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.
#1 Texas Men
Key Losses: Brett Ringgold (11 NCAA points, 3 NCAA relays); Jonathan Roberts (30 NCAA points, 1 NCAA relay); Joseph Schooling (19 NCAA points, 4 relays)
Key Additions: Aitor Fungairino (FL – FR); Alex Zettle (TX – FR); Andrew Koustik (CA – FL/FR); Braden Vines (TX – IM); Charlie Scheinfeld (IL – BR); Daniel Krueger (WI – FR); Drew Kibler (IN – FR); Jake Sannem (USC transfer – FR); Jason Park (TX – FR/BK); Matthew Willenbring (TX – FR)
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
Tell us if this sounds like a broken record: The Texas Longhorns won the NCAA Men’s Swimming & Diving Championship. Well, it’s true. For the 4th consecutive year, Eddie Reese and the Longhorn men claimed the NCAA team title. This one didn’t come quite as handily as in years past, though. After the 1,650 free on the last day, Texas was actually in 3rd behind Cal (2nd) and Indiana (1st). How did they respond? By going 1-2-5 in the 200 back with freshman Austin Katz, junior John Shebat, and senior Jonathan Roberts. While that lead was briefly relinquished after the 200 fly, they scored 2 divers in the platform final and picked up a 4th place finish in the 400 free relay to claim the overall throne with 449 points over Cal with 437.5 points and Indiana with 422 points.
What made the Longhorns so successful in 2018 was their tremendous depth. In a meet where star swimmer Joseph Schooling didn’t quite perform up to expectations, they had guys like Katz and Sam Pomajevich – both freshman – step up and score individually in multiple events. Buoyed by Townley Haas who claimed 2 individual NCAA titles (500 free & 200 free), 5-out-of-5 relays that scored (4 in the top in the top 5), and freshman diver Jordan Windle – who scored top 5 on all 3 boards, the Longhorns stood atop the podium yet again. Oh – and they also won their 39th consecutive Big 12 Championship.
Sprint Free: A
Losing Ringgold and Schooling, their top 2 guys in the 50 last year (11th and 13th, respectively) and 200/400 free relay mainstays, stings a little bit – but no need to fret as they reloaded just fine with the additions of Daniel Krueger, Drew Kibler, and Matthew Willenbring. Krueger is more of the pure sprinter with lifetime bests of 19.48 and 42.50, but Kibler has substantial range with lifetimes bests of 19.3/42.9/1:32.6/4:14.4 in the 50/100/200/500 free. Willenbring is a strong contender as well with a 19.9/43.3/1:35 in the 50/100/200 free. When looking at those guys from a scoring perspective, they are just barely on the cusp in the 50 and 100 as it took a 19.20 and 42.25, respectively, to make the B-final at NCAA’s. The 200 is where the newcomers will shine, though. Kibler’s best time of 1:32.6 would have scored A-final points last year and Krueger, Willenbring, Jake Sannem, and Aitor Fungairino have best times in the 1:34-1:35 range – not quite scoring yet, but knocking hard on the door.
Returning seniors Haas, Tate Jackson, and Jeff Newkirk will lead this group. The duo of Haas and Jackson finished 6th and 7th, respectively, in the 100 last year. In the 200, Haas won his 3rd-consecutive NCAA title with a record-breaking time of 1:29.50 and Newkirk finished 9th in the B-final with a time of 1:33.15. The freshman Pomajevich also stepped up to score in the 200 with a 12th place finish (1:33.21). There is no reason to believe Texas can’t sneak 3-4 swimmers in the A-final of the 200 if all goes according to plan. In the 100, they should have 2 up in the A-final with Haas and Jackson and have a real chance to get 2-3 down in the B-final with Kibler, Krueger, and maybe Willenbring. The 50 is where they will likely struggle (if you can even call it that) the most. Jackson was 18th last year, so he should make the B-final. Sitting at a 19.4, Krueger should be able to get into the B-final as well. Kibler will likely choose the 500 over the 50 individually, but will certainly be on that 200 free relay. Speaking of free relays, Texas will be just fine. There is no reason they should be outside of the top 3 in the 200/400/800 relays.
