The 32 Most Valuable Swimmers at 2015 Men’s NCAA’s: Part I

It’s Tuesday afternoon.  Less than 48 hours out of an NCAA meet that could have eight teams fighting for to get into the top five, relay parity galore, and record-setting swims all over the place (okay, that last one is a given).  If the women’s meet was any indication, this could top last year as the fastest NCAA meet in history.  Are you excited?  BECAUSE WE’RE EXCITED.

I procrastinated heavily on writing this, so we’re not going to waste any time jumping in.  Here’s the first part of our third annual most valuable rankings/mega-hype-preview.


This is the third year in a row we’re running this article, but just as a refresher, here’s how we defined “most valuable” for each of the last two years:

This isn’t a ranking of “which swimmer is fastest” or how a particular swimmer is going to do, it’s just how valuable/important that individual is to their respective team next week.  There are so many key athletes, and you could make a great argument to move most of these guys up or down a few spots.  We didn’t have a hard-and-fast method in choosing, and there weren’t many extreme calculations/metrics done (though some numbers were crunched) ; we wanted to move this away from being strictly a statistical measure of “worth”.  

Factors we considered:

-Estimated individual finishes/point totals.
-Relay value is critical.
-No divers.
-What happens to the team if that swimmer can’t compete?  Is the team completely at a loss without him?  Or does the team that have a reliable/fast “replacement”?  Note: I totally over-weighted this last year.  Will try to avoid that this time
-Slight weight towards the teams that are likely to finish higher in the rankings

Captain Hindsight” award winners (my six worst omissions from 2014):

Tony Cox – Cal
Kip Darmody – Texas
Kristian Gkolomeev – Alabama
Matias Koski – Georgia
John Murray – Texas
Seth Stubblefield – Cal

Yikes.  I’ll try not to whiff that badly again.

Last guys out:
Dylan Carter – USC (two years in a row!)
Michael Duderstadt – Auburn
Connor Oslin – Alabama
Blake Pieroni – Indiana
Shane Ryan – Penn State
Ralf Tribuntsov – USC
Anybody from Louisville’s medley relays

Numbers 32 through 21, here we go!

32. Matt McHugh – Ohio State
1 A-final, 4 relays
2014 rank: n/a, 2013 rank: n/a

The Buckeyes haven’t historically recruited slews of National Junior Teamers, but Bill Wadley and his staff have had success the last 5-10 years with turning pretty good high school recruits into big-time swimmers.  McHugh is the latest example of what we have come to see yearly from the Ohio State men’s program: a 47.7 100 flyer (very good, but not earth-shattering) that has developed into a 45.7 100 flyer, and 19-low/42-mid freestyle relay swimmer.

McHugh is far-and-away Ohio State’s best sprint flyer, keeping the Buckeye medley relays in or near scoring position.  He’s also arguably their fastest leg on the sprint freestyle relay, where he leverages his underwaters to split 19-low and 42-mid.  Between McHugh, Josh Fleagle and Michael Disalle, look for the Buckeyes to knock on the door of the A-final in the 400 free relay.

31. Peter “One-Trick” John “Pony” Stevens – Tennessee
1 A-final, 2 relays
2014 rank: n/a, 2013 rank: n/a

Why in the heck is Stevens on this list?  No second or third event, and only has any discernible use on two relays.  Stevens truly is a one-trick pony at this point in his career… but he’s really, really good at that trick.

How good?  Fastest-ever good.  At SEC’s last month, the former World Junior Champion in the 50-meter breaststroke exploded for a 22.72 second leg on the Volunteers’ 200 medley relay, good for the fastest split in history (Tennessee is second from the bottom):

That doesn’t tell the full story, though.  His performance was more than just the X-factor for that Tennessee victory; it’s the split that should keep them relevant this weekend at NCAA’s.

Replace him with another breaststroker… say, one that splits a still-highly-respectable 23.70 (to measure, it would have been the third-fastest at Pac 12’s and fourth-fastest at SEC’s).  That would have push Tennessee from 1st to 6th at SEC’s, and from 4th to 14th in NCAA seedings, a difference of 25 points.  Throw in his sub-52-second 100 breaststroke (good for ~15 points individually, plus another ~10 points from the 400 medley differential), and Stevens accounts for almost half of Tennessee’s seeded 126 points.

