Ranking the 2019 Men’s NCAA Recruiting Classes: #9-12

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After a whirlwind of a summer season, it’s time to shift gears and start preparing for NCAA season. To help out, we’re launching our yearly series ranking the top 12 recruiting classes in the nation – these swimmers will be starting their freshman seasons in the next month.

Here are a few important notes on our rankings:

  • The ranking numbers listed for individual recruits are from our Class of 2019 Re-Rank, which was done this past spring. Certainly some of those ranks would change after this summer’s season. “HM” refers to our honorable mentions.
  • Like most of our rankings, these placements are subjective.  Rankings are based on a number of factors, including prospect’s incoming times, team needs filled, prospect’s potential upside, class size, and potential relay impact. Greater weight is placed on known success in short course yards, so foreign swimmers are slightly devalued because of their inexperience in SCY.
  • Transfers are included, and there are lots of big ones.
  • For the full list of the 1200+ committed athletes, click here. A big thank-you to SwimSwam’s own Anne Lepesant for compiling that index – without it, rankings like these would be far less comprehensive.

We’ll start with some honorable mentions:

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order)

Michigan Wolverines: The Wolverines have a huge class (12 freshmen listed on the team roster right now) with some high upside. River Wright is one recruit who really intrigues – he’s pretty great in all four strokes (47.0 fly, 47.6 back, 55.3 breast, 44.2 free) with a chance to be an outstanding 200 IMer (he’s 1:47.1 for now, but watch for that time to drop). They’ve got a couple good sprinters in 19.8/43.9 Cam Peel and 20.1/44.4 Andrew Trepanier, plus another 47-second backstroker in Noah Yarian.

Stanford Cardinal: A solid class without one true standout for Stanford. Shane Blinkman is a great IMer (1:45.7) and a solid breaststroker (53.7/2:00.9). Will Tarvestad (19.9/44.1) looks like much-needed depth for the free relays. And Andrew Matejka is a rangy distance man who could even be an 800 free relay candidate down the road – he’s 15:17 in the mile but also 1:36.8 in the 200.

South Carolina Gamecocks: the inverse of the past two teams, South Carolina’s class isn’t deep, but has one huge standout. Transfer Lewis Burras went 22.1/48.5 in the long course freestyles this summer – if he can be even close to that fast in yards (rough conversions are 19.2/42.5), he’s a huge pickup.

Florida Gators: Not quite as stellar as last year’s freshman class for the Gators. They loaded up on distance men, though. Three milers come in with times 15:24 or better, and Brennan Gravley is 15:06. German Eric Friese is a great long course butterflyer (52.4) and is going to have a big impact if his speed transfers over well to the short course yards pool.

Northwestern Wildcats: It’s an outstanding class for Northwestern, headed by elite Italian prospect Federico Burdisso. The 51.7/1:54.3 long course flyer projects to be one of the best 2-3 recruits in the entire class. The Wildcats also got Kevin Houseman, another member of a great nationwide breaststroke class. (He’s 53.0/1:57.1). The only downside for Northwestern is that outside of Houseman, pretty much all their high-impact recruits are internationals, and you just don’t know how well they’ll transition to short course racing. Aleksa Bobar (23.7/50.0/1:50.1 long course free) of Serbia is pretty solid in freestyle and Sam Dailley (54.5 long course fly) another good fly pickup.

Here are the classes ranked 12th through 9th:

#12: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Top-tier additions: HM Cason Wilburn (VA – free/fly), HM Luke Thornbrue (OR – distance), Will Barao (MA – distance), Topher Stensby (IL – sprint free), Jack Fitzpatrick (PA – back/IM), Jack Hoagland (NM – IM/breast)
The rest: 
Alec DeLong (IN – sprint free), Nick Chase (IA – back/free), Liam Hutchinson (IL – free), Charles Korndorffer (LA – fly/back), Nick Torres (NY – IM/fly), Michael Rosa (IL – breast), William Rains (CA – diving), David DeBacker (MI – diving)

Notre Dame didn’t get any top-20 recruits, but they mined the group just outside the top 20. Cason Wilburn is going to be an NCAA power, with a great fly/free combo that’ll make him a massive relay weapon. He’s 1:35.9 in the 200 free, 43.3 in the 100 free and 47.5 in the 100 fly. His freestyle range is excellent, too, going from 20.1 in the 50 to 15:35 in the mile.

The distance group gets a boost with 15:08 Will Barao and 15:11-to-1:35.5 rangy talent Luke Thornbrue from opposite coasts. Topher Stensby (19.7/44.1) is probably an underrated recruit in this deep sprint class. This is also a huge freshman group, totaling 14 at present. And they cover a good range of events.

