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.
#2 CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS
Key Losses: Ryan Murphy (56 NCAA points, 4 NCAA relays), Long Gutierrez (3 NCAA points, 2 NCAA relays), Hunter Cobleigh (7 NCAA points)
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
Cal once again battled with the Texas Longhorns for the national title, but emerged the runners-up with 349 points and their 8th-straight top 2 finish. Senior Ryan Murphy completed his sweep of the backstrokes for the 4th year in a row, earning Pac-12 Swimmer of the Year for his performance at NCAAs and Pac-12s. The freshman class played a huge role, highlighted by sprinter Pawel Sendyk (50 free) and butterflier Zheng Quah (200 fly) earning All-America honors individually at their first NCAA meet.
The Bears’ NCAA performance was also highlighted by an American Record in the 400 medley relay. Ryan Murphy, Connor Hoppe, Matt Josa, and Michael Jensen teamed up to finish 2nd behind only Texas, posting a 3:01.51 to break the Bears’ own American Record from 2015.
SPRINT FREE: A+
The Bears are loaded in the sprints with 3 returning individual scorers. Sophomores Michael Jensen and Pawel Sendyk look to build off their freshman year momentum after both scored in the 50. Sendyk placed 6th in the 50 free, while Jensen placed 15th. Jensen could also be a scorer in the 100 and 200 freestyles this season with slight improvements. His best times (42.6/1:33.7) from last season have him 2 tenths shy of scoring range in the 200 and a tenth shy in the 100. Similarly, Sendyk is just a few tenths shy of scoring in the 100 free with his 42.8 from last season’s NCAAs.
Senior Justin Lynch was also a 50 free scorer, placing 14th, and his personal best 42.38 in the 100 free puts him in a projected scoring position in the 100 free as well.
Incoming freshman Ryan Hoffer is a huge addition for the Bears. His best time of 18.71 in the 50 free is fast enough to have placed 3rd at NCAAs last season. He’s also fast enough to have scored in the championship final of the 100 free with his 41.23. Hoffer will play a big role in the Bears’ sprint relays this season.
In addition to Hoffer, freshmen Bryce Mefford, Nate Biondi, Trenton Julian, Sean Grieshop, and Jarod Hatch could also develop into relay roles. Hatch (1:36.4), Julian (1:36.2), Grieshop (1:36.5), and Mefford (1:34.6) could make good additions to the middle distance 800 free relay, while Biondi (20.2/44.3) will look to contribute as a sprint free specialist.
DISTANCE FREE: C
Newcomer Sean Grieshop is Cal’s best scoring prospect in the distance races. His 14:45.40 in the 1650 free from 2014 is already fast enough to score, and he’s got a lifetime best 4:15.3 in the 500 free from 2015, though both of those times are years old. Aside from Grieshop, Nick Norman looks like the only other man who could potentially score at NCAAs. He was well off his best at NCAAs last year, but his personal best 14:51.8 leaves him about 5.5 seconds out of scoring range.
Ryan Kao (4:16.1/15:13.1) is fast enough to qualify for NCAAs and score plenty of points at Pac-12s, but still has a ways to go to score at the national meet.
Cal has 2 potential finalists among their returners in Andrew Seliskar and Matt Josa. Seliskar will likely bring in big points again this year after placing 6th in the 200 IM and 2nd in the 400 IM last season, and with Kalisz out of the picture he’s a major title threat in the 400 IM. Josa swam to a 1:41.50, a time that would’ve placed 7th through prelims, before being disqualified in the 200 IM. With some work on his breaststroke pullouts (he was disqualified for multiple dolphin kicks), the Bears could get 2 men in the final.
Sean Grieshop comes in with a 3:44.3 in the 400 IM, putting him within a second of scoring range. We’ve seen him have some big performances in the long course pool as an Olympic Trials finalist and World Juniors champion, but he hasn’t had a big breakout in the yards pool yet. Grieshop could develop into an IM scorer in his first season with the Bears. Mike Thomas also has good scoring potential, though he swims the 200 IM. He didn’t match his best at NCAAs last season, placing 19th in prelims, but his personal best 1:43.3 is good enough to have scored in the B final.
