We’ll be previewing the top 12 men’s and women’s programs from the 2017 NCAA Championships – 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 some inside looks at the life of a college swimmer as told by college swimmers themselves, plus full-length profiles of a few of college swimming’s biggest names, including our cover athlete, Simone Manuel.
#10 Alabama Crimson Tide
Key Losses: Connor Oslin (31 NCAA points, 2 NCAA relays), Anton McKee (18 NCAA points, 1 NCAA relay), Pavel Romanov (1 NCAA relay), Alex Gray (1 NCAA relay)
We’ve tightened up our criteria from last year, where our first stab at a letter grading system got hit by a little bit of classic grade inflation. Again, 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
Alabama lost NCAA Champion sprinter Kristian Gkolomeev last offseason, which accounted for most of the team’s slide from 6th to 11th nationally. That said, it was far from a down season for Alabama, which scored three relays at NCAAs and had some solid contributions from young swimmers to supplement its graduating core.
Backstroker Connor Oslin was the star in his senior year, racking up 31 NCAA points with a pair of top-4 finishes. He was joined by breaststroker Anton McKee (NCAA runner-up in the 200 breast) in that senior class. Meanwhile then-junior Luke Kaliszak really came into his own as a back/fly sprint star, taking 4th at NCAAs in the 100 back, right behind Oslin.
A 400 medley relay DQ cost the team an A final spot and a likely 22-30 total points, which could have pushed the team as high as 8th.
Sprint Free: B+
The Crimson Tide returns all of its sprint free contributors from last year. That includes double-NCAA scorer Zane Waddell, who had a great freshman year out of South Africa. Waddell was as fast as 19.17 and 42.30 last year in the sprints, and though he wasn’t quite as good at NCAAs, he still made finals in both events.
He was joined in the 100 free final by Laurent Bams, the Dutch sprinter who also anchored both of the team’s short free relays. Both swimmers are good bets to score at least a few points again this year, and make up the core of some solid relays.
Alabama also recruited two sprinters at perhaps the perfect time. Kansas prospect Sam Disette dropped from 45.8 to 44.1 in the 100 free over his senior year, and also cut more than a half-second in his 50 free to sit at 20.0. Meanwhile Arizona’s Jack Blake is a 20.0/44.7 prospect who broke through for lifetime-bests over the winter. Neither is near NCAA scoring range yet, but a solid stable of rising young sprinters has been the key to Alabama’s rise, and that duo ensures the stable won’t turn up empty anytime soon.
The Tide also returns all 8 legs of its 200 and 400 free relays that scored a combined 46 points at NCAAs last year. That includes fly/back star and all-around sprinter Kaliszak (19.08 split at NCAAs) and rising junior Robert Howard (19.18 split and 42.70 leadoff at NCAAs). Howard, in particular, was a free relay kingpin last year, swimming 4 relays at NCAAs. He’s got great range, from 19.5 to 42.7 to 1:34.9 in the freestyles.
Distance Free: D-
Alabama didn’t qualify any distance swimmers for NCAAs last year, and only one of the team’s three SEC entrants return. Daniel Kober might be the ‘Bama distance squad for the year – he was 15:07.38 to score at SECs in the mile last year, and he’s also been 4:19 in the 500.
Chris Hadjiconstantin and Carl Madden are both gone, and none of the incoming freshman appear to be distance specialists.
Similar story in the IMs. Anton McKee was a pretty good IMer when he did it, but his 1:44.47 in the 200 IM was still outside of scoring range, and he scratched that race at NCAAs last year. Behind him, Alabama was very thin, with no other NCAA entrants.
Even at the conference level, Taylor Charles was the only IM scorer, and he scored all of one point in the 400 IM.
Luke Kaliszak has potential to be a star here, though he really only focuses on the 100. His lifetime-best of 45.18 would have scored big points in 2017, but last year he wasn’t able to break 46 in his junior year as his fly regressed some and his back surged. He brought out two huge medley relay splits, though (19.9 and 45.2), and should be a perfect relay weapon, though he might be more valuable on the backstroke leg.
