College Swimming Previews: Undefeated Senior Class Leads #1 Texas

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.

Key Losses: Jack Conger (43 NCAA points, 4 NCAA relays), Will Licon (58.5 NCAA points, 2 NCAA relays), Clark Smith (40 NCAA points, 2 NCAA relays)

Key Additions: #6 Austin Katz (FL – back/free), #10 Chris Yeager ( TX– distance free), #12 Sam Pomajevich (VA – fly/free), Parker Neri (OH – free)

GRADING CRITERIA

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

2016-2017 Lookback

After winning their second consecutive NCAA title in the spring of 2016, the Longhorns looked a little footsore early in the 2016-2017 season.  Early season losses to the likes of Indiana and NC State and several injuries had some observers doubting the Longhorns’ ability to accomplish the three-peat.  Those doubts continued a bit through the first night of NCAAs as NC State swam a US Open Record to break the mark Texas had set the year before, despite Townley Haas breaking his own mark for the fastest 200 yard relay split ever.

But, Texas put the doubts to rest by the end of the next night by winning four of the five events, two of them in US Open Record fashion, and they continued the stampede from there.   The senior trio of Jack Conger, Will Licon and Clark Smith combined for six individual wins, four of those in the fastest times ever.  John Shebat and Jonathan Roberts stepped up with multiple championship final appearances, and a total of 11 different Longhorn swimmers picked up individual points.   Texas put a cherry on top of their triple-scoop sundae with a US Open Record in the 400 free relay to end the meet as they won their 13th team championship under Eddie Reese.

Sprint Free: A+

While it’s highly unlikely that any Longhorn is going to threaten Caeleb Dressel individually, the Longhorns’ sprint group has quietly been one of the top in nation over the past three years, including three-straight titles in the 200 free relay.

Senior Brett Ringgold has two straight A-final appearances in the 100 free and B-final appearances in the 50 free.  With Conger gone, he’ll probably get the call to anchor the 400 medley relay.  As a freshman, Joseph Schooling swam the 200 IM on day one, then swam all five relays as a sophomore, but last year he jumped into the 50 free and placed 3rd behind Dressel and Ryan Held.  He already threw down a swift 19.32 at last week’s Orange White meet, and while it’s a tough call, it probably makes more sense points-wise to keep Schooling in the 50 free rather than have him swim the 800 free relay.  Our grade here is based on that assumption.

Junior Tate Jackson snuck into the 50 free B final and finished 17th in the 100 free, although going his best time in that event would have secured him a spot.  Classmates John Shebat and Jeremy Nichols are also capable sprinters who can help out on the relays at least.

After swimming the mile as a freshman, middle distance star Townley Haas apparently talked Eddie Reese into letting him swim the 100 free, and Haas won the consolation final with a 41.96.  Haas’s evolution into a sprinter continued this summer, where he made the USA’s 4×100 relay team at World Championships, and threw down several sub-48s long course.

Distance Free: A-

Picking right back up with Haas, he’s the defending two-time champion and the US Open record holder in the 200 freestyle, and he has to be considered the favorite for that event again this year.  He won the 500 as a freshman, and placed 2nd behind teammate Clark Smith last year, but the field is tighter there.  Still, he’s a lock for an A-final appearance at the very least.

Despite a reputation as a 200 free factory, there’s actually less depth on the distance side than there is on the sprint side, at least in terms of NCAA scoring.  Jeff Newkirk picked up a few points in the B final of the 200 free last year.  Jonathan Roberts swam the 200 free as a freshman, but has scored in the 400 IM the past two years, so he’s likely to stick with that.  There’s a ton of incoming freshmen with some promising 200 free times, but no one who can be considering a scoring lock yet.

The freshman most likely to pick up points in the 500 is probably JohnThomas Larson, who comes in with a personal best of 4:16.92.  That’s still a ways off from the 4:14 it took score last year, but definitely within striking range.

It could be rough going in the mile for Texas a year after Clark Smith smashed the U.S. Open record.  No other Longhorn even swam the event at NCAAs, so unless Haas finds himself back in this event, freshman Chris Yeager will probably be the Longhorns’ best scoring bet here, with a lifetime best of 14:55.04.

IM: A

Despite losing Licon, the Longhorns should still pick up plenty of points here.  Last year Jonathan Roberts broke out and made the A-final in both distances.  Meanwhile, Ryan Harty returns from a year long layoff due to an injury, and assuming he’s healthy, should pick up points in both events too, having made both consolation finals as a freshman.

