We’ll be previewing the top 12 men’s and women’s programs for the 2019-2020 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.
#4 NC STATE WOLFPACK
Key Losses: James Bretscher (1 NCAA point), Daniel Graber (2 NCAA relays), Giovanni Izzo (redshirt – 2 NCAA relays), Jacob Molacek (3 NCAA points, 4 NCAA relays), Justin Ress (12 NCAA points, 4 NCAA relays), Andreas Vazaois (41 NCAA points, 3 NCAA relays)
Key Additions: #6 Ross Dant (NC – distance/IM), #8 Noah Bowers (VA – IM/everything), #14 Hunter Tapp (KY – sprint free), #15 Noah Henderson (NC – fly/free), Kimani Gregory (PA – sprint free/fly), Markus Wennborg (NC – breast), Owen Hanna (OH – back), Thomas Hamlet (NC – back), Zachary Cram (VA – back/fly/free), Kevin Childs (CA – back/fly), Garrett Waite (WA – IM), Bayne Bennett (NC – diving), Patrick O’Brien (NC – diving)
We’re unveiling a new, more data-based grading criteria in this year’s series. Our grades this year are based on ‘projected returning points’, a stat of our own making. We started with our already-compiled “no senior returning points” (see here and here), which is effectively a rescoring of 2019 NCAAs with seniors removed and underclassmen moved up to fill those gaps. In addition, we manually filtered out points from known redshirts and swimmers turning pro early, while manually adjusting points for outgoing and incoming transfers and adding in projected points for incoming freshmen with NCAA scoring times, as well as athletes returning from injury or redshirts who are very likely NCAA scorers.
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. Bear in mind that our grades and painstaking scoring formula attempts to take into account all factors, but is still unable to perfectly predict the future. Use these grades as a jumping-off point for discussion, rather than a reason to be angry.
The Wolfpack went into last season without sprint star Ryan Held, who had been a key part of the team’s rise over the previous four seasons, and NCAA champion Anton Ipsen. But versatile stars like Coleman Stewart and Andreas Vazaois continued to show that NC State’s prowress had expanded beyond the sprint freestyles.
During the season NC State went undefeated in dual meets, including a resounding 174-126 victory over the Texas juggernaut to wrap up non-championship competition.
ACCs proved to be something of a mixed bag. Rather unexpectedly, the Wolfpack only won a single freestyle event (Eric Knowles in the 500 free), and some of the top names looked a little off. On the other hand, Coleman Stewart swept the backstrokes and took 2nd in the 100 fly, and there was still plenty enough depth to cruise to the overall conference title.
At NCAAs, the freestyle relays looked a better, registering three 2nd-place finishes. Stewart took 2nd in the 100 back and 100 fly, and 4th in the 200 back. The medley relays finished 3rd and 4th, and a total of eight different swimmers scored, as NC State earned a 4th-place finish finish for the 4th-straight year.
Sprint Free: ★★★
Sprint free has been the Wolfpack’s forte over the past five years or so, but this year represents a massive changing of the guard. With Jacob Molacek and Justin Ress having joined Ryan Held in the ranks of former NCAA swimmers, NC State now only has Coleman Stewart left from the 2018 sprint free relays that broke the US Open Records in the 800 and 400 free relays, and took 2nd in the 200 free relay.
Stewart is a massive relay piece, but is highly unlikely to swim any individual freestyle events. Still, NC State has a returning scorer in the form of Dutch national Nyls Korstanje, who placed 12th in the 50 free and 13th in the 100 free last year, his first college season.
The Wolfpack will also be without Giovanni Izzo, who’s redshirting this year, and who split 18.6 on the 200 free relay. That leaves only rising senior Mark McGlaughlin as the only other returner with NCAA relay experience. He’s yet to swim on a evening relay, but has split 42.2. and 42.8 on the 400 free relay prelims the past two years, and he should get consideration for a finals swim this year.
If McGlaughlin doesn’t find his way onto a finals relay, it’s most likely because of the massive influx of sprint talent the Wolfpack gets in this year’s freshman class.
