Ranking The 2021 Men’s NCAA Recruiting Classes: #1-4

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We continue our 2021 recruiting series with a team-by-team look at the best recruiting classes entering the NCAA next season. The classes below are projected freshmen for the 2021-2022 season.

A few important notes on our rankings:

  • The rankings listed are based on our Class of 2021 Re-Rank from just last month. “HM” refers to our honorable mentions.
  • Like most of our rankings, these placements are subjective. We base our team ranks on a number of factors: prospects’ incoming times are by far the main factor, but we also consider potential upside in the class, class size, relay impact and team needs filled. Greater weight is placed on known success in short course yards, so foreign swimmers are slightly devalued based on the difficulty in converting long course times to short course production.
  • Transfers are included.
  • For the full list of all verbally 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.
  • Several swimmers that would’ve been freshmen last season deferred enrollment for one year in order to focus on the postponed Olympic Games. There were also teams that didn’t compete last year, such as those from the Ivy League and Arizona State, so last season’s would-be first-years are now redshirt freshmen in 2021-22. Due to the fact that these swimmers were included in our 2020 recruiting class rankings, they have been left out of these rankings.
  • Some teams had not released a finalized 2021-22 team roster at the time these articles were published, meaning it’s possible we missed some names. Let us know in the comments below.

Previously ranked:

  • #16: Florida Gators
  • #15: Texas A&M Aggies
  • #14: Ohio State Buckeyes
  • #13: Louisville Cardinals
  • #12: Georgia Bulldogs
  • #11: Michigan Wolverines
  • #10: Stanford Cardinal
  • #9: Auburn Tigers
  • #8: Arizona State Sun Devils
  • #7: USC Trojans
  • #6: Virginia Cavaliers
  • #5: Alabama Crimson Tide

#4: Indiana Hoosiers

A swimmer with NCAA star potential headlines Indiana’s 2021-22 freshman class, as Josh Matheny enters the fold with eyes on continuing the great Hoosier breaststroke tradition.

Matheny rose to the #2 recruit in the class for the 2021 re-rank due to his ability to step in and score some monster points at the NCAA right away.

With a best time of 1:51.38 in the 200 breast, Matheny would’ve placed fourth at the 2021 NCAAs (and second at Big Tens behind national champion Max McHugh), and his 51.84 100 breast is right on the edge of cracking the NCAA ‘A’ final. Coming off of a fifth-place finish in the LCM 100 breast at the U.S. Olympic Trials in June, Matheny comes in riding a ton of momentum and will be a key cog for the Hoosiers for the next four or five seasons. Zane Backes has taken the mantle as the team top breaststroker after Ian Finnerty’s graduation, and Matheny will come in to create a strong 1-2 duo before ultimately being the go-to guy.

The Hoosiers have another high-end swimmer from the class’s top 20 in Nebraska native Luke Barr, a true all-arounder who was among the most improved highly-ranked swimmers in the class.

Barr’s versatility shines through with his 200 IM, where he owns a PB of 1:45.6, and he’s also got 19.8/43.7 sprint freestyle times, 52.8/1:56.0 breaststrokes, plus a 46.9 100 back and 47.8 100 fly. The breast times, in particular, showed great improvement last season, indicating that may be where he chooses to put a lot of his focus under coach Ray Looze.

One of many in-state products set to join the team, distance freestyler Jackson Carlile owns bests of 4:22/15:08 in the 500 and 1650 free, both in Big Ten consolation final range, and will also be able to score big in dual meets where the 1000 is contested (9:14).

Fellow milers Aidan Reagan (4:26/9:19/15:22) and Mason Carlton (4:27/9:16/15:31) will be good training mates for Carlile.

Another potential star for Indiana is international recruit Rafael Miroslaw, a German native that projects to be a freestyle force.

Miroslaw owns SCM bests of 47.73/1:45.25/3:47.89 in the 100/200/400 free, converting to 42.99/1:34.81/4:20.44 for the 100/200/500 in yards. All three times would’ve been either in or very close to qualifying for the Big Ten ‘A’ final in 2021.

