This is a two-part article… For Part II, click here.
Between watching/reporting on the incredible swims from conference meets across the country, talking with athletes from various teams, and spending waaaaaay too much time analyzing cut lines and psych sheets, it’s clear we’re getting irrationally excited over a swim meet. Especially considering we’re not even competing… We’re just going to watch. But with an intriguing team race (will Cal make a run at Michigan to make it a three-peat? Can anyone else challenge?), some of the tightest relay battles we’ve seen in a while (at least 5 teams that could theoretically compete in both medleys), and potential for legendary swims across the board (Vlad, Cordes, Shields, Jaeger/Grodzki/McBroom etc), what else could you want in a swim meet? We thought we needed more coverage than just event previews (would have done the women’s meet, but didn’t think of this idea until a few days ago). We originally wanted to just do a quick run-through of the 25 most valuable NCAA swimmers, but (1) I didn’t feel justified in leaving seven of the guys listed below out, and (2) I have a tendency to be relatively thorough. 7000 words later, here we are.
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”. Ultimately, these were decided by a combination of a few factors:
-Estimated individual finishes/point totals.
-Relay value is critical.
-What happens to the team if that swimmer can’t compete? Is the team completely screwed without him? Or does the team that have a reliable/fast “replacement”?
-Slight weight towards the teams that are likely to finish higher in the rankings (hurts guys like Joao De Lucca, strengthens the argument for guys from Michigan/Cal/etc).
Here’s a few guys that were juuuuuust a bit outside (no particular order):
Jack Wagner – USC
Paul Murray – Florida State
Mark Weber – Florida State
Derek Toomey – Minnesota
Andrew Saeta – Stanford
Jacob Pebley – Cal
James Wells – Indiana
Nicolas Fink – Georgia
Zach Turk – Michigan
If relays weren’t a thing, these guys could get a mention…
Dylan Bosch – Michigan
Michael Weiss – Wisconsin
Michael McBroom – Texas
Josh Prenot – Cal
Chase Kalisz – Georgia
Martin Grodzki – Georgia
Alright, let’s get to it…
32. Clay Youngquist – Texas
1 A-Final, 1 B-Final, 3 relay swims
What can we make of Youngquist’s time at Texas so far? He came into Austin last fall as one of the fastest swimmers in history out of high school (20.09/43.73/1:34.28/4:19.40/8:58.6 short course, 50.22/1:48.44 long course) with the talent and work ethic to match it. He seemed to be in the perfect spot; Texas churns out elite mid-distance freestylers like no place else. It’s not like he’s been a disappointment… he’s just a sophomore, and has already dropped a little bit of time across the board (both short course and long course). I just can’t imagine Clay was completely satisfied with last spring or summer.
Of course, every freshman goes through some growing pains, and given the background of the Battle Creek, Michigan native (according to interviews, he did very few doubles and almost no weight work prior to college), he probably went through a larger adjustment than most. How has Clay responded after having a full year under his belt? By kicking it up a notch, setting himself up for some great swims this week. He’s proven to be one of Eddie Reese’s most reliable dual meet guys, swimming well under 1:36 multiple times in the 200 (his fastest during the 2011-12 dual season was 1:36.88 against Auburn), and reestablishing his range, dropping to the sprints and jumping up to the 500 whenever necessary. Texas is carrying a thinner squad than usual this year, and look for Youngquist to be huge for the Longhorns’ freestyle relays. Will be interesting to see if Eddie has him pull the 200 free relay/500 free back-to-back.
31. Austin Surhoff – Texas
2 A-Finals, 1 B-Final, 2-4 relay swims
Quick flashback to the first night of 2010 NCAA’s… the 200 IM final contains 6 of the top 8 swimmers from the previous year (including Ricky Berens, Tyler Clary, and three other Olympians), along with Cal’s Martin Liivamagi and Surhoff. The freshman Longhorn is the top seed after prelims, but the thinking on deck is that either Clary (runner-up the year before) will pull away, Liivamagi could pull out a win (Cal was swimming out of their minds), or Shaune Fraser would close like nobody’s business on the field. Fast forward two minutes, and Surhoff is an NCAA champion as a freshman; Clary and Liivamagi got hit by grand pianos on the final 50, and the field got just too far ahead of Fraser. Surhoff swam a near-perfect race, and followed that up with two other scoring swims for the national champion Longhorns (A-Final in the 200 back, and B-Final in the 400 IM). Tougher critics might call his last two seasons “disappointments”, but not because he’s swum really poorly. Let’s be honest… he just set the bar really, really high.
