There are some relays this year that are absolutely made for this shorter 200 medley. That includes the top seeded Michigan men. Michigan’s backstroking group isn’t the best it’s ever been, but in senior Miguel Ortiz they have a guy who can crush a backstroke sprint with anybody in the country. Bruno Ortiz was the breaststroke choice at Big Tens (they’ve got options) and he can burn speed over 50 yards in pretty much everything; he was a 23.23 at Big Tens. Very nearly a 22-second split! In breaststroke!
Sean Fletcher showed that Cal’s Tom Shields isn’t the only guy who will be splitting under 20’s on the butterfly leg of this relay (he was 19.75 at Big Tens), and anchor Zach Turk is the man who had the fastest relay split in the country last season, going better than even guys like Jimmy Feigen and Vlad Morozov did – while swimming for Kenyon in Division III.
Then there’s Arizona, the defending champs, who set an American Record last season in the race. They graduated only the anchor Adam Small from last season’s foursome. This year, they’ve had Nick Popov anchoring in his stead (Tommy Gutman was probably the next-best option, but he left the team earlier this year).
At Pac-12’s, they used Carl Mickelson on this relay instead of the country’s best collegiate breaststroker Kevin Cordes. Mickelson is one of the best in the country as well, splitting a 23.65 at Pac-12’s (that’s fast, in case you’re unfamiliar with 50 yard times).
At any rate, that’s not the pressure leg for the Wildcats. Nor is Mitchell Friedemann’s backstroke, nor Giles Smith’s backstroke. It’s all about Popov on the anchor this year; he was a respectable 19.50 at Pac-12’s. If he can knock a few tenths off of that swim for NCAA’s, then this relay is really dangerous. He anchored the top-seeded prelims relay at NCAA’s last year, so he’s not totally without experience in this spot.
The big question is Cal. They were the Pac-12 Champions, just out-touching Stanford, with newcomer Tony Cox (an Auburn transfer) holding down a very good backstroke leg. Trevor Hoyt is also very good on the breaststroke, and Shayne Fleming of Fabio Gimondi or Seth Stubblefield or one of their other endless number of sprinters will anchor in a 19.2-or-better. Count on that.
But, will Cal use Tom Shields on this relay? That’s a secret that’s going to be under tight wraps until Thursday. The history is that he was on the 200 medley last year, was not the year before, and Cal has been known to make last-minute lineup changes. I suppose we’ll pick based on this relay as it was swum at Pac-12’s, but fair warning that we not be held to it if they pull Shields off. (There’s no way he swims all 5 relays – it just doesn’t make sense points wise).
For such a short relay, there’s a pretty wide range of times that make the A-Final in this 200 medley. Last year, the top seed in prelims was Arizona at 1:24.23, and Penn State was 8th in 1:26.06. That’s a much bigger spread than we see in the other sprint relay: the 200 free. Everyone then turns it on in finals and times drop waa-aaayyy down.
The Texas men were the biggest jumpers from prelims-to-finals last year. They graduated all three legs of that relay from last year, though, except backstroker Cole Cragin. Cragin isn’t swimming individuals this year at NCAA’s, so he should have plenty of energy to begin the meet’s second day; the Longhorns should be ok on their butterfly and freestyle legs as well. The breaststroke is the question-mark. Whoever they put in there will be respectable (this is Texas, they have great athletes), but it probably won’t be a pure breaststroker per se. They’ve tried a lot of different things in that spot, but head coach Eddie Reese hinted at Big 12’s that Dax Hill would be the breaststroker on at least one of the medleys. If we expect him to only swim four medleys, however, this is probably not the one on which he’s the most valuable.
This 200 medley might be USC’s weakest relay; they didn’t place in the top 8 at NCAA’s last year. At Pac-12’s, they used a lineup of Luca Spinazzola, Morten Klarskov, Chase Bloch, and Vlad Morozov, with head coach Dave Salo saying that Bloch and Morozov weren’t shaved for the meet. Spinazzola’s split was surprisingly good, and Klarskov’s breaststroke (taking over for Colupaev) was a solid 24.0 as well. Vlad Morozov was an 18.3 on the anchor, yet they could still only muster a 4th-place finish at the conference meet. The Trojans need to muster a few more tenths off of this relay to be serious contenders, and that should come in part from Bloch, the butterflier, who split just a 21.0 at Pac-12’s (although, that’s already better than he was at NCAA’s last year).