A sub-43 100 free is a rarity for any incoming recruit, and while it’s only a conversion, it’s a positive sign for the future of the Hoosier relays. And while Indiana’s 400 free relay looks like it’s currently set (though Miroslaw will surely challenge for a spot), his 1:34.8 converted 200 free should see him land a berth on the 800 free relay.

Two more local Indiana natives, Lucas Piunti and Finn Brooks, round out the rest of the top-billed names coming in, with Piunti a strong medley prospect (1:48.2/3:51) and Brooks a 20.2/45.1 freestyler with a 48.2 100 fly.

#3: California Golden Bears

After a standout performance from first-years Destin Lasco and Bjorn Seeliger last season, Cal brings in a loaded group of freshmen that will further entrench the Bears as a bonafide NCAA title contender for years to come.

The class has several top-tier domestic recruits, one international stud, and a couple of impact transfers.

Leading the charge is freestyle sprinter Jack Alexy, the sixth-ranked recruit in the class who is the fastest incoming freshman in the most valuable event in college swimming: the 100 freestyle.

Alexy owns a lifetime best of 42.63 in yards, improving his PB by two-tenths over last season, and is also coming off of breaking Caeleb Dressel’s 17-18 NAG in the 100 free at the Olympic Trials in 48.69. If that’s any indication, Alexy has a sky-high ceiling in college, having also brought his best times down to 19.6 in the 50 and 1:35.5 in the 200.

With Cal losing kingpin Ryan Hoffer to graduation, Alexy will push for a spot on the sprint free relays from the jump and grow with the likes of Seeliger, and another incoming recruit, Robin Hanson.

Hanson, a Swedish countryman of Seeliger, has gotten a ton of international experience over the past few years, including making the individual final in the 200 free at the European Championships in May. Hanson posted a lifetime best of 1:46.50 in Budapest, which converts to a scorching 1:33.06 in yards, a time that would’ve placed third at the 2021 Pac-12s and is within a tenth of scoring at NCAAs.

Hanson’s LCM 100 free (48.93) also converts to the exact same time as Alexy, 42.63, and his 3:50.5 LCM 400 free puts him in a position to be a future player in the 500 (conversion of 4:18.2). If needed, Hanson could also be on the 200 free relay (22.6LCM – 19.6 conversion), and also is strong in the 100 fly (54.0 – 47.4) and 200 IM (1:58 – 1:46).

Circling back to the U.S.-based recruits, the Bears have two more swimmers ranked in our top 20 along with Alexy: Ziyad Saleem and Trent Frandson.

Saleem was a massive riser last season, vaulting from unranked into 16th overall after dropping from 1:45.9 to 1:42.3 in the 200 back and 48.6 to 46.9 in the 100. It’s no secret Cal has a great backstroking tradition that’s currently firing on all cylinders, and Saleem will enter into a training group where his game will be lifted to the next level. (In case you forgot, Cal went 1-2-3-4-5-6 in the 200 back at Pac-12s last season.)

Frandson, #18,  is regarded as the most versatile freestyler in the class, with the ability to swim down to the 50 and up to the 1650. His best events lie in the middle—4:20.4 in the 500 free, 1:35.6 in the 200, and 43.7 in the 100. The 500, along with his 15:12 1650, will push for a top-eight spot at Pac-12s. Canadian Michael McGillivray is another distance man that has 4:22/9:00/15:09 conversions.

Other strong domestic recruits include versatile options Kai Crews (48.1/1:46.4 BK, 20.8/44.6 FR, 48.4 FL), Gabriel Jett (1:36.0/4:22/9:10 FR, 48.4/1:44.6 BK, 1:44.7 FL) and Evan Petty (47.7/1:45.4 BK, 20.5 FR, 1:49 IM).

Jacob Soderlund (54.2/2:01.6) and Sean Swift (55.6/1:59.7) are solid breaststroke additions.

In terms of the team’s immediate future, transfers Liam Bell and Will Roberts will give them NCAA scoring potential this season.

Bell, who comes over after spending two seasons at Alabama, was the SEC runner-up in the 100 breast as a freshman in 2020, with his best time sitting at 51.39—.01 slower than it took Reece Whitley to win the Pac-12 title last season. In the 200, his 1:52.93 is also an NCAA ‘A’ final-worthy time, and he can also contribute on the free relays with a 42.8 100-yard PB.

