As NCAA teams across the country go dormant, at least from competition, to focus on some high-powered holiday training for a few weeks, it gives us all a time to breathe and reset the season. At the beginning of the year, we picked our top 15 teams for NCAA’s. Now, however, we’ve gotten a better idea of what each team has to offer, and we’re ready to update our rankings. Also check out our early predictions for Swimmer, Coach, and Diver of the Year Awards, and some teams that could potentially get a mid-season boost that will alter our rankings.
Updated Men’s Rankings
1. California Golden Bears
Thus far in 2010, Cal hasn’t lived up to their billing as supremely dominant. They’ve put up some very good times, but aren’t blowing away the rest of the country as some expected. This is likely because they’ve had swimmers travelling all around the world for this championship and that invite. In the fall semester, with the international schedule settling down, expect for this team to gel and really burst into a great semester.
2. Texas Longhorns
The Texas men have really separated themselves, along with Cal, from the other men’s teams expected to be in the lead pack. This is thanks in no small part to the emergence of Dax Hill, who we picked as the Longhorns’ key swimmer, as one of the nation’s premier freestylers. There was some question coming into the season about how Texas would fill out their relays after huge losses, and Hill has not only covered those holes, but he’s broken through on his own with a chance for individual glory. This team may not have the names they’ve had in the past, but they’re almost as deep and talented as last year’s team. With their great divers, this year’s meet will be down to Texas and Cal.
3. Arizona Wildcats
Cory Chitwood has led the Wildcats to some impressive early season times, and in fact Arizona has top-two marks in 4 of the 5 relay disciplines. They’ve also gotten a big surprise from freshman backstroker Mitchell Friedemann, who has come in and really pushed Chitwood. The Wildcats probably aren’t quite deep enough to vie for the title, but they will certainly put a scare into some of the top teams.
4. Florida Gators
Conor Dwyer, the defending NCAA Men’s Swimmer of the Year, looks positioned to blow away his performance from last year’s championship meet. He has several top 5 times, despite the Florida team appearing to have not swum a mid-season taper like much of the nation’s other top teams, and has even begun to generate some buzz as a potential Olympic candidate in individual events, not just prelims relays. Gregg Troy has things firing on all cylinders in Gainesville, and adding a consummate professional like Peter Vanderkaay into the mix can only improve the chemistry.
5. Stanford Cardinal
The nation is sitting and waiting on the return of Mr. Austin Staab, who still holds down a spot on the Stanford roster. Though some are still optimistic about a spring-semester return for the former NCAA Champion, he still hasn’t raced anywhere since June. Without him, the Stanford relays are suffering big time, and this could be the year that their streak of Pac-10 Championships and NCAA top-4’s end at 29.
6. USC Trojans
This year’s NCAA Championships are going to be all about gaining experience for USC. They’ve been hot early this year, especially super-frosh Vlad Morozov, and have swum outstanding relay marks. Their freshman class is even better than billed, and all they lose next season is their top breaststroker. The Trojans will win some medals at Nationals, but aren’t quite mature enough to crack the top 5. The experience from this year, however, will lead them into next year, when they return almost everything (except top breaststroker Dillon Connolly) for a run at the title.
7. Auburn Tigers
The Auburn men still confuse me. They didn’t look as strong or experienced as last year’s team that had an NCAA meltdown; however, their sprinters (notably Adam Brown) seem to have gotten things back on track. The impression is that Auburn is back amongst the elite programs, but upon closer inspection, they still haven’t demonstrated much depth. This will certainly be the most intriguing team headed towards Championship season.
8. Ohio State Buckeyes
This Ohio State team may catch just enough lightning in their bottles at NCAA’s to make a surge towards around 6th place. Their medleys will be anchored by Tim Phillips and Andrew Elliott, and are definite medal contenders. This team was really fast as USA Swimming Short Course Nationals in their home pool, but they also looked really tapered. They also are missing a hammer swimmer who can score in 3-events, and some serious freestyle sprinters.
9. Virginia Cavaliers
Matt McLean has really stepped into his own over the past 8 months and is making a name for himself as the star of this Virginia team. He and Scot Robison are as good of a two-some as most teams in the country, but there are a lot of questions yet to be answered for the rest of the lineup. This is another team that appears to have gone without a midseason taper, so their relay rankings, especially in the medleys, should be better as the season progresses.
10. Georgia Bulldogs
This is a big year for the Bulldogs, as they graduate their two best swimmers after this season. Mark Dylla won’t be denied for the 200 fly national title this season, and Jameson Hill has been even better than expected during his freshman campaign.
