Division 1 Review + Predictions
The Fastest First Semester EVER!
COLLEGE SWIMMING ROUNDUP
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🏊♀️ DIVISION 1 LOOKING BACK 🏊🏽♂️
The Fastest First Semester Ever
Whether it's a change in season periodization strategy, teams suiting up more often for better race simulation, or just the rising tide of fast swimming lifting all boats, we saw the fastest first semester of a season we've ever seen.
Even before midseason taper meets, early season meets like the SMU Classic and Trojan Invite featured some NCAA-finals-worthy times. And, dual meets like Texas/Virginia, Tennessee/NC State, and Georgia/Arizona State/Mizzou showed that swimmers can swim fast no matter what part of the season it is.
Compared to the fireworks of the early season, the invites almost seemed a little subdued, but the swimming at them was also faster than it's ever been.
- 9 guys sub-42 in the 100 Free by end of the year when we've never seen more than 5.
- 18 women under 22 in the 50 Free when we've never seen more than 10.
Fast swimming is exactly what the sport needs to keep people's attention - nobody really wants to follow dual meets where both teams are competing to see who can step on the blocks the most times wearing ankle weights.
Preach. Except for the comfort, cost and convenience factor I would train in them daily (or at least 2-3 per week). “The only way to swim fast is to swim fast.” - JCU & others. twitter.com/coach_bowman/s…
— Bruce Gemmell (@CoachGemmell)
Dec 27, 2022
Women's Big Six
The NCAA women's meet is going to turn around a dominant six-pack of women with historic speed and versatility. Five of them show up right here:
LSU's Maggie Mac Neil transferred for her fifth year to follow her coach Rick Bishop, and it looks like it's paid off (to the tune of $86,250). Coming off a two-world-record, three-gold-medal SCM World Championships, Mac Neil is currently ranked 2nd in the NCAA in the 50 free, 4th in the 100, 3rd in the 100 back, and 1st in the 100 fly. Note that Worlds conversions count for official NCAA times per USA Swimming database.
Stanford's Torri Huske and Claire Curzan took Maggie on in Australia and at least Huske will be matching up head to head with her come March - she's the current NCAA #1 in the 100 free, #2 in the 100 fly, and #3 in the 200 IM. Curzan is an Olympian in the butterfly, but is turning into more of a backstroker - she's #1 in the country in the 100 and 200, plus 5th in the 100 fly and 50 free. Not to mention she just picked up medals at SC Worlds in the 50 & 100 Backstrokes, as well.
And then there's the Virginia trio. Kate Douglass can swim anything - she ranks 3rd in the 50 free, 6th in the 100 free, 5th in the 100 breast, 1st in the 200 breast (with an NCAA record), 3rd in the 100 fly, and is the reigning 200 IM World champion, ranking 1st in the country via conversion though not even having swam it in college competition this year.
Her teammate, defending NCAA IM double champion, and Worlds 200 IM runner-up Alex Walsh (who could definitely crack a sub-50 100 fly and be on that list above) ranks 2nd in that event via her Worlds swim, and stands 1st in the 500 free (thank goodness that Sandpipers are all too young to swim in college), 4th in the 100 breast, and 2nd in the 200 breast.
And then there's Gretchen Walsh, the only swimmer on the list that didn't swim at SCM Worlds but may have had the best first semester NCAA season of all of these - sitting 1st in the 50 free, 2nd in the 100 free, 2nd in the 100 back, and 4th in the 100 fly, and also swimming the fastest 100 IM in history.
There are plenty of fast women throughout the NCAA, but all eyes will be on these six whenever they touch the water in March.
Men's Mosh Pit
On the men's side, there's very few events where there are one or two guys head and shoulders above everyone else. About the only events you can say that about are the 200 back, with Destin Lasco at a 1:35 PR and nobody else even having been under 1:38, and the 100 breast, with Max McHugh (I typed "McHuge" first, Freudian slip) - though even then Caspar Corbeau, Liam Bell, and Reid Mikuta might have something to say about that.
Every other event is bunched up.
In the sprints, breakout Tennessee superstar Jordan Crooks leads now, but Olympian freshman Josh Liendo, fastest returner Bjorn Seeliger, and 2022 NCAA double sprint champ Brooks Curry are just a few of the names capable of challenging the world champion.
In the distance events, Jake Magahey has to hold off the formidable Texas distance group, who with the potential addition of Carson Foster to the 500 squad could realistically get 5 A finalists in that event.
The 100 back is as wide-open as it was last year after Luca Urlando's injury.
