Six Storylines To Watch At The 2023 Pro Swim Series – Knoxville


The first of four stops on the 2023 Pro Swim Series circuit will kick off on Wednesday from the Allan Jones Aquatic Center at the University of Tennessee, in what will be the first session of an exciting four days of racing that features some of the biggest stars in the sport.

The field in Knoxville has a bit of everything, from bonafide superstars to up-and-coming youngsters, plus a few names making their much-anticipated return after some time away from the pool.

Below, find our top six storylines to follow from Knoxville this week:


One of the biggest stories to emerge outside of the pool this summer was the number of top-tier swimmers who flocked to Arizona State University to join one of the greatest coaches in swimming history, Bob Bowman, and his post-grad group in Tempe.

Now for the first time, the group will all be in action in Knoxville, highlighted by the return of Simone Manuel and the busy schedule Regan Smith will be taking on.

Manuel, who has only raced a handful of times in the past three years, will compete for the first time in long course since joining Bowman in late August. She’s entered to race four events, but the two we’ll be most interested in seeing are her primary races, the 50 free and 100 free (also entered in the 50 back and 100 fly).

Both events should provide good tests for Manuel, as she’ll take on some of the top names in the U.S. over the last few years in Abbey WeitzeilErika BrownNatalie Hinds and Olivia Smoliga (another ASU pro), not to mention the woman with whom she shared an Olympic gold medal in the 100 free in 2016, Penny Oleksiak, and rising American junior talent Erin Gemmell.

While we’ll simply be intrigued to see what Manuel does in her return, the storyline regarding Smith is significantly different. The 20-year-old superstar surprised many by leaving Stanford early in the summer, and she responded by absolutely lighting up the U.S. Open in December, showing an early sign that she’s thriving in her new environment.

However, Smith is taking a bit of a different approach this week, opting to sit out of some of her best events—100 back, 200 back, 100 fly—and will instead take on some of her secondary races such as the 100, 200 and 400 free, and 200 IM. She’ll also contest two events in which she’s undeniably elite, the 50 back and 200 fly.

The 200 IM is one to watch, after she showed that three of her four legs in the event are world-class at the U.S. Open, and many will be curious to see if she’s made any improvements in her breaststroke over the last month. It will also be worth keeping tabs on if she plans on pursuing the 100 and/or 200 free long-term as a potential relay option in the future.

Along with Manuel, Smith and Smoliga, other ASU pros in action include Chase KaliszJay Litherland, Ryan Held and Sierra Schmidt.


After a breakout 2021 that included winning Olympic gold in the men’s 400 freestyle and then earning a silver in the 1500 free at the Short Course World Championships, Ahmed Hafnaoui‘s momentum came to an abrupt halt in 2022.

After joining Indiana University this past fall, Hafnaoui was ruled a partial qualifier based on academics, meaning he had to sit out of the 2022-23 collegiate season in academic residence.

The 20-year-old has been training in Bloomington for four-plus months, but does not appear to have raced at all in 2022. He’ll return to the pool in Knoxville with some stiff competition, as he’ll go head-to-head with two of America’s best distance freestylers.

In the 400 free, he’ll clash with University of Florida pro Kieran Smith, who won bronze behind Hafnaoui in the event in Tokyo and is coming off of winning the 2022 short course world title last month in Melbourne.

The 800 and 1500 free will see Hafnoaui take on Smith’s training partner, Bobby Finke, who won Olympic gold in both races in Tokyo (Smith will also race the 800 free).


Three of the biggest breakout age group stars in the U.S. last year, Katie GrimesBella Sims and Claire Weinstein, will kick off 2023 in Knoxville as the Sandpipers of Nevada triple threat will aim to continue their hot streak against some of the nation’s best.

All three swimmers closed out 2022 with a bang, including Grimes (15-16) and Sims (17-18) setting new National Age Group Records in the 400 IM (SCY), and now we’ll see them taking on daunting long course schedules this week, with Weinstein entered in eight events and Grimes and Sims both in seven.

For Grimes, she’ll race for the first time in the girls’ 17-18 age group, having aged up on Sunday, and she’ll be taking on essentially all of her primary events: 200/400/800/1500 free, 200 back, 200 fly and 400 IM. It’s probably not the right meet for her to do it, but the 17-18 NAG record in the 400 IM (4:31.78) is within a second of Grimes’ best time (4:32.67) set last summer at the World Championships.

Sims had a breakout showing in backstroke in short course meters at the FINA World Cup stop in Indianapolis back in November, and she’ll try and follow up that performance in the LCM pool in Knoxville against top-tier competition including Kylie MasseKatharine Berkoff and Olivia Smoliga.

Weinstein, still just 15, was a breakout star last year in the 200 free, and will aim to reaffirm her status as a top contender in the U.S. there against the likes of Ledecky, Oleksiak, Gemmell and her Sandpiper teammates.


Some of the best male freestyle sprinters in the NCAA will converge for what will be a long course preview of what’s to come in a few months’ time at the conclusion of the collegiate season.