While Bell wasn’t at his best last season, and withdrew from competing at NCAAs, a return to form would give the Bears two elite breaststrokers.

Roberts comes over for one season as a graduate senior after spending four years at Michigan. The former Wolverine was an NCAA scorer last season in the 400 IM, placing 16th after clocking a best of 3:44.05 in the heats, and he’s also a strong distance freestyler (4:16/14:54) where he would place in the top heap at Pac-12s.

#2: Texas Longhorns

The University of Texas men returned to the top of the NCAA heap last season, and the endless stream of blue-chip prospects heading to Austin has continued with a standout 2021 recruiting class.

Before diving in, we should note that while Shaine Casas, who has to be considered the best male swimmer in the NCAA after scoring the maximum 60 points at last season’s national championships, has entered the transfer portal and is expected to join the Longhorns for his senior year (giving him potentially two seasons of eligibility, if he opts to use the fifth year). However, he is not officially on Texas’ roster as of this article being published, so he’s technically not included in the team’s ranking.

The Longhorns join NC State with three U.S.-based swimmers in the top 10 of our re-rank, with all-arounders Anthony Grimm and Tim Connery joined by stalwart freestyler Luke Hobson.

Grimm, who was ranked #2 as a high school junior before sliding to #4, brings elite-level sprinting ability across all four strokes, with his best event currently billed as the 100 back, where he holds a best time of 45.60. That puts him right on the edge of scoring at NCAAs, and he could very well be the centerpiece of Texas’ future on medley relay lead-offs (20.8 50 back PB) with Austin Katz and Chris Staka departing and Alvin Jiang in his final year (and a potential Casas addition with max two years left).

Grimm’s insane range spans across the 100 breast (52.5), 100 fly (46.5) and 50/100 free (19.6/44.0), making him one of the most versatile recruits this season. He’s got the ability to be a scorer in whichever events he keys in on and will also be a relay contributor at the highest level.

Connery is the fastest swimmer in the class in the 200 free, with a best time of 1:34.77, and he also just dropped a 1:47.9 swim in the long course pool, indicating he’s on the path to being even faster in his freshman year. He’s also a tenth outside the fastest in the class in the 200 IM, with a best of 1:44.05, and similar to Grimm, he’s also elite in the 100 fly (46.7), 100 back (47.2) and 100 breast (53.1).

Given where his strengths lie, the nature of the NCAA schedule and his 49.3 long course 100 free in August, Connery will likely chop his SCY 100 free best of 44.18 down by a wide margin this season as well.

Hobson is far and away the best 500 freestyler in the class, owning a best time of 4:16.56 which makes him the only swimmer (excluding conversions) under the 2021 NCAA cutline in that event. Expected to be a 100/200/500 freestyler, Hobson can also crank out top-tier times of 43.3 and 1:35.0 in the 100 and 200, and will join the highly competitive Longhorn squad that had six of the top 21 finishers in the 500 at NCAAs last season.

Behind the top three, Texas also grabbed Boise, Idaho backstroker Nathan Quarterman (47.9/1:44.5), in-state breaststroker Adam Fusti-Molnar (54.4/1:56.9), and a couple of transfers that will be competitive.

Christopher O’Connor comes over from Alabama after just one season, having been a consolation finalist at the 2021 SECs in the 100 and 200 back. O’Connor’s 200 back best of 1:42.23 is within four-tenths of the last season’s NCAA cutline, and his 100 (47.10) isn’t too far off either.

While O’Connor will have up to four seasons of eligibility at Texas, grad transfer Cameron Auchinachie will only have one—though he’s bound to make his presence felt.

Joining the reigning national champs from the mid-major program at the University of Denver, Auchinachie swam to lifetime bests of 19.13, 41.81 and 1:34.24 in the 50, 100 and 200 free in 2019. His 50 and 100 times would rank inside Texas’ top four from last season, making him a potential relay candidate, and he’s also got a legit 46.2 100 back. Auchinachie didn’t compete in SCY last season, with a large percentage of Denver’s team suspended for violating COVID-19 regulations.

#1: NC State Wolfpack

Landing the top spot in this year’s recruiting class rankings on the men’s side is NC State, bringing in an astonishing four swimmers ranked inside our top-12, plus one Honorable Mention, an individual Olympic medalist and a top-tier transfer.