11. Michigan Wolverines
Tyler Clary going pro might have hurt the Wolverines more than anyone expected. They will be riding freshman Kyle Whitaker and Daniel Madwed, who are both very good but very limited in their relay contributions. Hassaan Abdel-Khalik has looked off this season, even going as slow as a 47.35 in the 100 free at the Minnesota Grand Prix. But coach Mike Bottom isn’t training this team for this year. With half of their roster being freshmen, this team is looking towards 2012 for big success.
11. Texas A&M Aggies
A team as young as A&M, without a mid-season taper, is really hard to peg at this time of year. What we do know is that the team is, at least outwardly, confident about their progress this season. One of their senior leaders, defending Big 12 Co-Swimmer of the Year Boris Loncaric, hasn’t swum yet this season, and if he doesn’t make a return the Aggies will certainly miss his 46.9 100 fly. Still, this team is a relay and diving team, and they certainly have the horses in those two aspects to crack the top 12.
12. Purdue Boilermakers
The Purdue Diving juggernaut (and Purdue Diving is a juggernaut if college sports ever had one) keeps ticking along. David Boudia alone looks good for over 50 NCAA points, and the Boilermakers have at least 4 other scoring-caliber divers on the roster. It’s looking more and more likely that the Purdue relays will be able to squeak out at least a few pool points, and then they will sit back and watch their divers lead them to a top 12 finish.
13. North Carolina Tarheels
The Tarheels opened the season with some thunderous performances, but have come back down to earth a little as they really got into the meat of their training. Still, we saw early the potential that this program exhibited with guys like Tommy Wyher and Jo Kinderwater, who will be competing for the National Title in the mile.
14. Minnesota Golden Gophers
If Michael McBroom hadn’t transfered back home to Texas, this Minnesota squad could be in the discussion for a Big Ten Championship. They don’t have anyone who will wow you, but they are deep and have been surprising. They’ve also got the home-field advantage for this year’s Big Ten and NCAA meets, and we saw how well Ohio State did with that last year.
15. UNLV Runnin’ Rebels
UNLV started off the season big with a dual meet victory over Arizona, and has swum a very difficult schedule since then. This includes the Arena Invite and a dual meet against #9 USC. If there’s a mid-major that won’t be intimidated by facing off against the “Big Dogs” in Minneapolis, it’s this one. Led by butterflier Cody Roberts, UNLV should score at least 4 relays and nab a large handful of individual finals as well.
Updated Women’s Rankings
1. USC Trojans
I’m sticking with my original pick from the beginning of the year and taking the USC women to win it all. But really, the women’s meet is wide open, and no fewer than 6 teams have a shot at the crown. USC is still the odds on favorite to take the medleys, and with freshman breaststroker Kasey Carlson emerging as a top-10 sprint freestyler as well, the Trojans are dangerous in 4 out of the 5 relays. If it comes down to it, the Trojans have a sizable advantage amongst the top 5 in diving, and we saw how important that was for Florida last year.
2. Georgia Bulldogs
The Georgia Bulldogs are as strong as ever in the middle distance freestyles. In fact, they’re probably as strong as anyone ever has been there. Freshman Melanie Margalis is impressing in the IM’s (though she’s stuck in the best freshman IM class college swimming has ever seen and will be in a dogfight to crack the top 8).
3. Stanford Cardinal
Stanford has had the best sprint foursome in the nation this year, led by Kate Dwelley and Betsy Webb. Their freshman class, including Maya DiRado and Felicia Lee, has been as good as advertised. The early returns are a little inflated thanks to a big mid-season rest, but the Cardinal are still very good.
4. Cal Golden Bears
Caitlin Leerenz is a serious contender for NCAA Swimmer of the Year, with three probable individual medals medals. Hannah Wilson has been outstanding in the early-going for Cal as well. Like the men’s squad, Cal will benefit from some solid holiday training and a more scripted second-semester routine.
5. Arizona Wildcats
Arizona is rebounding quicker than most thought they would. Margo Geer and Sarah Denninghoff have come in as freshmen and really nailed down the two biggest areas of need for Arizona: sprint free and backstroke. Ellyn Baungardner is filling in admirably for the vacancy left by Annie Chandler, and Dana Christ is holding down the butterfly. All-in-all, the Arizona medleys will be about as good as last season, and their free relays will be a little better. They don’t have the same depth individually, but will still pull in a lot of points.
6. Florida Gators
The Gators are the defending champs, and are being led by freshman Elizabeth Beisel. They didn’t seem to rest all that much for the Georgia Tech Invite, which was their big mid-season invite. Despite this, they’ve got some very good times this season. Their freestyle sprinters are still very good, but they still haven’t demonstrated that they have sprinters in the other three strokes comporable to what they lost after last season (3 of the 4 legs on their medleys). If the relays were all 800 yards, the Gators would be golden. As is, however, it will be tough.
