We’ll be previewing the top 12 men’s and women’s programs for the 2018-2019 season – 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 more in-depth college swimming coverage, including a bird’s-eye view of the flood of coaching changes and our ever-popular rankings of the top 50 individual swimmers in college swimming.
#8 Georgia Bulldogs
Key Losses: Gunnar Bentz (34 NCAA points, 4 NCAA relays), Jay Litherland (14 NCAA points, 2 NCAA relays)
As the NCAA finish order is determined by points, we base our grading scale on projected NCAA points. Versatility and high ceilings are nice, but they don’t win you NCAA titles unless they bring points with them. 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
We’ll grade each event discipline: sprint free (which we define to include all the relay-distance freestyle events, so 50, 100 and 200 plus the 200, 400 and 800 free relays), distance free, IM, breaststroke, backstroke and butterfly.
2017-2018 Look Back
The Bulldog men looked a little rough for most of the season, and even when we ranked them 12th in our final pre-NCAA power rankings, we acknowledged that they were only that high based on reputation. Sure enough, despite lack the strong sprint free core that normally makes up the core of top ten teams, Jack Bauerle’s men pulled through to a 10th-place finish at NCAAs, led by Gunnar Bentz, who made three A-finals despite suffering a broken collar bone earlier in the season.
Sprint Free: C-
As mentioned above, the Georgia men don’t have a great recent history with the sprint freestyles. They’re usually able to cobble together some serviceable relays, and have made the A-final in the 400 free as recently as 2016. But, you know you’re having a rough go of it when a 400 IMer is anchoring your 200 medley relay (Bentz). The upshot was that at NCAAs, Georgia didn’t have anyone swim the 50 free or the 100 free, they didn’t swim the 200 free relay, and they finished 19th in the 400 free relay, although they did have enough mid-distance speed to take 5th in the 800 free relay.
On top of that, the ‘Dawgs weren’t able to bring in any slam-dunk sprinters this year, so it’s looking like another…interesting…year for the free sprints in Athens.
They do return Javier Acevedo, who as a sophomore last year was the only man on the team to crack 20 seconds in the 50 free or 43 seconds in the 100 free. But he focused on backstroke at NCAAs, and didn’t enter either individual free event. Junior Walker Higgins, a distance swimmer who who ended up on the 400 free relay at NCAAs, where he split 43.35, returns as well. Sophomore Camden Murphy and senior Alex BeMiller were the 2nd and 3rd fastest guys on the squad last year in the 50 free and the 100 free behind Acevedo, and they filled out the free relays at SECs.
Still, there are a few interesting prospects coming into Athens this year. Colin Riley transfers in from Wisconsin with a 44.36 in the 100 free, and freshman Caleb Harrington has been 20.25/44.92. Those aren’t going to come close to scoring points at NCAAs, but they both could end up helping out on some sprint relays with some improvement.
It’s a similar story at the 200 distance, where the Bulldogs only had two scorers at SECs (both in the C-final) and none at all at NCAAs, where Higgins placed 18th. They lose Bentz and Litherland, but return Acedevo and Higgins from their NCAA 4×200, where both returners swam 1:33-low splits. UNLV transfer Grant Norgan comes in with a lifetime best of 1:35.53, but that fourth spot looks wide open. That spot could go to freshman Andrew Abruzzo (more on him shortly), who almost certainly should knock substantial time off his 1:38.01 personal best, but who may opt for the 400 IM at NCAAs.
Distance Free: B
Last year, Georgia only got 2 points in the distance free events, courtesy of a 15th place finish in the 500 by Higgins. He and Aidan Burns also swam the 1650, finishing 37th and 35th, respectively. In his first year in college, Greg Reed knocked over 17 seconds off his personal best in the mile, ending up about a second off the NCAA cut time.
