Key Additions: Fabian Schwingenschlogl (Western Kentucky transfer – breast), Alex Walton (IA – back), Griffin Schaetzle (PA – back), Jordan O’Brien (IL – breast), Nick Staver (IA – breast), Mikel Schreuders (Aruba – free), Sam Coffman (CO – free), Harry Sale (TX – sprint free), Luke Mankus (TX – sprint free/fly), Kyle Goodwin (CO – diving), Caio Batista (Brazil – free), Anthony Ashley (TX – back)
Key Losses: Sam Tierney (29 NCAA points, 4 NCAA relays), Mack Darragh (12 NCAA points), Alex Glogoza (1 NCAA relay), Igor Kozlovski (NCAA qualifier), Andrew Phillips (NCAA qualifier)
The Missouri Tigers are coming off of a banner 2014-2015 season that culminated in the highest NCAA finish in program history, an 11th-place mark that included a host of top-8 finishes.
The biggest points haul came on the final day of the NCAA Championships, where the Tigers were one of only a handful of teams to score in every swimming event except the mile.
That came courtesy of back-to-back 5th-place finishes out of sophomore freestyler Michael Chadwick and senior breaststroker Sam Tierney, for a combined 28 points. For reference, those two events alone would have put Missouri in the top 25 as a team. And one event later, senior Mack Darragh added 12 more with a 7th-place 200 fly finish.
Tierney was the team’s leader, earning All-America honors in both breaststrokes, highlighted by a 4th-place landing spot in the 100. Going exactly the same time down to the hundredth – 51.54 – in prelims and finals, Tierney was a consistent force for the Tigers, much as he’d been all season. In addition, he swam on all four of Mizzou’s NCAA-scoring relays, showing great versatility for a breaststroker.
Coach Greg Rhodenbaugh had five different swimmers score individually, and three of the five will be back this fall as the Tigers look to continue their rise in a brutal Southeastern Conference.
The Breaststroker Shuffle
The good news for Mizzou is that their biggest departure – Tierney – will be replaced by one of the best offseason roster additions in all of college swimming this year: All-American breaststroker Fabian Schwingenschlogl.
The German-born Schwingenschlogl was the star swimmer for the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers the past two seasons. But with that program suspended for 5 years after allegations of hazing, Schwingenschlogl needed a new training home.
Columbia, Missouri will serve as that home for Schwingenschlogl, as well as his German and Hilltopper teammate Nadine Laemmler, who will join the women’s program. Schwingenschlogl, a 51.6/1:53.2 breaststroker, is easily the team’s top addition. It also means the Tigers should have another breaststroker contending for top-8 national status right after the graduation of Sam Tierney.
Tierney is also the only leg graduating from Mizzou’s 10th-place 200 and 400 medley relays, so the Tigers shouldn’t miss a beat in terms of relay points. WKU didn’t qualify any relays to swim at NCAAs and Schwingenschlogl didn’t appear to be fully tapered for the Conference USA Championships, so it’s hard to tell exactly what his best relay splits this year could have been. Still, he matched Tierney on the 200 medley (23.31 to 23.39, though Schwingenschlogl was called for a false start on that swim) and was just two tenths behind Tierney in the individual 100 breast at NCAAs (51.6 to 51.4).
In fact, Schwingenschlogl is almost tailor-made to replace Tierney in Missouri’s lineup. Like Tierney, the German swam on his team’s free relays last year. Tierney was a bit faster in both (19.3 and 43.4 with a relay start, while Schwingenschlogl was 20.2 and 44.1 on leadoff legs in both relays), but with the advantage of a flying start and another year’s experience, the German could turn out to be a comparable freestyle option.
(Yet one more eerie similarity: two different swimmers in the 100 breast final at NCAAs matched their prelims time down to the hundredth of a second. They were Tierney and Schwingenschlogl.)
The Rise of Michael Chadwick
Maybe Missouri’s most-exciting swimmer at the moment, rising junior Michael Chadwick, has been on a tear over the past year or so. Throughout the college season, Chadwick improved his 100 yard free from a 43.2 all the way to 42.2, and his 50 free from 20.0 to 19.2. Those are massive drops in the sprint freestyles, but even they pale in comparison to the improvement Chadwick has shown over the summer.
The 20-year-old Chadwick entered this summer’s long course season with a lifetime-best of 50.72 in the 100 free. Now, just about 4 months later, Chadwick has bettered that time on no less than 10 separate occasions. That includes a 48.87 at the Athens Speedo Sectional meet that currently ranks him #3 in the entire United States, behind only Olympic champ Nathan Adrian and National Champ Caeleb Dressel.