Tennessee sophomore Jordan Crooks, fresh off of winning the short course world title last month in the men’s 50 free, will be joined by the likes of Bjorn Seeliger (Cal), David Curtiss (NC State), Jack Alexy (Cal), Robin Hanson (Cal) and teammate Gui Caribe in the stacked men’s 50 and 100 free in Knoxville.

Beyond the NCAA stars, the events will also feature the likes of pros Justin RessRyan Held and Hunter Armstrong (100 only).

We’ve now seen Crooks throw down some historically fast times in both short course yards and short course meters, and this meet presents an opportunity to show what he’s got in the long course pool while also getting the chance to stare down Seeliger, who will be one of his primary opponents at the NCAA Championships in March.


Penny Oleksiak‘s return to racing was among the first key observations made when the psych sheets for the meet were released last week, but the 22-year-old will just be one of many Canadians in action this week.

Joining Oleksiak will be names such as world champion Kylie Masse, Short Course World Championship medalist Javier Acevedo and two swimmers on the rise of late, Ilya Kharun and Ella Jansen.

Oleksiak will certainly be one to watch, coming off of meniscus surgery in late August, but seeing how Acevedo, Kharun and Jansen follow up on their standout short course seasons will also be something to keep tabs on.

Masse, meanwhile, is consistent as anyone in the sport and will be a factor in all three female backstroke events.


For the first time since 2019, the 50s of stroke will be contested at the Pro Swim Series, and there are some intriguing matchups on the horizon.

The 50 backstroke events in particular bring strong fields, as the women’s event will feature 2022 world champion Masse, 2022 world silver medalist Berkoff, and Smith, who was fifth in the event in Budapest.

Similarly, the men’s side will feature 2022 world champion Ress and world record holder Armstrong, not to mention rising age group star Daniel Diehl, Canada’s Acevedo, and perhaps a dark horse in both the 50 back and fly, Crooks.

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Joe burroh
2 months ago

Curious watching the 18Us at a meet like this. Tricky time in the HS & Club Schedule, how much in force the younger ones come in.

2 months ago

Anyone knows what Dressel is up to lately? Is he back in the pool?

Skor Bitz
Reply to  Tomek
2 months ago

Forget about him. He’s done for 2023.

Demarrit Steenbergen
Reply to  Tomek
2 months ago

I have a feeling we will know almost as soon as swim swam knows which will be within a few days unless the can be super secretive.

Reply to  Demarrit Steenbergen
2 months ago

Within a few days???

Reply to  Tomek
2 months ago

It saddens me a lot but I think we have already seen the best of Dressel in the 100s, maybe he still has a Pb in either of the 50s but at this point I would be really happy just watching him in the pool again. He brings many good things to the sport and seems to be a nice person. If he decided to retire I wouldnt even be mad, just sad

Reply to  Tomek
2 months ago

You mean Meghan’s husband, right?

2 months ago

This sounds like a loaded meet. Plenty of interest in some of the match races there.

James Beam
2 months ago

I wonder if Dirty Dan will make his college or pro announcement at this meet.

Gummy Shark
2 months ago

I just wanna be fast like Daniel Diehl

Reply to  Gummy Shark
2 months ago

Just focus on being the best Gummy Shark you can be.

2 months ago

Still no Kathleen Baker…….

2 months ago

Interesting to see how much longer Litherland can hang on and remain relevant.

Demarrit Steenbergen
Reply to  Hank
2 months ago

New training environment, let’s see what happens

Reply to  Hank
2 months ago

He scored an Olympic Silver medal within the past year and a half, sounds pretty relevant to me

2 months ago

That’s great news for MA that stroke 50s are back. Interesting to see if he starts to focus more on Olympic events or continue to specialize in stroke 50s for Worlds. Is he in the Psych sheets?

Reply to  Hank
2 months ago

Because of the way the IOC screwed him with the new schedule he has to choose between 200 IM and 50 free/100 fly and if he chooses not to do the 200 IM his events will be much the same as worlds last year.

Reply to  Troyy
2 months ago

It looks like MA is not in the psych sheets. It is unlikely he can finish top 2 in the 2IM again with Foster, Casas and Kalisz all swimming strong. I think he needs to cement himself as our top 50fr sprinter in Dressel’s absence and reestablish his top 2 status in the 100br alongside Fink. Train and swim the 50/100 fly and 50/100 back and just see what happens.

Reply to  Hank
2 months ago

I also agree that his chances of making the team again in the 200 IM are pretty much zero, and it would be wise for him to cut his losses and drop his focus for that event. He should focus on the 100 FL/BR and the 50 FR for ’24 Trials. But, I think he’s really trending in the wrong direction and might not even make the team at all if guys like Matheny and Curtiss continue to develop in their respective events.

Reply to  Hank
2 months ago

It’s hardly unlikely, doesn’t he have the fastest PB if that bunch of guys.

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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