College Swimming Previews: It’s a Sprint Free World for #10 Virginia Men

We’ll be previewing the 2022-2023 seasons for the top 12 men’s and women’s programs from the 2022 NCAA Division I Championships – stay tuned to our College Swimming Previews channel to catch all 24. 

#10 Men: Virginia Cavaliers

Key Losses: Justin Grender (11 NCAA points, 1 NCAA relay), Casey Storch (1 NCAA point)

Key Additions: Tim Connery (Transfer – free, fly, IM), Braden Haughey (NC – back, distance free), Kamal Muhmmad (GA – free, fly), Sebastien Sergile (GA – free), Patrick Gilhool (PA – back/fly)

Returning Fifth Years: None

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

The Virginia Cavaliers had a historic 2021-2022 season, as one of the top sprint corps in the nation nicked an American Record and buoyed the Wahoos to their 3rd-straight top ten finish at NCAAs.

Under Todd Desorbo, Virginia has pretty consistently followed the same pattern of not really showing their hands until championship season. They got trounced pretty badly by the then-defending champions Texas Longhorns in a fall dual meet, and didn’t do anything too remarkable at the Tennessee Invite, either.

But the Cavaliers had a strong hand to play at ACCs, and that hand resulted in an American Record in the 200 free relay, as three underclassmen and one junior combined for a 1:14.47 that at the point ranked as the 6th-fastest performance ever.

The sprint crew kept the momentum going at NCAAs. The 200 free relay finished 5th, just off of their record time from ACCs, while the 400 free relay finished 4th. The other three relays finished between 11th and 14th.

Sophomore Matt Brownstead led the Cavaliers individually with 30.5 across the 50 and the 100 freestyles, setting program-record in both events. Matt King made the B-final in the 50 and the A-final in the 100, and the Cavaliers got some finalists in back and IM events as well. At the end of the meet, Virginia had finished in the top ten for the 3rd-straight NCAAs, after having not even scored as recently as 2017.

SPRINT FREE: ★★★★

Matt Browstead and Matt King form one of the best 1-2 sprint punches in the nation. Brownstead owns lifetime bests of 18.60/41.22 and finished 4th in the 50 and the 100 at NCAAs. King has been 18.96/41.34, and made the the B-final in the 50 and the A-final in the 100 free last year.  King comes into the fall semester with some momentum after winning the 50 and the 100 free (LCM) at the US Summer Nationals in August.

Jack Aikins, primarily a backstroker, improved from 19.6 to 19.12 as a freshman last year. He also split sub-42 on the 400 free relay and led off the 800 free in 1:33.63. Fellow freshman Connor Boyle improved from 19.7/43.5 to 19.18/42.09 and and split 1:34.18 on the 800 free relay. That’s four underclassmen who were under 19.2 last year.

Rising senior August Lamb has been a relay stud for Cavaliers over the last few years; he was “only” the 5th-fastest Cavalier with a 19.25 50 free. No other school had five men that fast or faster last season (Florida had four, and NC State and Texas had three).

While they don’t have anyone who’s immediately close to NCAA scoring range in the 200 free, the Cavaliers bring back four men who went between 1:33.3 and 1:34.4 last year in Brownstead, Aikins, Jack Wright (a 2021 NCAA qualifier), and Boyle. They get additional depth with the addition of freshman Sebastien Sergile (1:34.05).

The Cavaliers also get a potential boost from transfer Tim Connery. Assuming he’s eligible to compete this season after a late transfer, Virginia gets someone whose 50 free lifetime best of 20.42 is three years old, and who went 42.69/1:34.10 last year for the Longhorns.

DISTANCE FREE: ★

Whatever NCAA scoring potential the Cavaliers had ended when Jack Walker dropped off the roster halfway through the season. With Walker gone, the Cavaliers didn’t have a single distance swimmer entered at NCAAs.

Jack Wright hit a lifetime best of 4:15.58 in the 500 free at ACCs, and it wouldn’t take too much improvement for him to at least qualify for NCAAs in the event.

As a freshman last season, Peter Thompson didn’t get under 4:20 in the 500, but he did hit 15:06.66, which puts him with reasonable distance of a NCAA invite.

Braeden Haughey is the only distance-oriented swimmer in the freshman class, and he arrives with lifetime bests of 4:25.76/15:18.49.

