NCAA First-Year Head Coach Check-In: Michigan, Duke Thriving Under New Leaders

There were four Power Five head coaching changes in the NCAA this past offseason, and now that all of those teams have completed their midseason invites, it’s time to check in on how the squads are faring under their new leaders.

The most high-profile job that became available was the head coaching job at Michigan, which was fulfilled by Matt Bowe following the retirement of longtime Wolverine leader Mike Bottom.

The other roles were filled for varying reasons:

WOLVERINES PERFORMING WELL UNDER BOWE

Michigan has undergone a lot of change over the past few seasons, with the departure of superstar Maggie MacNeil followed by the loss of some of their top male swimmers (Jake Mitchell, Patrick Callan) and ultimately the retirement of Bottom earlier this year.

Under Matt Bowe, the Wolverines have performed well thus far, with several swimmers standing out at the UGA Fall Invite over the weekend.

Brazilian freshman Stephanie Balduccini really stole the show on the women’s side, winning the 100 free (47.26) and 200 free (1:43.30) while adding a blazing-fast 46.68 relay split as the team hit ‘A’ cuts in both the 200 free (1:27.52) and 400 free relays (3:10.30).

Another freshman, Hannah Bellard, has also had a strong start to the season, winning the 200 fly and placing 5th in the 400 IM at UGA while recording a new personal best in the 500 free (4:38.44).

Bellard’s winning time in the 200 fly of 1:53.21 was just .01 off her lifetime best, moving her into 4th in the NCAA so far this season.

Senior Casey Chung was another top performer, highlighted by her lifetime best of 52.23 in the 100 back leading off the 400 medley relay, also clocking 52.35 in the individual final to finish as the runner-up. That’s a full second better than she was at this point last season (53.30) and puts her in position to qualify for NCAAs for the first time in her career.

Senior Claire Newman and freshman Anna Boemer also hit lifetime bests for the women’s team, while key performers such as Lindsay Flynn and Katie Crom were solid.

On the men’s side, their top swimmer, Gal Cohen Groumi, reeled off a win in the 200 fly and a pair of runner-up finishes in the 100 fly and 200 IM, going faster than he did at last year’s Tennessee Invite in all three.

Sophomore Jack Wilkening was also a standout, setting best times in every event he swam, while fellow second-year Eitan Ben Shitrit was impressive with three top-six finishes and was faster than he was last season across the board.

DUKE WOMEN ON FIRE

The Duke women’s team has been rolling under Brian Barnes, with numerous school records falling during the NC State Invitational.

Freshman Ali Pfaff and sophomore Kaelyn Gridley helped lead the team to a new school record in the 400 medley relay, notching an ‘A’ cut of 3:31.33, and Pfaff (1:53.48 200 back) and Gridley (58.74 100 breast) also set new program marks of their own in standout performances.

Pfaff also won the 100 back at the invite, while Gridley swept the breaststroke events and senior Aleyna Ozkan set a PB of 51.82 to win the 100 fly. Sarah Foley also had a promising midseason performance with two 2nd-place finishes in the 200 free and 200 IM.

The Duke men aren’t on the same level as the women’s team—they had zero NCAA qualifiers last season—but had some swimmers hit best times including Austin Simpson and Kalen Anbar.

The men’s team is very much a work in progress, but the women look dialed in.

PURDUE PERFORMS WELL

The Purdue men had a strong performance at their home invite under Jerden, though they didn’t repeat as winners of the meet due to some significant losses, most notably Nick Sherman and Jordan Rzepka.

Despite that, the Boilermakers saw promising performances from the likes of Brady SamuelsIdris Muhammad and Ethan Shaw, while Dylan Burau continued his upward trajectory in the 200 back after a big best time earlier in the month.

Samuels, the team’s lone scorer at the 2023 NCAAs, swept his individual events, highlighted by matching his personal best time in the 50 free (19.46). He was also faster than this point last season in the 100 free (42.40) and 100 back (45.81), and had his fastest-ever 50 back time leading off the 200 medley relay (21.30).

Muhammad also impressed with best times in the 100 free (43.89) and 100 back (46.88), and most impressively dropping two 18.8 freestyle splits on the 200 free and 200 medley relays.

Shaw earned one 2nd, one 3rd and one 4th-place finish on the meet, faster than he was at this meet last season in the 500 free, 400 IM and 200 fly, while Burau followed up his 1:43.9 PB in the 200 back in early November by clocking 1:43.22 to move up to #4 all-time in school history.

KENTUCKY, NORTHWESTERN IN REBUILDING PHASE

While Bowe and Barnes took over their respective programs with a talent base intact to be competitive at varying levels, the situations at Kentucky and Northwestern are a bit different.

The Wildcat women have lost all of their NCAA scorers from last year, while the men’s team’s lone scorer from March, Levi Sandidge, was absent at last weekend’s invite.