Ohio State should get their best play in this relay. Their back-half goes National Teamer Tim Phillips on the butterfly leg and Jason Schnur on the anchor. Still haven’t heard of Schnur? He’s just the guy who split 18.46 on this relay in prelims: the fastest split in the country (at the Division I meet, anyway).
Garrett Trebilock is exeeding all expectations on the leadoff backstroke leg, and Keanu Stevenson will hold his own with a 24.0 breaststroke split from Big Tens. If it weren’t for Michigan being so ridiculous in this race at that meet, the Ohio State 200 medley would’ve gotten a whole lot more attention.
The Indiana medley is really pretty interesting. They have a great swimmer in backstroker Eric Ress (also a very good butterflier) whose services they really need on their thin free relays. They also have James Wells, who in Ress’ redshirt year established himself as a top-flight sprint backstroker as well.
Indiana’s lineup is pretty thin this year (though very good at the top), except in one stroke: breaststroke. So, instead of using Cody Miller on the breaststroke and Ress on the fly like they will in the 400 medley, they’ve moved Miller, one of the country’s top breaststrokers, to butterfly, and put freshman Tanner Kurz on breaststroke. This worked out pretty well at Big Ten’s; Kurz split 24.25 on the breaststroke, and Miller was a 20.44 on the fly. All-told, they were a 1:25.15: a great result for a relay that doesn’t use a team’s best swimmer.
Daniel Kanorr, who has split 19.00 this year, has really shored up these Indiana meldey relays this year.
Auburn has a few relay options as well, though not nearly as many as Indiana. Early in the 5-day SEC Championship meet, the Tigers used Marcelo Chierighini on the butterfly leg and James Disney-May on the freestyle leg. That is a really good option. But when we’re talking tenths or hundredths, they might give some pause and make a chance. That’s because mid-year addition Arthur Mendes actually beat Chierighini in the individual 100 fly. Nobody was quite sure how Mendes’ taper might work out, coming in mid-year, but they may have more confidence in using him now that they’ve seen that.
(Note: Chierighini is still probably a better 50 butterflier than Mendes, but he’s also a better 50 freestyler than James Disney-May. There’s some opportunity-cost math to be done there).
Tennessee’s 200 medley relay has been really good this year, owing one more feather to the crowded cap of Matt Kredich. They were 2nd at SEC’s , behind Auburn and ahead of Florida. The most obvious reason has been senior Ed Walsh, who split an 18.84 at that meet. But this relay, though maybe not household, had some really impressive splits. Sam Rairden on the opposite end was a 21.26 backstroke split; Renato Prono was a 23.5 breaststroke split. This relay would’ve been mid-B Final at NCAA’s last year had they not been DQ’ed; this year, they enter the meet as a 5th seed almost unrecognizable, despite being the identical four swimmers that they were last season.
The team that finished a spot behind them at SEC’s. They’ve got Bradley deBorde on the anchor; this relay gets a lot better if Marcin Cieslak, one of the country’s best butterfliers, can get his 50 fly split more toward the 20-second barrier.
Stanford has a similar problem as Texas on the breaststroke. They’ve experimented some with David Nolan on their breaststroke leg; now, though, they’ve gone to senior Andrew Saeta on the breaststroke leg. He’s been pretty good for them, and Jack Lane on the butterfly leg has been really great.
The addition to Florida State of Belarusian Pavel Sankovich mid-season to the Florida State 200 medley took a very good relay and made it lethal – the fastest in ACC history, in fact.
Top 8 picks, plus seed times:
1. Michigan, 1:23.25
2. Cal, 1:24.42
3. Stanford, 1:24.48
4. Arizona 1:24.83
5. Auburn, 1:24.11
6. Ohio State, 1:24.79
7. Tennessee, 1:24.53
8. Florida State, 1:24.84
Darkhorse: UNLV, 1:25.63 – These UNLV medleys have been good for a really long time, but this year will be their last run with Cody Roberts, who is their star butterflier. This is the best mid-major medley in the country this year, and Brazilian freshman Henrique Machado has come in and rewritten the school’s backstroke record books. The Rebels are sending a team of 8 to NCAA”s this year, so they’ll have a big support group there.