#8 Noah Bowers, #14 Hunter Tapp, and #18 Noah Henderson all sport lifetime bests of 19.9 or 20.0 in the 50 free. Tapp’s been 43.1 in the 100 free, while Bowers and Henderson have been 43.8 and 44.1. Kimani Gregory provides even more young firepower with bests of 20.0/43.7. Toss in NC State’s now-legendary sprint free training program, and you’ve got the makings of a very young, yet dangerous, sprint corps. It might be a little too much to predict that this quartet is going to pick up massive individual points this season, but there’s enough talent there that the Wolfpack should be able to reload those relays in a hurry.
It’s a bit dicier in the 200 free, where the Wolfpack will need some of those freshmen to develop in a hurry. Stewart split 1:30.61 on 800 free relay, but he’s the only returning leg. Rising junior Jacob Johnson was the only other swimmer to score at ACCs in the 200 free, but his time of 1:36.0 is still a ways off of NCAA scoring.
But, in a theme you’ll see repeated in multiple events, there’s enough prospects that there’s no reason to panic, as the ‘Pack has plenty of swimmers with lifetime bests of 1:35 or 1:36, including Bower (1:35.42) senior Danny Erlenmeyer (1:35.50), transfer Erge Gezmis (1:35.77), Tapp (1:36.10), Korstanje (1:36.23), and Henderson (1:36.95).
Distance Free: ★★★
Like we said, NC State’s been known primarily for its sprint free prowess, but the distance group has really come around over the past few years, hallmarked by Anton Ipsen’s victory in the 1650 in 2018.
The Wolfpack had two scorers in the 1650 this past year, Eric Knowles and John McIntyre, both of whom return. Knowles, who had a breakout meet at ACCs, also made the B-final in the 500 at NCAAs.
Joining the Wolfpack’s d-group this year will be #6 Ross Dant. He comes in with a 14:46 in the 1650 and a 4:18 in the 500. That 1650 time would’ve been good enough to score at last year’s NCAA, meaning that NC State could potentially end up with more individual scorers in the distance events than in the sprint free events this year.
Coleman Stewart has steadily improved each of the last three seasons, and while he didn’t repeat as 100 back champion this past year, he did improve his times in both backstroke events, taking 2nd in the 100 and 4th in the 200.
There’s not a ton of depth behind him, but the backstroke group gets a boost from the fact that Noah Hensley, who was listed as a senior last season, appears on the roster and seems to have been granted another year of eligibility related to his transfer from FSU during the 2016-2017 season. He was 45.48/1:41.30 last season, taking 18th and 25th at NCAAs, and projects to have good chance to score points in either event this year.
Among other returners, Jacob Johnson went 46.87/1:42.23 as a sophomore last year, and rising senior Mark McGlaughlin has been 46.24.
The backstroke group will be joined by a bevy of freshmen with fairly similar times: Kevin Childs (47.88/1:47.80) and Zachary Cram (48.79/1:46.23), Thomas Hamlet (47.82/1:46.37), and Owen Hanna (48.39/1:45.60), so keep an eye on their development this year as possibilities to replace Stewart down the road.
This has been the Wolfpack’s weakest discipline for a while, although they’ve been able to cover the medley relays well enough. Still, they didn’t score any individual breaststroke points last year, and they lose Molacek and Daniel Graber, who’ve held down breast on medley relays the past few seasons.
The top returner is Polish national Rafal Kusto, who went 53.55 and 1:56.22 in his first season swimming yards. Fellow sophomore Jack Moranetz (54.54/1:59.48) is the only other returner who even swam a breaststroke event last season. The only freshman who’s primarily a breaststroker is Markus Wennborg, whose times (54.7/2:00) are very similar to Maranetz’s.
Sure, this group is going to take a hit after losing back-to-back NCAA 200 fly champ Andreas Vazaois, but there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic for the Wolfpack faithful.
While Coleman Stewart is known a bit more for his backstroke, he will be the top returner in the 100 fly this season, after finishing 2nd at NCAAs with a 44.46, which made him the 8th-fastest performer all-time. He could very well be the first man to sweep the 100 fly/back double since Tom Shields did it in 2012.
Like Stewart, Hensley does the fly/back combo, and he helps a lot here as well. He finished 14th in the 100 fly last season, and brings in a best time of 45.33.
