We’ll be previewing the top 12 men’s and women’s programs for the 2018-2018 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.
#2 CAL GOLDEN BEARS
Key Losses: Justin Lynch (15 NCAA Points, 3 NCAA Relays), Matthew Josa (20 NCAA Points, 2 NCAA relays), Connor Hoppe (30 NCAA Points, 2 NCAA Relays)
Key Additions: Reece Whitley (PA – breast/IM), Christopher Jhong (CA – IM)
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
Coming just short of 2018 champions Texas and just ahead of an upset-hungry Indiana, the Cal Golden Bears prided themselves on an NCAAs where individual scoring was the main driver of their point accumulation. Specifically, contributions from Andrew Seliskar, Connor Hoppe, and a dynamite freshman class propelled Cal to its runner-up position.
Cal was without an individual nor relay title, though Seliskar touched 2nd in a hotly-contested 200 breast to IU’s Ian Finnerty, 3rd in the 400 IM, and Nick Norman had a breakout year with a 3rd place finish in the 1650. In addition to other top 8 finishes from a host of other swimmers, Cal shot three swimmers each into both butterfly event A finals, and managed top-3 finishes in both 200-yard relays.
Many chalked it up to diving as Cal’s missing link and the reason for their falling short of the Longhorns, though one could look to all four of their 100 freestylers missing finals by tenths as another way they weren’t able to claim the crown. Ifs ands and buts aside, Cal put forth a tremendous effort last season without a single title and without any scoring divers.
SPRINT FREE: A
Outgoing Justin Lynch was a sprint free and relay staple during his time at Cal, but individually he was only responsible for 3 sprint free points. Impressively, the Bears return not one, but two sub-19 sprinters in junior Pawel Sendyk (18.94) and the heralded high school recruit and now-sophomore Ryan Hoffer (18.97). Bowen Becker of Minnesota (18.88 at NCAAs, 18.69 at Big Tens) is the NCAA’s top returner from last year’s championship, meaning Sendyk and Hoffer have as good a chance as any to nab a title. In the 100 free, however, both are going to have to do more than they did last year if they want to score.
Junior Michael Jensen ended up on the wrong side of the line with painful finishes of 19th, 19th, and 21st in the 50/200/100 frees, respectively. His freshman season was a bit more fruitful, as he scored in the 50 free B final, but he’s a fringe asset who will definitely help out on relays. This summer was big for Jensen, as he registered times of 22.0/48.7 in LCM at Nationals, meaning he may be right around the corner from a break through 2019 NCAAs.
Andrew Seliskar shocked many fans with a lights-out 1:45 200 free title at Nationals to secure not just his first, but his first two international roster spots for the 2018 Pan Pac Champs as well as the 2019 World Champs. He may stick with the 400 IM over the 200 free individually, but he will be a huge boost to the 800 free relay and may get pasted onto the 200 and 400 free relays with Lynch out and no elite sprinters joining the program this year. Bryce Mefford snuck into the A final of the 200 free, too, which was a big swim from the freshman.
DISTANCE FREE: A-
Nick Norman is the main name returning here. After finishing 6th to last in the mile as a freshman and 2nd to last in 2017, Norman found his engine and really took off last season. Touching all the way up at 3rd in the mile and nearly a full minute faster than he was as a sophomore, Norman is reinvented and will challenge for a title in this race in his senior season if all goes well. He backed up his 2018 NCAA showing with 4th place finishes in the 800 and 1500 frees at Nationals this past summer and he’s looking the best he ever has– he wasn’t too far scoring in the 500 last year, either, but that’s more of a tough bet to make as he really excels in the mile.
Distance was a severe weakness for Cal up until last year, what with Norman’s surge and Sean Grieshop scoring in the 500. Grieshop, now a sophomore, could be up in the A final after touching 9th in prelims in 2018, and he was also 11th in the mile.
