2019 International Swimming League – American Derby
- Saturday, November 16 – Sunday, November 17, 2019
- 2:00-4:00 PM Local Time (U.S. Eastern Time)
- Eppley Recreation Center – College Park, MD
- Short Course Meters (SCM) format
- American franchises: Cali Condors, LA Current, DC Trident, New York Breakers
- Live Stream (ESPN3)
It’s time for the American Derby – we preview each team for strengths and weaknesses, focusing in on the all-important skins and relay races.
- Full roster
- Strengths: sprints/skins, women’s backstrokes
- Weaknesses: men’s backstrokes, distance frees, overall depth
Skins & Relays
Cali’s biggest advantage is going to be skins master Caeleb Dressel. The fastest sprinter on the planet won the skins race in his only Group A appearance, the Naples meet. His road gets even easier with European talents Ben Proud and Florent Manaudou no longer in the mix, and LA’s Nathan Adrian is also absent after placing second and third in the Group B skins.
On the women’s side, Olivia Smoliga is a very likely finalist, if not a title contender. She was third in both Group A meets to members of European teams. Some combination of Kasia Wasick, Amanda Weir and Kelsi Dahlia has a shot to give Cali two semifinalists.
As far as relay depth goes, the men are much better off than the women. Dressel is a difference-maker, and Cali has no shortage of true sprinters (Bowe Becker, Townley Haas, Tate Jackson, Kacper Majchrzak) and versatile types who can sprint free (Justin Ress, John Shebat). The absence of Mitch Larkin leaves them a little thin on backstrokers for medley relays, though.
The women are still loaded on the medleys with a lot of great stroke specialists. But with only a dozen women active at the American derby, filling the B free relay might be an issue. There’s going to be lots of crossing over with swimmers like Smoliga and Dahlia stepping into key relay roles.
The Cali women are pretty loaded in all three non-free strokes, between back (Smoliga/Kylie Masse), breast (Lilly King/Molly Hannis) and fly (Kelsi Dahlia/Hali Flickinger). The lineup is very well-rounded, and though they were outpaced in women’s sprints in Group A, they stack up much better against the other Americans than they do against the sprint-laden Energy Standard roster.
They’re a little iffy in the 200/400 free with Ariarne Titmus absent, but Melanie Margalis is just fine as a stopgap solution for now.
It’s similar on the men’s side, where Anton Ipsen is a solid mainstay, but the second 400 spot is probably going to a converted IMer or a Townley Haas who is a notoriously rough in-season swimmer and looks a little like he wants to be completely done with the 400 free.
Larkin leaves the backstrokes with a hole, though some absences on other teams make that a little less devastating.
The only other concern, really, is that a pretty small roster is going to require a lot of swimmers to swim a lot of events. That’s especially true on the women’s side, with only 12 swimmers active.
- Full roster
- Strengths: IMs, breaststrokes
- Weaknesses: sprint/relay depth, men’s distance
Skins & Relays
Easily the biggest single absence comes on the LA Current roster: Nathan Adrian scored 20+ points at both Group B matches and was second and third in the skins. LA returns Ryan Held, who competed in both skins races, and they have some depth options to fill in: Michael Chadwick, maybe Shane Ryan. But none are going to be able to replace Adrian’s production.
For the women, there are a bunch of top options. Margo Geer was a semifinalist in Lewisville and Beryl Gastaldello a semifinalist in Budapest, but Amy Bilquist could also be a factor.
That said, the depth drops off fairly significantly on both sides in terms of relays. Losing Adrian and Ryan Murphy pulls two big relay pieces. The women have a lot more mid-distance type swimmers who excel more over the 200/400 distance (Ella Eastin, Leah Smith, Katie McLaughlin) and won’t be quite as effective in the relay races.
Individually, there’s a fair amount of versatility, but as the Current found out in Group B, a great swimmer in an off-event is often less valuable than a good swimmer in their primary race. Without Murphy, the backstrokes are still OK – Matt Grevers and Shane Ryan are solid, though the 200 is going to take a big step back, because LA was already thin enough with Murphy to have to use flyer Tom Shields there in both Group B meets.
LA is loaded in the IMs: Chase Kalisz, Andrew Seliskar, Josh Prenot and Will Licon are all top IMers. But the Current will probably have to use a number of those guys to fill other events – particularly the 200/400 freestyles.
The women are pretty well-rounded. Assuming Leah Smith swims, she plugs a big hole the Current had in distance, using IMers Ella Eastin and Anastasia Gorbenko there in Group B meets. Annie Lazor is a top breaststroker, but there’s not really a second option behind her with Jhennifer Conceicao absent.
