The 2020 NCAA Championships were canceled in the coronavirus pandemic – but the virus can’t stop our pre-season coverage for the 2021 campaign. We’re running through a comprehensive preview of each of the Power-5 conferences in Division I, compiling returning conference points and tracking transfers and incoming recruits.
The Texas men have won 41 straight conference titles, stretching back to 17 in the now-defunct Southwest Conference and a 24-year undefeated streak from the origins of the Big 12 conference in 1997. The strength of Texas’s program has lived up to that eye-popping stat – the strength of the conference, not so much. It’s been a three-team field since 2002, and since Texas A&M and Missouri bolted for the SEC in 2012, the conference meet has been a pretty unexciting team race between Texas, West Virginia and TCU.
Texas won last year’s meet by 254 points, relatively speaking, a large margin compared to most years. And the Longhorns’ 1127 total points is actually the team’s highest score in over a decade. The Big 12 record is 1129 points from 2008, and last year’s 2020 group put up the second-most Big 12 points in conference history for men’s swimming & diving.
The Longhorns swept all 21 events. Both medley relays broke meet records, as did the 200 free relay, stacking up well against Texas’s storied history of top teams. Maybe most impressive individually was sophomore Daniel Krueger, who won the 50 free and 100 free, breaking a Big 12 record in the latter (41.26).
UNC transfer Alvin Jiang took the 100 fly and 100 back titles, setting a meet record in the backstroke. Freshman Caspar Corbeau swept the 100 & 200 breaststrokes, and junior diver Jordan Windle won both 3-meter and platform. Other event winners included junior JohnThomas Larson (500 free), sophomore Matthew Willenbring (200 IM), freshman Jake Foster (400 IM), sophomore Drew Kibler (200 free), junior Parker Neri (1650 free), junior Austin Katz (200 back) and junior Sam Pomajevich (200 fly).
For those keeping count, that’s every swimming event won by a Texas underclassman. The only conference champ graduating is 1-meter diving winner Grayson Campbell.
West Virginia placed second for the fifth consecutive year. Freshman Hunter Armstrong was the top individual scorer, placing 3rd in the 100 back, 4th in the 50 free and 4th in the 100 free. But he transfers out, a big loss for WVU. Junior David Dixon was 3rd in the 200 fly and 4th in the 200 IM and is the top returning scorer.
TCU got 47 individual points from freshman Vitauts Silins, who was second in both breaststrokes. He headed a strong freshman class that actually outscored the freshmen from any other program, including Texas.
Returning Points for 2021
Texas remains the strong favorites. Their dive group took the biggest hit, with two major scorers (Campbell and Jacob Cornish) graduating. They still return all but four relay legs, and their juniors actually led all classes last year with 335 individual points. The entire 400 medley relay returns after breaking the meet record last year.
Things get very close in the battle for second. TCU returns a conference-high 90% of its individual points, graduating just two senior scorers. After the very first relay leg of the meet (a 50 back by senior Radu Duican), TCU didn’t have a single relay leg by a senior the rest of the meet.
Still, West Virginia does have a slight edge in returning points. Relay points tend not to be a big difference-maker in this meet – assuming Texas wins all five relays again, the difference between second and third is two points. But TCU does have a chance to beat WVU in a few relays, with Armstrong holding down some key legs last year.
|Team||Returning Individual Points||% Returning Individual Points||Returning Relay Legs|
Scorers By Team
Teams are listed in their 2020 conference finish order. Athletes are listed with their year as of the current 2019-2020 season, not their year for the 2020-2021 season.
West Virginia (507)
|Ryen Van Wyk||JR||37|
Texas just gets stronger, with the top recruiting class in the nation coming in this fall. Top domestic recruit Carson Foster is a 1:42.4/3:38.6 IMer who should challenge his brother (defending conference champ Jake) for the 400 IM title next year. Adding to the IMs is Ethan Heasley, a 3:44.2 out of high school who also goes 15:03 in the mile.
Speaking of distance free, Texas pulls the class’s top miler in 14:51 David Johnston, and 1:34.3/4:14.9 Coby Carrozza bolsters the middle distances. It’s not as deep a class in the non-free strokes (not that Texas is lacking in young talent there), but Zac Van Zandt brings a 53.1 breaststroke and 46.6 fly with some intriguing versatility.
What swim fans might be underestimating is how good this Texas diving class is. Noah Duperre was a national high school champion diver and arguably the top dive recruit in the country. Laurent Gosselin-Paradis is one of the top young divers out of Canada and has already medaled at World University Games.
Beyond Texas, both other programs really went in on distance free this recruiting cycle. West Virginia‘s class has a pair of 1:39 200 freestylers (Logan McFadden is 1:39.7/4:30.8/15:43 and Dylan Melin 1:39.3/4:32) to go with standout 15:28 miler William Mullen. Breaststroker Joe Schaefer (55.2/2:00.3) is another solid pickup.
TCU has an even better miler (Charlie Brennig is 15:27), but doesn’t quite get the 200 free depth of WVU. 1:39.9 Bryce Flynn should help.
No surprise who we’ve got at the top. Texas will be unstoppable in the conference, and how many points they score really only depends on how many swimmers they qualify for NCAAs early, allowing them to delay a taper and/or swim a light lineup at conference.
One big question: how many Longhorn freshmen will beat upperclassmen for conference titles? And will we see an effective swim-off or two for Texas’s limited NCAA roster spots?
We’ll take a bit of a bold call and pick TCU over West Virginia, which would be the first time since 2015 that the Horned Frogs beat the Mountaineers for second in the conference. TCU’s freshmen last year outpaced West Virginia’s by a massive margin – TCU freshmen scored 280 and West Virginia freshmen 108. WVU loses 46 of those freshmen points from the outgoing Armstrong. TCU’s scoring was really centered on its freshmen and sophomores, and we could see a big leap there from young swimmers adjusting to the college level.
WVU’s recruiting class gets the slight edge, though, and they do return more points even without Armstrong. So the battle for second is going to be wide open heading into the season.
Way-Too-Early Conference Picks
- West Virginia