Surhoff has been a vital asset for Texas the last three seasons, scoring in three individuals both years while also pulling relay duty. He had a great 200 IM last summer (dropping over a second from his seed and placing 4th at Olympic Trials), and is taking on yet another role this weekend as a sprint breastroker on Texas’ medley relays (refresher: the Longhorns lost their top two breaststroke talents this fall, with Nick D’Innocenzo leaving the team, and Imri Ganiel being unable to compete this year). There aren’t many options left for the ‘Horns, but Surhoff has been under :54 this year. It’s nothing to sneeze at, but if Surhoff can minimize the damage, it will give Tripp Cooper and Dax Hill a chance to run down some teams on the last two legs.
You can’t overlook his leadership, or his ability to step up when it’s needed. That’s meant jumping into the sprint freestyle relays (splitting 19.2 and sub-43 over the last two years), as well as helping to fill the void huge Texas has in the breaststroke events this season. He’s been laying in the weeds, but look for Surhoff to once again be a factor in all three of his individuals this weekend (200 IM, 400 IM, and 200 back).
30. Seth Stubblefield – Cal
1 A-Final, 1 B-Final (if he doesn’t scratch the 100), 4 relay swims
When Tyler Messerschmidt announced he would be taking a leave of absence this semester, Cal’s NCAA prospects took a bit of a hit (particularly after Sectionals in Federal Way, when Messerschmidt showed everyone what could have been). Last year as a freshman, he made the A-Final in 100, won the console heat in the 50, and was a part of two NCAA-winning relays (and two more that placed second). Those are big shoes to fill, but Stubblefield has already proven he can be the go-to anchor leg for the Bears with two huge anchor legs (18.86 and 42.66) at PAC-12’s not long ago. And of course, he finished 5th in the 50 last year at NCAA’s. Cal knows what they’re going to get from Tom Shields and Marcin Tarczynski, but their NCAA title chances rest on guys like Stubblefield, Shayne Fleming, and Fabio Gimondi.
29. Anders Lie Nielsen – Michigan (1 A-Final, 1 B-Final, 1 relay swim)
28. Connor Jaeger – Michigan (2 A-Finals, 1 relay swim)
Nielsen is new to the American swim scene, arriving in Ann Arbor at the start of the semester, and apart from his participation on Denmark’s 800 freestyle relay in London last summer, we don’t know much about him. But if Big Ten’s was just a preview of what he can do, Mike Bottom and Josh White should be nothing but giddy right now. The freshman (okay, so he’s an almost-22-year-old freshman) is on the hook for 37 individual points and a big-time relay swim; he’s seeded 4th in the 500, 2nd in the 200, and 12th in the 1650, and led off Michigan’s top-seeded 800 free relay.
So why are they so low on this list? Two things: (1) they only adds value to one Wolverine relay (the 800), and (2) even though they are both great 200 guys, Michigan seems to have a never-ending supply of them.
Why are they on the list at all? The 200 free relay will be a good indicator of which sprinters are hot and cole, but the 500 is the first individual event of the meet, and there is going to be A LOT of momentum either gained or lost by each of the top six or seven teams who are pushing for a trophy in the team race. Michigan is seeded to score 109 points in the weekend’s distance events (500 free, 400 IM, 1650), and the 500 free will essentially serve as the distance group’s litmus test for the next three days. Jaeger should be in a good spot (he had a strong NCAA’s a year ago), but whatever Nielsen does in the final circle-seeded heat can set the tone for the whole weekend.
