NCAA First-Year Coach Update: Duke Women Earn Highest NCAA Finish in Program History

After four Power Five head coaching changes in the NCAA prior to last season, it’s time to check in and see how the teams finished up. We’ll also review the performances of some of the big mid-major head coaching changes this season, including Tom Wilkens for Fordham, Jon Pepaj for Long Island, and Shawn King for Utah Tech.

WOLVERINES FINISH STRONG UNDER BOWE

Michigan continued their success under Matt Bowe after placing third for both teams at the Big Ten Championships. Both teams also placed higher at the NCAA Championships than last year. After placing 23rd last season, the women’s team placed 12th this year and the men placed 14th.

Senior Casey Chung, junior Natalie Kan, sophomore Brady Kendall, and junior Lindsay Flynn earned silver after swimming the 10th fastest time in the 200 medley relay (1:35.28) in Big Ten Championships’ history. Sophomore Katie Crom won the 500 free (4:37.24) at the championships and captured 1st in the 200 fly (1:54.61) for the second year in a row. Her time for the 500 free was a personal best.

Several school records were broken at the Big Ten Championships on the men’s side. Junior Gal Groumi, sophomore Tyler Ray, senior Bence Szabados, and sophomore Jack Wilkening broke the school record for the 200 free relay (1:16.15) earning silver. Sophomore Eitan Ben Shitrit, Groumi, Ray, and Wilkening broke the school record for the 400 free relay (2:48.45). Every Michigan relay team earned a medal. Additionally, Groumi won the 200 fly (1:39.60) while Szabados swam the 100 free (42.09) and captured his first-ever individual win.

At NCAA Championships, Crom went on to better her time in the 500 free (4:36.27) where she earned the third-fastest time in Michigan’s history for the women’s program. For the men, Groumi, Ray, Szabados, and Wilkening broke their record for the 200 free relay again (1:15.80). Gal became the first swimmer in school history to go faster than a 1:40 in the 200 IM. He also set a school record for the 100 fly (44.46).

DUKE WOMEN EARN HIGHEST NCAA FINISH IN PROGRAM HISTORY

The Duke women’s swimming and diving team earned the most points at NCAA Championships in program history under Brian Barnes. The team placed higher than ever, finishing 16th overall with 80 points. They also earned the most points in program history at ACC Championships this year.

The Blue Devils broke two school records on the first day of NCAA Championships. Freshman Ali Pfaff, sophomore Kaelyn Gridley, senior Aleyna Ozkan and sophomore Tatum Wall broke the record for the 200 medley relay (1:35.16) while senior Sarah Foley, junior Yixuan Chang, Wall and senior Catherine Purnell broke the record for the 800 free relay (7:04.50).

Pfaff, Gridley, Ozkan, and Foley broke the school record for the 400 medley relay (3:28.71) on day two, and Pfaff broke the 100 backstroke (51.65) record.

PURDUE FINISHES EIGHTH OVERALL AT BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIPS 

The Purdue men’s team had strong performances at the Big Ten Championships under Alex Jerden but didn’t place as high as last season. They finished 8th overall.

Junior Brady Samuels, senior Andrew Witty, senior Charlie King, and junior Idris Muhammad earned the program’s third fastest time in the 200 medley relay (1:24.07) and 400 medley (3:06.94). Samuels’ backstroke split was his fastest (21.06), and Muhammad broke 19 seconds in freestyle (18.91) as the anchor.

Senior Ethan Shaw’s 500 free time (4:19.62) is the second-fastest time in the program’s history and his time in the 200 fly (1:45.05) is the third-fastest. Only one other swimmer has gone under 4:20 in the 500 free in the program. Batuhan Hakan set Purdue’s record (4:18.43) back in 2018.

Sophomore Dylan Burau broke the 200 backstroke (1:41.93) school record at the championships. He went on to break it again (1:41.49) at the NCAA Last Chance meet.

WILDCATS: UPDATE ON KENTUCKY AND NORTHWESTERN

Kentucky struggled to place as high as last season at the SEC Championships. They placed 10th overall for men and 9th for women. This is a big fall from 2023 when the women ranked 3rd.

Kentucky did get several personal bests at the SEC Championships under Bret Lundgaard. On the men’s side, freshman Carson Hick became the second fastest in the 500 free (4:15.18) and 1650 free (14:47.84) in the program’s history. Sophomore Levi Sandidge won bronze in the 1650 free (14:44.24). Hick, Sandidge and sophomore Ryan Merani had strong swims at the NCAA Championship along with sophomore Grace Frericks and senior Bridget Engel from the women’s team.

