This is a three-part article. For part one (#9-12) click here
Today, we’re examining our next four men’s 2016 NCAA recruiting classes, which includes an SEC squad coming off an incredible summer, a Pac-12 team looking for a rebound season, and two teams from the ACC. Here are the 5th-through-8th-ranked Men’s NCAA Swimming & Diving classes, with the top 4 to follow tomorrow:
#8: Georgia Bulldogs
Top-tier additions: Javier Acevedo, Clayton Forde, Walker Higgins
The rest: n/a
The Bulldogs signed just three swimmers (none of which made our top 20 list), but there’s no question they belong in our top 8, particularly when one of those recruits is junior world record holder Javier Acevedo. At Canadian Olympic Trials in April, Acevedo dropped a 53.67 in the 100 backstroke, smashing the previous junior standard of 54.03. Georgia is all set on their relays next season with backstroker Taylor Dale, but Acevedo is clearly the future for the Bulldogs. His prowess extends well beyond sprint backstroke, as well, with best times of 23.2/49.9/1:51.0 in the 50/100/200 LCM freestyle, as well as 2:00.2 in the 200 backstroke and a blistering 2:01.9 in the 200 IM. Even if the transition to yards isn’t smooth immediately, Acevedo will still be an integral part of Georgia’s NCAA squad.
Jack Bauerle and Harvey Humphries picked up two more swimmers that fall right into Georgia’s wheelhouse: Walker Higgins and Clayton Forde. At 4:18.4 (good for a top 8 SEC finish), the 500 freestyle is definitely Higgins’ primary event, but he has the speed (44.8/1:37.1) to drop down and help out on the 400 and 800 freestyle relays. Georgia still has plenty of freestyle depth (Kevin Litherland, Jay Litherland, and Aidan Burns to name a few), but they just graduated Matias Koski, who has been their top 200/500 guy for years. Forde doesn’t have as strong of 200/500 times, but has great freestyle range (44.9 in the 100, up to 15:21 in the mile) and very good IMs (1:49.4/3:51.1) to make up for it.
#7: USC Trojans
Top-tier additions: #6 Mark Jurek, Nikolai Syssoev, Thomas Reed, Mario Koenigsperger
The rest: n/a
The Trojans took a hit with the decommitment of Markus Thormeyer, a 49.4/1:48.2 LM freestyler, but are still bringing in four fast swimmers that have some intrigue. Mark Jurek is the lone top 20 recruit of the group, but given how stacked USC’s most recent classes have been, Dave Salo may not have that much scholarship money to dole out.
Jurek is a versatile talent from Phoenix, but his strongest short course event is undoubtedly the 200 fly, where his best time is 1:43.7. That time would have been fourth at Pac-12’s last season, right on the boarder of qualifying for NCAA’s. Outside of the 200 fly, Jurek has been 1:37.4/4:23.7 in the 200/500 freestyles, and 1:47.0/3:48.3 in the IMs. Those IM times are a bit faster in terms of college ranks, and it’s also where he’ll likely be focusing; beyond rising sophomore Patrick Mulcare, the Trojans have minimal youth in those events.
USC bounced back from the loss of Thormeyer nicely with another foreign addition: Mario Koenigsperger of New Zealand. Koenigsperger has been 28.7/1:01.8/2:16.3 in the LCM breaststrokes, as well as 25.1 in the 50 fly and 23.4 in the 50 free. Much like the IM, the Trojan breaststroke group is mostly comprised of rising seniors (save for Carsten Vissering), so the addition of Koenigsperger provides much-needed long-term depth.
Rounding out the group are sprint freestylers from both ends of the country in Thomas Reed and Nikolai Syssoev. Both will be asked to step up right away to help an ailing sprint freestyle group; in stark contrast from the 146 relay points and two relay titles they posted at 2015 NCAA’s, the Trojans scored just 20 relay points in Atlanta this past March (and just two of those points were in the four shorter relays). Syssoev (20.3/44.5) and Reed (20.9/44.7) will be expected to play a part in turning that around. Syssoev is the faster of the two, but Reed has the higher ceiling; growing up almost exclusively as a water polo player, Reed didn’t compete in his first USA Swimming meet until July of 2015.
