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.
#8 STANFORD MEN
Key Losses: None
Potential Key Losses: Andrei Minakov (15 NCAA points, 5 NCAA relays)
Over the years, we’ve gone back and forth on how to project points, ranging from largely subjective rankings to more data-based grading criteria based on ‘projected returning points.’ We like being as objective as possible, but we’re going to stick with the approach we’ve adopted post-Covid. 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 posted 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.
Also, keep in mind that we are publishing many of these previews before teams have posted finalized rosters. We’re making our assessments based on the best information we have available at the time of publication, but we reserve the right to make changes after publication based on any new information that may emerge regarding rosters. If that does happen, we’ll make certain to note the change.
After having their most successful season since 2018 during the 2021-22 campaign, the 2022-23 season did not meet the high expectations many placed on the Stanford men’s team. They did maintain their ranking as a top-10 NCAA squad, but fell from 7th in 2022 to 8th in 2023 and scored fewer points despite having more NCAA qualifiers.
Andrei Minakov‘s absence for the first semester didn’t help, though he did return in time for the postseason. He didn’t defend his NCAA title in the 100 butterfly, though he did finish 3rd–Stanford’s highest placing at the meet. Throughout the season, the biggest disappointment was that their high-powered freshman class did not produce the way we thought they would.
It wasn’t all bad news though–Ron Polonsky had a breakout season, scoring a team-leading 19.5 individual points at NCAAs. Aaron Sequeira also made big improvements: he finished 2nd in the 100 fly at Pac-12s and also scored at NCAAs for the first time in two different events.
Sprint Free: ★★
As was the case last season, sprint freestyle is one of Stanford’s weakest areas. This is even more true if Minakov doesn’t race this season. He confirmed to SwimSwam in August that he’s decided to stay at Stanford after entering the transfer portal, but is still considering an Olympic redshirt. If he doesn’t compete in the NCAA, the Cardinal will lose their fastest 50/100 freestyler.
Without Minakov, that title falls to rising senior Luke Maurer, who is their pure 50/100/200 freestyler. He swam bests in all three events last season, going 19.28/42.27/1:32.40. It took 19.04/41.65 to earn a finals swim at the 2023 NCAAs and neither event shows any sign of slowing down. Freshmen Rafael Gu and Andres Dupont also swim the 50/100 free and clocked bests in both events during their first season at Stanford but still need to drop time for a second swim at NCAAs.
The 50/100 freestyles are Stanford’s weak events in the sprint discipline, but help is on the way. Ethan Harrington, the top 50 freestyler in his class, arrives on campus this fall. Harrington’s been 19.45/42.92 already, and the former would’ve scored at Pac-12s last season. He’s got time to drop to be competitive at NCAAs, but he’s a welcome addition to the Stanford roster.
The 200 freestyle is Stanford’s strength within the sprint discipline. Unlike the 50 and 100 free, they scored in this event at NCAAs. Luke Maurer clocked a personal best 1:32.40 to finish 12th, improving on his 14th place finish in 2022. That’s the kind of consistency that Stanford needs, but didn’t get much of from 2022 to 2023. For example, Preston Forst was their top 200 freestyler in 2022, swimming a lifetime best 1:32.48 for second at Pac-12s, but didn’t break 1:34 last season.
They could find that consistency in the recruits they’re bringing in. Henry McFadden arrives fresh off a trip to the World Championships, where he swam on the prelims 4×200 free relay. He’s better in meters, but his 1:32.97 200 freestyle is a nice addition to the Stanford roster. It would’ve been just on the wrong side of the 2023 NCAA cutline, so he’ll likely need to drop in order to be sure of a spot.
Don’t forget Rex Maurer, SwimSwam’s #1 recruit in his class. It’s his versatility that gave him the edge in our rankings, and that’s on display in freestyle. He projects more as a distance freestyler, but holds bests of 19.77/43.28/1:33.54. In particular, his 1:33.54 best is nothing to overlook. It makes the 200 free an option for him, if he wants to pursue it. And, it gives both him and the coaches plenty of choices for how to approach the season.
Distance Free: ★★★
Last season was a down year for the Stanford distance crew.