Distance Free: A+
Just like it seems they do every year, the Longhorns will again be dominant in the 500 free. Led by the defending champion Haas (4:08.60), Texas has a strong corps with the sophomore Pomajevich (6th – 4:12.83, 4:12.46 prelims), freshman Kibler (lifetime best of 4:14.42 that would have scored top 16), sophomore Parker Neri (4:15.40 at Big 12’s), sophomore JohnThomas Larson (4:15.60 at Big 12’s), and Newkirk (22nd – 4:16.52). While the freshman duo of Neri and Larson didn’t swim their best at NCAA’s, they should be much better this upcoming season if they can qualify in December and hold their taper for NCAA’s. Throw in newcomers Zettle (4:18), Andrew Koustik (4:19), and Sannem (4:19) plus sophomore Chris Yeager (4:19) and the Longhorns have one heck of a group. Realistically, they could get 2-3 up in the A-final and 2-3 down in the B-final – amassing substantial points towards another title run.
The 1,650 is an entirely different story. Last year, they only had two compete in the race the entire year. Yeager and Larson had season bests of 14:48 and 15:07, respectively – both from Big 12’s. At NCAA’s, they finished 38th (Yeager – 15:05) and 40th (Larson – 15:07) – 3rd to last and last. It took a 14:46 to score top 16, so if Yeager can be his best at NCAA’s this year he is probably a scoring threat. The freshman Zettle is more of a 200/500 guy, but he also has a lifetime best of 15:20 in the mile – leaving him in a tough predicament on whether to swim the 100 or 1,650.
Last year, the senior Roberts was Texas’ only scorer in the IM’s at NCAA’s with a 13th place finish in the 200 (1:42.58, 1:42.23 prelims) and 7th place finish in the 400 (3:40.30, 3:38.64 prelims). Losing him serves a substantial blow, but they still have enough pieces in place to put together some B-final appearances. Junior Ryan Harty finished 17th last year in the 200 (1:43.05) – just 0.09 away from a spot in the B-final. With the addition of Willenbring (1:44.14) and Braden Vines (1:45.84), the Longhorns will have 7 swimmers on their roster who have been at 1:45 or better – not necessarily at scoring level, but dangerous enough to consider. The only question mark on this list is Willenbring. While his 1:44.1 is objectively his “best” event on day one, he also has a 19.9 in the 50 and 4:21 in the 500. With the stellar freestyle training group in Austin and his 6’11” frame, both the 50 and 500 have a lot of room for improvement.
The 400 IM is really where they are going to miss Roberts. Sam Stewart swam his lifetime best of 3:41.68 at the American Short Course Championships in early March – a time that would have snuck in at 16th had he done it at NCAA’s, but he was only able to put up a 3:47.08 for 36th place. As a senior this year, Texas will really need him to step up if they want to score any points in the 400.
The obvious loss here is Schooling. In 2016, he was the NCAA champion in both the 100 and 200 fly. Post 100 fly gold medal from the 2016 Rio Olympics, he finished 2nd (100 fly) and 37th (200 fly) at the 2017 NCAA’s and 4th (100 fly) and 26th (200 fly) at the 2018 NCAA’s. Regardless, it is an extremely significant loss as he was the solidified butterflier on their medley relays. With that, and the loss of Ringgold, the Longhorns aren’t returning a single NCAA qualifier in the 100. Their fastest returners are Jackson (46.24) and Pomajevich (46.31). Jackson or Kibler will likely plug in on the 200/400 medley relays (Jackson split a 20.1 on the fly leg of the 200 in 2018 with Schooling on the breaststroke leg), but Jackson will be their hope at getting any NCAA points as Pomajevich and Kibler will all but certainly swim the 200 on day two. It took a 45.70 to make the B-final last year, so that’s in striking range for Jackson.
