NCAA Men’s Teams Setting the Tone Through Day 2

2016 U.S. OLYMPIC TRIALS

One of the favorite topics of discussion in the swimming world, especially in our comments sections, is to what extent NCAA swimming affects long course swimming.  Some swear that the NCAA’s focus on short course yards and relays helps American swimmers with turns and stepping up for relays.  Others are equally strident in their beliefs that in order to succeed at the international level, swimmers need to focus on long course as much as possible.

The truth typically lies between two extremes, and this is likely a debate that will never be properly settled.  But here’s what we noticed: through the first two nights of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials, three men’s college teams in particular are stepping it up big.

Last night, the Georgia Bulldogs, under Coach Jack Bauerle, demonstrated why they are known for having long course success and one of best IM groups in the country.  Chase Kalisz and Jay Litherland went 1-2, while Gunnar Bentz touched in 4th.  Granted, Kalisz redshirted this year to train alongside Michael Phelps under Bob Bowman, his coach from before college.  However, while we see what happens in Rio, at the moment Kalisz’s best time in the 400 IM is still the 4:09.22 he recorded at the 2013 FINA World Championships, a few months after winning the same event at NCAA’s.

If 2015 was the Year of the Butterfly for the Texas Longhorns, then 2016 must be Year of the 200 Free.  Jack CongerTownley Haas, and Clark Smith, along with Joseph Schooling, who represents Singapore internationally, destroyed the U.S. Open Record in the 4×200 free on the opening night of NCAA’s this year.  Two days later, the freshman Haas, having already picked up a victory in the 500 free, swam the fastest 200 free ever.  Fans were besides themselves with speculation as to what these guys could do in long course.

Tonight, University of Texas Coach Eddie Reese all but guaranteed that he will have a Longhorn on the U.S. 4×200 freestyle relay for an 8th-straight Olympic Games.  Conger, Haas, and Smith went 2-3-4 in the semifinals of the 200 free relay, and Jonathan Roberts snuck into the final as well with the 8th seed.  Since typically the USA will take the top six men in the 200 free, it’s almost a lock that at least two of those swimmers will representing the U.S. in Rio.

Of course, Dave Durden and the California Golden Bears were certainly not going to be left out of the Olympic Trials party.  Yesterday, this year’s NCAA 400 IM champion, Josh Prenot, qualified for the 400 IM final, but scratched that to focus on the 100 breast.  Tonight, Prenot swam under 60.0 for the third time this meet, and finished third behind Kevin Cordes and Cody Miller.  Backstroke sensation Ryan Murphy flirted with the 100 back world record in semi-finals, and will go into tomorrow’s final with the 2nd-fastest time.  He’ll be joined by teammate Jacob Pebley, and both are also favorites in the 200 back later this week.

Obviously, the success of three specific programs doesn’t mean that college swimming is perfect, or that there aren’t swimmers who might be better off taking a redshirt during an Olympic year.  However, several of the aforementioned swimmers have credited the camaraderie that comes through training and competing alongside their teammates with the success they’ve seen in the “big” pool, as well the “small” one.  All three of the above coaches are also known for keeping a good deal of emphasis on long course swimming, and letting the NCAA success follow.

And it’s not just the college men who have been impressive the first two days.  Louisville’s Kelsi Worrell and Virginia’s Leah Smith have followed up NCAA victories by securing Olympic berths.  Indian’s Lilly King and Georgia’s Olivia Smoliga, also both NCAA champions this year, are the top seeds in their respective events heading into tomorrow evening’s finals.

While the average age of international-level swimmers have crept up over the years as more swimmers are choosing stick with the sport after college, it seems likely that many of Team USA’s veterans could retire in the next few months.  However, the success of these college stars over the past two days is making it look increasingly likely that when the veterans decide to hang up their suits, there will be a fresh crop of swimmers ready to take their place.

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iLikePsych

I think it’s worth mentioning that Bentz is also in the final for the 200 free, and event he doesn’t even swim individually in college.

Attila the Hunt

College swimmers are so LUCKY!

Swammer00

I think it’s worth noting NC State. 2 semis yesterday in the men’s 100 back and finalist in women’s 400 free. They look good.

mac-fan

McCurdy in the 2 fly semis aswell

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