Key Additions: Andrew Seliskar (VA – Everything), Michael Thomas (PA – Back/Fly/IM), Nick Norman (CA – Distance Free), Carson Sand (CA – Breaststroke)
Other Additions: David Puczowski (CA), Ken Takahashi (CA)
Despite swimming well in 2014-15, the Cal Golden Bears saw both their Pac-12 and NCAA titles stolen away by rival squads. At Pac-12s, a combination of a few ill swimmers and some sub-par swims placed Cal a distant third behind champion USC and runner-up Stanford. Then at NCAAs, they got revenge over their Pac-12 rivals but couldn’t come close to the Texas Longhorns, who had a dominant showing winning over the 2nd place Bears by 129 points.
On the opening night Texas had an epic comeback win over Cal in the 400 medley relay, as Ryan Murphy and Chuck Katis got Cal out to a huge lead, only to have rising stars Joseph Schooling and Jack Conger run down Justin Lynch and Seth Stubblefield to win the event in a new NCAA record. This event sent a message, as Conger and Schooling would dominate the rest of the meet and ultimately lead Texas to the title. Texas also placed six swimmers in the 100 fly A final, giving them a massive point advantage.
Murphy was a standout once again at both Pac-12s and NCAAs, winning the 100 and 200 backstroke at both meets, including a new American record in the 200 back at NCAAs. Murphy, Katis, Stubblefield and Tyler Messerschmidt were relay horses for the Bears also producing some elite individual performances, while Josh Prenot and Adam Hinshaw put up a lot of points in some of the longer individual events.
Relays were huge for Cal at NCAAs, but weren’t as good as they could have been at Pac-12s. They won just 2 of the relays at Pac-12s, and were disqualified in the 400 free relay. However, at NCAAs they came through big, contributing 166 points including a win in the 200 medley.
#1 Recruit Seliskar Will Make A Difference
Many top billed recruits come into college with lofty expectations only to fall short and not make the impact many expected them to make. Sometimes the swimmer has trouble pushing themselves to that next level after being so sought after in high school, and a lot of the time they simply get swallowed up by the talent of the NCAA, where the margin of error from making the A final to not scoring at all is often razor thin. But Cal shouldn’t have to worry about their top recruit, and the top recruit of the class Andrew Seliskar, who comes in with the ability to turn Cal’s fortunes around and regain their Pac-12 title, and the ability for Cal to give Texas a closer race for the NCAA title this year, despite the fact Texas remains the overwhelming favorite. His best times would have put him into 4 NCAA A finals in 2015, and with specialization training could no doubt make quite a few more. His times are sensational across the board, and will be able to help Cal wherever they need it. It’s difficult to predict what he’ll swim when the championship meets role around, but we should expect the 200 fly and 400 IM to almost definitely be in his lineup, and potentially one of the 100 breast, 200 breast and 200 IM. With top breaststroker Chuck Katis having now graduated, there is a good chance he becomes the breaststroker on at least one of the medley relays, and will probably be there on the 400 and 800 free relays as well. His talent on backstroke is also at an elite level, but with both Ryan Murphy and Jacob Pebley still on the roster, his services there are not needed as of now.
Katis, Hinshaw and Others Leave Big Hole In Their Wake
Despite nailing down some top notch recruits and keeping together a lot of their core from last year, Cal will endure some major losses just like most teams. The biggest loss will be breaststroker Chuck Katis, who had a breakthrough season of sorts last year with a pair of 3rd place finishes at NCAAs in the breaststroke events. He was also a key member of the medley relays, and Andrew Seliskar will likely replace him there. Another key loss is Adam Hinshaw, who flew under the radar with Cal’s stacked roster, but he put up 25 individual points at NCAAs with top-8 finishes in both the 200 fly and 400 IM. Will Hamilton was also a solid contributor, chipping in three B-final performances along with an appearance in the 800 free relay. The freestyle relays also took a hit with the losses of Seth Stubblefield and Fabio Gimondi. Stubblefield swam on three relays and also made three B-final swims, while Gimondi contributed on both the 200 and 400 free relays. It will be interesting to see if the freshmen class can make up for Cal’s losses, because even though it may not seem like that much, they lost 79 individual NCAA points.