- Full roster
- Strengths: IMs, men’s breaststroke, men’s distance
- Weaknesses: relay depth, backstrokes
Skins & Relays
On the women’s side, Siobhan Haughey made the semifinals of one skins race in Group A, and Madison Kennedy is another solid entrant. The Americans are definitely the weaker franchises in women’s skins, so these two both have a shot go far.
The men were pretty awful in Group A. Jeremy Stravius and Robert Howard were 7th and 8th in Naples, and Howard and Zach Apple were 4th and 7th in Indy. Apple is definitely more of a taper swimmer, so his status really depends on how prepared we expect him to be for this meet. With DC a longshot to make the league final, we wouldn’t expect a whole lot of rest, though pushing his team into the final would net him a lot more prize money.
The relay depth definitely isn’t to the level of the top two American teams. Both men and women are a little more IM and distance focused, and there’s really no game-changing leg on any of the relays, unless Apple absolutely blows up. The top men’s free and medley relays were OK in Group A matches, but the B teams were struggling hard, with IMers Jay Litherland and Abrahm DeVine, breaststroker Ian Finnerty and distance man Zane Grothe taking 4×100 free relay legs.
With Ledecky, this team could at least fall back on superior distance talent. But with Ledecky absent as the ISL steps into her former stomping grounds of DC, the Trident come back to the field a little here. They’re still good on the men’s side, where Zane Grothe won 400s in both Group A meets.
DC is also very strong in the men’s IMs, though that seems to be one of the few events getting tougher in the American derby compared to group play. Jay Litherland has a good shot in the 400 IM after winning both Group A meets, and Andreas Vazaios was in the hunt for both 200 IM titles.
Outside of one 50 back win from Jeremy Stravius, DC has struggled across the board in back. They don’t have a lot of pure backstrokers on the men’s side, and the women are reliant on 200-specialist Lisa Bratton and the legendary Natalie Coughlin, who didn’t do a whole lot coming out of a long (pseudo-)retirement for the Indy meet.
New York Breakers
- Full roster
- Strengths: versatility & lineup options, sprints
- Weaknesses: backstrokes, relays
Skins & Relays
Group B play was pretty disastrous all-around for New York, but one place where it could clearly get better is the skins. Group B was brutal in the women’s sprints (both Campbells, Emma McKeon and Ranomi Kromowidjojo are tough to beat), and things are significantly less tough here for Breakers star Pernille Blume.
On the men’s side… hard to say. Michael Andrew is definitely a potential finalist, and should theoretically thrive in the multi-round setting, though he only made semifinals in both Group B meets. There’s other sprint talent there for New York (Marcelo Chierighini, Brad Tandy, Pedro Spajari), but it didn’t really come through in Lewisville or Budapest.
The relays could actually be pretty solid between that group of sprinters for the men and the three DeLoof sisters for the women. This roster is pretty versatile in terms of filling out relay lineups – they just need a standout leg or two somewhere or their A relays won’t crack the top lineups from the other teams.
What crushed the Breakers the last two times around were the backstrokes. On the women’s side, they recruited Madi Wilson as their top backstroker, but the former World Champs medalist only swam sprint freestyles in Group B. That forced the Breakers to use a lot of Gabby DeLoof and Ali DeLoof in the backstrokes, which served to tire them out for other events and produce only middling results.
Meanwhile the men’s roster has a lot of backstrokers, but none of them swam very well in group A. Markus Thormeyer was probably the best performer, but New York took far too many 8th places in backstrokes for spending a lot of roster spots on the stroke.
Between their crowd of male sprinters and Blume/Gabby DeLoof on the women’s side, they should be pretty good in the freestyles. They bolster the distance frees and IMs a little with the additions of Australians Brendon Smith and Mikkayla Sheridan, though it’s hard to say if that will be enough.
The breaststrokes are a high point. Breeja Larson and Emily Escobedo made a nice duo in Group B, and Marco Koch had some decent swims on the men’s side. There isn’t much depth behind Koch, though, especially with Andrew swimming a pretty busy schedule and only swimming the 100 breast in Budapest.
- Cali Condors
- LA Current
- DC Trident
- New York Breakers
If it weren’t for the losses of Adrian and Murphy, LA could have a shot at challenging Cali. But they don’t really have any incentive to go after it. 1st place does as much for the Current as 2nd does – they just can’t lose to DC, and they’re locked into the league final.
DC is the team with the most to gain, as beating LA would pull them into a tie as the second American franchise. But without Ledecky, their biggest strength takes a big hit.
The timing of this meet should provide some intrigue. Those pro athletes training with U.S. college programs might have reason to be a little rested this weekend – it lines up with when most top college programs are taking short rests for mid-season invites. On the other hand, pros have very little incentive to rest for a short course meters meet right now, with the Olympics only about eight months away. Without much drama to speak of in the team race, we wouldn’t expect anyone to really go all-out in Maryland this week.