Aiden Hayes has been entrenched as the class’s top-ranked recruit for the past two seasons, with the ability to step in and score individually at the NCAA level right away and also contribute on the Wolfpack relays.

Hayes is in a class all by himself (among American recruits) in the 100 fly, having broken Joseph Schooling’s National High School Record last season in 45.47, which will challenge for a spot in the NCAA ‘A’ final. He’s also got an unbelievable 1:41.34 best in the 200 fly, .01 off of what it took to place eighth in the 2021 NCAA prelims, though it’s remains to be seen if that’s an event he’ll train for in college. He may opt to focus more on the sprints, where he has bests of 19.2/43.0 in freestyle, making him a valued relay asset, and he can also rip a 46.3 100 back.

#7 Arsenio Bustos and #12 Sam Hoover bring a similar skillset to the table, with Bustos coming off a phenomenal 2020-21 that saw him emerge as the class’s best in the 200 IM (1:43.94) and a high-end performer in the 100 fly (46.51) and 100 free (43.27). Bustos is also extremely well rounded, with a 19.9 50 free, 1:36 200 free, 47.9 100 back and 53.5 100 breast, while Hoover has 1:45.6/3:47 IMs, 20.0/43.1/1:35.5 freestyles, 54.1/1:57.1 breaststrokes and a 48.9 100 fly.

Both will base their event focus around the 200 IM, with Bustos potentially leaning towards a 100 fly/100 free focus and Hoover racing the 100/200 free. Both bring relay value, too.

Speaking of relay value, how about #9 David Curtiss? The fastest 50 freestyler out of high school since Ryan Hoffer, Curtiss, who owns a best of 19.11, could win the NCAA title as soon as this season, and it looks like he’ll be a lock to throw down sub-19 relay splits, which are always massive at NCAAs (and ACCs). His 100 has been progressing as well, with a 42.8 best time as a high school senior a big step forward. With his raw speed and power, it’s easy to see him blasting 41s on relays soon.

Noe Ponti is another potential NCAA champion if he can make a smooth transition to yards, as the Swiss native won bronze behind Caeleb Dressel and Kristof Milak in the 100 fly at the Olympics this summer in a blazing long course time of 50.74. That time has a conversion of 44.45, two tenths off of Hoffer’s NCAA-winning time last season.

Ponti will also be near the top in the 200 fly, where his LCM time of 1:55.06 translates to 1:41.13, and his 1:47.76 200 free PB converts over to 1:34.19, which could put him on their 800 free relay this season.

It’s easy to get caught up in the conversions, but Ponti has all the makings of a true star for NC State. He’s also got a 1:55.14 SCM 200 IM from the 2019 European SC Championships which converts to 1:43.9, matching Bustos’ best, which is at the top of the class. Ponti has also broken 50 in the LCM 100 free, making him a future contributor on the 400 free relay as well.

An NCAA schedule of 200 IM, 100 fly and 200 fly looks most likely for Ponti, but his value multiplies with his abilities everywhere else.

It’s crazy that we haven’t even yet touched on Garrett Boone, a 20.0/43.7/1:36.3 freestyler that adds to the Pack’s insane depth in that area. He’s also got a solid 200 back (1:45.3) and 200 IM (1:47.4) in his back pocket.

There’s also incoming breaststroker Nathan Kempiak (53.8/2:01.4) and Polish freestyle transfer Bartosz Piszczorowicz (20.3/43.0/1:33.4) out of Louisville. Piszczorowicz, who has at least two (up to three) years of eligibility remaining, will make it that much more competitive to land a spot on a Wolfpack free relay this season.

Updated*: Danish distance freestyler Alexander Norgaard told SwimSwam he will be joining NC State in January. Norgaard is an extremely elite distance freestyler, having made the final at the 2019 World Championships with a LCM 1500 best of 14:47.75. That converts to 14:30.34 in the 1650-yard event, putting him in position for a top finish at NCAAs.

Last season was a bit of a down year for the NC State men—the team finished eighth at NCAAs, their lowest since 2015, and failed to win the ACC crown for the first time since 2014. But this class will inject new life into the Pack and make them NCAA championship contenders sooner rather than later.