27. Jonathan Boffa – NC State
2 B-Finals, 4 relay swims
The Wolfpack had one of their best conference meets since their last ACC title in 1992, led by Boffa and fellow sprinter Simonas Bilis. For the record, even though the ACC isn’t historically of the most high profile conference meets, every team really stepped up their game this year. Every single event was deeper and faster across the board (actually, though), and 5 meet records were set. When all was said and done, Virginia (9 swimmers), North Carolina (6), NC State (5) Florida State (5), Virginia Tech (4), and Georgia Tech (1) all had individual qualifiers. Add Louisville to the mix next year, and things only look brighter for the conference.
Back to the Wolfpack: NC State didn’t score a single point at NCAA’s last year, but they are bringing five individual swimmers to the meet, and are seeded in the top eight in three relays. They should be seeded top 8in the 800 free relay, as well, with their time from ACC’s, but they were actually DQed when a swimmer jumped into the water too early to celebrate their upset win over Virginia. Boffa is the difference maker on all of their relays, and he’s capable of making it back in three individual events. He was a tad over his seedtimes last year at NCAA’s, where his highest finish was 19th, but he’s chopped off significant time since them. If he is near or under the 19.0/42.0 barrier on relays like he’s capable of, NC State should see plenty of second swims this weekend as they push for a top-15 finish.
26. Mitchell Friedemann – Arizona
1 A-Final, 1 B-Final, 4 relay swims
Friedemann’s NCAA performances have been a mixed bag each of his first two years; he’s a great relay swimmer for the Wildcats, and has finished in the top 8 in the 100 back both seasons (expect to see him there again), but he’s yet to put together a scoring individual/flat-start 50 or 100 free. A change in his event program should set him up for greater success; he’s dropped the 100 free for the 200 back. Look for him to throw down a quick time in the opening heat of that event (he’s actually seeded last) and potentially crack the top 16 (thanks to some serious easy speed) in what might be the deepest field of the meet.
His real value shines through when you take a combined look at his relay performances, and the makeup of Arizona’s roster this season. Unlike years past when they had multiple options (Cory Chitwood, Ivan Tolic, etc.), Friedemann is far and away the best sprint backstroker the Wildcats have to offer (Michael Sheppard is plenty quick, but he’s always been more of a 200 guy). Even when he’s had off days individually, you can always count on him to be 21-low/45-high leading off the medleys, and right around 19.0/42.5 in the sprint freestyle relays. Without Friedemann, Arizona can’t contend in the medleys, and they don’t crack the A-Final in the 200/400 free relays.
25. Miguel Ortiz – Michigan, (1 B-Final, 4 relay swims)
24. Sean Fletcher – Michigan, (1 A-Final, 4 relay swims)
23. Kyle Whitaker – Michigan, (2 A-Finals, 1 B-Final, 1 relay swim)
I’m putting Miguel Ortiz and Fletcher together because they have very, very similar roles for Michigan. Both truly excel in one individual event (Ortiz: 100 back, Fletcher: 100 fly), and are solid scoring threats in a second (Ortiz: 50 free, Fletcher: 100 back). Both have four HUGE relay swims coming up (all of the sprint relays). And both have… well… not the best track record. Whitaker hasn’t fared much better at NCAA’s, but he’s again a three-event threat for the Wolverines, and will be on Michigan’s top-seeded 800 freestyle relay.
