This is our second in a series of bigger questions about this year’s college season that we asked briefly on social media last weekend, but will dig through more deeply over the next few weeks.
Question #1: Is Michigan the Greatest Program Ever?
Just as with the first question, this is meant to be a civil discourse, informed opinion, and intelligent discussion. Just because you swim with someone who doesn’t get our vote, or swam with them in high school, or go to the same college as them, or think they have the best haircut, doesn’t mean that anybody else is an “idiot,” “hater,” or “biased,” so go ahead and leave those comments in your brains. We had some great opinions and discussion on the last post, so let’s shoot for that again.
Question 2: Who Was the Swimmer of the Men’s Meet, and How Do You Define This Award?
As with any MVP award, everyone is going to have a different definition for how to qualify the top swimmer at the 2013 Men’s NCAA Championship meet. Is it the swimmer whose team would’ve been hurt the most in the points standings without them? Is it the swimmer who scored the most individually? Is it the swimmer who had the most crucial relay impact? Is it the swimmer who had the best one or two swims and broke the most records? Does how well the team places matter? Does age matter? Does leadership matter?
For the context of this discussion, we’ll focus on 5 guys who we thought were really the standouts and stars of this meet (in alphabetical order). I’m not sure there’d be a whole lot of debate on whether or not these were the guys. If you were to make an all-star team, this would be it:
- Kevin Cordes, Arizona, Soph.
- Connor Jaeger, Michigan, Jr.
- David Nolan, Stanford, Soph.
- Tom Shields, Cal, Sr.
- Vlad Morozov, USC, Jr.
Now, if this were a USA Swimming meet, Cordes would run away with the award. The CSCAA sent it his way in its official honor. His record-breaking swims, even in the face of three of these guys breaking NCAA Records, took things to a new level (Shields and Morozov did so as well). The 49.5 breaststroke split on a relay, the 1:48.6 on the 200 breaststroke. Those are unbelievable times.
Unlike a USA Swimming meet, or an Olympic Trials meet, though, NCAA’s are not swum in the vaccuum of solidarity. It’s not just about swimming for yourself, it’s also about swimming for your team. That’s where things start to even out on Cordes.
The young breaststroker swam only four events (the two breaststroke individuals plus the two medley relays), and as such was outscored by Nolan, Shields, and Morozov, each of whom maxed out at 7 total events.
David Nolan and Tom Shields were the two highest individual scorers of the meet. Each took two solo event victories (Nolan in the 100 back and 200 IM; Shields in the 100 and 200 butterflys). They each also added to that a runner-up finish (Nolan in the 200 back, Shields in the 100 back).
Neither of those two, though, ended up with the highest relay placing out of the group. In one of the more unusual relay outcomes we’ve seen, 5 different teams won the 5 different relays for the first time in history; Shields’ Golden Bears weren’t one of those 5 winners (and his 400 free relay didn’t make the A-Final), while two of Nolan’s relays got DQ’ed (both medleys, though neither was his fault).
Nolan won their only head-to-head race (the 100 back). Counter that, though, with the fact that Shields won the 200 fly in a 1:39.65 that tied Michael Phelps as the fastest 200 yard fly swim in history and crushed the old NCAA Record.
Then there’s Big Bad Vlad. Vlad the Impaler. The Tsar. The Czar. The Zhar (Russian for “heat,” appropriate, no?). The Slavic Slayer. The uncontainable Firebird. (References to Russian mythology? Anybody?)
He was the first swimmer under 18 seconds on a relay split in the 50 free, which really set the tone on the first day of this meet. He then broke a legendary Cesar Cielo record in the flat-start 100 free with a 40.76. He added a third A-Final in the 100 breaststroke, though he was still three points behind Nolan and Shields individually.
- Shields: 57 individual points
- Nolan: 57 individual points
- Morozov: 54 individual points
- Jaeger: 51 individual points
- Cordes: 40 individual points
Morozov and Cordes were the only two swimmers to swim on winning relays. If you factor in Morgan Priestley’s terms of “value,” though, Arizona would’ve still been very good in the medley relays had they used Carl Mickelson or Kevin Steel on that leg instead of Cordes (they made A-finals in both relays without Cordes swimming in the morning).
USC, however, would’ve been sunk without Morozov. They closed the meet with the victory in the 400 free relay, but without Morozov it’s likely they wouldn’t have even been in the A-Final.
Connor Jaeger earns his way into this conversation both on the strength of his two event wins in the 500 and 1650, as well as a third A-Final in the individual 200 freestyle. Beyond that, Jaeger doesn’t land on top of this list in most statistical categories; he didn’t score as many points as Morozov, Shields or Nolan. He didn’t break as many records as Morozov and Cordes and Shields. He didn’t win as many relays as Morozov or Cordes, either, nor swim as many relays as Shields, Morozov, and Nolan.
He does, however, have one big tally in his column that none of the others can claim. He won two events for the Michigan Wolverines: the 2013 NCAA team champions. The team aspect is what makes this the best meet in the world, and nobody’s team was better than Jaeger’s was.
Which of those factors is most important in deciding a swimmer of the meet? All of them in some form matter, though everyone will have their own weighting to each. To me, it comes down to Cordes and Morozov for the honor. In a team meet, my edge has to go to Vlad. His individual scoring output and relay contributions outweighed those of Cordes, and that’s trumps in my book. Here’s how I’d put the top 5:
- Vlad Morozov, USC
- Kevin Cordes, Arizona
- Tom Shields, Cal
- Connor Jaeger, Michigan
- David Nolan, Stanford
Next year’s meet should be even better…of those five, only Tom Shields will be graduated.