The NCAA season is in full swing, but before we get too far into the season, we’re highlighting some of the major storylines that you should keep an eye on throughout the 2023-24 season–from now all the way through the 2024 Men’s NCAA Championships in March.
What’s Left for Leon Marchand to Achieve?
On the men’s side, Marchand Madness defined the 2022-23 season, as Leon Marchand redefined what was possible in NCAA and SCY swimming. He went undefeated the entire season, a feat which hadn’t been achieved since Natalie Coughlin in 2002. In February, he owned nation-leading times in seven different events. He helped Arizona State to their first ever PAC-12 title. At NCAAs, broke NCAA and U.S. Open records in his three primary events: 200 IM (1:36.34) , 400 IM (3:28.82), and 200 breast (1:46.91. And, he posted three relay splits that were the fastest in history: his 50 breast (22.27), 100 breast (49.23), and 200 free (1:28.42).
Yet Marchand returned to the NCAA this season, despite many speculating that his time in collegiate swimming was over. So, what’s left for him?
Well, his undefeated streak is still going strong. And there’s more records to break–Marchand could decide to chase NCAA and U.S. Open records in more individual events.
But there’s one thing that seems to be driving Marchand above all the rest. “I know we can do better,” he said after ASU’s 2nd-place finish at 2023 NCAAs. “I know we can win. And I want to be a part of it.”
It projects to be a tight race between ASU and Cal, the two-time defending champions. That may influence what Marchand swims; it’s hard to pass up the almost guaranteed 60 points Marchand rakes in with a 200 IM, 400 IM, 200 breast schedule. And even with Ilya Kharun already exceeding expectations and Cal losing big points from graduated fifth-years, it’s still going to take a full team effort for the Sun Devils to earn their first NCAA championship in program history.
Freshmen the Deciding Factor For Texas and Stanford
The freshmen classes for both the Longhorns and the Cardinal are key to where the two teams will place in the NCAA standings. However, while the Texas freshmen will be largely responsible for stopping a slide down the standings, Stanford’s freshmen could take the team to the next level and push them up the standings past Tennessee.
Texas scored the high-powered duo Nate Germonprez and Will Modglin. Expectations were high for what these two recruits could bring to the Longhorns, and that was before Texas lost the Foster brothers, Caspar Corbeau, and David Johnston (though Johnston is slated to return next season). After a shaky 2023 NCAAs where they had to fight to hold onto 3rd, it looks very likely that they’re going to slip further down the standings. Germonprez and Modglin’s arrival on campus is suddenly very timely, as they’ll immediately be asked to play a crucial role on the team, both in their individual events and staunching holes on the relays.
Meanwhile, Stanford brought in a recruiting class even stronger than last season’s group. The group includes Rex Maurer, Henry McFadden, Ethan Harrington, and Gibson Holmes. The versatile group gives Stanford plenty of options for how they want to attack the season, especially if they need to fill holes left by Andrei Minakov on relays. Part of this ongoing narrative is that last year’s freshmen did not have the immediate impact that many expected them to have, and with an even more high-powered group, there will be a lot of eyes on this year’s freshmen. But, if they develop well, their firepower combined with the talent already on the Stanford roster could see the Cardinal move up the standings.
Watch Out For Indiana
One of the programs primed to take advantage of Texas’ slide down the standings is the Indiana Hoosiers. At 2023 NCAAs, they finished 4th–just four points behind Texas. Yes, they’ve taken a big hit by losing diver Andrew Capobianco and sprint freestyler/breaststroker Van Mathias, but between their huge freshman class and their retained talent, Indiana is arguably a stronger team than they were last year.
Of course, Ahmed Hafnaoui is the headliner of their incoming class. The Olympic champion is coming off a sensational 2023 Worlds where he won both the 800 and 1500 freestyles, and there’s a lot of anticipation about what he can do in yards. Putting him down as a serious contender to win both the 500 and 1650 at NCAAs doesn’t feel like a stretch.
But there’s also Mikkel Lee, who turned heads with great splits at the Asian Games, and fifth-year transfer Billy Cruz. Both should help replace Mathias in the sprints, and Lee especially could develop into a star.
Indiana’s diving contingent is still strong, and Brendan Burns, Tomer Frankel, and Josh Mathney all return. Add everything up, and it feels like we’re looking at a top 3 team, though of course they’ll have a huge bight on their hands with the Gators and the Wolfpack.
Transfers Set To Make an Immediate Impact
There were some interesting transfers during the offseason that could result in major shakeups at both national and conference levels. Jack Hoagland to SMU, Abdelrahman Elaraby to Notre Dame, Ruard van Renen to UGA.
These three schools could all see a boost from having these swimmers–and more–join their rosters this season. Two UGA transfers, van Renen and Miles Simon, both transferred from mid-major programs. They join a Dawgs roster that’s buoyed by their fifth-year contingent, and will be called on to help fill some of the holes that exist on the roster. Van Renen was the top mid-major scorer at NCAAs last year, and his 13 points would have put Georgia just three points out from 11th place Ohio State.
Notre Dame is another team that could see a boost in the standings. Elaraby joining the team is huge, as it comes just after Chris Guiliano‘s breakout year (in both yards and meters). The two should make a powerful sprinting duo, plus the Fighting Iris picked up D3 Swimmer of the Year Tanner Filion. By himself, Filion’s narrative is could prove to be one of the most interesting of the season, as he could play an important role for this rising Power 5 school.
Is Nikoli Blackman Tennessee’s Next International Sprint Sensation?
Tennessee has established themselves as a great place for international sprinters. Two years ago Jordan Crooks arrived and established himself as a main contender in the sprint. As a sophomore, he took a big leap forward and became just the second man to join the sub-18 seconds 50 free club with a 17.93 at 2023 SECs. Last year, Gui Caribe joined Crooks in Knoxville and quickly made an impact. Together, he and Crooks formed one of the best sprint duos in the NCAA.
Nikoli Blackman arrives on campus this fall after becoming world junior champion in the 50 free. Blackman holds a lifetime best of 22.33 in the 50-meter free, set this past summer. Will he be the next sprint star for the Vols?
A lot of your answer depends on how you think Tennessee’s sprint group will handle the departure of Josh Huger, who lead the group. Huger went to Cal, and is now working with sprinters like Jack Alexy and Bjorn Seeliger. That sets up for a potential showdown between Huger’s past and present swimmers at 2024 NCAAs.
Other Storylines to Watch
- Who’s going to step up in the 100 breaststroke? Denis Petrashov and Liam Bell are the only two returning ‘A’ finalists, leaving the door open for someone to take advantage. Will it be Josh Matheny, who made his senior international team debut this summer at Worlds? Maybe Aleksas Savickas, who has the fastest PB of the returning field? Then there’s Noah Nichols and mid-major star Brian Benzing to consider as well.
- Florida was sensational in the relays last year, winning the 200 free relay, 400 free relay, and 400 medley relay with three new national records. However, aside from Josh Liendo, they left a lot on the table in the individual events, which a big reason why they finished 6th. The fight for top 5 has only gotten tighter–is it going to be the same story this season?