July 1st marks the opening of the NCAA’s recruiting season for swimming, with coaches finally allowed to pick up the phone and start recruiting the nation’s top high school seniors to their respective college programs.
July 1st also marks the publishing of our annual Top 20 Recruit rankings, always an informative (and controversial) event in swimming coverage.
As we do in these rankings every season, we’ll begin with an explanation/disclaimer.
Our goal in these rankings is to reflect what college coaches look for in recruits, based on many years of conversations and coverage.
We focus only on American-based athletes, simply because there is so much uncertainty with international recruits – if they’ll come to the states, when they’ll come to the states and with what graduating class they should be ranked. Projecting international recruits often becomes more a discussion of when they’ll first join a college program and not which program they’ll join.
A few other factors that weigh heavily in our rankings:
- Sprints over distance – Relay points count double in college swimming, and any program needs a strong stable of quality sprinters to fill out all 5 relays with studs. Obviously, a special distance swimmer can easily rank ahead of a very good 100 freestyler, but college swimming generally values a sprint freestyler over a distance swimmer, all other factors being equal.
- Improvements – Actual times are a the trump card, but any big improvements in quality can make a difference as well. For example, a swimmer who only took up year-round swimming as a junior in high school going the same time as a swimmer whose been swimming year-round since they were 8 will probably get the edge in our rankings. Think Breeja Larson.
- Short Course over Long Course – we recognize that some programs, many programs, put their focus with their high school aged swimmers on long course, especially depending on when the high school championships may fall. That said, college swimming is short course, so a swimmer who is great in short course but struggles in long course will have the advantage.
- Conference scoring ability – yes, freshmen who score at NCAA’s, especially on the men’s side, are incredibly valuable. But college coaches know that their Athletics Directors also want to see success at conference meets, so we’ve factored that in as well.
- Relative depth in the NCAA and recruiting class – a wealth of elite depth nationwide in one stroke discipline makes a big difference in what times are considered more valuable in that event. For example, the women’s backstrokes have been loaded with stars in the NCAA the past few years. Though a 52-second backstroker is still valuable, that time won’t get you near as far as it would have in years past. In the same vein, if a recruiting class is loaded with swimmers in the same event, they all are devalued a little, relatively speaking. This year’s class of boys features a horde of backstrokers in the 48/1:45-range, which leaves them all jockeying with each other for position in the rankings.
With that out of the way, let’s get to our rankings.
Disclosure: there are a lot of high school seniors in the country, and no really good, complete, 100% accurate listing of them all. If you don’t see your favorite swimmer on the list, feel free to point them out in the comments. There’s a chance that we disagree with your assessment of their spot in the top 20, and so long as it’s done civilly, there’s no problem with differences of opinions. There’s also a chance that we’ve simply missed a no-brainer (we’ve taken every precaution to avoid that), and if that happens, we want to make sure we correct it.
Top 10 Swimmers from the Class of 2016
(All best times are in short course yards.)
1. Maxime Rooney – Pleasanton Seahawks – Livermore, CA **Verbally committed to Florida**
Best Times: 200 free – 1:34.57, 500 free – 4:20.60, 100 free – 43.58, 50 free – 20.19, 100 back – 49.85, 200 back – 1:44.79, 200 fly – 1:46.21
Rooney fits the above criteria to a “T.” He’s nearly at NCAA-scoring level already in the 100 and 200 frees, and looks like a legitimate relay factor in the 400- and 800-yard relay distances. On top of that, his sprints have really started to come around so far in 2015, as he’s improved from a 21.0 in the 50 free in 2014 to a 20.19, and a 44.1 in 2014 to a 43.58 in 2015 in the 100 free.
Rooney made a very early commitment to the University of Florida, where he’ll join a strong tradition of 200 freestylers.