On paper, it looked like Liam Custer was the freshman set to make the biggest immediate impact when he arrived on campus last fall. He was the fastest miler in his class (14:37.86) and would’ve been 5th at the 2023 NCAAs. However, he didn’t come close to his bests, swimming 4:22.13 in the 500 and barely breaking 15 minutes in the 1650 (14:59.05). His classmate Henry Morrissey didn’t near his PBs either, and add in Forst, a 200/500 specialist, having an off year as well, nothing came together in the distance events last year.
The potential is there though. Not only in Custer, but with Forst, who did score at NCAAs in 2022, winning the 500 free ‘B’ final with a lifetime best 4:11.56. That time actually would’ve landed him in the 2023 ‘A’ final and eventually made him 6th.
Now, let’s factor in Maurer. He arrives on campus having already gone 4:12.33 in the 500 free (tied with Michael Phelps as #2 all-time in the 15-18 age group) and 14:54.71 in the 1650–the fastest time in his high school class. His 500 time is an NCAA-scoring-worthy time and would’ve been 10th last year.
Given how last year’s freshmen did, there’s certainly reason to be a bit nervous about how Maurer will respond to Stanford training. But if he does well, he’s going to reinvigorate this group. And, if Forst, Custer, or Morrissey bounce back from last year’s disappointments, they could have multiple NCAA scorers.
Leon MacAlister seems to be returning to Stanford for a fifth year (though the team has yet to release the 2023-24 roster). Retaining him is a big positive for Stanford’s backstroke group, as he’s a former NCAA scorer and was #2 on the team in both the 100/200 back. Last season, he didn’t meet his 2022 highs, when he was 5th at NCAAs in the 200 back (1:38.95), 11th in the 100 back (44.75), and scored the second-most points on the team. However, he still was a crucial part of the 2022-23 team’s success. If he can get back to his 2022 form, he’ll only be more valuable.
Aaron Sequeira had a breakout 2022-23 season, dropping three-tenths in the 100 back (45.54), and over a second in the 200 back (1:39.91). In the latter, he made the jump to finals, finishing 14th and scoring 3 points for Stanford. We’ll talk more about Sequeira in the fly section, but heading into his junior season, Sequeira looks set to be one of the leaders of this Stanford team.
Rounding out the key returners is sophomore Josh Zuchowski. As a freshman, he swam personal bests 46.41/1:40.47 in backstroke, put up a big 200 IM PB (1:43.86), and qualified for NCAAs. Still, given his long course prowess, we were expecting bigger drops from him during his freshman year. Keep an eye on him, because it’s possible the breakout we expected was just delayed by a year.
And of course, we have to mention Maurer’s 100 back. Over the last year, he’s found a new speed in the event, dropping down to 46.04. That’s the #4 time in his high school class and while we don’t expect backstroke to be his focus, it’s worth making note of. That time would have made the ‘A’ final at Pac-12s, highlighting just how many options Maurer gives the Cardinal.
While Stanford’s backstroke group is smaller than some of its other stroke groups, the potential is there for it to be one of the driving forces of the team. MacAlister, Sequeira, and Zuchowski all fly under the radar to a certain extent, but they’re capable of making a big impact.
Heading into last season, breaststroke looked like it was going to be a weak spot for Stanford. But then, Ron Polonsky had a breakout season. He was a big part of the engine that drove Stanford’s achievements in 2021-22, and he really came into his own last season.
His best finishes came in the IM, but he swam a personal best in the 100 breast last season, hitting 51.14. The time earned him a spot in the NCAA ‘B’ final, where he eventually finished 11th. It was a new NCAA event for him as well–in 2022, he opted for the 200 breast, 200 IM, and 400 IM.
He was further away from scoring in the 200 breast this season, finishing 36th and well off his personal best of 1:51.73 from 2022 Pac-12s. That time would’ve easily earned him a second swim and made him a three-event finalist. Given that the same thing happened last year, maintaining energy for the last prelims session of the meet will be key for Polonsky to score more points this year.
Polonsky was the only Stanford swimmer to swim a breaststroke event at the 2023 NCAAs, but Zhier Fan may have something to say about that this season. As a freshman, he clocked a lifetime best 51.97 in the 100 breast at Pac-12s, just seven-hundredths off the NCAA cut line. His 200 breast personal best (1:52.92) would’ve been on the right side of the line, but he didn’t get close to it last season, posting a season-best 1:55.06. That suggests he was more focused on the 100 than the 200 breast last season, so it will be worth keeping an eye on if that stays the same.
