but their depth in the IMs and distance freestyles should help them significantly at SECs and NCAAs.