Waddell can also swim the 100 fly as his third event, and he was 47.8 last year. A couple more key sprint flyers join the mix as freshmen: Tyler Sesvold is a sprint-type who goes 47.9 and Andrey Tretyakov has been 48.0.
The 200 is considerably weaker, though. Only Taylor Charles scored at SECs last year and no one made NCAAs. Charles has been as fast as 1:44.6 in the 200. He’ll also get a boost from freshman Christian Strycker, who brings in a 1:46.5 in that 200, though he’s only a little under 50 in the 100.
We’ll project a bit of a bounce-back for Kaliszak this year to score some points. If the freshmen come around, this is a team that could get very good very fast in the butterfly events, but expecting that kind of production this year might be asking a little too much.
There’s just no replacing Connor Oslin, but with Kaliszak still around for another year, Alabama has the best replacement they’ll find. In fact, Kaliszak is the second-fastest returner in the NCAA in the 100 back, though this freshman class brings in some ringers across the nation (Michael Taylor, Austin Katz, Robert Glinta).
Chris Reid will have to step up into a bigger role as a senior – he won the SEC title in the 200 back with a blazing 1:39.6, but fell off at NCAAs enough to miss scoring. He should have the luxury of saving a full taper for nationals this year and could be an A final competitor. Reid is also 46-low in the 100 back.
The freshman class is solid, too. Sesvold is 48.5 in the 100. Alex Robinson is 48.7 and 1:46.6.
This is a bit of a conservative grade – if both Kaliszak and Reid can better their lifetime-bests at NCAAs, this crew is probably an A. But with the NCAA getting a pretty big influx of backstroke talent, it’s hard to confidently project that kind of performance against a stellar field, so we’ll keep this grade as a borderline B+ that the team could very easily outperform if the field breaks right.
McKee is another tough loss on the level of Oslin. And to make matters worse, the team’s sprint breast specialist Pavel Romanov is also graduated from the 200 medley relay. None of the team’s 4 SEC breaststroke entrants returns, but coach Dennis Pursley did foresee that exodus of talent and loaded up this freshman class with breaststroke potential.
Hungarian Richard Miksi is the headliner. He’s been 1:02.6 and 2:16.8 in long course, which could put him on the bubble to score at NCAAs – if he can translate his speed well to short course. That’s not always the case with breaststrokers in particular, though Alabama has had good luck with internationals lately.
Domestically, Michael Burris and Josh Lenzmeier make up an interesting duo. Burris is the more well-rounded breaststroker (55.9/2:00), but Lenzmeier has a little more raw speed at the moment (55.6/2:06). Both are a little better long course, with a pair of 1:04s for best times. And the group will be supplemented by New Zealand’s Max Kennedy-Till, who has been 1:05 and 2:23 long course.
It’s not an instant-impact class, but they might be enough to stay afloat. Most vital is finding a breaststroke leg for the medley relays that should have a couple killer weapons in Kaliszak and Waddell, but need four good legs to score NCAA points.
Outgoing talent has started to hit Alabama the past few offseasons, but the team keeps reloading fairly well. The sprint core is the most exciting part of this team, with a chance to be one of the better all-around groups in the NCAA if everything goes well.
Kaliszak is a versatile weapon who can buoy medley relays all by himself, but it’ll be up to the Crimson Tide support group to step up in a few key spots – breaststroke for sure, and ideally butterfly so Kaliszak can focus on backstroke – for the medleys to be major threats.
With big holes in distance, IM and possibly breaststroke, this will be a roster of peaks and valleys, designed to get maximum points out of areas of strength without investing too many postseason entries in those weaker events. That’s a viable strategy to remain in the top 10 only if those strengths can come through in a big way – and only if the team has just enough well-roundedness to generate a reliable supply of relay points.