As a result, both teams finished last among schools that brought swimmers to the Tennessee Invitational, though there were some solid performances from the likes of Torie BuergerGrace Frericks and Madi McGlothen for the women and Ryan Merani for the men.

Northwestern is in a very similar position, with their women’s team being much stronger than the men, but facing significant losses this season. With Jasmine Nocentini and Hannah Brunzell transferring for their graduate seasons, Lola Mull and Miriam Guevara graduating and Ashley Strouse redshirting, they’re thin on established performers which makes judging the team performance tough thus far.

Transfer Ayla Spitz led the way for the team at the Purdue Invitational, sweeping the women’s 200 free, 500 free and 200 back, while sophomore Lindsay Ervin won the 50 and 100 free. However, with the losses they’ve incurred, they fell to the Boilermakers in the final scores after beating them last year.

As for the men, they came out on top in the team standings, with freshman Diego Nosack dominating with wins in the 200 fly, 200 IM and 400 IM, setting new personal bests in two of the three (he also set a PB leading off the 800 free relay).

They also had the likes of Cade Duncan and Andrew Martin hit best times, showing some progress under Stratton-Mills.

In This Story

16
Leave a Reply

Subscribe
Notify of

16 Comments
newest
oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Arondale
3 months ago

Watch the McGlothen kid

#MFan
3 months ago

I would add Tyler Ray with some excellent swims for Michigan men in the fly. Major growth from a year ago. 47.55 100 fly a year ago at this meet… and a 45.84 PB this year in prelims. (Swam a 46.58 at B1G last year). His 200 Fly is also monster improvement… 1:47.94 Invitational meet (1:46.27 PB @ B1G meet) –> 1:43.13 in November this year!!!

Meeeee
3 months ago

Bellard won the 200 fly and not IM, right? Isn’t she top 5 in the NCAA right now? Seems like she is the bigger freshman story.

GoodTimes
Reply to  Meeeee
3 months ago

Bellard is mentioned to be top 5 in NCAA. Balduccini is also top 5 in the NCAA in the 100 free, which isn’t mentioned. Appears to be some good times ahead for the Wolverines, especially with these two swimming this way already!!

Feeling Go Blue!
3 months ago

Amazing how well mentally and physically healthy athletes can perform – so very exciting for the trajectory of this team.

But also such a shame others didn’t get to have this coaching experience/support and the mental implications from their experience may never be fully healed.

#MFan
Reply to  Feeling Go Blue!
3 months ago

So glad the previous MB is gone… and we have a new and improved MB leading the team.

Hooooosier
3 months ago

Barnes will lead them to glory. I’ve known Brian for 20+ years and his team’s performance does not come as a shock at all. Keep it up!!!

flipngo
Reply to  Hooooosier
3 months ago

Barnes is great, and he hired a group of energetic and knowledgeable assistant coaches. Let’s Go Duke! They are just getting started…

Doha Mickey Mouse Medals
3 months ago

Purdue not worth the time? Technically a Power 5 swim program

Admin
Reply to  Doha Mickey Mouse Medals
3 months ago

Nah just missed them. We’ll check it out and add them.

I covered that meet and they had some nice swims, but from memory I wouldn’t say the trajectory has changed much. That was always going to be a bigger project, though.

Meeeee
Reply to  Doha Mickey Mouse Medals
3 months ago

They really aren’t worth the time with respect to swimming. Diving however is fantastic there. Hope new swim coach can turn the corner as Indiana HS swimming has tons of talent that Purdue should be in the running for with a great school and facilities. But coaching has been lacking for decades.

Me2D2
Reply to  Meeeee
3 months ago

And it will continue to lack as the administration took the easy way out and hired a guy with very little experience. Should’ve conducted a national search and found a big name

Thought
Reply to  Me2D2
3 months ago

Same thought with Kentucky’s replacement. Crappy situation, but lundgaard does not have the expertise to take it to a higher level. He at least has experience coaching college.

The Winchester
Reply to  Thought
3 months ago

Doesn’t have the expertise? Do you pay any attention? Look at where he’s been and what he’s done. Look at where Princeton women are now compared to what he inherited… Look at who he coached at TN and what they did… He’s got a task ahead of him but there’s no doubt Kentucky will be good – men and women.

SwammaJammaDingDong
Reply to  Meeeee
3 months ago

Dan Ross prioritized culture and academics equally with swimming. I would say “coaching has been lacking,” it was just a different type of coaching with a different prioritization. He created an amazing environment (for his team as well as teams competing against Purdue) using this foundational philosophy, and that explains all the love expressed during his final season coaching… It will be interesting to see if Purdue follows the top programs and goes with a “swimming first” philosophy, or continues a balanced approach. With the athletic advancement in the sport in the past decade, it’s getting harder and harder to compete at the top levels of D1 without that 100% focus on swimming.

Former Big10
Reply to  SwammaJammaDingDong
3 months ago

I don’t think any athletics administration has a “swimming first” mindset.

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

Read More »