While the coronavirus pandemic rages into its 3rd collegiate swimming & diving season this fall, university athletics programs have found ways to bring sports back to a mostly-normal state moving forward. In swimming & diving, that means the return of out-of-state competition for dual meets (though most teams are still staying closer to home than they would’ve pre-panedmic) and more traditional invites (after the elaborate tri meets that made up most of that schedule last season).
That also means the return of the SMU Classic – one of the hallmark meets of the early collegiate season. The event was skipped last year amid the pandemic, but is scheduled to go on for 2021.
In most normal seasons, the SMU Classic, which is held the 2nd weekend of October, often presents the first championship-caliber times of the collegiate season. Historically, this has been a women’s-only meet, but the men will get on the phone this year.
Men’s Lineup (With 2021 NCAA Finish Order):
- SMU (Host)
- Louisville (#5)
- Texas A&M (#10)
- Arizona (T-#12)
- Michigan (T-#12)
- Missouri (#16)
Women’s Lineup (With 2021 NCAA Finish Order):
- SMU (Host)
- Michigan (#6)
- Louisville (#13)
- Missouri (#18)
- Arizona (#25)
- Miami (FL) (#23)
There are a lot of ‘connections’ in this year’s lineup. Miami head coach Andy Kershaw is a former assistant at SMU, and SMU men’s head coach Greg Rhodenbaugh is the former head coach at Missouri (and the former boss of current Missouri head coach Andy Grevers).
Rhodenbaugh and Arizona head coach Augie Busch come from the same coaching tree – they were assistants together in the early 2000s at Arizona under the lead of Augie’s dad Frank Busch.
Louisville has been a regular participant in the women’s meet for years, and are the two-time defending champions in fact.
Because Miami only has a women’s team, the Texas A&M Aggies will fill in the complementary slot in the men’s meet. That addition has lost some luster now that three-time NCAA Champion Shaine Casas has entered the transfer portal, but the Aggies did finish 10th at last year’s NCAA Championships.
The meet doesn’t have the full NCAA lineup in it, as the later post-season invites will. The schedule includes 12 individual events, 4 relays, and 2 diving events. Excluded are the 1650 free, the 800 free relay, and platform diving.
Each team can only bring 8 swimmers and 1 diver to fill up their lineup.
The catch is that each individual event is swum in two heats: an A flight and a B flight. Each team gets one swimmer in each flight, and each swimmer can race up to 3 events per day. So to win this meet, you not only need swimmers who are fast, but swimmers who are versatile are durable.
The format was developed around the legendary 6-lane Perkins Natatorium that was SMU swimming’s home until it was demolished in 2014. A former basketball arena, the pool had a 6-lane course and 360-degree arena seating. When it was full, it was one of the loudest venues in the country.
Even though the team has moved into the sparkly new modern digs of the Robson & Lindley Aquatics Center, they retain the 6-team, 6-lane format for this meet that has existed for almost 30 years.
A lot of rosters still aren’t set in stone yet, and the format means that athletes have to push their lineups a little, but there are still a few tantalizing matchups possible already.
Men’s 200 Fly – Nicolas Albiero (Louisville) returns for his bonus year as the NCAA Champion, Brooks Fail (Arizona) returns too as the 8th place finisher, and Danny Kovac (Missouri) finished 10th in the event at NCAAs last year. This isn’t always a race that people get excited about early in the season, but this will be a great battle.
Women’s 50 Free – Sarah Thompson from Missouri was 3rd at the NCAA Championships last year as a senior in the 50 free, and Louisville’s Gabi Albiero was 14th as a freshman, and both will be in the “A” flight of this race. But likely so too will be Michigan’s Maggie MacNeil, the defending Olympic Champion in the 100 fly and NCAA runner-up in the 50 free. Depending on who teams bring, the “B” flight of this event could have a great race too with Missouri’s Megan Keil and Michigan freshman Lindsay Flynn