30. Arthur Mendes – Auburn
1 A-final, 1 B-final, 4 relays
2014 rank: n/a, 2013 rank: n/a

As long as the sky is blue, Auburn will continue to be a contender in at least one of the sprint freestyle relays.  Mendes will be a big part of that this year.

The junior sprint freestyler/butterflyer has steadily improved consistently over his first three seasons, morphing from relay contributor and fringe NCAA point scorer to Auburn’s #2 most reliable/valuable sprint asset.  Overall, he’s tracking ahead of where he’s been in each of his first two seasons, including dipping under 46 seconds in the 100 fly for the first time in his career at SEC’s, and has also jumped onto the Tigers’ 200 free relay.

29. Bradley Tandy – Arizona
1 A-final, 4 relays
2014 rank: 5th, 2013 rank: n/a

Question: When is a defending NCAA individual sprint freestyle champion so far down on this list?  Answer: When he struggles to finish a 100 individually (given 18.8 speed), doesn’t have a scoring third event (though his short course breaststroke is pretty solid), and is on a team that is on the outside looking in for at least half of those relays.

But… in bursts, Bradley Tandy is fast.  Really fast.  The defending 50 free NCAA champion has a crazy amount of raw speed, and gets off the block and to the 15-meter better than anyone else in the country by a pretty large margin.  Just check out these clips from Pac 12’s and NCAA’s… Tandy absolutely crushes everybody through the third of the race (I don’t even need to tell you which lane he’s in for these clips):



His 2014 co-champion Kristian Gkolomeev looks to be a slight step ahead this year, and freshman phenom Caeleb Dressel will be trouble, but Tandy still has a shot at repeating in the 50.  ‘Zona needs everything the South African senior has to offer this weekend, as they’ll be fighting for valuable tenths and hundredths in all four sprint relays this weekend to earn every extra point possible.

28. Will Licon – Texas
2 A-finals, 1 B-final, 1 relay
2014 rank: n/a, 2013 rank: n/a

Licon was probably only second to teammate John Murray in the “Monster Taper Award” voting at last year’s NCAA’s as a freshman, cutting six seconds in the 400 IM, nearly three seconds in the 200 IM, and a full second in the 200 breast.  By the time, the weekend was over, he had gone from “fringe qualifier” to “three-event scorer”.

He’s wasted no time making an impact this year though, putting up consistently great in-season performances.  That all led up to three individual titles and a surprise 51.5 breaststroke split on the 400 medley at Big 12’s that should earn him a relay spot at NCAA’s.

That’s not all though.  Check out this list of names that Licon falls in the middle of:

Simonas Bilis
Dylan Bosch
Jack Conger
Mitch D’Arrigo
Caeleb Dressel
Chase Kalisz
Mathias Koski
Will Licon
David Nolan
Josh Prenot
Cristian Quintero
Dan Wallace

^That’s the list of names of people with three individual NCAA ‘A’ cuts prior to NCAA’s.  Pretty dang good company.

27. Tom Kremer – Stanford
1 A-final, 2 B-finals, 3-4 relays
2014 rank: 30th, 2013 rank: n/a

Kremer hasn’t had a great short course meet on the big stage since his freshman year NCAA’s, but he still found a way to score in three individual events last season, and finish top six in the same three events at this year’s Pac 12’s.  More importantly, he actually gives Stanford some much-needed medley relay flexibility (covering the backstroke leg on the 400), freeing up Nolan for the breaststroke leg, cutting probably a full second for the Cardinal’s final time in the 400 medley.  Considering how ‘meh’ Kremer’s Pac 12’s was overall, that 46.4 leadoff could very easily turn into a 46-low/45-high.  Add in Sam Perry (42.7 individually) on the end, and suddenly the Cardinal are sitting at 3:06-low without any improvement from Nolan or their butterfly option.