Other points could come from junior Sam Stewart, who made the consolation final in the 400 IM last year.  The versatile Shebat has a solid 200 IM, although he’s probably likely to sit out that event in order to focus on the day two relays.

Butterfly: A+

The Longhorns aren’t going to pull a repeat of 2015, but they’ve still got plenty of firepower remaining.  Even if Schooling can’t reclaim his butterfly crown from Dressel, he’s still over a second faster than anyone else in the NCAA, and it’s hard to imagine anyone displacing him from 2nd, at worst.  Other points in the shorter fly could come from Ringgold, who made the consolation final in the 100 fly last year.

One of the biggest shocks of last year’s meet was Schooling failing to make finals of the 200 fly, despite being the two-time defending champion.  We’re assuming that Schooling will be back in fighting in shape and hungry to reclaim his crown this year, and his 1:41 from the Orange White meet last week supports our assumption.  Freshman Sam Pomajevich lopped several seconds off his 200 fly as a high school year.  He now sports a 1:41.88 lifetime best that’s faster than what it took to make the consolation final last year, and it wouldn’t take much more improvement for him to challenge for a spot in the championship final.

Jackson and Max Holter give the Longhorns some depth here, although neither has yet scored points in this stroke at NCAAs.

Backstroke: A+

You could say that backstroke is the new butterfly, at least for the Longhorns.  Okay, that might be a bit of an overstatement, and we’re probably not going to see six Texas swimmers in a championship final again, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see four Longhorns in the A final of the 200 back at NCAAs.  Junior John Shebat broke out in March with 2nd place finishes in both bathstroke events, becoming the 3rd-fastest man ever in each with times of 44.35 and 1:37.24.   With Ryan Murphy’s graduation, Shebat heads into the season as the prohibitive favorite in both events.

Roberts and Harty have both made the A-final at NCAAs in the 200 back, with best times of 1:39.05 and 1:39.17, respectively.  Freshman Austin Katz is an Olympic Trials finalist in the 200 back and semifinalist in the 100 back.  His official best short course times of 1:41.18 and 47.06 are quite solid, and he broke the 47-second mark at the Orange White meet over the weekend.  Additionally, Josh Artmann may be the Texas sophomore most likely to make NCAAs, after no one in his class qualified last year.  His season best time of 1:42.0 was just a few tenths off what it took to qualify for the 200 back last year.

Breaststroke: D+

With a race for team points that looks to be much closer than it was last year, the margin for victory could come down to the medley relays, where Licon’s departure leaves a big hole.  No other Longhorn qualified in the breaststroke events last year, and it will probably come down to ether Austin Temple or Casey Melzer to try fill in the gap.

Temple, a senior, scored in the 100 breast at NCAAs as a freshman and sports a lifetime best of 52.34.  He also split 23.88/51.99 on the medley relay at the Big 12 Championships that same year.  Unfortunately, he hasn’t come within a second of that time since 2015.  Melzer, a junior, has a lifetime best 53.6 flat start and has split 24.2/53.17 on medley relays.

While the Longhorns’ other three legs will still hang with anyone else in the pool, they’re going to need Temple to get back to where he was as a freshman, or Melzer or some other swimmer to drop a good chunk of time, if they want to defend their medley relay titles.

2017-2018 Outlook

Texas definitely has the firepower to make the run for the fourth-consecutive championship, but on paper, the team race is going to be a lot closer than the last couple of years.  They’ve won the past two years without everyone firing on all cylinders (e.g., Smith missing the 500 free final in 2016 and Schooling missing the 200 fly final last year). Given their losses, and other schools’ likely improvements, the Longhorns will not be able to do that again.

To win four straight, they’re going to need wins or top three finishes from Schooling, Haas, and Shebat, second-tier guys to step it up and score some points, and they desperately need a breaststroker to emerge to keep the medley relays dominant.

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Korn
4 years ago

And Diving!!

FormerTexasLonghorn
Reply to  Korn
4 years ago

Texas picks up freshman, Jordan Windle, 2 time World Championship diver which should not be ignored.