#6: UNC Tarheels
Top-tier additions: #8 Greg Brocato, Brendan Feehery, Ryan Torie, Graham Weaver, Craig Emslie (transfer – Indian River), Jorden Merrilees (transfer – Oakland University)
The rest: Andrew Heise, Hans Schroeder
All indications suggest this is the fastest UNC class in history, and it comes at a time they need it most. The balance of powers in the ACC has shifted dramatically in favor of the neighboring NC State Wolfpack, the addition of Louisville to the conference has added another roadblock, and UNC just graduation 18 of 20 relay swimmers from ACC’s. However, if they develop, this class has the talent to turn the tide.
Greg Brocato, the #8 recruit in our class, is the linchpin. At 20.0/43.9/1:37.7, he’ll likely be the go-to sprint freestyler long-term, but adds an impressive 100 fly (48.4) into the mix. Graham Weaver (20.5/45.5) of SwimMAC Carolina and Ryan Torie (20.3/44.4) of Germantown Academy will join Brocato in the sprint group, and could very well be three of the four legs on UNC’s 200 and 400 freestyle relays this coming season.
UNC also added two huge transfers, as well. Craig Emslie, who spent two years at NJCAA powerhouse Indian River, is a 20.2/43.5/1:36.0 freestyler with even more impressive breaststroke times (52.6/1:56.0). That 52.6 is already good to score at NCAA’s, and nearly two seconds faster than the next best returning Tarheel swimmer. Jorden Merrilees fills in the other side of the event spectrum. Merrilees competed for two years at Oakland University, where he set multiple Horizon League records and established best times of 1:35.5/4:16.7 in the 200/500 free, 1:43.1 in the 200 back, and 3:45.7 in the 400 IM. He’s showing no signs of slowing down, either; while redshirting this past season to compete at Australian Olympic Trials, Merrilees crushed his previous lifetime bests in the 100 (51.0) and 200 (1:48.1) freestyles.
Brendan Feehery is the final notable in this class. The Dallas native–who happens to be the nephew of 1996 Olympic gold medalist Brad Bridgewater–brings in a solid backstroke 49.8/1:46.0 combo to help rebuild a once-deep group that lost some key names to graduation. In addition, he’s a 1:47.6/3:51.1 IMer.
#5: NC State Wolfpack
Top-tier additions: Zack Warner (transfer – Auburn), Daniel Erlenmeyer, Tyler Rice, Coleman Stewart, Andreas Vazaios, Mark McGlaughlin
The rest: Jack McIntyre, Lucca Martins
After multiple ACC team titles and climbing the NCAA standings, the Wolfpack are just starting to get high school talent on the level of the “typical” powerhouse schools. Given what they’ve demonstrated in terms of developing swimmers, we could be in for some scary results a few years from now if these types of recruits keep walking in the door. Between these eight names, the Wolfpack sufficiently covered every event with some major talent, outside of maybe the 400 IM:
- Coleman Stewart adds another layer of depth to NC State’s current 1-2 backstroke punch of Hennessey Stuart and Andreas Schiellerup. At 22.5/47.6/1:46.2, he’s a sure-fire top 8 ACC swimmer next season, with a reasonable shot at NCAA’s
- For the breaststrokes, there’s Auburn transfer Zack Warner, who, with bests of 52.5/1:55.4, is now the top breaststroker on the roster
- European bronze medalist Andreas Vazaios is a jack-of-all-trades, but excels particularly as a butterflyer (52.9/1:59.3 LCM) and 200 IMer (1:58.9 LCM). He’s also been 50.7/1:48.9 in the LCM freestyles. The only downside: he’s transferring from a Greek university, so we’ve yet to confirm how many years of eligibility he’ll have
- There’s no official names from our top 20 last summer, but Mark McGlaughlin would certainly be in the running for a spot now. The Iowa City, Iowa-native is one of the few sub-20/sub-44 recruits (19.9/43.6) in this class, and will be in the running to replace recent-grad Simonas Bilis on the Wolfpack relays. In addition, McGlaughlin is a 48.4 backstroker, 48.2 flyer, and 1:46.9 IMer.
- Bolles sprinter Tyler Rice joins the sprint group, as well. Rice made a big jump from his sophomore to junior seasons (for example, his drop from 45.8 to 44.3 in the 100 free), and came back to finish even faster (20.4/44.1/1:37.7) this past season.
- Rounding things out, there’s Daniel Erlenmeyer (4:20.2/15:16.9) to provide depth to the distance freestyle group. NC State has a great top-end with Anton Ipsen and Adam Linker, but Linker is a senior, and the Wolfpack are pretty thin otherwise.
Come back tomorrow for #1-4!