Rachel Stratton-Mills coached Northwestern this season. After ranking 6th last year, the women placed 7th overall at the Big Ten Championships where transfer Ayla Spitz broke the school record in the 200 free (1:43.80) and 200 backstroke (1:52.77). Spitz placed 9th at NCAA Championships in the 200 back (1:51.72). For the men, they placed higher at the championship this season, ranking 6th overall compared to 7th.

Graduate student Andrew Martin ranked 16th in the 1650 free (14:47.66) at NCAA Championships.

MID-MAJOR HEAD COACHING CHANGES REVIEW

Before recently being named Fordham’s new full-time head coach, Tom Wilkens helped the women’s team get their third undefeated dual meet season and the men get a record of 8-1. Fordham had their first NCAA Championship qualifier since 2012 as well. Junior Ainhoa Martin swam the 200 breast (2:11.24) and 200 IM (1:59.24). Fordham also performed strong at the A-10 Championship where they broke numerous school records.

Utah Tech placed 7th overall for women under Shawn King at the WAC Championships this season after placing 4th last year. The Trailblazers broke several school records during the season, including the 50 back (24.98) by junior Eleonore Rembert, 50 fly (25.87) by freshman Abigail Hill, and 200 IM (2:02.60) by freshman Mary Sims Cross at WAC Championships.

Other school records broken during the season were the 100 IM (57.20) by freshman Grace Benson, 1000 free (10:06.78) by freshman Cera Mallory, and 50 breast (29.21) by senior Skyler Lyon.

Under Jon Pepaj, Long Island ranked 6th for women overall at the NEC Championships compared to being 4th last season, and the men placed 3rd after previously being 2nd. Nonetheless, the Sharks had impressive performances at the meet. Sophomore Emilio Garcia won the 100 free (45.09) and 200 free (1:38.80). Senior Dani Chocano Fernández triumphed in the 400 IM (3:58.95). Senior Alejandro Pascual Del Cid won the 50 free (20.42). Senior Benny Karlsson was the winner of the 200 fly (1:50.06) while junior Allie Bashor won the 100 fly (55.66).

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CoachClassy
17 days ago

Love how when a 1st year coach does well everyone praises them and when they don’t do well or not liked everyone points out those aren’t their athletes wait til they get their swimmers in there.

Does not true success come in 3-5 years not the very first year? You work with what you got. Would love to see follow up articles on those years and if those individuals are still doing well or if they improve. True testament of a good coach, cause they can recruit and develop. Not just be a surge of energy year 1.

Meathead
17 days ago

Barnes is crushing it…will be fun to see how he is doing in 2 years once he has a few recruits come in

M fan
17 days ago

Go Blue!!

X Glide
17 days ago

Abby Brethauer at Princeton – won the Ivy League champs and sent 5 (!) (nearly 6) to NCAAs

a b
17 days ago

Go Duke!

B1G Enjoyer
17 days ago

Is there a future where Purdue cuts swimming and keeps diving? I really hate to say yes but what has Purdue swimming ever really accomplished? Iowa Men’s S&D got cut and they literally invented one of the four strokes, in addition to having Artur Wojdat.

I_Said_It
Reply to  B1G Enjoyer
17 days ago

You’re just a bundle of joy aren’t you?

IU Swammer
Reply to  B1G Enjoyer
17 days ago

No.* First, Purdue’s athletic department is well-funded. Second, their stellar diving coach just stepped away for medical reasons. I’m not sure Purdue’s next coach will have the same draw or success.

*If the chickenlittles are right and revenue-sharing is the death of all non-revenue sports, then I guess it could happen.

Anonymous
Reply to  IU Swammer
17 days ago

You don’t think Olympic gold medalist Dave Boudia will have the same draw?

Chris Modglin
Reply to  B1G Enjoyer
17 days ago

Terrible take. Why would they cut the swim program? They graduate their student-athletes and have one of the lowest transfer rates out of all schools. Purdue Men’s Swimming & Diving is a fantastic program and I am excited to see where new head coaches Alex Jerden and David Boudia lead it.

On a different note, why would you even hint at dropping a swim program on here? I may not like some schools but I would never actively lobby for them to drop their program. Terrible take.

BOILER UP!

Pete
Reply to  B1G Enjoyer
17 days ago

This is such BS… for years they were finishing 4-6th at Big Tens. I know they have great diving and rely on it, but so does IU, Ohio State, Minnesota, etc. The Big Ten is loaded with great diving. Until this past year, they had relays at NCAA’s and individuals scoring. Coach Dan Ross was doing some his best coaching at the end of his career and Brady Samuels is a gun. The new coaching staff may need some time to figure things out, but a season or two to get things going is not all that unexpected with a young staff. Good luck to the Boilers! Prove ’em wrong.