The Cal men are the 2011 NCAA Men’s swimming champions. They’ve had a few days to bask in that glory. While they will carry that moniker for at least the next 360 or so days, the rest of the country will be gunning for the crown next season. And as Texas’ Dax Hill tweeted earlier today, “Next season begins today.” Cal knows this, Texas knows this, Stanford knows this. Remember how Ryan Lochte was back in the water training the day after returning from setting World Records at the Dubai World Championships in December? That same attitude is what’s going to help Cal, Texas, Stanford, or anyone else rise to the top next season.
Let’s take a very cursory look at how next season could play out on the men’s side:
One of our readers, “JimmerFeigenFan,” posted a great rundown of how many individual points each of the top four teams will return next season, and how many relay spots they’ll have to replace.
Texas: 313.5 (4 relay spots to replace)
Arizona: 165 (0 relay spots to replace)
Stanford: 157 (12 relay spots to replace)
Cal: 156 (14 relay spots to replace)
And I’ll add a bonus squad into the mix, who wasn’t in the top 4 this season, but could make a real run at it this year:
USC: 114 (3 relay spots to replace)
One mitigating factor amongst all of this is the Stanford seniors who may or may not have fully exhausted their eligibility. Stanford has taken a precursory look at applying for 5th years of eligibility for each both David Mosko and Austin Staab, who both otherwise completed their eligibility after this season. Staab missed the entire 2nd semester of his junior season (after competing in 5 meets the 1st semester), as well as the 1st semester of his senior season. We still don’t know why, aside from “personal reasons,” though the exact nature of these personal reasons could affect the NCAA’s decision.
Distance swimmer David Mosko hasn’t competed for the Cardinal since late November as the result of a shoulder injury. He is expected to be ready to go by the beginning of next year, but it will be up to the NCAA to decide whether or not to grant him a hardship waiver after competing in 3 meets early in the season.
Any appeal to the NCAA can be a long, slow process, and so it may be some time before we hear if anything comes from these appeals, but needless to say, they would totally reshape the above figures. Staab would add roughly 55 points and 4 relay spots back into Stanford’s total, and Mosko would probably pitch in for another 45 or more, plus a relay spot. Obviously, this makes a huge difference in the numbers above, though they’re still significant.
There’s still some big recruiting dominoes to fall, and there are a few swimmers who may consider redshirting to focus on London (though not as many as we might see on the women’s side). With that in mind, along with the potential Stanford 5th-years, let’s count down our top 5 for next season.
#5 Arizona Wildcats
Arizona will be in a huge transition next year after 22-years under the direction of Frank Busch, who will be leaving Tucson to take over the National Team program. I like Associate head coach Rick Demont and Wisconsin coach Eric Hansen, who went to grad school and served as an assistant at Arizona for 3 seasons. Assuming all goes well under the new regime, which it certainly should, Arizona returns a ton. This will be led by backstroker Cory Chitwood, who won the 200 back and was runner-up in the 200 IM. They also have a promising sprinter, Adam Small, and an outstanding freshman in backstroker Mitchell Friedemann. Unlike the other 4 teams on this list, however, the Wildcats only have 1 top-50 recruit: Kevin Cordes out of Chicago. He will bring a 53.6 100 breaststroke, the fastest in the class, to an already loaded Arizona breaststroke group.
#4 Cal Golden Bears
Any time you graduate a senior class as heavy as Cal’s, you’ve gotta expect a drop in team performance. This senior-heavy team didn’t bring in a ton of quality in freshmen in the Class of 2010, but this year, with tons of scholarship money opening up, they’ve brought in easily a big enough class to hold in the top 5. This includes Seth Stubblefield from Dallas, who has already posted 20.0/44.0 in the sprint freestyles, and Tyler Messerschmidt, who’s even a little better than that. They’ve also brought in Adam Hinshaw, who will join last year’s freshmen Sam Metz and Jeremy Bagshaw in turning the distance events from Cal’s weakest area to one of their strongest. They’ll have one of the nations best butterfliers and backstrokers in Tom Shields, and still the best breaststroke group in the country, led by NCAA runner-up Nolan Koon.