2. Michael Jensen – Upper Dublin Aquatic Club – Dresher, PA **Verbally committed to California**
Best times: 100 free – 43.29, 200 free – 1:35.31, 50 free – 20.20, 100 fly – 47.41, 200 fly – 1:47.69
Upper Dublin’s Michael Jensen gives Rooney a good run for his money. Jensen is a bit faster in the ever-important 100 free, and pretty comparable in the 50. And like Rooney, Jensen is on the rise – at this time last year, he was just 44.3 in the 100 free and 1:39.39 in the 200. That’s a huge improvement curve, particularly in the 200 free, and it should make Jensen a high-upside target for any program. His butterfly times are a nice bonus, and could give him extra versatility on medley relays should any team have plenty freestylers but a hole in butterfly.
3. Grant Shoults – Mission Viejo Nadadores – Laguna Hills, CA **Verbally committed to Stanford**
Best times: 200 free – 1:34.54, 500 free – 4:15.56, 1650 free – 15:14.40, 200 fly, 1:45.32
If there’s a theme to the top of this class, it’s rapid improvement curves. Mission Viejo’s Grant Shoults also conforms to the pattern – since last summer, he’s dropped from a 4:26.47 in the 500 to an outstanding 4:15.56. That’s a time that would have scored at last year’s NCAA Championships, and you don’t often see male recruits coming in the door with scoring times.
Shoults’ distance-based skill keeps him just below Rooney and Jensen, but his 200 free is among the best in the class, meaning Shoults should be a relay contender on at least one relay team (the 4×200 free). Mission Viejo is known for its tough distance training, which should let coaches rest easy about Shoults’ work ethic as well.
4. Nicholas (True) Sweetser – Gator Swim Club – Ocala, FL **Verbally committed to Stanford**
Best times: 1650 free – 14:49.43, 500 free – 4:16.63, 200 free – 1:36.90
Not only does True Sweetser enter the NCAA with arguably his class’s best name, he also holds the class’s top mile time. That 14:49 would have finished just off the podium at the 2015 NCAAs, earning 7 points. Consider that only 34 programs in the entire country scored more than 7 total NCAA points last season and you’ll see why Sweetser deserves a top-5 bid despite being a pure distance man.
Like Shoults, he’s got enough 200 free potential to be a relay factor at some point in his career, and like the entire top 5, he’s been on a crazy trajectory over the past year. At last December’s Winter Nationals, he dropped 17 full seconds off his mile in one fell swoop, and he’s dropped from a 15:26 to a 14:49 since 2013.
5. Xiangfei (Jack) Xie – Peak Swimming, Saratoga, CA **Verbally committed to Cal**
Best times: 100 fly – 46.75, 200 IM- 1:45.81
Xiangei Xie comes in with two of the most intriguing times in this class – most notably a 1:45.81 in the 200 IM that should make him an instant scoring threat at the conference level for most teams. The downside, though, is how ridiculously hard it’s been to score at NCAAs in the IM events of late. Last year, it took a 1:43.68 just to sneak into the B final in the 200 IM and have a chance of putting up just a point or two. Xie’s 100 fly is also right on the cusp of NCAA-scoring level in a brutal event. While he doesn’t have a lot of eye-popping times in other races yet, that IM prowess would suggest he’s got some versatility to him that should intrigue college coaches.
6. Mark Jurek – Arizona Gold Swimming – Gilbert, AZ **Verbally committed to USC**
Best times: 200 fly – 1:43.72, 100 fly – 47.80, 200 IM – 1:47.03, 400 IM – 3:48.32
Speaking of versatility, our next swimmer is Arizona’s Mark Jurek, another flyer/IMer. Jurek really shines in the 200 fly, where he sits within a second of a 2015 NCAA scoring time. He’s got enough short speed in the stroke to be a threat in the 100 as well as a possible medley relay leg. On top of that, he’s one of the class’s best IMers in both distances. Nothing makes writing a college dual meet lineup easier than a great all-around IMer, which boosts Jurek’s value in the recruiting market.
7. Thomas Anderson – King Aquatic Club – Federal Way, WA **Verbally committed to Arizona**
Best times: 100 back – 47.24, 200 back – 1:44.10, 100 free – 44.42, 50 free – 20.10, 100 fly – 48.00
Washingtonian Thomas Anderson is another versatile option on the recruiting market. Specializing as a backstroker, Anderson could also be a college factor in butterfly. Anderson is only about a second off last year’s national scoring time in the 100 back, and though this class is full of solid backstrokers, he rises above the tide in both distances. And in a class with only a pair of swimmers under 20 seconds in the 50 free so far, Anderson’s 20.10 becomes fairly valuable in terms of sprint potential.