However, two freshmen are coming in that should make a big impact on the Bulldogs distance group. First up is Abruzzo, whose 4:21.81/15:06.67 doesn’t at all reflect his long course prowess; he’s the 2017 Junior World champion in the 400/800/1500, and sports long course bests of 3:48.58/7:54.51/15:06.48. In our class of 2018 re-ranks, we acknowledged that it felt odd to be ranking Abruzzo only 19th in the class, but with the apparent focus on LCM, he simply didn’t have the SCY to justify ranking him higher. And, while Georgia tends to be a program that focuses on long course, something we’ve seen reflected time and time again in how many swimmers Jack Baurle gets onto the USA’s major international teams, the Bulldogs also usually know how to get it done in yards. All that to say, it’s reasonable to imagine Abruzzo could do something like top-8 in the 1650 and top-16 in the 500 free at his first NCAAs, although there’s no guarantee.
Fellow freshman Bradley Dunham has actually been faster than Abruzzo in the 500, where he has a 4:19.07, and he also brings a best time of 15:16.37 in the mile. He may not pick up any NCAA points this year, but he should score at SECs, and could help out at NCAAs in the future.
This has historically been a strength for the Bulldogs, thanks recently to studs like Chase Kalisz, Bentz, and Litherland. But, last season, Bentz was the only Georgia swimmer even entered in the 200 IM at NCAAs, and with he and Litherland gone, the Bulldogs return zero NCAA points in the IM events.
Any success they do have this year is more likely to come in the 400 IM than the 200 IM. Burns, Clayton Forde, and James Guest all made the B-final at SECs, and Forde placed 25th in the event at NCAAs.
Abruzzo’s an intriguing prospect in the 400 IM. His lifetime best is only 3:51.30, but that’s from three years ago. Given his development in everything else over the past three years, and a 4:19.49 in long course at Summer Nationals this year, this seems likely to become Abruzzo’s Day 3 event at NCAAs, but it’s too soon to tell how likely he is to score.
Murphy was on the bubble of scoring in both fly events at NCAAs last year as a freshman. He shaved a few hundredths off his 100 fly time to finish 19th in prelims. The next day he placed 18th in the prelims of the 200 fly, but his seed time, done at the Georgia Invite in the fall, would’ve made the B-final. He’s a good bet to improve as a sophomore and earn some NCAA points in both events.
Freshman Luke Durocher comes in with lifetime bests of 48.70/1:45.56, putting him on pace to earn some SEC points, at the very least.
We mentioned Acevedo earlier as the Bulldogs’ best returning free sprinter, but it’s really the backstrokes where he’s excelled, especially at NCAAs. Last year as a sophomore, he placed 9th in both the 100 back (45.20) and 200 back (1:39.06). Additionally, he led off the 400 medley relay in 44.90, a time that would make the A-final individually, if he could repeat it.
Youssef Said helps with the depth here; he made the SEC B-final in both backstroke distances, and recorded personal best times of 46.13/1:41.51 at Georgia’s Last Chance meet. Coming from Egypt, last season was Said’s first swimming yards regularly, and it wouldn’t take much more improvement to score points at NCAAs.
The Bulldogs don’t have much depth here, but senior James Guest is solid at the top. He split 51-high in the 400 medley relay, helping put Georgia in the A-final, 19th in 100 breast, and A-finaled in 200 breast, finishing 8th.
Colin Monaghan was the only other returner to score at SECs, but ASU transfer Jack Dalmolin should help in that regard. He already improved from 54.89 to 53.23 and 1:58.14 to 1:55.03 last year, and those times would already put him in the B-final at SECs
At first glance, it seems a bit odd that we have Georgia ranked 8th in our preseason rankings, when they finished 10th last year, and lost some big pieces in Bentz and Litherland. Yet, a couple things work in Georgia’s favor. First, Florida and Southern Cal took even bigger hits in terms of graduations and transfers than Georgia did. Second, the Bulldogs had a bunch of 18th-20th place finishes at NCAAs, meaning that, on paper at least, guys like Guest and Murphy should score more points next year.
For the Bulldogs to finish 8th this season, they’ll need some things to break right, including some moderate improvements (at the very last, no regression) from the existing core, and some solid contributions from Abruzzo and the other newcomers.