BACKSTROKE: ★★★

Virginia loses two-time 200 back A-finalist Justin Grender, but Jack Aikins actually set the program record in that event last year while winning the B-final at NCAAs. With five of last year’s A-finalists no longer competing this year, it’s probably safe to pencil in Aikins for a top eight finish this season.

Given his strengths in the 200 back and the 50 free, it feels like Aikins should be a bit faster than his best of 46.13 in the 100 back, which he clocked leading off the Cavaliers’ 400 medley relay at NCAAs.

Matt Brownstead actually handled backstroke duties for the Cavaliers’ medley relays most of the season, and he’s been 20.93/45.83. He swam the 200 free on day three at NCAAs, but could switch to the 100 back this season.

The Cavaliers also have 2021 NCAA qualifiers Will Cole (46.37/1:41.65) and Sean Conway (1:41.43), with each just over a second away from what it took to score in the 200 last season.

Freshman Braeden Haughey went 56.8 in LCM this summer, and has been 1:43.86 in yards, so it’ll be interesting to see if he develops more as a distance guy or a backstroker while in Charlottesville.

BREASTSTROKE: ★★

Noah Nichols couldn’t quite match his freshman year times last season, but he still qualified for NCAAs, finishing 19th in both distances. His 100 breast lifetime best of 51.36 would’ve just made the A-final, while his best of 1:52.98 in the 200 would’ve also put him 19th.

Neither Max Iida nor Daniel Worth made strides in their 100s last season, with both essentially matching the 53-lows they had before college. But Idia improved from 1:59.71 to 1:53.77 in the 200, suggesting that he could be someone who makes an impact in that event before too long.

Tim Connery owns lifetime bests of 53.19/1:57.19, and while it doesn’t seem like he’ll make this discipline a focus, you might see him pop in on some relays during dual meet season.

BUTTERFLY: ★

Rising senior Josh Fong was the Cavaliers’ only individual butterfly swimmer at NCAAs last year, finishing 36th in the 100 and 24th in the 200. He has lifetime bests of 46.48/1:42.27; that 200 time is only about half a second away from NCAA scoring. He handled the relays at ACCs, splitting 20.43/46.12, and then split 45.52 at NCAAs.

Matt King took over the fly leg for the NCAA 200 medley and delivered a 19.94, but his best 100 time is a 46.95, and he DFS’d that event at NCAAs.

The Cavalier newcomers are bringing reinforcements to this disciplines, however. Tim Connery arrives with a 100 fly best of 45.56, about half a second away from NCAA scoring. Freshman Kamal Muhammad has already been 46.66 in the 100, less than a second shy of what it took to qualify last season.  The versatile Sebastien Sergile goes 47.50/1:44.05, and the 200 fly could be part of his championship event lineup down the road.

IM: ★

The Cavaliers lose their best two-distance IMer with the graduation of Casey Storch.

Sean Conway qualified for NCAAs in 2021, and owns lifetime bests of 1:44.11/3:44.29. Those are good enough that it wouldn’t take a ton of improvement to make NCAAs again, but he’ll need some substantial senior year improvements to have a shot at scoring.

Tim Connery provides a boost in the 200, where he went 1:43.07 to finish 23rd at NCAAs.

Last season, freshman Matthew Styczen didn’t make the Cavaliers’ ACC roster, and he responded by going 1:46.26/3:44.96 at the Cavalier Invite in early February. That 400 time would’ve made the A-final at ACCs, and it’s good enough to make him someone to keep an eye on this season. Max Iida owns a lifetime best of 1:44.86 from high school, although he fell just sort of that time while winning the C-final at ACCs.

The freshman class brings in some additional IM potential. Kamal Muhammad is within ACC scoring range with a 1:45.55 in the 200, while  Sebastien Sergile has been 1:47.71/3:48.4. Braeden Haughey is a developmental piece in the 400, where he’s been 3:51.61 in yards and 4:24.99 in LCM.

DIVING: ★

The Cavaliers lose their only NCAA qualifying diver in Walker Creedon, and none of their returning divers cracked the top 16 at ACCs, so there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of NCAA scoring prospects in this discipline.

