2024 College Swimming Previews: Relay Power and Young Stars Propel #6 Florida Men

It’s that time of the year again. SwimSwam will be previewing the top 12 men’s and women’s teams (and then some) from the 2023 NCAA Championships. Follow along with the College Swimming Preview Channel. Want to read even more? Check out the latest edition of the SwimSwam magazine

#6 Florida Gators

Key Losses: Alfonso Mestre (18 NCAA points, 1 NCAA Relay), Dillon Hillis (17 NCAA points, 1 NCAA relay) Tyler Watson (5 NCAA points), Leonardo Garcia (14.5 NCAA points), Eric Friese (2 NCAA Relays), Kevin Vargas (30 SEC points), Alberto Mestre (25 SEC points)

Key Additions: #3 Scotty Buff (OH — sprint free, fly, back), #20 Jonny Marshall (OH — back, free, fly), HM Andrew Taylor (FL — distance free, IM), HM Josh Parent (MA — distance free, IM, fly), BOTR Bobby DiNunzio (VA — distance free, IM), BOTR Caleb Maldari (NC — backstroke), BOTR Sean Sullivan (IN — sprint free, back, IM), BOTR Amadeusz Knop (FL — distance free, back, fly, IM), Peyton Donald (Stanford transfer — diving), Evan Keogh (FL — distance free, fly, back, IM), Conor Gesing (PA — diving)

Returning Fifth Years: Brennan Gravley (distance free)

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.

2022-2023 Lookback

The Florida men capped off the 2022-2023 NCAA season with a 6th-place finish at the NCAA Championships after yet another SEC conference championship title. At SECs, Florida finished a whopping 399 points ahead of runners-up Auburn, securing their 11th consecutive SEC team title and 44th title overall. Expect Florida to be just as dominant at SECs in 2024, though things will get interesting once Texas joins the dance for the 2024-2025 season, but that’s for another article.

Florida took 19 men to the 2023 NCAA Championships, including 17 swimmers and 2 divers. The 19 athletes scored a total of 367.5 points, 187.5 coming from individual performances and 180 coming from relays. Of the 187.5 individual points tallied by the Gators in 2023, 49.5 of them will not be returning as Dillon Hillis (17 points), Alfonso Mestre (18 points), and Leonardo Garcia (14.5 points) have all graduated. Furthermore, sprint ace Eric Friese, who contributed to Florida’s record-breaking 200 freestyle relay and 3rd-place 200 medley relay, is also no longer a member of the team.

Florida won three of the five relays offered at NCAAs, setting new NCAA and US Open Records in the 200 free, 400 free and 200 medley relays. The Gators also placed 3rd in the 200 medley and 5th in the 800 free relay. All of the swimmers on those relays, save for Hillis (400 medley relay), Friese (200 freestyle and 200 medley relay), and Mestre (800 freestyle relay) are returning for the 2023-2024 season.

Canadian Josh Liendo led the way for the Gators, winning the 100 freestyle and picking up second-place finishes in the 50 freestyle and 100 butterfly, bringing in a total of 54 points, one of the greatest freshman campaigns in NCAA history. Liendo climbed the all-time performer rankings in the 100 free to become the second-fastest ever with a 40.28, less tan four-tenths behind fellow Gator Caeleb Dressel‘s all-time mark of 39.90 set in 2018. Liendo also became the third-fastest performer ever in the 100 fly at 43.40, trailing only Dressel (42.80) and Virginia Tech’s Youssef Ramadan (43.15).

Transfer Jake Mitchell picked up another 21 points, Adam Chaney scored 19 points, and Aleksas Savickas put 18 points on the board. Each of that trio contributed to at least one of Florida’s relays, with all set to return this season. Florida finished just 16.5 points behind Texas at NCAAs, who placed 3rd in the team standings, which also means the Gators were just 11.5 points behind Indiana (4th), and six points behind NC State (5th) in what was a razor-thin team battle that went down to the wire.

Sprint Freestyle ★★★★

The Florida men boast a powerful sprint freestyle group, led by Canadian Josh Liendo, the defending NCAA champion in the 100 free and and the 2nd-fastest performer all-time. Liendo also placed 2nd in the 50 free at NCAAs in 2023, recording a time of 18.40, just 0.08 off the winner Jordan Crooks from Tennessee. Though Liendo was the only Gator to score in the 50 at NCAAs, teammates Macguire McDuff and Adam Chaney finished 18th and 19th, respectively. Liendo, McDuff, Chaney, and Eric Friese combined to swim the fastest 200 freestyle relay of all-time, and though Friese is not longer on the team, freshman Scotty Buff, who has a lifetime best of 19.46, could get the call up to the team. Buff is already fast enough to score at the SEC Championships in both the 50 and 100 freestyles.