Here’s some numbers on Ortiz, Fletcher, and Whitaker over the last two seasons at NCAA’s. I looked at every event they competed in at both Big Ten’s and NCAA’s in 2011 and 2012 (note: there are a couple medley relays not included where Fletcher or Ortiz changed strokes between the two championship meets, so there is no direct comparison). None of them have moved up in an event to score more points than they were seeded to score at NCAA’s, and their relay splits have been slower virtually across the board. Keep in mind, these guys are also responsible for 9 of Michigan’s 20 relay spots this weekend…
|Year||Event||Big Ten’s/seed||Prelims/place||Finals/place||Point differential
|2011||200 fly||1:43.52, 8th||1:46.05, 23rd||N/A||-11|
|2011||200 IM||1:43.23, 2nd||1:43.80, 4th||1:43.92, 7th||-5|
|2011||400 IM||3:41.06, 2nd||3:43.82, 3rd||3:41.69, 2nd||0|
|2011||800 FR||1:33.41 (split)||N/A||1:36.85 (split)||[relay]|
|2012||200 fly||1:43.25, 6th||1:44.63, 17th||N/A||-13|
|2012||200 IM||1:43.40, 5th||1:43.20, 3rd||1:43.91, 7th||-2|
|2012||400 IM||3:41.04, 2nd||3:44.33, 2nd||3:41.37, 2nd||0|
|2012||800 FR||1:34.41 (split)||N/A||1:36.00 (split)||[relay]|
|Year||Event||Big Ten’s/seed||Prelims/place||Finals/place||Point differential
|2011||50 free||19.83 (32nd)||19.8 (30th)||N/A||N/A|
|2011||100 free||43.49||43.78 (relay leadoff)||N/A||N/A|
|2011||100 back||47.46 (27th)||47.94 (31st)||N/A||N/A|
|2011||400 FR||43.24 (split)||43.78 (leadoff)||44.09 (leadoff)||[relay]|
|2012||50 free||19.63 (T-19th)||19.70 (20th)||N/A||N/A|
|2012||200 MR||21.47 (leadoff)||22.00 (leadoff)||N/A||[relay]|
|2012||400 MR||46.65 (leadoff)||47.17 (leadoff)||47.27 (leadoff)||[relay]|
|2012||100 back||46.33 (7th)||47.07 (15th)||46.63 (10th)||-5|
|2012||200 FR||19.27 (split)||19.73 (leadoff)||19.77 (leadoff)||[relay]|
|2012||100 free||43.40 (22nd)||43.57 (26th)||N/A||N/A|
|2012||400 FR||42.84 (split)||44.24 (leadoff)||42.98 (split)||[relay]|
|Year||Event||Big Ten’s/seed||Prelims/place||Finals/place||Point differential|
|2011||100 free||43.38 (26th)||DFS||N/A||N/A|
|2011||100 back||47.05 (T-23rd)||DFS||N/A||N/A|
|2011||100 fly||45.69 (3rd)||46.17 (11th)||46.13 (9th)||-7|
|2011||400 FR||43.38 (leadoff)||43.03 (split)||42.65 (split)||—-|
|2011||400 MR||45.51 (fly)||46.03 (fly)||45.97 (fly)||—-|
|2012||50 free||20.05 (T-66th)||19.82 (T-28th)||N/A||N/A|
|2012||400 MR||45.52 (fly)||45.33 (fly)||45.43 (fly)||—-|
|2012||100 fly||46.10 (6th)||46.49 (9th)||45.98 (9th)||-4|
|2012||100 back||47.25 (25th)||DFS||N/A||N/A|
Something important that could get lost in the shuffle here: Sean Fletcher declared a false start (probably to save him for relays) in three events where he could score if he dropped a tenth or two. If Michigan plans on winning, you can’t give up potential scoring opportunities like that.
Quick related side-note: Have I mentioned I don’t trust Michigan yet? Mike Bottom and Josh White are great coaches… they have had tremendous success over the last couple years with the guys team (both short course and long course), and helped begin the resurrection of the women’s program this year, as well. But so far they haven’t yet put together a great conference meet AND a great NCAA’s in the same year. Some high-level numbers look at NCAA’s the last three years:
Michigan – 2010: 28 individual swims, 9 swims dropped time (32.14% drop rare)
Michigan – 2011: 22 individual swims, 5 swims dropped time (22.73% drop rate)
Michigan – 2012: 26 individual swims, 16 swimmers added time (38.46% drop rate)
Cal – 2010: 48 individual swims, 35 swims dropped time (72.92% drop rare)
Cal – 2011: 46 individual swims, 38 swims dropped time (82.61% drop rare)
Cal – 2012: 44 individual swims, 36 swims dropped time (81.81% drop rare)
Yes, last season was better for U of M, but unless Dave Durden suddenly forgets how to taper his swimmers, Michigan needs to have at least a 60% drop rate to hold the 100+ point gap and win the meet. I’m not saying it can’t happen, but given how fast they swam at Big Ten’s, I just don’t see it.