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ACC fan
9 days ago

Impressive Wolfpack recruits. And the scary thing is, swimmers generally get faster when they go to NC STATE. Could this class be the key to breaking out of the #4 spot at nationals?

Bruh
Reply to  ACC fan
9 days ago

They surely hope 😂

Last edited 9 days ago by Bruh
WillyG Superfan
Reply to  ACC fan
9 days ago

Didn’t even mention NC State’s new distance transfer, Will Gallant.

snarky
Reply to  WillyG Superfan
8 days ago

They only have so many pages… Man practices must be fun in Raleigh.

B1Guy!
Reply to  ACC fan
9 days ago

A true test of the Wolfpack coaching will be if they can develop Curtis’ 100 enough to be on the 4×100 Fr relay. SO many other options besides him right now

B1Guy!
Reply to  B1Guy!
9 days ago

Meant 200 FR/ 4x200FrR

Large Man
Reply to  B1Guy!
3 days ago

There’s really no chance of him going up to the 200, in my opinion at least

coachymccoachface
9 days ago

Is NC State the best men’s recruiting class ever? There’s probably a better one on the women’s side but man, you’ve got an NCAA scoring relay in your recruiting class.

Togger
Reply to  coachymccoachface
9 days ago

Must be up there. Some of the mid-late noughties Auburn ones were very good, likes of Cielo but they were heavy on internationals so even now might not rank as highly.

That Conger and Schooling led Texas class was pretty insane.

Before my time but I guess some of the Richard Quick Stanford classes must have been pretty mind blowing.

Last edited 9 days ago by Togger
Bobthebuilderrocks
Reply to  Togger
9 days ago

Conger was class of 2017 and Schooling class of 2018. Conger’s class with Licon and Smith as the three headed hydra was pretty gnarly though.

Thomas
Reply to  Bobthebuilderrocks
7 days ago

If I remember correctly, Licon was not necessarily a *top* tier recruit – didn’t have times that would score at NCAAs. He improved significantly when he reached their campus. Pretty incredibly actually: 54.7 to 50.6 100BR, 1:56 to a 1:47.9 2BR, 1:46 to 1:40 2IM, 3:47 to 3:36 4IM… idk which is the most impressive.

Dkro
Reply to  coachymccoachface
9 days ago

Didn’t Texas have Piersol and Hansen (8 NCAA titles apiece) in 2000?

Jeff Hammond
Reply to  Dkro
9 days ago

Piersol didn’t swim all four years. He won only two titles. But Piersol Crocker Hansen on the same relay along with Chris kemp

Dkro
Reply to  Jeff Hammond
7 days ago

Yeah my bad on that, got Piersol and Crocker mixed up.

Wahooswimfan
Reply to  coachymccoachface
7 days ago

Indiana’s class with Spitz, Hall (and others) probably ranks as the best ever by a far and away margin. World rankings/records they far surpassed this great NC State class.

Will Gallant Superfan
9 days ago

Will Gallant is also a top tier addition to NCSU

Huh
9 days ago

David Curtiss isn’t winning the 50 free this year.

Dylan
Reply to  Huh
9 days ago

Who is? I like Bjorn from cal

Coach Coach
Reply to  Huh
9 days ago

I wouldn’t bet on that, Huh. He threw down a 19.2 in a lousy six lane pool and has 21.8 in long course. An 18 mid is definitely a possibility this year.

Shaq
9 days ago

Nc State really gonna have the top 21 and 22 recruiting classes, something special is brewing in Raleigh

Swimmer
9 days ago

I think we’re forgetting national teamer Will Gallant as a transfer for the Wolfpack

Packman
9 days ago

Will Gallant had joined the Wolfpack this year as well. Don’t forget Willy G 😳

Arsenio Bustos
Reply to  Packman
9 days ago

Never forget my boy Willy G

Jimbo
9 days ago

Yes, yes, we know you are not Divedove, but Carson Tyler (Olympic Trials finalist,Jr National champion on 1m, 3m, 2nd on tower), and Quinn Henninger (also Trials finalist, injured for nationals) should immediately add to Hoosier diving, and probably deserve a little better than “the rest”

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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