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.
#2 TEXAS LONGHORNS
Key Losses: Townley Haas (44 NCAA points, 2 relays), Max Holter (2 NCAA points), Tate Jackson (12 NCAA points, 4 relays), Jeff Newkirk (16 NCAA points, 1 relay), John Shebat (51 NCAA points, 3 relays)
Key Additions: #2 Jake Foster (OH – IM/breast), #4 Caspar Corbeau (OR – breast/free), #9 Peter Larson (MN – back/free), #10 Ethan Harder (MT – back/fly),Maxime Rooney (Florida transfer – fly/free), Chris Staka (Alabama transfer – back/fly/free), Alvin Jiang (UNC transfer – fly/back/free), Paul Degrado (FL – breast),Cole Crane (FL – fly/free)
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.
Eddie Reese may have been coaching since before some of his swimmers’ parents were alive, but he’s not afraid to make adjustments to his training program, and he was fairly vocal that he tried to ease up a bit in practice during the 2018-2019 season after the team appeared especially beat up the year before.
The Longhorns had a strong dual meet record, losing to Indiana, Florida, and NC State, but winning against Texas A&M, Tennessee, Auburn, Georgia, and Arizona.
Fast-forward to NCAAs, and the Longhorns saw some mixed results. They started with a record-setting 800 free relay and then got a win the next night from Townley Haas in the 500. But Haas struggled in the 200 free, fading to 4th after winning the previous three years. Jackson was inconsistent, and Yeager didn’t come close to matching his time, trends that we saw from other swimmers as well.
On the positive side, freshmen Drew Kibler and Daniel Krueger were just as good advertised, each making an A-final, and senior John Shebat capped off a strong meet by earning his very first individual title in his final individual event, the 200 back. Diving was once again a strength, as sophomore Jordan Windle made three A-finals and won on the platform.
Finally, a cobbled-together relay of Krueger, Shebat, Jackson, and Haas ended the meet on a high note, winning the 400 free relay with the 2nd-fastest performance in history, anchored by sub-41 splits by Jackson and Haas.
That wasn’t enough to overcome Cal’s juggernaut, but it’s worth noting that the Longhorns actually scored more points in 2019’s 2nd-place showing than they did in 2018, when they won their fourth-consecutive title.
Sprint Free: ★★★★★
Most teams are going to take a hit when they lose a pair like Haas and Jackson, but Texas should weather their losses far better than most teams could.
They’re able to do that largely because of a trio of swimmers who arrived on the 40 Acres last year, plus one more unexpected addition for this year. Drew Kibler and Daniel Krueger were two of the top-ranked freestylers in their recruiting class, and they both delivered. Kibler scored in all three sprint distance, tying for 9th in the 50 free and taking 3rd in the 200 before seeming to run out of gas as the meet went on and ending up 16th in the 100. He was also a relay workhorse, leading off the 800, splitting 18.6 on the 200 and taking part in the 400 free prelims.
Krueger, who missed the Texas Hall of Fame Invite apparently due to illness, finished 24th in 50, but his 19.19 leadoff on the 200 free relay would’ve scored. He finished 18th in the 200 free with a 1:33.29. He’ll be the top returner in the 100 free, after taking 4th with a 41.59, and was on both the 200 and 400 free relays.
Jake Sannem joined the Longhorns last year after spending his freshman year at USC, and he made an instant impact, especially on the relays, where he split 18.9 on the 200, and right around 41.9 anchoring the medley relay prelims and on the 400 free prelims. Individually, his 1:32.43 was only 0.01s from the A-final, and he ended up 12th overall.
Texas gets another big-time transfer this year in the form of Maxime Rooney. He’s capable of scoring in the 100 and 200 of both the free and fly, and after his monster 100 fly at summer nationals, he may focus more on that event, at least. Still, he has lifetime bests of 19.43/41.74/1:32.18 and could help an already-stacked sprint free group get even scarier. (For what it’s worth, our star grades include points for Rooney based on his swims from NCAAs last year – that is, projected scoring in the 100 fly and 100 free, but not in the 200 fly, which was the back-half of a tough double with the 100 free on day 4).
Sam Pomajevich scored in the 200 free as a freshman, but couldn’t match his time last year (1:33.21 v 1:34.25). Austin Katz would score in the 200 if he swam it individually, having split 1:31.45 on the 800 free relay, but he’s likely to continue to focus on the 100 back.
Among returners, Matt Willenbring (42.93/1:33.98), Luke Bowman 19.84/43.52), and Jacob Huerta (19.93/43.81/1:34.51) would probably be in play for relays on most teams, but each would need some serious drops to snag a spot on the Longhorns’ deep relay rosters.