Most of the top guys are freestylers, but Jack Hoagland brings great IM potential (3:49.3/1:47.0 out of high school) to the table. Jack Fitzpatrick is a 47.6/1:47.4 backstroker who can also go 1:47 in the IM.

Fast riser to watch: Wilburn, who has been dropping steadily in short course but also had a good long course season, most notably dropping from 51.3 to 50.0 in the 100 meter free.

#11: Auburn Tigers

Top-tier additions: Jack Armstrong (TX – sprint free), Aidan Stoffle (GA – back/free), Grady Wheeler (OH – distance), Lleyton Smith (GA – back) 
The rest: 
Cole Bruns (TX – sprint free), Davis Edwards (LA – IM/back), Drake Stallworth (IN – fly), Niklas Eberly (MI – free/fly), Tyler Babinec (OH – breast), Skip Donald (TX – diving)

Another big, deep class with a handful of good ones at the top. Jack Armstrong is a rare 19-second sprinter out of high school, and brings 19.7/43.3 speed to the freestyles. He doesn’t have a great third event yet, but that doesn’t make too much difference – he’s going to have tons of opportunities swimming for accomplished sprint coach Gideon Louw. Armstrong has also had pretty major improvements over the past year, dropping six tenths in the 50 and more than a second in the 100.

In a recruiting coup of sorts, Auburn stole some top Georgia prospects to pad their backstrokes. Aidan Stoffle (47.2/1:44.9) is a solid two-distance prospect who also brings 20.2/44.0 freestyles to the relay pool. Lleyton Smith (48.4/1:44.6) is much more geared to the 200. That’s a big recruiting pool for Auburn to tap, as it not only improves their roster, it keeps top talent away from SEC rival Georgia.

Beyond that, Auburn gets a solid distance swimmer in Grady Wheeler (15:19/4:25/1:38), who should train with distance-oriented head coach Gary Taylor. The rest of the class have some high ceilings: a 54/1:59 breaststroker in Tyler Babinec, plus some more developmental sprint depth from Cole Bruns (20.4/45.2) and Niklas Eberly (20.4/45.8), the latter of whom is also a 47-second butterflyer.

Fast riser to watch: Stoffle, who was 1:47.5 in the 200 back and 45.3 in the 100 free a year ago. He’s now 1:44.9 and 44.0.

#10: Alabama Crimson Tide

Top-tier additions: #13 Liam Bell (GA – breast/free), HM Derek Maas (MI – IM/breast), Matt Menke (KY -back/IM)
The rest: 
Cam Auerbach (GA – fly/free), Jack Zhu (MS – breast), Riley VanMeter (MI – fly/free)

Pretty much the polar opposite of the past two classes, Alabama’s group isn’t big, but does have a couple true standout blue-chippers. Top of that list is Liam Bellone of the more exciting breaststroke prospects in the nation. Bell has risen from an unranked recruit in 2018 to #13 in the nation as of this spring, and the drops just keep coming. Bell was 55.1 and 2:02 in the breaststrokes as a high school junior, but went 52.2 and 1:57.3 this season. He also brings exciting sprint free talent to the table as well, with best times of 20.2 and 44.1. That’s especially important given one of Alabama’s biggest graduations was sprint breast/free talent Laurent Bams. Bell helps potentially keep that defending NCAA champ 200 medley relay afloat, even with half the legs graduating.

Derek Maas out of Michigan is another good one, with a very strong 1:45.7 IM and nice breaststroke range (54.2/1:56.4). He’s been training with US National Champion Devon Nowicki at his home club. Maas and Bell should make excellent training partners, and their strengths complement each other quite well. ‘Bama went all-in on the breaststrokes this year, with 55-second Jack Zhu also in the mix.

Matt Menke is a hyper-versatile prospect who doesn’t fit into one specific discipline. He’s 1:45.2 in the 200 back and 48.3 in the 100 back, which might be his best route. But Menke is also 56 in the breaststroke and 20.9/44.8/1:37.7 in free. As expected, that makes him a pretty solid IMer (1:48.2) as well. Menke needs some development everywhere to be an NCAA impact swimmer, but he’s got a lot of avenues to get there.

The last two swimmers bolster the strokes: Riley VanMeter is more of a general sprinter (47.9 fly, 48.9 back, 20.8 free), while Cam Auerbach fits more into the fly/free mold (48/1:49 fly, 44.9/1:39.0 free).

Fast riser to watch: Bell, who notably surged from 2:19 to 2:15 in his 200 breast this summer and is probably in line for another big drop in his 200-yard breast.