Sophomore Nyls Korstanje gives the group a third strong candidate for scoring in the 100 fly; he finished 19th in the 100 fly, and his season-best time of 45.62 would’ve qualified him for the B-final.
There are no slam-dunks scorers behind those two, but there’s plenty of depth. Transfer Erge Gezmis comes in with best times of 46.46/1:41.87. He struggled at NCAAs, finishing 37th in the 200 with a 1:45, but his best time is only one-tenth of a second off what it took to make the B-final last year.
Zach Brown didn’t make a huge immediate impact as a freshman last year, but he had a strong summer, setting personal bests in both the 100 and 200 fly (LCM), so watch for him to improve on last season’s times of 47.29/1:43.34.
Finally, this group gets an additional boost from that stacked freshman class. Noah Bowers (47.6/1:44.0) and Noah Henderson (46.5/1:45.5) lead the way, while Gregory (47.9), Zachary Cram (48.44), and Kevin Childs (48.30) provide even more depth.
Just as in fly, losing Vazaois hurts, and there’s not the depth here that there is in fly group.
Still, there’s some scoring potential, especially on the 400 IM side. Eric Knowles took 2nd at ACCs with a 3:42.09 in the 400, and he would’ve made the B-final had he repeated that time at NCAAs. Jack McIntyre improved from 3:48.07 to 3:45.27, winning the B-final at ACCs.
Once again, the freshman class brings in plenty of prospects, even if no likely immediate scorers. Bowers leads with the way with bests of 1:45.58 and 3:56.06. Another three freshmen — Gregory, Cram and Garret Waite — have all been 1:49 in the 200, while Cram and Waite have 400 potential with times of 3:50.37 and 3:56.
All of NC State’s recent success has come despite not having scored a single diving point at NCAAs in recent memory. James Brady was their top finisher at ACCs last year, taking 3rd on the platform, while Gray Holt took 11th on the 1m and 12th on platform.
They’ll add 7-time junior national qualifier Bayne Bennett, who red-shirted last year in what would’ve been his freshman season, and 4-time NCHSAA state champion Patrick O’Brien.
The free relays have been the Wolfpack’s signature events for years now, but losing all the seniors they did is going to make it difficult, if not impossible, to finish 2nd in all three relays.
One of the big questions will be — where do they choose to use Stewart? He’s now one of the most versatile swimmers in the NCAA, and would help just about any relay on any team in the nation, so the coaches’ choice will undoubtedly depend on how the relays develop over the course of the season.
Only Korstanje returns from the 200 free relay, but otherwise, they don’t bring anyone who was faster than 19.78 last season. McGoughlin and Tyler Rice were both right around 19.8, and they should be in the mix along with the quartet of freshmen sprinters.
It’s essentially the same situation for the 400 free, where it’ll likely be Korstanje and Stewart, plus two of the men who are also in consideration on the 200 free relay.
They’re almost certainly going to have to use Stewart on the 800 free, but they’ll need some development, as Stewart plus three 1:35s wouldn’t have cracked the top twelve last year.
The medleys may be in better shape. Stewart is a lethal weapon on either back or fly, Henlsey could handle back in the 400, and Korstanje can swim fly or free. They will need a breaststroker to step up, but assuming that happens, they should be able to make both A-finals once again.
Under coach Braden Holloway, NC State has gone from largely irrelevant, to being known for its dominance of the freestyle relays, to a well-rounded team that has four straight 4th place finishes at NCAAs. The question is, can they move up any more, or have they hit a ceiling?
If you’re prone to glass half-empty view, you might note that NC State actually scored almost 80 points less in 2019 than they did in 2018, despite still finishing 4th. On top of that, losing Molacek, Ress, and Vazaois is rough for any team.
On the other hand, the distance group didn’t seem to miss a beat in the transition from Gary Taylor to Mark Bernardino and the success of guys like Coleman Stewart shows that NC State can be dangerous in any stroke and any distance.
Additionally, much of NC State’s previous success was built on the backs of relatively “diamond in the rough” types of recruits like Held, Ress, and Stewart, none of which were highly ranked heading into the senior year of high school.
What can they do in Raleigh now they’re finally landing some of the nation’s top recruits? We’re not sure, but it’s going to be fun watching them both in an increasingly-competitive ACC and on the national stage.