Kremer is a critical component to whichever other Stanford relays he’s on (potentially all three freestyles), as well, with 19.4-42.2-1:33.0 range.  Individually, look for a bit of a rebound meet for Kremer, with an A-final appearance in the 200 free, and two high B-finals in the 200 IM and 200 fly.

26. Sam Tierney – Missouri
2 A-finals, 2-4 relays
2014 rank: n/a, 2013 rank: n/a

Sam Tierney and his teammates have a great chance at history this weekend: the Missouri Tigers have only finished in the top 15 once in program history.  That was in 2013, when they finished 14th, with more than half of their points came from diver Greg Bonuchi.  Coming into the meet seeded to match that 14th place finish, Missouri has a strong chance to record their best team ranking in school history, with Tierney serving as the catalyst to make that happen.  The senior breaststroke star is seeded second in the 100 and sixth in the 200, and will also likely be swimming on at least three Tiger relays.

25. Dan Wallace – Florida
2 A-finals, 2 relays
2014 rank: 23rd, 2013 rank: n/a

Wallace wasn’t a runaway freight train at SEC’s last month like he was at last year’s meet (4:10.7 500 free, 3:38.9 400 IM, 1:32.8 800 free relay split) or this summer in Glasgow (400 IM Commonwealth Games champion, putting up the eighth fastest time in the world), but that’s probably a good thing.  He was a bit slower in most of his swims at NCAA’s, so he could have more left in the tank this time around, potentially setting up what should be a great showdown in the 500 free between himself, Cristian Quintero, Reed Malone, Matias Koski, and teammate Mitch D’Arrigo.

His real value, though, is what he does for the Gators’ 800 free relay.  This year’s race should see at least 5-6 teams in contention (USC, NC State, Florida, Stanford, Michigan, and probably Texas), and at the end of day two, when everyone is exhausted from a brutal four sessions of swimming, Wallace will probably have enough to split 1:32 without any issue, which could be the difference between first (40 points) and fourth or fifth (30 points).

24. Josh Prenot – Cal
3 A-finals
2014 rank: n/a,  2013 rank: n/a

Versatile, consistent, and reliable.  I’ve left Prenot off of this list each of the past two seasons because he’ll never swim on a relay for the Bears, but his money-back-guaranteed 45 individual points are too much to ignore for three straight years.  Prenot is always pretty good in-season, but this year has been a whole other level.  The Cal junior has already cracked 3:39 in the 400 IM (3:38.83, the second fastest time of his career), and swam his lifetime best times in the 200 IM (1:41.79) and 200 breaststroke (1:52.61).  All three swims are seeded inside the top four, and there’s a very, very good chance he stays there.

23. Kevin Cordes – Arizona
2 A-finals, 2 relays
2014 rank: 10th,  2013 rank: 11th

Is there something wrong with Kevin Cordes, or are we completely overreacting to this?  Is it blasphemous to say he may come out of this weekend without winning both (or <gulp> either) breaststroke event(s)?  This is the slowest he’s been tracking pre-NCAA’s since his freshman year by a large margin, while the rest of the country seems to be closing the gap.  I’d love to say it’s just a taper thing and that with a little more rest he’ll be all set, but… he just didn’t look good at Pac 12’s.  It honestly seemed like he was getting 60% of his usual power from his kick watching replays of the meet.

Despite those factors, he’s too good to leave off this list strictly based on conjecture; Cordes at 90% is still better than every breaststroker in the NCAA.  That, and Arizona’s medley relays don’t stand a chance at scoring without him.  Hoping he’s just saving up big time for one last hurrah.

22. Matias Koski – Georgia
3 A-finals, 2-3 relays
2014 rank: n/a, 2013 rank: n/a

Koski is one of the most underrated, under-appreciated, and forgotten-about swimmers in the country:

  • Did you know that Koski scored in three events each of first two years at NCAA’s, placing 4th, 4th, 4th, 4th, 8th, and 9th?
  • That he has won three individual SEC titles in his first three years, beating loaded fields on all three occasions?
  • That he has surprising good speed, including a sub-43 lifetime best 100 freestyle?
  • That he is seeded inside the top five in the 200, 500, and 1650 heading into this weekend, plus at least two relays?
  • That he is one of the twelve swimmers listed above to have three individual ‘A’ cuts this season?
  • That he has a chance to be the highest individual scorer on a team that is shooting for back-to-back top five team finishes for the first time in school history?
  • That I’ve left him off this list for two years?
  • That I finally got my act together?