7. Texas Longhorns
While the Longhorns have shown enough depth in the butterfly events to likely make up for the loss of Kathleen Hersey in individual scoring, she will still be hugely missed come Big 12’s and NCAA’s. It will hurt a lot not having her as a big-gun on the relays, which likely would’ve been top 3 with her, and the versatility she offered as a top-5 swimmer in a lot of different events gave the Longhorns tons of flexibility in big meets. Breaststroker Laura Sogar has been among the most valuable swimmers in the country this season, and Karlee Bispo has also been great in the freestyles.
8. Auburn Tigers
Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace has emerged as clearly the best sprinter in the nation for Auburn. Her 47.44 100 free is already better than anyone went last season, and her 22.14 in the 50 is also the fastest this year. She had a great World Championship meet in Dubai and should carry her team a long way in Austin. The Tigers are fairly well-rounded, with freshman Emily Bos leading the way in the backstrokes and senior Micah Lawrence in the breaststrokes. Lawrence hasn’t swum much this season, but I expect that she’ll be ready to go in March. Hannah Riordan needs to step up in the sprint frees to give the Tigers some relay flexibility, as Vanderpool-Wallace is also the team’s best butterflier.
9. Texas A&M Aggies
No team in the country this season has relied more on their freshman than Texas A&M. A freshman holds at least 1 out of the team’s 2 best times in every event except for the 100 fly. So far, though, the freshmen have stepped up to the pressure. Sarah Henry beat Elizabeth Beisel head-to-head (video) in the 400 IM at the Georgia Tech Invite, Breeja Larson has been one of the best breaststrokers in the country, and Cammile Adams has looked strong in her return from a shoulder injury. On backstroke, Tess Simpson is really coming into her own in her sophomore season, and frosh Paige Miller is also improving at a rapid clip. What hurts the Aggies is that they only have 1 sprinter under :23 in the 50 free, and two under :50 in the 100 free. This lack of sprint depth will loom in March.
10. Wisconsin Badgers
The Badgers have a ton of power concentrated in their top 5 or 6 swimmers. This could lead to a lot of points at NCAA’s, especially in their relays where they could A-final as many as 4 of them. The rest of the country has caught up to the Badgers after a hot early start, however, so some of their times from their first few meets might be rest-inflated. Still, there’s no doubt that Wisconsin, led by current National Team member Ashley Wanland (breaststroke) and former National Team member Maggie Meyer (backstroke), these badgers are for real.
11. Minnesota Golden Gophers
In an all breaststroke meet, the Gophers would be the clear favorites. Between Haley Spencer and Jillian Tyler, they could easily sweep the 100 and 200 and will likely grab around 45 NCAA points. They are an experienced team, though, with all of their NCAA swimmers from last season returning, including several full relays that were either at or just off of B-finals. this experience will have to carry the gophers if they want to improve on their 12th place finish from last season.
12. Virginia Cavaliers
Virginia has been the opposite of Texas A&M this year. They are very good in the freestyle events; especially Lauren Perdue, who has the number to ranked 50 free (22.16), 100 free (48.11), and top-ranked 200 free (1:44.12). This includes racing, and beating, the Georgia crew at the Bulldog Invitational. It’s unclear where this team’s training stands right now, as Purdue appeared to have been more rested for their Invite than many of her teammates, but they’ll be looking for a breaststroker and backstroker to make some noise in the second half.
13. Purdue Boilermakers
Though not as deep as the men’s diving team, Purdue’s women are also very good. Led by Erin Metz and Casey Matthews, they should be good for 40 points at least. The tradeoff is that the women’s swimmers are probably a little better than the men. Purdue has a group of 6 swimmers, including 4 seniors who swam at last year’s NCAA Championships, including distance swimmer Erin Hamilton, who was 8th in the mile. They also scored 3 relays off of which they return the majority of their swimmers. This is definitely a program on the rise: both in swimming and in diving.
14. Indiana Hoosiers
When you start getting into the 10+ range, the scoring becomes very tightly packed, and I think that the loss of their best swimmer from last year, 200 back National Champion Kate Fesenko, will cause a big slide for the Hoosiers. They have a strong freshman class, but that class will take some time to develop. Sprinter Margaux Farrell will be relied on heavily at NCAA’s, and needs to make a big splash for Indiana at NCAA’s.