That’s great news for Missouri in a number of events. It obviously bodes well for Chadwick’s 100-yard freestyle, but speed over the longer 100-meter distance is also often a good indicator of success at the 200-yard free. Chadwick was 23rd at NCAAs in the 200 last year, and even if he doesn’t score individually, he’ll be the key piece of Missouri’s 800 free relay. That’s the only relay event in which the Tigers did not score last season (they actually declared a false start and didn’t contest the relay, perhaps to keep Chadwick fresher for his individual race), and if they want to crack the top 10 teams, they’ll have to start getting a share of the double-point relays every chance they get.
Chadwick was 5th in the 100 free at NCAAs, and two of the four swimmers ahead of him are now graduated. He was .7 seconds behind Alabama’s NCAA champ Kristian Gkolomeev last year, but actually matched Gkolomeev’s long course time this past summer. Comparing long course and short course performances is a very inexact science, but there’s no doubt that a great season from Chadwick could make him an NCAA title contender in the 100-yard distance.
The Next Step for Carter Griffin
Speaking of big improvement curves, how about backstroker Carter Griffin? Last season, the sophomore entered the fall with a lifetime-best of 47.69 in the 100 back and left the season with a 46.64 in March. The 200 was equally wild, with a 1:41.67 turning into a 1:40.17 and a 2nd-place SEC finish.
Griffin finally had his NCAA breakthrough last season as well. As a freshman, he blasted that 1:41.67 in the 200 back in November to break the team’s school record, but then fell off in the postseason, only putting up a 1:43 at SECs and a 1:42.7 at NCAAs.
Griffin pretty clearly learned from that rookie year though, putting up the four best 200 backs and five best 100 backs of his career between SECs and NCAAs. That included an 11th-place finish in the 200 for All-America honors and a huge leadoff leg on the team’s 10th-place 400 medley relay at Nationals.
Showing up that well in the postseason should give Griffin a tremendous amount of confidence as he moves into a team leadership role in his junior season. In fact, the junior class in general will be a force for Mizzou in the coming seasons – it features Griffin, Chadwick and Schwingenschlogl, as well as butterflyer Andrew Sansoucie, who was on both All-America medley relays last year.
Home, Sweet Home
For the first time since joining the Southeastern Conference, Missouri will host the SEC Swimming & Diving Championships in 2016.
It’s been a rocky stay in the SEC for Missouri, at least place-wise. The team was 5th in 2012 and 2013, and dropped to 6th last season despite performing fairly well. But the SEC is a brutal conference on the men’s side, especially with Alabama and Missouri both on the rise.
The SEC fields 5 of the top 11 teams returning from last year’s NCAA Championships: #5 Florida, #7 Georgia, #9 Auburn, #10 Alabama and #11 Missouri. Throw in #14 Tennessee, which beat Mizzou at SECs last year, and you’ve a situation where a team can finish in the bottom half of the conference and still be among the best in the NCAA, like the Tigers were last year.
Still, conference results mean a lot in rivalry-driven college athletics, and Missouri will hope that home-pool advantage helps them make their biggest jump yet in next year’s SEC rankings. None of the top 5 have gotten markedly weaker (and South Carolina is becoming sneaky-good), but Missouri has a real chance to pick some top-tier teams off at conference, especially if the Tigers get hot at home.
A very ‘Missouri’ recruiting class
Since taking over the Missouri program in 2010, coach Greg Rhodenbaugh hasn’t brought in a lot of headline-grabbing prospects, but has instead excelled at finding diamonds-in-the-rough, guys whom the Missouri system polishes into big-time NCAA contributors.
In that respect, the incoming freshman class looks very ‘Missouri’ indeed, even though none of the 10 rookies on the roster actually come from within the state.
This class builds up freestyle depth, though none of these guys are ready to contribute at the SEC level from day 1. Harry Sale out of Spring, Texas is a solid developmental relay guy, going 20.6 in the 50 free, 45.1 in the 100 and 1:38.5 in the 200. Colorado’s Sam Coffman looks pretty similar, with times of 45.0 and 1:38.0.
Mikel Schreuders is an interesting pickup. An Aruba national, Schreuders competed at Short Course Worlds last winter and the 2013 Junior World Championships before that. He’s attached with Pine Crest Swimming in Florida to put up a few short course times, but clearly hasn’t reached his full potential there, given his long course times of 23.6 and 51.1 in the 50- and 100-meter freestyles, respectively.
The Tigers picked up a pair of breaststrokers who will look to match Tierney’s huge improvement curve: Illinois state champ Jordan O’Brien (55.2 in the 100 breast, 2:01 in the 200) and Iowa’s Nick Staver (55.6/2:01.0). Staver’s fellow Iowan Alex Walton is a 49.0 and 1:46.1 backstroker, and offers a 45.5 100 freestyle- all three of which could turn into useful plug-ins for Missouri with some development. He’s paired with another backstroker of similar speeds: Pennsylvania’s Griffin Schaetzle (49.8/1:46.1).