In the 200, Texas should get A-final points from Pomajevich. As a freshman last year, he finished 11th (1:41.39, 1:41.07 prelims) – just 0.07 away from an A-final appearance. He swam his season best of 1:40.82 at the Texas Invite in December and, without Schooling, is their only returning NCAA qualifier. Senior Max Holter is the next man up with a 1:43.57 from last year, but isn’t quite at scoring potential yet. The Longhorns also get a boost from the freshman Koustik; he has a lifetime best of 1:43.69 and potential to get into scoring range with Holter.
Right off the bat, they are returning the NCAA champion and runner-up in the 200 back with Katz (1:37.53) and Shebat (1:37.94). That’s 37 points and enough to give their backstroke corps an “A” grade. However, they’re deeper than that. Harty placed 14th last year (1:40.74, 1:40.08 prelims), but his season best of 1:39.23 from the Texas Invite and lifetime best of 1:39.17 as a freshman in 2016 (he redshirted 2016-17 with an injury) puts him in A-final territory. Newkirk (20th – 1:40.81) and Josh Artmann (28th – 1:41.48) also add to the fire with B-final potential. The freshman Kibler has a 1:42.2 to his name, but likely won’t drop the 100 free on day three for this event. Someone we haven’t yet mentioned in this article – freshman Jason Park – will have an impact for Texas in 2018-19. He has a lifetime best of 1:43.17 in the 200 – not quite in scoring range yet, though.
The 100 is no different with Shebat (2nd – 44.59) and Katz (4th – 44.99) still leading the charge. Harty (2018 season best of 46.36) is a toss-up with the 400 IM and Artmann is on the fringe with a 46.57 (30th at NCAA’s). Both Kibler and Park have been 47.0, but don’t expect for Kibler to swim this at NCAA’s. Regardless, Shebat and Katz are enough for the Longhorns.
After losing Will Licon in 2017, the breaststroke events became a big question mark for Texas. Last year, they only had one NCAA qualifier – Stewart, who finished 29th in the 200 (1:55.63). While they are returning Stewart, he will have to dip into the 1:54-low range if he wants to pick up any points at NCAA’s. Reese certainly has reason to be hopeful as freshman Charlie Scheinfeld has lifetime bests of 53.6 and 1:55.9 – neither of which are in scoring position yet, but reason enough to be optimistic for the future. The breaststroke situation was dire enough that Reese put Schooling on the breaststroke leg of their 200 medley relay last year. He performed admirably with a 23.6 split, but they lost a few tenths with him not being on the butterfly leg. In the 400 medley relay, Stewart swam a 52.98 split but the Texas only managed a 9th place finish in the B-final. All-in-all, they will be leaning heavily on Stewart to assume a larger role and hopeful that Scheinfeld can produce in year one. With that being said, the breaststroke group still isn’t there just yet for substantial NCAA point production.
Texas may have lost a few big guns in Ringgold, Roberts, and Schooling, but they have our #1-ranked 2018 recruiting class for a reason. Picking up swimmers like Kibler, Krueger, Willenbring, etc. makes for a bright future in Austin. There is potential history on the horizon as well. Haas has a legitimate chance to become the first swimmer (male or female) to sweep the 100-200-500 free at NCAA’s. While that is an unlikely feat, it is hard to objectively argue against its possibility.
When looking at their grades above, you may think: “Huh? Seems pretty inconsistent.” But the thing with Texas is that where they are strong, they are really strong. Just look at the 100/200/500 free and 100/200 back – 5 events where the Longhorns have a legitimate chance to put 3+ swimmers in the A-final of each. Throw in stellar returning divers like Windle, Grayson Campbell, and Jacob Cornish (who all scored top-10 last year on at least one board) and 5 relays that should all score top-8 and the Longhorns will find themselves in a battle for their 5th-consecutive NCAA title.