2019 INTERNATIONAL SWIMMING LEAGUE – Finale
- Friday, December 20 – Saturday, December 21, 2019
- 1:00 – 3:00 PM Local Time (U.S. Pacific Time)
- Madalay Bay Resort and Casino – Las Vegas, NV
- Short Course Meters (SCM) format
- Top 4 qualifying franchises: Energy Standard, London Roar, LA Current, Cali Condors
- Live Stream (ESPN3)
It’s time for the International Swimming League finale. We break down each team, followed by our picks for the overall team finish order.
- Full roster
- Strengths: sprints, skins & relays
- Weaknesses: women’s breaststrokes, men’s distance (200/400), women’s backstrokes
Energy Standard is a little bit tough to predict, because their traditional strengths (skins, relays, sprints) face some very tough fields in Vegas. Where Sarah Sjostrom and Femke Heemskerk went 1-2 in both Group A skin races, ENS faced a much tougher field in the Euro derby. The skin races heavily determine team points, so it only makes sense that the teams with the best skins entrants mostly moved on to the final.
The women should be OK – Sjostrom is a true win candidate even in a tough field. The men have a tougher task. Florent Manaudou and Ben Proud should make the second round, but they don’t have a ton of endurance after that to take on the Dressels of the world.
If Energy Standard is going to win, they probably need the game the relays right. They’ve got outstanding relay depth, but the finale field isn’t going to allow them to split up their talent as easily. But getting both relays in the top 5 in several relay events could be key. ENS has generally been very good at writing its individual entries to conserve energy for the relays – in particular, they’ve done this with their backstroke/freestyle talents like Evgeny Rylov and Kliment Kolesnikov.
Sjostrom has a chance to be the season MVP and the meet-shifter. She could win the 50 fly, 100 fly, 50 free, 100 free, and the skins… but could easily end up third or worse in every one of those races. Adding Daiya Seto really beefs up the men’s IM group. Women’s breaststrokes and the men’s 200/400 have been an ongoing struggle – the women’s breaststrokes are where ENS really has to watch out for Cali, and the men’s 200/400 is going to be where London has a major advantage.
- Full roster
- Strengths: women’s sprints, men’s 200/400, men’s & women’s backstrokes, men’s breaststroke
- Weaknesses: men’s & women’s IMs, men’s butterflys
The heavy favorites, London has the ability to dominate the women’s skins and relays, and should also be outstanding across several other events.
The Roar have had the breakout backstrokers of the year: Minna Atherton and Guilherme Guido. When you look at the rosters, name recognition probably makes these backstrokes feel more even, but if Atherton and Guido perform the way they did in the regular season, these events will be all London. It’s also worth noting that neither the Australian Atherton or the Brazilian Guido will be affected by the tight turnaround from Euros.
Cate Campbell, Bronte Campbell and Emma McKeon make a brutal freestyle wall, and these relays will be tough to beat. McKeon’s range up to the 200 and into butterfly will also cover a lot of ground, lineup-wise. The men have been more concentrated at the upper end of the meterage spectrum, but Alex Graham, Elijah Winnington, James Guy and Duncan Scott should combine to absolutely dominate the 200-through-400 frees. And of course there’s the Adam Peaty/Kirill Prigoda stack in the men’s breaststrokes, even if Peaty isn’t the unbeatable force in short course that he is in long course.
On the flip side, London has struggled in the IMs, where their men rank no higher than 5th in either IM event in our projected meet based on season-bests. Sydney Pickrem has been solid for the women, but Siobhan-Marie O’Connor wasn’t great in her debut at the Euro derby.
- Full roster
- Strengths: relay depth, backstroke(?), men’s & women’s IMs
- Weaknesses: sprints, women’s breaststrokes, men’s 400 free, women’s relays
The Current are a bit of an interesting case. Their men’s roster is loaded with versatile talent that should make for some deep relay races. On the other hand, they haven’t yet had a Dressel-like star on the men’s side to really carry the relays. We’d expect their B relays to finish relatively high compared to other team’s Bs, but the A relays will really need to be firing to knock off the star-studded relays from the other three teams.