The Gators are just as strong in the 100 free–Florida blasted a 2:44.07 to close out the 2023 NCAA Championships, the fastest performance of all time. Liendo won the 100 freestyle at NCAAs in 40.28, the second-fastest performance all-time, while Chaney and McDuff placed 13th and 14th, respectively, netting a total of 27 points, while Julian Smith finished 21st. At SECs, Liendo, Chaney, McDuff, Smith, Chaney, and Edouard Fullum-Huot placed 2nd, 4th, 7th, 8th and 10th, respectively. Going into the 2023-2024 NCAA season, the 100 freestyle is the deepest event for the Florida men.

Though Florida placed 5th in the 800 freestyle relay at NCAA in March, they only scored 7 points in the individual 200 free, thanks to Jake Mitchell placing 10th. McDuff just missed getting a second swim, finishing 18th in prelims in a 1:32.94, though he led off the 800 free relay in a blazing 1:31.56 on the opening night of the meet. Had he replicated that swim in the individual 200 he would have made the championship final. Julian Smith blasted a 1:31.92 to anchor the 800 free relay, meaning he could swim the 200 free individually at NCAAs, though he is also Florida’s second-fastest performer in the 100 breaststroke, creating a conflict on Day 3.

Distance Freestyle ★★★

Olympic gold medalists Bobby Finke and Katie Ledecky are proving to be incredible selling points to prospective student-athletes with an inclination for distance freestyle, as evidenced by the additions of Andrew Taylor (4:19.17/15:08.83), Josh Parent (4:23.90/14:56.60), Bobby DiNunzio (4:24.17/15:06.71), Evan Keogh (4:28.53/15:36.90), and Olympic medalist Bella Sims on the women’s side. Though Taylor, Parent, DiNunzio, and Keogh are all currently outside of what it took to score in the 1650 at NCAAs in 2023, Taylor, Parent, and DiNunzio are all within what it took to place in the top 24 SECs.

These four join a group of experienced veterans including Olympian Jake Mitchell, Florida’s top returning distance performer from the 2023 NCAA Championships, as well as then-freshman Eric Brown, Gio Linscheer, and then-sophomore Oskar Lindholm. Mitchell earned 14 points via a 5th-place finish in the 500 at NCAAs, though placed just 22nd in the 1650. Brown also found himself just outside of scoring in both the 500 and the 1650, finishing 17th and 19th, respectively. Linscheer, meanwhile, brought in one point with a 16th-place finish in the mile though finished in 26th in the 500. Similarly, Lindholm placed 28th in the 500 and 30th in the 1650 at NCAAs. All in all, Florida is extremely stacked in distance freestyle, though it’s a very young group that is going to need to see some breakthroughs before it can rival the ferocity of the sprint crew.

Backstroke ★★

Backstroke is Florida’s weakest discipline other than diving, though the strong freshman class gives the sense that the Gators have entered a rebuilding phase for the stroke.

Senior Adam Chaney was Florida’s sole representative in the 100 backstroke at the 2023 SEC and NCAA Championships. Chaney won the race at SECs and went on to place 4th at NCAAs, securing the Gators 15 points. Chaney also led off both of Florida’s medley relays, posting a 20.38 in the 50 back, the 3rd-fastest in the field. Chaney is likely to remain Florida’s top sprint backstroker for the 2023-2024 season, though he could have company with the addition of freshman Scotty Buff, who has a lifetime best of 45.72 in the 100 back. That would have placed Buff 10th at SECs, and he’s within two-tenths of what it took to earn a second swim at NCAAs (45.54). Fellow freshman Jonny Marshall isn’t far behind Buff with a 46.31, which would have made the consolation final at SECs as well.

The 200 backstroke, meanwhile, is by far Florida’s weakest race. In 2023, Florida didn’t enter a single swimmer in the event at SECs. This will likely change thanks to freshman Marshall and Caleb Maldari, who have lifetime bests of 1:41.99 and 1:42.74, respectively. With those times, Marshall would have placed 11th at SECs in 2023, while Maldari would have placed 14th. Maldari’s best in the 100 back (46.95) also would have been good for 23rd, which at SECs is worth two points.

Maldari has already picked up NCAA qualifying times at the World Junior Championships in the 100 and 200 backstroke, per the new NCAA long course conversion formula. Freshman Sean Sullivan comes in with a 1:44.14 in the 200 back, which puts him on the bubble for a spot in the bonus final at SECs. Buff also has conference-level scoring potential in the 200 backstroke with a lifetime best of 1:43.92, though as Buff is far better at the 50 free, 100 free, 100 fly, and 100 back, it is unlikely he will swim the 200 back outside of dual meets during his NCAA career.