It’s also pretty difficult to project diving, but Missouri has a good add there, too. Kyle Goodwin is a multi-time Colorado state champ and could provide a boost on the diving boards.
With Schwingenschlogl as the obvious exception, there’s no newcomer with really eye-popping times, but the depth and potential in this class is clearly evident. The best news about this class is that everyone has a built-in role model. The breaststrokers can learn from Tierney, who will stay on with the program as a post-grad in the year leading up to the 2016 Olympic Trials, or Schwingenschlogl. The backstrokers have Griffin as a shining example of career improvement, and the slew of sprinters get to train with Chadwick. That, combined with Rhodenbaugh’s tutelage, seems like a blueprint for future success.
Other Key Swimmers
Daniel Graviss was the other individual NCAA scorer last year, taking 13th in the 400 IM as a junior. Back for his final collegiate season, Graviss could also add the 200 fly to his NCAA-scoring repertoire. He was 23rd in that race last year.
- We mentioned junior Andrew Sansoucie briefly, but he deserves a bit more recognition than that. The school record-holder in the 100 fly, Sansoucie is very much a fast-twitch sprinter. He’s been 46.50 in the 100 fly, and split a blazing 20.15 swimming fly on the 200 medley relay last year. A 45-second swim plus a 19-second relay split isn’t too far-fetched for Sansoucie this coming year.
- Behind Chadwick, senior Matthew Margritier is the team’s best sprinter. But he had a rough postseason last year. After going a lifetime-best 19.41 in the 50 free and a near-lifetime-best 43.80 in the 100 at the mid-season Missouri Invite, Margritier was just 19.5 and 43.79 in the spring. If he can put together a better end-of-season drop, though, Margritier has big-time potential, and he’s a mainstay of the 200 and 400 free relays.
- Just 20.21 individually in the 50 free, Christian Aragona came up with his biggest swim when it counted, splitting 19.3 on Mizzou’s 6th-place 200 free relay at NCAAs. That would appear to give him the inside track on a relay spot again, but it was somewhat surprising he even got the spot last year, when teammate Jordy Groters had been two tenths faster (20.07) in the individual 50 free at SECs.
- Groters specializes in breaststroke, and could pull a Tierney by crossing over into a sprint free relay. Groters was 54.18 in the 100 breast last year and 1:58.77 in the 200, scoring at SECs in both out of the C final.
- Another sprinter to watch out for is senior Dillon Love, who swam the backstroke leg of the 200 medley relay last spring. He’ll be a factor there, as well as in the 100 back, where he went 47.58 for SEC points.
- Junior Nick Davis holds down the distance end of things with Egan Groome now graduated, but that will be a bit of a weak spot for the Tigers overall. Davis scored in the mile at last year’s SECs, but without Groome, no other point-scorers return.
- Senior Clark Thomas returns on the diving boards. Thomas scored on all three boards at SECs last year, including a runner-up finish on 3-meter. He’s joined by sophomores Hunter Fritter, who took 8th on platform, and Elliot Cecil, who scored on all three boards last year.
There’s no doubt that Missouri is a program on the rise. 2015 saw the team’s highest-ever NCAA finish (11th) and it’s highest NCAA point total (132.5).
Just under half of those points graduated (57, counting each relay leg as 25% of the relay’s total points), but the vast majority of those lost points come from Sam Tierney in both breaststrokes and all four relays.
Tierney accounted for 29 individual points, and his portion of the relay points adds up to just under 15 more. But that loss is mitigated in a big way by the addition of Schwingenschlogl, who scored 18 points by himself last year. The German transfer is also a very good IMer who should help out at the SEC level. With that breaststroking tradeoff considered, there’s good reason to believe Mizzou could be a better team even with Tierney entering the professional ranks.
Carter Griffin, Michael Chadwick, Schwingenschlogl and Andrew Sansoucie are a perfectly-matched core of junior swimmers who can combine into an elite medley relay while potentially each scoring individual NCAA points in their respective races.
The difficult part, though, is tracking down the NCAA’s top ten, which is comprised of some heavy hitters. Directly ahead of Missouri are SEC foes Alabama and Auburn, and 8th-place NC State will likely be better next year if they don’t leave 40 relay points on the table due to a DQ.
The Tigers were about 40 points back of Alabama last season, which is a sizable amount at the NCAA level. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Missouri perform better as a team in 2016, but still wind up in about the same NCAA slot.
The hope for a big jump, though, rides with potential breakout swimmers like Chadwick and Griffin. Making the step from NCAA point-scorer to NCAA title contender is incredibly difficult, but both men seem to have that kind of ceiling as swimmers.
There are plenty worse places to be as a swimming program than hoping your handful of stars turn into superstars. And for a rising Mizzou program, that’s exactly what a top-10 finish will require.