Freshmen Caspar Corbeau (19.85/43.22/1:35.84) and Peter Larson (19.97/43.46/1:35.32) add additional depth here. Corbeau could find himself on the 200 free relay after having already split sub-19 in high school.
Distance Free: ★★
The distance free was a microcosm of the Longhorns’ ups and downs at NCAAs. On one hand, Haas won his 3rd title in the 500. On the other hand, Texas had two other men with scoring times in distance events, and a third who had made the A-final in the 500 free the previous year, and none on them picked up any points.
It looked like top-ten recruit Chris Yeager was breaking out his sophomore year after he went a nation-leading 14:32.13 at the Texas Invite in December. However, he couldn’t match that time at NCAAs, finishing just outside of the top 16 with a 14:47.44. He also struggled in the 500, going 4:21.57 against his 4:15.95 seed time.
Another highly-touted distance recruit, freshman Alex Zettle, came into NCAAs with a 4:13.42 that would’ve made the A-final had he repeated that time. Instead, his 4:15.73 dropped him to 22nd. He took an even bigger hit in the mile, fading from 14:48 to 15:25.
Backstroke ace Austin Katz also somewhat unexpectedly swam the 500. Maybe it was some sort of “Hail Mary” where Reese was doing whatever he could in the hope of eking out points? Katz had a decent swim, knocking four seconds off his personal best, but that time of 4:16.06 wasn’t enough to sniff scoring, and you have to wonder if it had an effect on his erratic 100 back the rest of that day and the next.
Pomajevich was a surprise A-finalist in the 500 as a freshman in 2018, but struggled a bit this season and barely made it to NCAAs. At tends to happens with those who qualify at a last chance meet, he was well off personal best, finishing 33rd with a 4:17.61.
Additionally, rising juniors JT Larson and Parker Neri both qualified for NCAAs as freshmen, with Larson swimming both distance events and Neri the 500. Last year, Larson’s season-best time of 4:15.62 was under the NCAA cut, but he was scratched due to the overabundance of Longhorn qualifiers. Similarily, Jack Collins qualified for NCAAs with a 14:51.95 in the 1650, but was left off the roster.
This is a strong, deep group, as Ryan Harty and Austin Katz are each capable of making the A-final in both backstroke events. Katz won the 200 back in 2018 and took 2nd to teammate John Shebat in 2019. He also placed 4th in the 100 back in 2018, but was a bit inconsistent this March: he led off the 400 medley relay prelims in 44.94, a time that would’ve made the 100 back A-final, then went 45.54 leading off finals, and then 45.39 in the individual prelims, missing the top 16 completely after Daniel Carr’s re-swim. Still, he’s the prohibitive favorite in the 200 back as the 3rd-fastest man ever in the event, and if his 100 back is on, he should be in the running for a top three finish there.
Two years removed from missing the postseason due to injury, Harty has moved from a 400 IM/200 back type to more of a sprinter. He led off Texas’ 200 medley relays, finished 5th in the 100 back, and took 9th in the 200 back. He swam a lifetime best 1:38.61 at Big 12s in February, and hitting that time again would’ve put him 3rd at NCAAs, behind only Shebat and Katz.
Texas also brings back NCAA qualifier Josh Artmann (47.00/1:40.96), who was yet another victim a victim of the 18 athlete-max, but whose best time is only a tenth of a second off of scoring in the 200 back, as well as sophomore Jason Park (46.69/1:42.29).
In between transfers and freshmen, Texas brings in another four guys who could made an impact. Transfers Chris Staka and Alvin Jiang arrive with lifetime bests of 46.11 and 46.33. Freshmen Peter Larson and Ethan Harder, who ranked 9th and 10th in our final ranking of the high school class of 2019, are both 47/1:41 backstrokers. Larson was the 2018 Junior Pan Pacific silver medalist in the 200 back, behind future teammate Carson Foster.
This discipline has been up and down for the Longhorns. In 2017, Will Licon swept the breaststrokes. In 2018, they scored 0 individual points and it was a liability on the medley relays. Last year was better, and now with the incoming freshmen class, this is rapidly becoming a strength.
The big returner is sophomore is Charlie Scheinfeld. He broke out at the Texas Hall of Fame meet in in the fall with times of 51.41/1:52.78. Those times would’ve put him in the A-final and B-final, respectively, at NCAAs, but he couldn’t match them, ending up 11th and 36th. He had great relay splits, though (23.06/50.97) and could be a two-event scorer next year.
Help, and maybe even some competition for relay spots, arrives in the form of freshmen Jake Foster and Caspar Corbeau. Foster, the #2 recruit nation-wide, has been 52.92 in the 100, but will almost certainly swim the 400 IM on Day 3. His 200 breast time of 1:54.27 is just under a half-second slower than NCAA scoring time, and it’s reasonable to expect him to make that drop and pick up some points.