Breaststroke ★★★

Florida’s breaststroke situation is similar to its backstroke, though with multiple swimmers capable of scoring in both the 100 and 200 distances at NCAAs, the breaststroke crew is just slightly stronger going into the season. However, unlike the backstroke group, Florida doesn’t have any particularly strong incoming freshmen to fill the gaps in the breaststroke.

Then-freshman Aleksas Savickas scored 18 points at NCAAs in 2023, placing 5th in the 200 and 13th in the 100. Savickas won the 200 breast at SECs in a blazing 1:50.08, slashing 0.72 from Nic Fink‘s 2015 record. Savickas also blasted a 50.73 in the prelims of the 100 breast at SECs, which would have been fast enough to place 3rd at NCAAs had he equaled his time.

Julian Smith was just 0.01 behind Savickas in the NCAA consolation final, clocking a 51.45 to place 14th, though he was 51.34 in prelims. Smith, however, did not swim the 200 breast at NCAAs, opting instead for the 200 IM and the 100 freestyle. Amro Al-Wir nearly got points on the board at NCAAs in the 200 breast, clocking a 1:52.60 to place 18th.

Butterfly ★★★★

2023 World Championship 100 fly silver medalist Josh Liendo leads the Gator fly crew. Liendo is the third-fastest performer all-time in the 100-yard fly as well as the 2023 NCAA runner-up, where he clocked a 43.40 to Youssef Ramadan‘s 43.15. Liendo was the only swimmer to represent Florida at NCAAs, though he will likely have company in Scotty Buff in 2024. Buff holds a lifetime best of 44.87 from the 2022 Winter Junior Championships – East. That time would have tied Buff for 14th in the prelims of the 100 fly at NCAAs, and gotten him third at SECs. Buff has also been a 1:46.48 in the 200 fly which puts him in scoring range at SECs, though he will likely instead be utilized in sprint back and free instead.

Florida’s 200 fly crew consists of Joaquin Gonzalez, Mason Laur, and Jace Crawford. Gonzalez placed 10th in the 200 fly at NCAAs with a 1:41.62, though he was just slightly faster at SECs where he placed 2nd in 1:41.37. Laur placed 23rd at NCAAs and 8th at SECs, while Crawford placed 12th at SECs notching an NCAA ‘B’ cut, but ultimately did not get an invitation to the meet.

IM ★★

Florida returns seven NCAA points in the IMs, thanks to Mason Laur and Julian Smith. Laur placed 11th in the 400 IM in 2023, while Smith placed 16th in the 200. The Gators are slightly stronger in the 400 IM–Joaquin Gonzalez and Gio Linscheer finished 17th and 18th, respectively, at NCAAs in 2023.

Gonzalez also finished 25th in the 200 IM in a 1:43.05, while Laur finished 39th. Aleksas Savickas also received an invitation to race the 200 IM at NCAAs but DFS’d the race. Overall, the Gator men do not have anywhere near the firepower in the IM they did just two years ago.

Freshmen Sean Sullivan (1:45.71/3:53.52), Andrew Taylor (1:48.40/3:47.29), Josh Parent (1:48.41/3:48.94), and Amadeusz Knop (1:48.81/3:51.64) are great additions to Florida’s IM group, and will likely give the Gator men a much-needed boost at the conference level in the IMs.

Diving ★

Florida took home 14.5 points from diving at the 2023 NCAA Championships, all of which were scored by Leonardo Garcia, who tied for 6th on the platform for 12.5 points and also placed 15th on the 1-meter board for another 2 points. Unfortunately for the Gators, Garcia has graduated and will not be able to help their 2024 NCAA campaign.

Florida adds Peyton Donald, a transfer from Stanford who finished 40th at NCAAs in 2023 on the 1-meter board, making him the Gators’ top diver and the only diver with NCAA experience going into the 2023-2024 season. Donald also finished 4th on the 1-meter and 12th on the 3-meter at the 2023 PAC-12 Championships. The Gators also add USA Diving High Performance Squad member Conor Gesing, who was a three-time finalist at the 2021 USA Diving Zone A Championships as well as a 3-meter finalist at the 2021 USA Diving Junior National Championships.

Anton Svirskyi put points on the board at the SEC Championships, earning 17 on the platform with a 10th-place finish, as well as 2 on the 1-meter with a 23rd-place finish. Meanwhile, neither Elisha Dees nor Brandon Wegner competed at SECs in 2023.