Side note: Koski got stuck in consols at SEC’s in the 500, but made up for it with a 4:12.0 in finals, where he went out in 1:38.6.  That’s fast; a full 1.5 seconds faster that champion Mitch D’Arrigo was at the 200.  If he gets into the NCAA final with D’Arrigo, Dan Wallace, Cristian Quintero, etc., look for Koski to set the pace early.

21. Chuck “The Magic Man” Katis – Cal
2 A-finals, 2 relays
2014 rank: 26th, 2013 rank: n/a

His decision to transfer to Berkeley was arguably the most pivotal moment in the Bears’ 2014 NCAA title run.  Their lone real relay option last season, Katis surpassed expectations with a pair of individual All-American honors, along with splits of 23.29 and 50.46 (!) on first-place medleys.

So what about this season?  Freshman teammate Connor Hoppe has come along, but Katis is still multiple steps ahead of everyone on the roster.  He’s still good for 30+ individual points, and he’s more important than ever in Cal’s quest to take their fourth title in five years, especially without relay linchpin Tony Cox (the most important member on their 2014 title team).

Stay tuned for part two tomorrow morning

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As a Stanford grad, you (more than most) should know that Cordes is far more valuable than #23. Or were you absent when he single handedly dominated your medley relays the last 3 years?


I 100% agree. How does the NCAA swimmer of the year 2 years ago get ranked #23 most valuable?

You would 100% agree, in that you’re the same person.

Just wanted to make that clear to anyone reading the comments, so they don’t accidentally miscount the tallies on the two sides of the argument.




Oh HELL no! This ‘OLDSWIMDAD’ individual was just exposed like Vice President Spiro Agnew was exposed for tax fraud in 1973! Oh HELL no! Ya’ll would do best by donating money to his Indiegogo campaign – it’s titled “EIGTH DEGREE BURNS, HOSPITAL FUNDS NEEDED.” Oh hell NO! This man wants to win so badly that he convinces himself he’s become two people! He takes evolution too far – you can’t do that yet! HELL NO! This Braden Keith individual enters a chaotic situation with nothing more than delicious snippets of fact and lays forth an unshakeable truth! He registers an 11 on Crowley’s 1-10 Scale of Justice! Oh hell just simply no! This Braden Keith is like Superman and Batman… Read more »


I do have to applaud the effort you put into this.


I guess he has a third pseudonym too, since Braden got three down votes lol


Well, that’s embarrassing…


I agree, Kevin Cordes is for sure the favorite in both breaststrokes this year.


Okay you got me. #23 is still a stretch


Before we all go at each others throats with our opinions…keep in mind that this is Morgan’s piece, and are their opinions. No need to get hostile on the comment section unlike over on that Missy thread

Joel Lin

Cordes is the best breastroker and the most dominant specialist in NCAA now, but he is just that. Not an IM and not a free relay guy. It may be a sore point to some, but to be a sprint freestyler with a 100 fly or back is just where the most combinations to contribute are. Think also about how 500 free, 400 IM and 1,650 free triple finalists are potentially fewer point grabbers than a one A final sprint free guy who goes all relays on a top 3 team. I hope this does not mean NCAA swimming eventually guts out US distance swimming. I doubt it can but the author is right on in terms of where the… Read more »


Yeah, and also, first is the same amount of points whether you win by .1 or two and a half seconds.

About Morgan Priestley

Morgan Priestley

A Stanford University and Birmingham, Michigan native, Morgan Priestley started writing for SwimSwam in February 2013 on a whim, and is loving that his tendency to follow and over-analyze swim results can finally be put to good use. Morgan swam competitively for 15+ years, primarily excelling in the mid-distance freestyles. While …

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