Korn
4 years ago

And diving!

j pine
4 years ago

Excited for the season ahead!

j pine
4 years ago

I think we’re going to see great things from Schooling this year. He seems hungry. Might not catch Dressel, but will be close. Hopefully the breaststroke guys can step it up to earn some points as well as defend their medley relays. If they do, I don’t see why Texas can’t win again this year.

Abnen
Reply to  j pine
4 years ago

Yup. I believe Schooling can win both fly if he is focused and in great shape. Expecting some crazy times from him.

crooked donald
Reply to  Abnen
4 years ago

And if Dressel scratches the 100. You realize Dressel wasn’t fully tapered at NCAAs last year. He was tapered to the same degree he was at World’s trials. If he goes full-on taper, he might be looking at 42.9 in the 100 fly base on his Trials to Worlds time drop.

ems
Reply to  crooked donald
4 years ago

You do realise that this is sports, and anything can happen, right?

Pvdh
Reply to  crooked donald
4 years ago

Schooling should be in better shape this year and will go a pb, but by now it’s clear Dressel’s focus was Worlds all along. I agree that if he actually focuses for NCAAs here, he’d probably go sub 43. Schooling can challenge Dressel in short course more than he can in LCM, so i wouldn’t guarantee it on dressel, but I wouldn’t put any money on schooling

Sir Swimsalot
Reply to  Pvdh
4 years ago

I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the fact a 42 100 fly is possible. What world are we living in?!

swimfan247
Reply to  crooked donald
4 years ago

Why wouldn’t he have tapered for NCAAs?

World Championships were 4 months later.

crooked donald
Reply to  swimfan247
4 years ago

The Cal guys (Ryan Murphy, Josh Prenot, Pebley) also didn’t do full taper for NCAAs before the Olympic Trials, and, obviously, Kalisz didn’t do it for last year’s NCAAs in the run-up to his dynamite Worlds. For Dressel, it’s the extent of tapering his dryland work that matters. So if you want your peak power output at meet X (Worlds) four months out, and you know you’re going to have to taper almost completely three months out (Trials), you don’t go full taper four months before or you lose ground in strength/power for Worlds. If you did it for NCAAs, you’d have to cautiously ramp up again for strength, and then taper down again with power for Trials, then hope… Read more »

swimfan247
Reply to  crooked donald
4 years ago

I love the confidence with which you speak about things you obviously don’t understand

PsychoDad
Reply to  j pine
4 years ago

You better believe Schooling will be ready to challenge Dressel. Schooling does not want to be defeated in his last NCAAs. It is going to be great watching them race. Dressel is fascinating though. Our son had a swim meet 2 weeks ago and he swam 100 fly. He ask me what I think how he should breathe and I told him: every 3 + every 3 + every 2 + Dressel. he asked: “Dad, what does it mean Dressel last 25 yards?” and I told him no breaths. He laughed and tried and ended up with 3 breaths. He says he will try to do that by March. Dressel is inspiring, but Schooling is a great and proud fighter.… Read more »

tea rex
Reply to  PsychoDad
4 years ago

It’s easier to do no breaths when a lap only takes 11 seconds.

PsychoDad
Reply to  tea rex
4 years ago

True, but the main fun is in trying.

crooked donald
Reply to  PsychoDad
4 years ago

Not sure of the evidence of the “great and proud fighter.” He’s been knocked down once —- last year’s NCAAs (Dressel, Conger), and it wasn’t like he got back up and miraculously fought — he got crushed at Worlds 4 months later in the 100 fly, and didn’t even attempt a 200 LCM fly at Worlds. The day he actually gets back on top (which won’t happen in the Dressel era), then you can give your “great and proud fighter” label.

PsychoDad
Reply to  crooked donald
4 years ago

A 5’9” – 5’10”, guy who had no business winning 100 fly in Olympic games, deserves to be called “great and proud fighter” even if my “slogan” is in awkward English, I give you that.

Abnen
Reply to  crooked donald
4 years ago

When will you stop trolling? Everytime when there is Schooling article, you will give all kinds of reasons that he is inferior.

j pine
Reply to  PsychoDad
4 years ago

Schooling does have commonwealth games right after, so we don’t know how that will affect his performance considering Commonwealth Games is probably more important to him (going against Le Clos, Guy etc.)

Abnen
Reply to  j pine
4 years ago

It’s very tight. Right after NCAA will be Commonwealth Games. It could be very tiring for him.