Relays ★★★★★

Florida scored 180 points in the relays at NCAAs in 2023, owing to three wins, one 3rd-place finish, and one 5th-place finish. The Gators set NCAA Records in the 200 free relay, 400 free relay, and 400 medley relay. Every member of the 400 free relay returns this season, while all but one member of each of the other four relays also return for the 2023-2024 season. Those losses, however, can be easily covered by other men on the roster. For instance, Aleksas Savickas or Julian Smith can fill in for Dillon Hillis on the 400 medley relay, while Scotty Buff can be swapped into the 200 medley and 200 free relays. Replacing Alfonso Mestre on the 800 freestyle relay could be a little trickier, though Oskar Lindholm could step in and probably still ensure Florida a top-8 finish in the race.

Total Stars: 24/40

2023-2024 Outlook

It would be shocking if the Gator men finished anything other than 1st as a team at the 2024 SEC Championships. On a national level, the Gators are well positioned to defend their three relay titles, or at least finish top-3 in each of the 200 and 400-yard relays. Given the massive gap in points between Florida and Tennessee at the 2023 NCAA Championships, Florida is well positioned to at least hold their 6th-place finish, though it seems likely they’ll be able to move up given some of the key departures elsewhere (namely Texas) and some of the big additions the Gators have made.

Florida’s best bet for an individual champion this season is once again Josh Liendo, though Adam Chaney could challenge for the title in the 100 back, and Aleksas Savickas could also make things interesting in the 100 breast. The freshman class is likely to have an immediate impact at the conference level, and some, such as Scotty BuffJosh Parent, and Jonny Marshall are likely to play a role in Florida’s performance at NCAAs.

MEN’S PREVIEW INDEX:

TEAM SPRINT FREE DISTANCE BACKSTROKE BREASTSTROKE BUTTERFLY IM DIVING RELAYS TOTAL STARS
#1
#2
#3
#4
#5
#6 Florida Gators ★★★★ ★★★ ★★ ★★★  ★★★★ ★★ ★★★★★ 24/40
#7 Tennessee Volunteers ★★★★ ★★ ½ ★★★ ★★ ★★★ ★★★½ 20/40
#8 Stanford Cardinal ★★ ★★★ ★★★ ★★ ★★★ ★★★ ★★★ ★★★ 22/40
#9 Virginia Tech Hokies ★★★ ★★½ ★★★ ★★★ ★★★ ★★★½ 20/40
#10 Auburn Tigers ★★ ★★★½ ★★ ★★★½ 15/40
#11 Ohio State Buckeyes ★★★ ★★★ ★★★★ 15/40
#12 Georgia Bulldogs ★★ ★★★★ ★★★★ ★★★ ★★★ 19/40

See all of our College Swimming Previews with the SwimSwam Preview Index here.

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UncleSam
5 months ago

Coach Nasty continues to build the Gator Nation in all the right ways. He is a very humble, intelligent and kind person. Can the Gators win it all against the Durden/Marsh dynamic duo? Fun to watch as is progresses. I pick UF 3rd at the BIG SHOW.

wolfensf
5 months ago

Looking for big improvements from Fullum-huot , Joyce – similar to what mcduff and Smith had last year.

Mom
5 months ago

Jack VanDeusen?

Dan
Reply to  Mom
5 months ago

Think he is doing his 5th year at another school

wolfensf
Reply to  Dan
5 months ago

he is on the roster listed as a Senior

NoMorePancakes
5 months ago

Still can’t believe this team only got 6th last year.

Samuel Huntington
Reply to  NoMorePancakes
5 months ago

I’m still in shock Texas got 3rd. Really was a great performance from them.

Winter Apple
Reply to  Samuel Huntington
5 months ago

….was it though? It seemed pretty up and down to me

oxyswim
Reply to  Winter Apple
5 months ago

Out of the top ten teams Florida had the biggest miss at NCs and it wasn’t close. Texas had some great performances (Hobson & the 800 relay), but I think most expected Carson & Johnston to perform better.

Andrew
Reply to  NoMorePancakes
5 months ago

You gotta show up in individual events in the morning. lots of 17th-25th place swims decided by tenths of seconds

Anonymous
Reply to  NoMorePancakes
5 months ago

I didn’t realize until reading the recap how many 1st and 2nd alternates Florida had at 2023 NCAAs. That made the difference

James Beam
5 months ago

I really like this team. I can’t believe they weren’t higher than 6th last year. I think they can sneak into the top 5.

Andrew
5 months ago

Feels like they’ll beat out a weak Texas squad and NC State but narrowly fallow short of 3rd to a Hafnaoui/diving boosted Indiana team

This is an absolutely loaded freshman class, and if Nesty plays his cards right, a return to the top 3 seems promising

About Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson originally hails from Clay Center, Kansas, where he began swimming at age six.  At age 14 he began swimming club year-round and later with his high school team, making state all four years.  He was fortunate enough to draw the attention of Kalamazoo College where he went on to …

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