Ken Takahashi (400 IM) and Jack Xie (200 IM) return after competing in the IMs at last season’s NCAAs. Takahashi is just over a second shy of scoring range in the 400 IM with his 3:44.9, making him a good training partner for Grieshop. Also joining their training group will be Bryce Mefford (1:45.4) and Daniel Carr (1:45.9), who have each put up times in the 1:45-range in the 200 IM.
The Bears could bring in a ton of points in the butterflies. Zheng Quah is their top returner after placing 2nd in the 200 and 5th in the 100 last season. Andrew Seliskar was another big scorer, taking 6th in the 200 fly. Between those two, the Bears have 2 men with best times sub-1:40 in the 200 fly. They’ve also got Mike Thomas, who placed 9th last season, as a potential finalist in the event.
Matt Josa is also a returning finalist, having made it to the championship final of the 100 fly. However, he was DQed and didn’t score any points in the event. Justin Lynch has championship final in the 100 fly as well after narrowly missing it with a 9th place finish in prelims last season.
As a freshman, Jack Xie qualified to swim the butterflies at NCAAs last season, and could develop into a scorer if he continues to improve. He’s about a second shy of scoring range with his 1:43.0 in the 200 fly. This year, he’ll have freshman Trenton Julian as a training partner. Julian comes in with a personal best 1:45.8 in the 200 fly.
Ryan Hoffer has big scoring potential here, as his lifetime best 45.4 is already good enough to have landed him in the A final. Since he’s needed more in the 100 back and may need to take on the backstroke legs of the relays, however, he may opt to focus on backstroke instead.
Now that top scorer Ryan Murphy has graduated, the Bears have big shoes to fill in the backstrokes. Freshman Ryan Hoffer could be up to the challenge in the 100 back, as he’s already fast enough to score with his 45.5 and is 3 tenths shy of championship final range. In the 200 back, however, they may have a harder time making up for the loss. They have a pair of freshmen with potential in Daniel Carr (46.7/1:42.7) and Bryce Mefford (47.3/1:42.1), but they’ll have to drop into the 1:40-range to score.
Zheng Quah is a potential scorer here after placing 21st in the 100 back last season. He’s within tenths of scoring range with his personal best 46.2 from the 400 medley relay leadoff, but he does have a challenge with the 100 fly coming earlier in the session.
Connor Hoppe should bring in a good amount of points in the 100 breast after placing 4th last season, but he’s their only returning breaststroke scorer. Carson Sand has potential in the 100 breast as well with a personal best 52.47 and was just shy of scoring with an 18th place finish at NCAAs. Without Hunter Cobleigh, though, the Bears’ only potential scorer in the 200 breast is Matt Whittle. He was 20th at NCAAs last season, but is projected to score in the B final with his lifetime best 1:53.8. Hoppe entered NCAAs with a best of 1:55.8 before getting DQed, but scoring range is 1:54-low.
Incoming freshman James Daugherty, a Florida state champion and Junior Nationals finalist, shows potential to score at the conference level. Like Hoppe, he’s had more success in the 100 than the 200, coming in with bests of 54.2 and 2:00.6.
Swimming fans have speculated that with the breaststroke events so wide open, Andrew Seliskar may make a change in his event lineup to swim the 200 breast instead of the 200 fly. Though he hasn’t focused on this event since arriving at Cal, he holds a personal best of 1:51.57 from 2015, which already puts him in the title conversation. Since Cal is already stacked in the butterflies, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him make the move. That would likely bump Cal up into the “A” range in breaststroke, since Hoppe is projected to score more than 10 points in the 100 and Seliskar would be projected to score more than 10 points in the 200.
The Bears are in good shape this season with a strong freshman class. Despite losing Murphy, they should be able to put together some strong medley relays with Hoffer as their next backstroker. Cal is extremely deep in sprint free, fly, and IM, but will rely on guys like Grieshop, Mefford, and Carr to develop into scoring roles as freshmen to improve their numbers in the distance freestyles and backstrokes. Though Texas looks like an extremely tough team to beat, the Bears have the potential to challenge for the title and could wind up with their 9th consecutive top 2 finish.