Seliskar returns with only Stanford’s Abrahm Devine ahead of him based on last year’s A final times in the 400 IM, and Cal has more in the tank in the IMs. Mike Thomas showed up for B final appearances in both IMs last year, while Grieshop was just out of the B final by one place. A whopping 9 of 16 400 IM finalists last year have graduated, leaving room for some uptick from people like Grieshop.
In the 200 IM, Seliskar should also be in the mix for a top 3 finish, and Thomas and Zheng Quah lurk after racing in the B final last season.
Reece Whitley comes in at 1:43.5 in the 200 IM and 3:44.7 in the 400, and while he’ll almost definitely do the 100 breast on day 3 of NCAAs, his 200 IM is already at B final level. Chris Jhong, an in-state pickup, is also a very capable IMer at 1:45.5/3:49.0 who may develop into a scoring threat.
Butterfly was the strongest point of Cal’s roster last year. They had six men make A finals in the flys, with the three who A-finaled in the 100 being completely different from the three who made the 200 fly A final. Josa, Lynch and Hoffer reached the 100 fly A final, while Quah, Thomas and Trenton Julian A-finaled in the 200. Lynch and Josa are gone, which is tough considering Josa was the 400 medley fly leg and Lynch was a sub-20 medley relay fly split, but there isn’t trouble in this paradise for now.
Quah is still a remarkable all-around talent in the fly, and with Sendyk and Jensen (and even Seliskar) available to anchor medleys if needed, Hoffer may just slot into Lynch’s 200 medley fly spot and/or Josa’s 400 medley spot. All of Cal’s 200 flyers are back, and Quah lurks for a potential A final showing in the 100 fly.
And, Seliskar might feel like tackling a different beast instead of the 200 breast– either way, he’s a title contender in either the 200 fly or breast.
Similar to Indiana, backstroke is the weakest point of this roster (diving excluded), but there isn’t really much that Cal is lacking in this department. Freshmen Mefford and Daniel Carr absolutely turned it out for the Bears, coming through when they were so needed, despite being freshmen. Carr is the fastest 200 medley lead-off returning (he was 2nd-best in the entire field last year) and was a B finalist in both backstrokes, while Mefford finished 4th in the 200 back and just this summer was 4th in the 100 back at Nationals.
Quah and Ethan Young were both 46’s last year in the 100, while Young hit a 1:41 in the 200.
As All-American Hoppe exits, stud freshman Reece Whitley enters. Whitley is a true blue-chip recruit, with A-final level times in the 100 and 200 breast (51.16 and 1:51.43, respectively). It could end up being quite a smooth transition, actually as Hoppe’s runner-up time in the 100 breast at NCAAs is Whitley’s exact lifetime best, while the freshman has been about a second faster than Hoppe in the 200.
Meanwhile, there’s Seliskar, who nearly won the 200 breast NCAA title over a fading Finnerty and pulled out a nearly incomprehensible 28.91 final 50. Carson Sand, a 52.3/1:54.8 breaststroker, rounds out three very capable swimmers in Cal’s arsenal.
Whitley may be called upon for medley duties, as Seliskar is wildly versatile and may be needed elsewhere, and then there’s Sand who can hop in if needed, too.
Several Cal men are coming off of great NCAA seasons and arguably even greater summers in long course. Key players were lost to graduation, but Whitley’s addition is seismic– he may well bring in 40 or more points strictly from his three individual races at NCAAs, and his lethal breast speed on relays should allow for the versatile Seliskar to do damage elsewhere.
Surely, Cal has lost too much from its departed class to make up much ground on a Texas team whose freshman class is so deep. When looking at the numbers, though, only Drew Kibler comes in with a time that can score individually (Daniel Krueger is the only other new face who even has an invited time). Cal is going to need more out of its sprint freestylers, and they certainly cannot afford to have guys who are capable scorers stuck finishing in the late teens. With Indiana also on a roll, these three teams up top are going to be in a triangular battle for the ages.