Former North Carolina distance All-American Dan O’Connor, a Syracuse, New York native, has decided to finish his collegiate career at SUNY-Buffalo (more commonly known as just “Buffalo”).
O’Connor, who didn’t race for the Tar Heels in the second half of the 2012-2013 season, was the 2011 ACC Freshman of the Year, and ended up placing 13th at that year’s NCAA Championship meet in the 1650 with a 14:56.93.
After that meet, O’Connor started to put a lot more emphasis on his open water swimming, and failed to qualify for the NCAA Championships in the pool as either a sophomore or a junior.
In the open water, he was the 2012 bronze medalist in the 5km race for USA Swimming. Two weeks ago, out in California, he placed 9th in the 5k and 11th in the 10k, missing the Open Water National Team by about two minutes and forty seconds.
O’Connor has spent time training with the legendary distance group at Mission Viejo. His best yards times are a 4:23.6 in the 500, 14:56 in the mile, 3:56 in the 400 IM. All three of those times would have placed him in the top 4 at the MAC Conference Championship meet last year.
He will have one year of eligibility remaining, though there’s the potential that Buffalo will appeal for a second year given that he didn’t finish out his junior season.
In addition to O’Connor, the incoming class of 19 has some clear themes. One is diving, where the 5th-place women and 3rd-place men didn’t score much at all at last year’s MAC Championships, especially as compared to the eventual men’s champions from Eastern Michigan. Buffalo added a huge group of divers, especially on the women’s side, where they added NY State HS Champ MacKenzie Moss.
The other is by aggressively recruiting a mid-atlantic area that is now suddenly underserved by college programs – Rutgers cut their men’s team a few years back, Syracuse dropped both teams, and Stony Brook is on temporary suspension while the school tries to gather funds to repair their pool.
That means a lot of top in-state swimmers, or those from just across borders in Pennsylvania, Ohio, or New Jersey, have stayed close in this class.
The women’s team added a solid sprinter in Courtney Cook, who has bests of 24.2 and 52.4 in the 50 and 100 yard freestyles. Buffalo is becoming somewhat of an attractive option for sprinters, as senior Mallory Morrell scored four points at last year’s NCAA Championships in the 50 free. Morrell came to Buffalo a bit quicker, but still saw good improvement in four seasons.
The women’s squad has also added some really good breaststrokers to their roster. Cristina Czyrka from Saline High School and Club Wolverines has yards bests of 1:05 and 2:18, and Maria Pulaski has yards bests of 1:04.7 and 2:17.9. Pulaski is really good in long course on top of that – she has her Worlds Trials cut in the 200 with a 2:33.
They should both be immediate scorers in the 200 at the MAC level, and with some small improvements should get there in the 100 as well.
Gloria Melochik is a 57.2 100 yard backstroker, and is another swimmer whose long course results thus far have been a little better than short course.
Another theme of the class, beginning with the aforementioned O’Connor, is a big boost in the mid-to-distance groups. Brittney Walters bears that torch for the women’s squad: her 4:53 in the 500 free made her the Indiana State High School Champion last year. She’ll have a strong training partner with junior-to-be Jessica Powers having placed 3rd in the MAC last year, and should be an immediate A-finalist at the conference level.
On the men’s side, that includes Charles Barry and Callum Liddiard, who go 15:49 and 16:02 in the mile, respectively. Added to their middle distance group are Andrew Cole (1:41 200 free), Aaron Durrance (1:42 200 free), and the star of the freshman class Eric Jensen (1:38.9 in the 200 free, to go with 51.2 in the 100 back).
Scott Huang is a very versatile swimmer who will probably project out as an IM’er ultimately. Matt Bitara is the swimmer who I’m most excited about in this class – he’s got a best of 51.4 in the 100 back, 50.4 in the 100 fly, and swam his best time in the 50 free of 22.8 as a high school freshman. That’s not a great time coming out of high school, but for a 14-year old, that’s a solid number (it ranked in the top 150 in the country for 14-year olds that year.)
To read more about this incoming class, see the full press release here.