22. Brad Deborde – Florida
1 A-Final, 1 B-Final, 4 relay swims
I have no idea how the Gators break into groups in practice, but in the high-mileage distance-focused world of coach Greg Troy, Deborde is kind of lone wolf. He’s lightyears ahead of Florida’s next best 50 guy (nobody else has broken 19.9 for the Gators this year), and he’s the only true sprint freestyler Florida is bringing to NCAA’s. Last year, he single-handedly save some relays from falling out of the top 16 completely. Luckily, he will have more help this year than last; Matt Curby and Corey Main do a pretty good sprint freestyler imitation.
Top-to-bottom, Deborde is a consistent, reliable relay swimmers that has steadily improved over the past three years. If he can match or drop from his lifetime bests (19.12, 42.9 at SEC’s this year), Florida will contend for a top five team finish.
21. Pavel Sankovich – Florida State
3 B-Finals, 3 relay swims
If you hadn’t seen results from any of the conference meets around the country, and someone told you there was just one person who broke 21 leading off the 200 medley relay, you would probably think it was Kyle Owens, or Friedemann, or Dave Nolan, or one the Indiana guys, or maybe even Shields/Vlad jumping to the leadoff leg. Obviously, that statement wouldn’t have any context right now if the answer to that question weren’t “Pavel Sankovich” (he was 20.99 at ACC’s).
If your response to that was “wait, who?!?!”, you’re probably not alone. Sankovich just arrived in Tallahassee this Winter, and he’s been quick to make sure we noticed. He won four events at ACC’s (three individual,one relay), shattering team records and setting a pair of ACC records in the process. It’s up for debate just how well he’ll hold up at NCAA’s, but there’s no question as the who has been the conference’s most impressive swimmer this season.
Apart from being seeded to score well in three events (7th in the 200 IM, 4th in the 100 back, 11th in the 200 back), Sankovich anchored the 400 free relay at ACC’s, and is the difference-maker for the Seminole medley relay. If he leads off again in around 21.0 and 46.0, that can be the early boost they need to stay with the field for back-end swimmers Mark Weber and Paul Murray.
(Side note, I wanted to include Mark Weber and/or Paul Murray on this list, but I thought you couldn’t include one without the other, and I wasn’t comfortable knocking a pair of these guys off. Really pulling for these guys to do well. FSU is seeded really well in a couple relays, and it would be nice to see someone different near the top of the podium in the sprint relays. Just don’t beat Stanford.)
20. Marcin Tarczynski – Cal
2 A-Finals, 1 B-Final
^^That should say “3 A-Finals” but in a truly boneheaded move by yours truly, I left Tarczynski out of the 200 back A-Final in my backstroke previews last week. Oops. I honestly think he’ll probably move into the top 8 there, but I feel like I have to stick to my picks.
Anyway, Tarczynski is the highest-rated guy on this list who might not swim on a single relay (Cal is just that deep), and deservedly so. His comeback win over David Nolan in the 200 IM was one of the most [infamously, in my book] memorable moments of the meet, and might have been the earliest dagger-in-the-heart/”this meet is over” swim in NCAA history. Cal was already rolling—they had just won the 200 freestyle relay out of lane 8 without Tom Shields, and Will Hamilton ran over the consol heat in the 500—but Tarczynski pushed the Bears over the edge. We know how the rest of that meet went from there.
Tarczynski will be swimming the 200 IM and 200 back for the third year in a row, but he has jumped back to the 100 fly after placing 5th in the 100 back a year ago. Expect him to score high in all three; he looked to be off the top of his game at PAC-12’s, and still broke 46 in the 100 fly. I think the worst-case scenario is a top 3 finish in the IM, top 6 in the 100 fly, top 8 in the 200 back. That being said (Cardinal-colored glasses alert!), I’m still not picking against Nolan in the 200 IM; he looks to be in a better place physically and mentally than a year ago.