#9: Ohio State Buckeyes

Top-tier additions: #16 Jonah Cooper (CA – back/free), Lyle Yost (OH – diving), Thomas Watkins (New Zealand – back/IM)
The rest: 
Chachi Gustafson (OH – fly), Jay Johnson (OH – free), Matthew Magness (PA – IM/free), Kyle Silver (OH – fly), Ian Mikesell (OH – breast), Jonathan Sugar (OH – free), Hunter Grannum (MO – diving)

Bill Dorenkott has only been the Ohio State men’s head coach since 2017, and this is essentially his second recruiting class. The way he’s been recruiting, Ohio State should only continue to rise in the Big Ten and nationally. This year’s class is outstanding, and really follows what Ohio State does well in recruiting: a few blue-chippers with depth padded out by high-upside in-state prospects.

Jonah Cooper was one of the top talents on the market. He brings 46.3 backstroke speed to a program that mostly punted the medley relays at NCAAs last year for want of a backstroker. Pair him with former top-20 recruit Paul DeLakis (now a junior), and Ohio State has built out the bones of a pretty good medley. Cooper is also 1:44.2 in the 200 back and 1:36.6 in the 200 free, and he could contribute on any of the free relays down the road.

Some NCAA programs mostly ignore diving, and some make it a clear priority. Ohio State is in the latter, and they usually reap the diving point benefits come NCAAs. Lyle Yost is an elite dive prospect, a senior national finalist who has represented Team USA at World Juniors.

Internationally, New Zealand’s Thomas Watkins could be a good pickup. His 2:00.16 in the long course 200 back could make him a 1:42-type coming in the door in short course yards, though transferring long course talent to the short course pool is never a given.

For the rest of the class, Ohio State hauled in a lot of developmental in-state prospects. None of them are early-impact types, but most of them have an intriguing event or two. Jay Johnson (20.5/44.4/1:36.7) might have the quickest road to scoring with his relay ability. The Buckeyes tend to carry a very large roster, but their ability to develop talent also gives them a depth advantage, especially at the conference level.

Fast riser to watch: Watkins, who was a 2:02.9 in the 200-meter back when he verbally committed last fall. He’s already cut 2.8 seconds from that time, and 1.6 from his 100 back since then. A more under-the-radar name is Kyle Silver, who dropped from 51.3 to 49.8 in his 100 fly as a senior.

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4 years ago

Michigan is easily a top 8 class this year

Reply to  SwimFanBob
4 years ago

Ok, back it up. Pick a class that’s “easily in the top 8” and compare them swimmer-for-swimmer, show us where Michigan has the edge.

Reply to  Braden Keith
4 years ago

ASU and IU classes are on the same level, at best. Each have one star, but after that their classes are not as strong as U of M. Neither of those classes have someone who can split 19.0 on a relay (Peel). Or someone who could break out in any of the 4 strokes (Wright). You guys might not see it now but this Mich. class is going to turn out to be one of the best in the country

4 years ago

What about the Tennessee Vols? We recruited pretty good. Also along as our divers come to play we can finish in the top 12…just need one or two more divers.

4 years ago

You guys forgot Kevin Vargas heading to Florida.

4 years ago

When willl we see the 5-8?

4 years ago

Some insight into the process: there was some disagreement on the order of Auburn and Alabama (which of course matters a little more than most, because…it’s Auburn and Alabama.) Ultimately, we settled on this order, but it wasn’t unanimous.

buckeyes swim
4 years ago

Buckeyes following up their #9 2019 recruiting class with a great 2020 class should prove them a force to be reckoned with in the future.

4 years ago

Anyone wanna make build predictions about the next rankings?

JP input is too short
Reply to  Sudu
4 years ago

1. Texas
2. NC State
3. Virginia
4. Dare I say… Northwestern?

Reply to  JP input is too short
4 years ago

Cal should be up there… lots of fast risers in the incoming class. Durden knows how to spot talent.

Reply to  Sudu
4 years ago

Missouri got slept on last year and had a bomb freshman class. Watch out again

Reply to  Rocky
4 years ago

“Slept on”?? They were ranked 12th and scored exactly 0 points at NCAAs. I mean, they had a solid meet at SECs, and their story is not written, but it’s weird to brag about how underrated your team is when they scored 0 points at NCAAs. They were maybe the 10th or 11th best class when looked at in totality…so solid season, that’s just a weird reach to “slept on.”

4 years ago

Great detail in analyzing these classes Swim Swam! I’m looking forward to reading about the 5-8, and 1-4 recruiting classes, although I could guess some of the teams, such as Texas at 1?
Also of note, the HM class Michigan is getting a huge relay leg in sprinter Cam Peel, who split a 19.08 anchoring his Spring Lake HS team to victory in 200 free relay at MHSAA D3 states. He dropped time this summer at Nationals in his 50 meter free, joining the 22 second club, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him splitting in the 18s in the 50 on relays for Michigan as a freshman.

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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