It feels like Corbeau is more of a sprinter, as he swims sprint free over the longer IM, but his times are almost identical to Foster’s (52.91/1:54.21) and should also be a two-event scoring threat.
Only four years after the Longhorns put six men in the 100 fly A-final, they failed to score any points in the 100 fly in 2019 and a whopping two points in the 200 fly.
Things don’t look quite as bleak this season, especially if Maxime Rooney opts for one or both of the fly events. Obviously, he’s got a great 200 free, but also went 44.99 for a 4th place finish in the 100 fly last year. Summer was even better for him, as he erupted at USA Summer Nationals with a 50.68, making him the 4th-fastest US swimmer ever. He’s also been 1:40.87 in the 200 fly, which should make the A-final in that event, although he could go with the 100 free instead. (As noted above, our ‘star’ projections have Rooney scoring big in the 100 fly, where he’s the #3 returner, but not the 200 fly, where he was 30th last year and three seconds off his best. If he skips the 100 free for the 200 fly, his fly points go up and his free points most likely down; if he tries the double again, who knows?)
In the 200 fly, Sam Pomajevich returns after making the B-final in 2018 and finishing 17th last season. He was 46.2 in the 100 last season too.
Andrew Koustik went 1:42.15 at a last chance meet as a freshman last year. That time actually would’ve qualified him for NCAAs, but he was also scratched due to the roster limit. Still, with a little improvement and the right taper, he could be a scoring threat.
Harder may opt for the 200 back, but he does arrive with a 1:43.5 200 fly.
Shebat was the shining star of this group last year, taking 3rd at NCAAs with a 1:39.63. Harty is a returning scorer, though, having taken 16th in the 200. He’s also scored in the 400, but seems to have dropped that for the 100 back.
Freshman Jake Foster could score in both events. He’d need a sizable drop in the 200, where he’s been 1:43.9 and it’s taken right around 1:43.0 to score the past two years. The 400 is a better bet, as his best of 3:42.28 would put him in last year’s B-final. Texas blue-chipper prospects tend to do pretty well as freshmen, so watch for Foster to lop off some time in both events and bring in a solid point haul.
The Longhorns return all four divers who qualified for last year’s NCAAs. Junior Jordan Windle leads the way after tallying 47 points with three A-final appearances, including a victory in the platform event. Greyson Campbell made two A-finals, earning 28 points, while Jacob Cornish picked up 9 points on the platform, and Reed Merritt will be looking to earn some points after topping out at 24th in his first NCAA appearance.
The contributions of last year’s freshmen, plus a big transfer in Rooney, means that the Longhorns’ relays are in far better shape than you’d expect given their senior losses.
They bring back Kibler and Katz on the 800 free relay. Rooney’s lifetime best of 1:32.18 won’t exactly replace Haas and his 1:29.66 split, but it’s about as good as a replacement as you could hope. Sannem will most likely also join this relay, and while it may slip 2-3 seconds, the next three finishers from last year are losing big legs too.
Krueger was the only non-senior on the victorious 400 free relay, but once again, the depth here means that the Longhorns shouldn’t take too much of a hit, as Kibler, Sannem, and Rooney should all be good for sub-42 splits.
Kibler, Krueger, Sannem return on the 200 free. They may not quite be able to replace Jackson’s 18.3 anchor, but Corbeau anchor a 200 free relay in 18.93 this past March, so he may be the next man up. This is probably the relay that Rooney gets left off of, as his lifetime best is 19.4.
The medleys are in great shape. Harty had the 3rd-fastest leadoff leg in the 200 medley finals, and Staka’s been 21.31. Katz returns for the 400, although Harty could hop in there as well. Scheinfeld locks down the breaststrokes, and Corbeau and Foster provide additional depth. With John Shebat’s graduation, it looked like they were going to have to use Kibler (45.5 in prelims) on fly, but Rooney’s transfer shores up this leg. Krueger stands to take over anchor duties, and should be able to match Jackson’s 18.8/41.1 from last year’s finals.
By our count, this is a team that brings back 16 men who’ve qualified for NCAAs at some point in their career, and there’s probably another 8 with at least a reasonable chance of qualifying.
That’s absolutely unprecedented depth, and at least two things are clear. First, once again, Texas is going to leave some NCAA qualifiers at home. Second, they’ll be a top-two team for the 7th year in a row.
What’s not clear is if they’ll actually be able to topple Cal. Statistically, they should have the ability…there’s probably at least 20 potential A-final swims. But they’ll need all the big guns to peak at NCAAs. If they can avoid misses both big (e.g., Jackson in the 100 free) and small (e.g., freshman IMers not matching times), they have the individual scorers, relay strength, and the diving to overcome what’s still going to be a very strong Cal team, but it should another close, exciting meet next March in Indianapolis.