15. Louisville Cardinals
In basketball, the Big East are the kingpins. In swimming, they are the most overlooked conference among the “Big-six” BCS schools. But there’s some rumblings going on out on the East Coast, as the Louisville women are changing that perception. Led by breaststroker Therese Bergstrom, as well as IM/breaststroke transfer Lindsay Rogers (from Florida), the Cardinals have assembled some nice medley relays this season, as well as a few individual scorers. If their sprinters can nudge just a little faster into some B-finals at NCAA’s, I think Louisville will have a bit of a breakthrough.
These awards are based on what I expect going towards the end of the season, and take into account different variables like how much rest a swimmer has had, the competition that has been swum against, and how much their teams will rely on them for relays.
Men’s Swimmer of the Year: Conor Dwyer (Florida) – Looks even better than he was last year, when he took this award at season’s-end.
Honorable Mentions: Nathan Adrian (Cal), Cory Chitwood (USC), Adam Brown (Auburn), Chad La Tourette (Stanford), Matt McLean (Virginia)
Men’s Freshman of the Year: Vlad Morozov (USC) – The best sprint prospect in a decade. Morozov will be top 5 in the 50 and 100 at NCAA’s.
Honorable Mentions: Mitchell Friedemann (Arizona), Jameson Hill (Georgia)
Women’s Swimmer of the Year: Katinka Hosszu (USC) – Hosszu may have been very rested at USA Short Course Nationals, but still took 3 titles. Best swimmer on the best team takes the crown.
Honorable Mentions: Lauren Perdue (Virginia), Lyndsay DePaul (USC), Allison Schmitt (Georgia), Caitlin Leverenz (Cal), Laura Sogar (Texas), Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace (Auburn)
Women’s Freshman of the Year: Margo Geer (Arizona) – This freshman class is so strong, that this was an extremely difficult choice. Edge goes to the sprinter, who could anchor 4 Arizona relays.
Honorable Mentions: Elizabeth Beisel (Florida), Maya DiRado (Stanford), Felicia Lee (Stanford), Melanie Margalis (Georgia)
Men’s Coach of the Year: Eddie Reese (Texas) – Even if the Longhorns don’t win, this might be the most impressive coaching job Reese has done yet.
Honorable Mentions: Dave Salo (USC), Dave Durden (Cal)
Women’s Coach of the Year: Dave Salo (USC) – Salo has amassed a glut of talent in Los Angeles, and he’s showing he knows what to do with it.
Honorable Mentions: Frank Busch (Arizona), Jack Bauerle (Georgia), Gregg Troy (Florida), Brett Hawke (Auburn)
Men’s Diver of the Year – David Boudia (Purdue) – Hands down, the best diver in the country right now at any level.
Honorable Mentions: Drew Livingston (Texas), Nick McCrory (Duke)
Women’s Diver of the Year – Kelsey Bryant (Minnesota) – Even without diving platform, Bryant will be the best diver in the country this year, and could double on the springboards.
Honorable Mentions: Jaele Patrick (Texas A&M), Chen Ni (IUPUI)
Potential Impact Mid-Season Additions
Auburn Men – It has long been rumored that Brazilian Henrique Rodrigues has been on his way to Auburn to train with countrymate Cesar Cielo, and all indications were that he would be with the Tigers this year. The IM’er, who recently had multiple top-5 finish at the Short Course World Championships in Dubai, will be a huge addition for the Tigers and could move them into the top 5. When looking through the Auburn roster, it appears that they probably have some scholarship money to give out, so don’t be surprised if they have another big international addition mid-season.
(Update: Shortly after posting, it became public knowledge that Brazilian sprinter Marcelo Chierighini will be joining the Auburn squad. To read about how this changes things, click here.)
Auburn Women – After Dagny Knutson decommitted from Auburn over the summer, it left them with what is likely very close to a full scholarship. With so little money available for ever-expanding rosters, having that much money available is like gold to a college program. If there’s any international swimmers who are interested in coming stateside to swim for a college, Auburn will have the dollars, and reputation, to attract them.
Arizona Women – The Arizona rebuilding process will get a shot of adrenaline when Lauren Smart, a 100 backstroke A-finalist for Virginia, joins the team in January. Smart, who was rumored to be on her way to USC before finally settling in Tucson, is worth at least 15 points individually, and has the versatility to contribute on either the butterfly or backstroke legs in the medley relays. This is a great get for Frank Busch and Auburn, and the Wildcats are looking scary again.
Purdue Women – Diver Casey Matthews, who would be good for about 25 points at NCAA’s, hasn’t competed for the Boilermakers yet this season. We’re trying to figure out why not, but if she returns for them, it will be a big pick-me-up for the Purdue women.