RELAYS: ★★★★

When you set an American Record with a relay that consists of three underclassmen, your relays are probably in pretty good shape. That 200 free relay consisted of Brownstead, King, Boyle, and Lamb, and remember that Aikins was actually faster than Lamb individually this season (although Lamb split 18.5 at both ACCs and NCAAs).

Brownstead, Boyle, Aikins, and King swam the 400 free relay at both ACCs and NCAAs. They finished 4th at NCAAs, but could be in the mix for a NCAA title in that event this season.

The 800 free relay was their weakest free relay year, finishing 12th at NCAAs. They’ve got six guys who have been under 1:35 in the 200 free, although three of them — Brownstead, Aikins, and Connery — could each end up on the 200 medley relay as well. Jack Wright should be a lock after anchoring in 1:32.53 last season, and the coaches will have to choose among the aforementioned guys and Boyle and Sergile to find the fastest combination.

They don’t lose anyone from the medley relays, which finished 11th and 14th last season. Those relays may get reshuffled, though, depending on Aikins’ development in the 50/100 back, and how Connery, Muhammad, or Fong each develop for the fly legs.

TOTAL STARS: 17/40

2022-2023 Outlook

A few years ago, this was a team that excelled in the IMs and stroke 200s while struggling in the sprint freestyles. That trend has almost complete reversed recently, and the Cavaliers sprint corps has truly arrived with that American Record in the 200 free relay.

They only lose 12 points, and they can easily make up those points by Aikins moving up to the A-final in the 200 back and Nichols picking up some breaststroke points.

Beyond that, it’s tough to see where Cavaliers could get the 80 or so points they need to move up into the next tier of teams within the top ten, much less come close to a national championship like the women’s team.

A lot hinges on whether Connery is eligible to race right away, and if he fully-blooms to his high school potential. There is a lot of talent and upside joining the Cavaliers this season, and so their development will go a long way for the Cavaliers. Especially Muhammad, who could add some versatility and shore up a huge need for the Cavaliers.

They’ll rack up the points in the 50 and the 100 freestyles, but they currently don’t return any individual points from the day 3 events. If they can figure out a way to transfer that 100 free speed into the stroke 100s, while also rebuilding the distance group, that’d go a long in helping them up move up a few spots.

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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Tom Dolan Fan
1 month ago

Tim Connery is listed on UT’s 2022-23 roster posted today. Assume that is a mistake?

Admin
Reply to  Tom Dolan Fan
1 month ago

Yes, confirmed mistake.

PFA
1 month ago

a few things Max also has a PB of 1:44.8 in the 2 IM although he didn’t swim it too much this past season he could drop a lot of time there this season, out of all this events I’d still say the 2 best is likely going to be his best shot to score at NC’s especially since he dropped 6 seconds in the 2 breast.

I have a feeling Connor Boyle is about to have a big season with UVA. He just dropped .5 in the 50 this summer and he is arguably better in the 100. Excited to see how he does this season. Illinois boys are really looking promising.

Swimfan
1 month ago

Should be a 5 Star for Sprint Free

oxyswim
Reply to  Swimfan
1 month ago

Sprint free included the 200 the way they break it down. They’re absolutely a 5 star group for the 50 and 100, but likely won’t score individual points in the 200. Hence the 4 star rating.

bobthebuilderrocks
Reply to  oxyswim
1 month ago

Connery can score in 2 free

James Beam
1 month ago

whatever happened to Brian Brennan for UVA?

VASWAMMER
Reply to  James Beam
1 month ago

And what happened to Walker?

HOO love
Reply to  James Beam
1 month ago

Injury and retired from swimming

HOO love
1 month ago

Excited to see what the men do this year especially after their awesome performances at summer nationals!!💪🏼

Swimnerd
1 month ago

Muhammad is also a 1:45.55 IM, a 55.5 100 breast and a 21.8 50 back. Could be somewhat of a Swiss Army knife for UVA going into this year.

Riley
Reply to  Swimnerd
1 month ago

Didn’t he also go out in a 21 low and flip in 47 something on that IM? I remember he had raw speed and then fell off a bit on free. Would be interesting to see what he could put up in a 100 fly once he builds some endurance up training at UVA because opening a 200 IM in 21 low as a high schooler is nuts

The squids
1 month ago

For the backstroke section, that picture is of connor boyle, not jack aikins

Boyle fan
Reply to  The squids
1 month ago

He’s lookin real cute too 😍

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