Ethan Dang, a rising senior, hit bests of 52.46/1:54.01 last season, which marked his first best times in a breaststroke event while training at Stanford. While he’s still a ways from qualifying for NCAAs, swimming those bests was a big moment for Dang. They helped him provide important depth scoring for Pac-12s, as he finished 9th in the 100 breast and 10th in the 200.
The question mark by Minakov’s name on the roster makes it a challenge to rate Stanford’s butterfly group. For now, we’re going to proceed like Minakov isn’t competing this year. But obviously, if he does, having a 100 fly NCAA champion only improves their group.
Not having an all-but-guaranteed 100 fly ‘A’ finalist hurts, but Minakov wasn’t Stanford’s only 100 fly finalist last season. Sequeira broke 45 seconds for the first time in prelims, blasting a PB 44.87 to land himself in the ‘B’ final. He added time and finished 16th, but still put a point on the board for Stanford when not many were expecting him to. In Minakov’s absence, Sequeira projects as Stanford’s top 100 flyer, and it will be crucial for him to build on his momentum from last season.
At Pac-12s, Stanford went 1-2-3 in the 100 fly, with Rafael Gu tying for 3rd (45.13) behind Minakov and Sequeira. Gu was right on the 45.10 personal best he’d swum in prelims. At NCAAs, he added a couple of tenths and finished 19th when his best would’ve finaled. However, it was a promising sign for the then-freshman. Only a few of the 2023 100 fly finalists graduated, but neither of last year’s alternates are set to compete this year, putting Gu in a prime position to give Stanford another finals qualifier.
While Stanford has a deep 100 fly group, they have a shorter list of 200 flyers. Jonny Affeld and Rick Mihm are their two main 200 butterfliers, with Affeld swimming both the 100/200. The 200 fly is Mihm’s third event, and he swam a personal best 1:43.81 for 31st at NCAAs.
Due to the way the NCAA does the math for NCAA invites, Affeld drew the short straw last season and was the first alternate. He holds lifetime bests of 45.34/1:41.42, which means he would’ve earned a finals swim and finished 10th in the 200 fly, and been just outside scoring in the 100 fly.
For Stanford to continue to improve their NCAA standings, it’s crucial they get Affeld back to NCAAs in individual events this season. He’s one of their most versatile athletes–he does fly/IM and also is part of their sprint free relays. More importantly, he has the times to put points on the board, and Stanford can’t afford to leave anyone with scoring potential behind.
Stanford’s butterfly group gets a big addition in the form of Gibson Holmes. Our #11 recruit in his high school class, Holmes arrives on campus with a 200 fly time (1:42.34) that would’ve landed him an NCAA invite and been just outside of scoring. Holmes was originally committed to Duke, but switched his commitment, giving an already stacked Stanford class another big commit. He also has a PB of 46.77 in the 100 fly, and continuing to develop Holmes will be essential for Stanford’s scoring at both the conference and national level.
Stanford’s IM group is structured similarly to many of their other groups: they have one big name and around him, there are several other swimmers who contribute at the conference level, but need things to break their way to contend at NCAAs.
In this case, the big name is Polonsky. We talked about his breaststroke success last season, but IM is his strong suit, which was why it was an interesting decision for him to opt for the 100 breast over the 400 IM on day 2 of NCAAs. He was 11th in the 100 breast and would’ve been 11th had he swum the 400 IM, so they didn’t “lose” any points, but it’s not often you see someone with a 3:39.49 best not swim.
Polonsky’s highest finish of the meet was 5th in the 200 IM (1:40.62). He swam his personal best 1:39.96 at the 2022 NCAAs and is well situated to finish even higher on the podium this year. We’d be shocked if he got close to Leon Marchand, but Hugo Gonzalez and Carson Foster (who both finished ahead of Polonsky) aren’t racing NCAA this season, giving him a big opportunity.