#3 USC Trojans
USC had an incredibly young team at NCAA’s, and they probably graduate less than any other top 10 team. The biggest loss is breaststroke Dillon Connolly, who was an important relay piece, but they didn’t graduate any individual scorers. They had a huge freshman class last season, including local boy Vlad Morozov and German freestyler Dima Colupaev. They add another great freestyler, Chad Bobrosky, and should enter the season as the favorites in the 800 free relay. The Trojans still need a breaststroker, after graduating their two best, but with the best breaststroke coach in the world right now, Dave Salo, at the helm, they should have no problem developing one.
#2 Stanford Cardinal
Stanford graduates over half of their individual points…maybe. This argument becomes an entirely different thing if Staab and Mosko return. Even without those two back, though, Stanford has one of the best freshmen classes we’ve seen in a long time. David Nolan is conservatively worth 45 points next season, but he’s just a single needle on Stanford’s pine tree. They bring in no fewer than 5 freshmen who can score big at NCAA’s immediately. This includes Jonathan Edwards out of Houston, who is essentially a poor man’s version of David Nolan (48.0 100 back, 1:46.9 200 IM) with a frame that has room to grow. They do need to find a few sprinters to replace 3/4 of their American Record setting 200 free relay, which will be their biggest challenge to repeating. Unless, of course, Staab returns, in which case they only have to replace their two slowest legs of that relay. With the freshman class, we don’t really know how good they could be, though I’d feel pretty confident in picking them to win sometime in the next 4 years.
#1 Texas Longhorns
Eddie Reese uses his 9.9 scholarships better than anyone in the country. That’s why he’s able to reload better than anyone else in the country. A year after winning the National Championship, and graduating 3 of the program’s biggest pieces, the Longhorns were already back to a place where they could actually hold a lead on the final day of the NCAA Championship against an absolutely loaded Cal team. Texas’ weakness was exposed at this meet. The presence of Jimmy Feigen and Dax Hill, who’s had a meteoric rise, mask the fact that Texas was just not very deep in the freestyle events, which is the foundation of most championship teams. Texas‘ freshman class has a dynamite top two, and a lot of depth. Kip Darmody is incredibly versatile, including a 4:39 100 free, 47.0 100 back, and a 1:35.5 200 free. They also signed Clay Youngquist out of Michigan, who has a 43.7 100 free and an unbelievable 1:34.2 200 free. They’re not going to have that freestyle issue next season.
They bring in a slew of 47-and-48 second 100 butterfliers (they only scored 2 butterfly points at NCAA’s). Even after Scott Spann’s graduation, they have the 200 breaststroke covered, but could use another sprint breaststroker. To fill that spot, they brought in Keith Murphy (56.1). They also bring in Jacob Ritter, a Junior Nationals finalist in the 1000 free, who will thrive in the best distance group going right now. With only two big graduations, Texas filled many of their holes with freshmen, and have plenty of great “understudies” ready to step up. If Stanford doesn’t bring back both Mosko and Staab, Texas is a prohibitive favorite. Even with those two, Texas probably wins anyways. This is a team that is easily capable of breaking the 500 point barrier that won them the 2010 title.
Other Top-5 Contenders
The Florida Gators graduated a ton of their scorers, but have great freshmen of their own (like Nicholas Caldwell and Matthew Elliott) coming in. Michigan only has a single recruit thus far, but with a sophomore class of 20 leading them to a top 10 finish, and hardly any graduation, they didn’t need much. Auburn has the most speed horses in their stable, and took huge strides this year towards developing a very well-rounded program. Any team that can score six 50 freestylers is always a threat for the top 5.
This far out, there’s a lot of room for teams to move, shift, grow, sign swimmers, lose swimmers, and move in every other way, so these aren’t by any means set in stone. Let us know who you like in the top 5 below, and why!