19. Nimrod Shapira Bar-Or – Arizona
2 A-Finals, 1 B-Final, 4 relay swims
Shapira Bar-Or is back with the Wildcats after redshirting last year to focus on his Olympic bid with his home country of Israel. He hasn’t made much noise yet this season, despite being a candidate to make the A-Final in multiple events. Back in 2011, he broke 1:34 to won the consol heat of the 200 free, was 10th in the 200 IM, and led off the Wildcat 400 free relay in a time that would have made the A-Final (42.37). He’s a bit of a wildcard for this weekend, we have yet to see him swim a tapered short course meet for Eric Hansen, so the only measuring stick is his so-so performance last summer in London. That being said, I’m still predicting he’ll make two A-Finals individually.
Arizona graduated sprint specialists/perennial All-Americans Adam Small and Kelley Wyman, and the return of Shapira Bar-Or also adds some much-needed depth to the Wildcat freestyle ranks and a critical piece for the three freestyle relays. Expect him on the end of the 400 medley relay as well. If Giles Smith holds together over the final 50 of the fly leg, Shapira Bar-Or will likely have a showdown with Cal’s Seth Stubblefield for the win.
18. Eric Ress – Indiana
2 A-Finals, 1 B-Final, 4 relay swims
Following the 2011 season, Ress, who is a dual citizen of the United States and France, discussed attempting to switch national affiliation in order to swim at U.S. Olympic Trials. He ultimately decided against it, and was forced to make the choice between swimming at French Olympic Trials (which were at the same time as NCAA’s), or pass on his chance at an Olympic birth. Ress chose the former (he finished 2nd in the 200 back there, but missed the Olympic qualification standard by three tenths of a second), and after a year away from NCAA swimming, he is back in action for Indiana.
In case you missed it, the Hoosiers swam out of the their minds in their home pool at Big Ten’s a few weeks ago, and are in position to fight for a top 8 team finish (that would be their highest finish since this song was #1 on the Billboard Charts ). Ress is going to be a huge part of that; he’s in position to challenge for NCAA titles in the backstrokes (he was 2nd in both in 2011), and is a critical relay swimmer. The only question is… What do we make of Ress’ swims at Big Ten’s? He didn’t match the performances of the other top guys from IU (Cody Miller, Stephen Schmuhl, James Wells swam lights-out). Was he not rested as much? Or is he a different swimmer than he was in 2011 when he was 45.1 and 1:38? Stay tuned, but we have faith in Ress.
17. Sebastian Rousseau – Florida
3 A-Finals, 1 relay swim
Like the previous two guys we mentioned, Rousseau is also coming off a redshirt year, where he helped South Africa make the Olympic final in the 800 freestyle relay. Rousseau proved this year to be one of the most versatile swimmers in the nation, capable of qualifying individually and scoring well in at least a half-dozen events. He was a three-event scorer for the Gators back in 2011, but remarkably, he’s swimming an almost entirely different meet lineup this time around…
|2011 events (place)||2013 events (seed)|
|200 IM (10th)||500 free (18th)|
|200 free (7th)||400 IM (5th)|
|800 free relay (1st)||800 free relay (2nd)|
|200 fly (7th)||200 fly (4th)|
|400 free relay (3rd)|
That’s the kind of event flexibility every coach salivates over. Keep in mind that he’s yet to swim a rested 500 free (he did the 200 IM at SEC’s instead), and he threw down a sub-1:33 split on the 800 free relay. However, despite his 200 times, he lies more on the distance end of the spectrum (unlike ex-Gator teammates Conor Dwyer and the Fraser brothers), and hasn’t demonstrated the breakneck speed to contribute much to Florida’s sprint relays. He was the slowest leg on Florida’s 400 free relay at SEC’s (though 42.9 is still quick), and the coaching staff could opt for Pawel Werner instead.
Stay tuned for Part II tomorrow…