Mihm is the other 200/400 IM swimmer on Stanford’s roster, and goes 1:42.63/3:43.52. His 200 IM is just off what it took to make finals last season (1:42.33), which is the next step for him. They’ve Affeld and Zuchowski, who both swim the 200 IM as their third event. Incoming freshman Holmes also swims the 200 IM as his third event. He comes in with a 1:44.59 best and is worth paying attention to, as the 200 IM is an event where we often see big drops from high school to college.
The younger Maurer could also factor in the 400 IM. He’s been as fast as 3:41.94, which would’ve made him the first alternate at NCAAs, just .27 seconds from a second swim. While he could certainly opt for the 200 free on Day 3, as of now he’s more likely to score in the 400 IM. That would make him a two-event finalist, which is the kind of swimmer Stanford needs more of.
With Polosnky’s stock primed to rise in the 200 IM, having at least one of the other swimmers discussed in this section make the jump to the NCAA finals would go a long way for the Cardinal.
Diving has continually been one of Stanford’s strengths, and that’s still the case heading into the new season. Last year, multiple members of the diving squad stepped up to fill in the gaps left by Conor Casey‘s graduation. Sophomore Jack Ryan led the way, scoring 31 points at Pac-12s and then placing 3rd on the 1-meter at NCAAs. From that finish alone, he was Stanford’s second-highest individual point scorer at NCAAs, behind only Polonsky.
The Cardinal also have Hunter Hollenbeck returning, which means that the diving group does not suffer any major losses heading into the new season. That’s a huge boost for Stanford, as diving will continue to be a key part of Stanford’s points this season. That’s especially true at Pac-12s, where diving is a major advantage they hold over Cal and ASU and will be important if they want to try and stay in contact with the two top teams in the NCAA last season.
Peyton Donald transferred to Florida after his freshman season. He was 40th on 1-meter at NCAAs and scored 15 points at PAC-12s.
Not only was Minakov valuable for his individual speed, but he was also a fixture on Stanford’s relays. For the last two seasons, he scratched the 50 freestyle to swim all the relays. That means that by just losing him, they’ll have to replace five relay legs. And though he was faster in 2022, he still split 19.67/44.45 on his butterfly legs, and was the Cardinal’s fastest split on the 400 free relay (41.11).
MacAlister taking a fifth year saves the Cardinal from having to replace half their medley relays. However, there could be some competition for the spot, especially in the 400 medley relay. R. Maurer has some intriguing backstroke speed that could be an interesting avenue to explore during the regular season. And, there’s also Sequiera’s improvement trajectory to keep in mind, though he’s the natural successor for the butterfly leg if Minakov does not return.
The younger Maurer and his whole class provide Stanford with plenty of options for the freestyle relays as well. It all depends on their development, but while Stanford doesn’t stand to lose anyone on the free relays, there could still be major shakeups. That’s because R. Maurer, Harrington, and McFadden will all challenge for a spot on at least one free relay.
We’re giving them three stars because they can’t count on Minakov competing this year. If he does, all five relays get stronger, which puts Stanford in a much better position in this discipline. But even without him, the freshmen class pads out the depth of the relays, giving them all room to move up the standings.
Total Stars: 22/40
There’s a lot of potential on this roster, even before factoring in their impressive recruiting class. But in the last two years, we’ve yet to see the returners all firing at the same time. They let a big gap open between themselves and Tennessee last season, but if things go their way, it should be much closer. They have a big advantage in that from an NCAA scoring perspective, their only loss is Minakov, and they might not even be losing him.
As they look to not only hold their place in the top 10 but improve it, they not only need the majority of their roster to be “on” at the right time, but they need more of their athletes scoring individually. Their stroke groups are almost all structured around one big name with other swimmers providing points at conference but not necessarily at the national level. Ideally, some of their swimmers will make the leap and give the team more than just one swimmer scoring in a single event.
If their freshmen class lives up to the hype, that will be a massive boost for them. As a class, the swimmers give Stanford lots of potential points and lots of different ways to go about getting them individually and in relays. That versatility can’t be under-valued. And, if they can what they were expecting last year out of their now-sophomore class, it could be a big year for the Cardinal.
Men’s Preview Index:
|Team||Sprint Free||Distance||Backstroke||Breaststroke||Butterfly||IM||Diving||Relays||Total Stars|
|#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|