Texas senior Will Licon has entered the 200 IM, 100 breast, and 200 breast for the 2017 NCAA Men’s Championships later this month. This is a break from his typical routine– Licon has only ever swum the 400 IM on the penultimate day of competition at NCAAs, and he has had a storied career with that race. He finished 5th at NCAAs in this event with a new Texas school record his freshman year, then stormed to the program’s first title in the event with his win over American record holder Chase Kalisz of Georgia. Licon was also 2nd last year in this event to Cal’s Josh Prenot.
Licon has always been a phenomenal breaststroker– he’s the American record holder in the 200y breast and he nearly qualified for the 2016 Olympics in the 200m breast this summer. Texas, as strong as they are, has had a breaststroke problem in their lineup that has only been solved on medley relays by Licon’s presence (or the throwing in of sprint freestyler John Murray). Now, with Kalisz back in the picture along with heavy-hitters Jay Litherland and Andrew Seliskar lurking in the 400 IM, Licon has opted for the 100 breast instead.
While he’s better in longer, endurance-based races, Licon is still a prime candidate for the 100 breast title at NCAAs. In fact, this might be an easier route to gold for him. The 100 breast is certainly one of the weaker (but more closely-contested) events in the NCAA landscape this year (and last), and Licon is the 2nd seed behind Mizzou’s Fabian Schwingenschlogl, with Licon’s 51.15 ranking just behind the Tiger’s 51.07. Schwingenschlogl won last year with a 51.29, but only three men were able to break 52 seconds.
IM might be Licon’s strongest suit, but he didn’t swim IM at Trials, focusing on both of the breaststrokes instead. A shift to breaststroke has bigger implications for Licon’s future after Texas, as he’s much better in long course in the breast and he’s much closer to breaking through to an international meet in that stroke discipline. Licon has been faster in both breaststroke races than Texas greats Brendan Hansen and Scott Spann, both Olympians, and he’ll look to be the first Longhorn 100 breast NCAA champ since Hansen did so in 2004.