On name value alone, the Current should be elite in backstroke. Ryan Murphy, Matt Grevers, Kathleen Baker and Amy Bilquist are as good as it gets in short course and long. But they’ve all mostly been beaten this season by lesser-known talents like Atherton and Guido, so it’s hard to project just how much of a strength this is, hence the question mark above.
With the more distance- and IM-heavy teams eliminated (Iron, DC Trident), LA becomes the clear-cut powerhouse in the IMs for both men and women. Some combo of Chase Kalisz, Andrew Seliskar, Josh Prenot and others should be in line for huge men’s points. The women haven’t quite performed as well yet, but Ella Eastin is clearly among the world’s best, and competing very close to home.
Beryl Gastaldello has been the breakout star who has carried this team – but her path to the skins title gets much, much tougher here compared to the American derby. For the men, Nathan Adrian is as reliable as it gets, and is probably a sneaky underdog to make the final – he’s been very good in round 2 (21.5 this year), while many of the other sprint types have fallen off round-to-round.
LA doesn’t really have a men’s 400 specialist, and will lose points there. The women’s relays are pretty thin compared to the rest of the field. And LA is probably in trouble in the women’s breaststrokes unless Annie Lazor catches a hot streak like she did on the PSS last year, or if someone else arises so they don’t have to use backstroker Baker or IMer Andison to fill out the lineup.
- Full roster
- Strengths: men’s sprints, women’s breaststrokes, women’s IMs
- Weaknesses: men’s backstrokes, men’s breaststrokes, women’s skins, men’s relays
Cali has arguably the meet’s most valuable athlete, Caeleb Dressel, who can swim anything and everything, can handle a heavy workload, and is the favorite to win the triple-points skin race. He also lifts the relays significantly, though the men’s relays actually rank fairly low this season compared to the other three teams.
Cali has dominated women’s breaststroke. Lilly King is undefeated so far, with 9 wins in breaststroke races. Cali has gone 1-2 in eight of those nine events, as well, with the only miss being a 1-3. Expect major points here from a very proud breaststroke group that won’t want to give up its streak this week.
Melanie Margalis is also undefeated through the IMs, with 6 season wins. She comes in with the top time in both, and Cali has great depth there too. Fellow UGA alum Hali Flickinger has been a great and versatile pickup, and between her, Megan Kingsley and Kelsi Dahlia, the Condors should be set through the butterflys.
Just like with LA, you might look at the roster and think Cali is OK in the backstroke. But it’s been a struggle this season, and based on season-bests, the two Condors entrants in the men’s 50 and 100 back rank 7th and 8th. In the women’s skins, Cali probably has the toughest road of any team to get even a single swimmer into the second round. For the men, Dressel is the clear favorite, but Cali has struggled hard for a reliable second entrant. Cali is also a little undermanned in men’s breaststroke, where the field tightens up big-time with the addition of two loaded European franchises.
- London Roar
- Energy Standard
- LA Current
- Cali Condors
London still feels like the heavy favorites, as long as the jet lag doesn’t knock them down big-time. The two European franchises are very likely dueling for the win, with the American teams rematching their derby clash for third. If we’re generalizing, the main differences in those two battles will probably come down to (1) relay DQs and (2) gaming relay lineups for max points. In the deepest ISL field we’ve seen this season, it’ll be that much harder to split relays – but a team that can get its B relay up to 4th or 5th overall is going to see a huge point boost.
We’ll take LA to once again beat Cali. The Current have some veterans who may subscribe to the Matt Grevers shave-and-taper philosophy, and they’ve generally shown up very well in the big moments. If Beryl Gastaldello makes the skins second round, this should break LA’s way, but if one of the Condors can sneak into the spot instead (or if all four LA and Cali entrants miss the second round – a real possibility), then things even up much more between the two American teams.