Strong Freshmen Class Lost In Seliskar Buzz
With all of the attention on Cal’s recruiting class on the addition of Andrew Seliskar, lost in the kerfuffle is just how strong the swimmers ranked behind Seliskar are. They have two more swimmers who were ranked in our top-20 of the class, and another who is a top-5 breaststroke talent. Michael Thomas was ranked 3rd in the class behind only Seliskar and Townley Haas, and will make an immediate impact. He is fast across the board in backstroke, fly and IM, and is right on the cusp of being an NCAA scorer in multiple events in his first season. #18 ranked recruit Nick Norman is a distance freestyler who gets better as the distance increases. He is the #2 distance swimmer in the class, and his times of 4:17.0 and 14:50.8 in the 500 and 1650 are certainly good signs for the future. Cal had no swimmers score in either event last year at NCAAs. Norman will change that this season. His 1650 time already has him scoring and his 500 time will put him in the fight for a consolation final spot. Their other top recruit is Carson Sand, a 53.5/1:58.1 breaststroker, a local California product. He’s got some work to do in the 200, but his 100 time is already competitive.
Murphy Hunts Down The Double Three-Peat
After back to back phenomenal college seasons, Ryan Murphy will look to add to his resume this season. He successfully defended his national titles in both the 100 and 200 back last season, and will look to make it three in a row this year. He has also nabbed the NCAA record in the 100 back and the American record in the 200 back after only two years of college swimming. It will be interesting to see what we see out of Murphy this season, as his focus will be split between NCAA’s and the Cal Golden Bears and the American Olympic Trials coming up in June. After posting the top time in the world in the 100 back this summer (52.18) and finishing 5th in the 200 back at the World Championships, he no doubt has a lot of confidence heading into the Olympic year. How any of that impacts his training and performing for college meets remains to be seen. We can expect him to be his usual self and help out all over the map. Along with backstroke he also has consistently placed high in the 200 IM and is a key member of Cal’s relays.
Other Key Swimmers
- After a monster year, Josh Prenot will be a big factor in how Cal performs at the championship meets this season. Prenot is coming off a 40 point performance at NCAAs that included 3rd and 4th place finishes in the 200 and 400 IM. Like Murphy, Prenot will split his focus between college swimming and the Olympic Trials, but that should’t change much in terms of what he is capable of come NCAAs. With David Nolan graduating and Chase Kalisz redshirting the season, Prenot should battle Will Licon of Texas for the IM titles, along with Andrew Seliskar. After such an unbelievable year, I feel Licon will be hard pressed to have the same type of performances this season, meaning Cal could potentially go 1-2 in either the 200 or 400 IM, or both.
- Tyler Messerschmidt will be a key member of the team as he enters his senior year. Messerschmidt put up 24 points last season with A final appearances in the 50 and 100 free, and is a key cog on the freestyle relays. He will be relied on heavily for those sprint relays, especially with the loss of Seth Stubblefield. Messerschmidt has yet to race this season, but coach Dave Durden has confirmed that he’s in for the 2015-2016 season.
- Another one of Cal’s swimmers who will be looking towards the Olympic Trials this year is backstroker Jacob Pebley, who has Olympic potential in the 200 backstroke. Pebley was 5th last year at NCAAs in the 200 back and had a pair of B final appearances as well. He and Murphy will continue to thrive in an excellent training environment together.
- Trent Williams had a breakthrough swim last year at NCAAs in the 200 free, finishing 5th. He was only 20th in the 500 and 36th in the 100 free. He managed to produce three 1:33 200 freestyle swims at NCAAs, and if he can get to that level again this year it will be huge for the 800 free relay, and will also put him into contention for the 200 free title once again.
The outlook for Cal this season is looking good. Despite losing top performers in Katis, Hinshaw and a few others, they have some high quality talent coming and most of their top swimmers returning. The loss of 79 points hurts, but what Seliskar brings to the table will ease the pain. Seliskar has the potential to place top-3 in all of his individual events, and if he does the majority of their lost points will be made up right there. Another key advantage Cal has over the other top teams is they seem to have escaped with no redshirts, as they have many swimmers with Olympic potential but none have opted to take the year off and focus solely on preparing for this summer. Overall, they’re looking good. Murphy and Seliskar will be the two main pieces of a team with loads of potential this season. If all goes according to plan, Cal shouldn’t have a problem regaining their Pac-12 title from rival USC. Texas looks poised to repeat as NCAA champions after an amazing 2014-15 season, but anything can happen in college swimming. Cal certainly has the talent to give them a run at NCAAs this year, but ultimately the Longhorns appear too strong in numbers and talent to be topped for the team title.