8. Greg Brocato – Central Bucks Swim Team – Ambler, PA **Verbally committed to UNC**
Best times: 100 free – 43.91, 50 free – 20.09, 200 free – 1:37.71, 100 fly – 48.37
Central Bucks swimmer Greg Brocato leads a trio of sprint freestylers who are nearly identical. Brocato gets the edge for having the best 100 time of the bunch, and he’s also the rangiest, with enough of a spark in the 200 that he could eventually turn into a relay threat across all three freestyle distances. He’s also right on the verge of cracking 20 in the 50 free, something that could happen at any point during his senior year.
9. James Jones – Nation’s Capital Swim Club – Fairfax, VA **Verbally committed to Michigan**
Best times: 50 free – 19.95, 100 – 43.97, 200 free – 1:39.48, 100 fly – 48.98
It seems a bit odd to have our first 19-second sprinter all the way down at 9, but this is an odd class for sprints. That or we were all spoiled by having Caeleb Dressel and Paul Powers in last year’s class. Jones has a touch more speed than Brocato without the range, which makes this almost a wash. Brocato gets the edge for superior 100 free and 100 fly times, but senior season performances will make all the difference.
10. Andrea Vergani – Bolles School Sharks – Jacksonville, FL **Verbally committed to Cal**
Best times: 100 free – 43.91, 50 free – 20.04, 100 fly – 49.38
Yet another 43.9/20.0 sprinter, Vergani is actually Italian, but makes our list as he competes and trains in the U.S., with the Bolles School Sharks program that launched Dressel, Ryan Murphy and Joseph Schooling among so many others. Vergani, too, is on the edge of joining the 19-second club and should be a key developmental relay piece for any college program.
Honorable Mention (#11-20)
11. Ethan Young – Carpet Capital Aquatics Club – Dalton, GA **Verbally committed to Cal**
Best times: 200 back – 1:43.06, 100 back – 47.47, 50 back – 21.90, 100 fly – 48.92
12. Jeremy Babinet – Palo Alto Stanford Aquatics – Redwood City, CA **Verbally committed to Michigan**
Best times: 100 breast – 53.70, 200 breast – 1:58.10
13. Taylor Abbott – Nitro Swimming – Cedar Park, TX **Verbally committed to Tennessee**
Best times: 1650 free – 15:01.46, 500 free – 4:24.18
14. Charlie Swanson – NOVA of Virginia – Richmond, VA **Verbally committed to Michigan**
Best times: 400 IM – 3:48.98, 200 IM – 1:48.90, 200 breast – 2:00.05
15. Thomas Cope – Dayton Raiders – Dayton, OH **Verbally committed to Michigan**
Best times: 100 breast – 54.74, 200 breast – 1:59.55, 200 IM – 1:47.93, 200 free – 1:37.48
16. David Crossland – Delaware Swim Team – Hockessin, DE **Verbally committed to Auburn**
Best times: 100 fly – 47.27, 100 back – 48.47
17. Albert Gwo – Palo Alto Stanford Aquatics – Mountain View, CA **Verbally committed to Cal**
Best times: 50 free – 19.90, 100 free – 44.60, 100 fly – 49.72
18. Benjamin Ho – Palo Alto Stanford Aquatics – Los Altos, CA **Verbally committed to Stanford**
Best times: 200 back – 1:44.18, 100 back – 48.45, 200 IM – 1:48.86, 100 free – 44.71
19. James Murphy – Machine Aquatics – Clifton, VA **Verbally committed to Stanford**
Best times: 100 free – 44.71, 200 free – 1:36.67, 100 back – 49.05
20. Ted Schubert – NOVA of Virginia – Richmond, VA **Verbally committed to Virginia**
Best times: 200 back – 1:45.30, 100 back – 48.69, 100 fly – 48.04, 200 fly – 1:44.97, 400 IM – 3:52.36