Person
Reply to  j pine
4 years ago

NCAAs is probably his priority. He said last year that he’s looking forward to a fight here, and of course he wants to go undefeated and finish on top. I’d be surprised if having Commonwealth Games affected his NCAAs.

tea rex
4 years ago

JT Larson should qualify as a “key addition”

Swimmer
4 years ago

Texas certainly has the fire power to repeat but this years NCAAs will much more exciting. It will be a four way battle between Texas Cal NC State, and Florida. Nobody will run away with it and the relays will be huge. Anything can happen and I am sure there will be lots of drama. Can’t wait till March.

NCSTATESWIMFAN101
Reply to  Swimmer
4 years ago

I really think that NC State has a great chance to beat Texas. It will be hard for them but i think they will take the title this year

#STATEment
Reply to  NCSTATESWIMFAN101
4 years ago

Couldn’t agree more. NC State have some serious new additions coming in and the team just seems to improve significantly more than the Texas or Cal. Its only a matter of time until they overtake them, and this year could be the year. Go Pack!

Longhorn
Reply to  #STATEment
4 years ago

Ha! “Only a matter of time?” You obviously have been keeping informed on the recruiting situation! 2018/2019 season for Texas will be insane.

E Gamble
Reply to  NCSTATESWIMFAN101
4 years ago

What races could NC State win besides the 800 free relay? You have to win races to win a championship.

Murica
Reply to  E Gamble
4 years ago

100 back? 200 IM?

Caleb
Reply to  Swimmer
4 years ago

It’s really a two-team race (Texas & Cal) unless they both completely miss taper..

tea rex
4 years ago

Going into this season, I thought Schooling might try to get out of swimming the 200 fly. But if he’s swimming 1:41 already, it would be crazy not to do it.

crooked donald
Reply to  tea rex
4 years ago

He’s still going to try to get out of it, because he’s got no 200 LCM game anymore. He’d do it for team points, but he wouldn’t be doing it for positioning himself post-grad.

samuel huntington
Reply to  crooked donald
4 years ago

endless criticism of Schooling, anything positive to say about him?

PsychoDad
Reply to  samuel huntington
4 years ago

For all Crooked Donald propaganda, his rants are very similar to the ones of his secret crash. For Donald T it is Fake New, for Crooked Donald, it is Fake Schooling.

Person
Reply to  crooked donald
4 years ago

Just because he doesn’t have a long course 200 (which isn’t entirely true) doesn’t mean he can’t swim it short course. I think the 1:41 at Orange & White proves that.

FormerTexasLonghorn
Reply to  crooked donald
4 years ago

I’ll put my money on Schooling winning the 200 Fly at NCAAs and I bet he won’t complain about it. The 200 yd Fly is a very different race than the LC 200m Fly.

Jay
Reply to  FormerTexasLonghorn
4 years ago

I think he will swim 200 fly LCM in 2018 season.

JP input is too short
4 years ago

I wonder if they have a sprinter that can gut out a 50 breast a la John Murray a few years ago if Melzer doesn’t drop significantly or Temple doesn’t get back to where he was?

Ringgold was a 26.4/56.7 breaststroke in high school, and with the way Tate Jackson broke out in LCM this summer, he might end up being the better choice to anchor the 2 medley anyway. Harty was 55.0 in high school but you don’t think of him as quite a sprinter.

On the other hand, Melzer dropped over a second in his 100 breast this summer and has been on a very steady improvement curve, so maybe the answer is more conventional.

Too bad… Read more »

Swimmer
Reply to  JP input is too short
4 years ago

All the top teams are weak on breaststroke this year. Developing a good breaststroker could be a huge difference maker this year.

PsychoDad
Reply to  Swimmer
4 years ago

I like Melzer to surprise – his recovery is faster and he is taller. he is also very emotional after swims, indicating he wants it badly.

weaigo;klvnc
Reply to  PsychoDad
4 years ago

Melzer is a good kid.
His results from Orange White meet were pretty promising if you ask me.
We shall see if he can really explode this year, I personally am rooting for him.

joe
Reply to  Swimmer
4 years ago

Cal’s not.

PsychoDad
Reply to  JP input is too short
4 years ago

Nah, John Murray was special. I just wished NCAA’s allowed swimmers to swim all events they wanted – John would have won NCAAs that year swimming all events and with little help on relays (they did not have to have all 4 swimmers on relay necessarily).