The top 200 breaststrokers all swim this event drastically differently, and all could take the title on a good day.
The flies have had lots of attrition from graduation (and the aforementioned Urlando bad shoulder) and could be anyone's game.
And then there's the IMs, where 400 IM champ and record holder Hugo Gonzalez's return, Carson Foster's steady improvement, Destin Lasco's back half, and new teammate Hubert Kos, might put crowning Leon Marchand the undisputed overall IM king on hold for another year.
🏊🏼 DIVISION I LOOKING FORWARD 🏊♀️
Battles For the Podium
I don't think I'm going out on a limb by saying the NCAA D1 team titles on both sides have clear favorites. The Virginia women won in 2022 by 150 points, didn't lose much, and brought in some good supporting pieces. The Cal men's margin was tighter (50 points) but it didn't feel like they were all that challenged by a Texas team that's had some extensive losses this year. The fun in scoreboard watching will be for the other podium spots.
On the women's side, Stanford controlled second place in 2022 until Texas's beast of a 200 fly group put three in the A final. This year, the Longhorn ladies add WORLD CHAMPION Dakota Luther to that group, plus OLYMPIC CHAMPION Lydia Jacoby to their breaststroke group to further strengthen that last day lineup.
Meanwhile, Stanford lost one do-everything Olympian (Regan Smith) and picked up another (Claire Curzan). At first glance, it looks like Stanford has a bigger issue with their large breaststroke hole - their top 100 in the first semester is a 1:01.43. Maybe the laboratory that is winter training sees somebody step up for those medley relays or perhaps 2022 NCAA relay breaststroker Allie Raab rounds into form after labrum surgery (but a hip injury seems a difficult recovery for a breaststroker). Right now, though, that hole is going to be tough to get over, no matter how many different events Curzan can cover.
After that, Alabama looks primed to lead the next tier with a repeat 4th place finish, with really no weaknesses but just not as much depth as the top three. Or, perhaps, ACC rivals NC State and Louisville could ride their strong sprint and stroke groups (back for the Wolfpack, fly for the Cardinals) to a podium spot.
For the men, we might see a big reshuffling of the podium. Texas is shallow in the sprints of every stroke but breaststroke. Danny Krueger is more than capable of holding down medley relay anchors but he's only one guy, and most of the Longhorn stroke guys tend toward the longer events. They experimented with Caspar Corbeau in the fly leg of the 200 MR, and his and Carson Foster's relay lineups are kind of the fulcrum for the team - they will both have completely full schedules and probably swimming at least a couple relays outside of their core specialties.
Meanwhile, Florida and ASU are on the way up. The Gators lost heavy hitters in Bobby Finke and Kieran Smith, but Liendo is a huge piece individually and on relays, and big breakouts from sophomores Julian Smith and McGuire McDuff plus Jake Mitchell, another Michigan transfer, make their relays even more dangerous than last year's 200 relay sweep.
Meanwhile, ASU's all-redshirt 2020-2021 season strategy and try-everything training approach combined with a strong recruiting class should culminate with their best-ever team this year. Further, NC State and Indiana always save their best for the end of the season. I see Florida and NC State both passing up the Longhorns come March, and Texas is going to have to count on scoring in bunches in the 200/500 free and 200/400 IM to hold off ASU, who could put up scorers in every event, for the last podium spot.
Hallowed Relay Records On Watch
The oldest NCAA relay records on each side are still mind-boggling: For the women, Simone Manuel, Lia Neal, Ella Eastin, and Katie Ledecky split 1:41.41/1:42.15/1:41.89/1:40.46 for a 6:45.91 in 2017. Nobody has been within four seconds of that time besides other Stanford relays, and depending on how they choose to run their relay lineups, the Cardinal may be in line to take that record down. They're led by Taylor Ruck - one of a very select group of women to split sub-1:40. Torri Huske led off this relay in a 1:41.93 last year, while freshmen Claire Curzan and Kayla Wilson were 1:42.43 and 1:43.17 in high school. The Cardinal were "only" 6:56 ("only" because they still lead the nation by three seconds) at midseason, but that was with the 800 FR a middle of the meet event and with Ruck, Huske, and Curzan saving their full midseason form for Worlds a few weeks later. I say we see a 6:45-low with a full taper and a first day swim.
For the men, pretty much everybody who follows college swimming knows about the Auburn 2009 200 free relay. Teams have come close (most recently Florida was .03 off last year), but nobody has been able to top Jakob Andkjaer, Gideon Louw, Kohlton Norys, and Matt Targett's 1:14.08 (off 18.89/18.33/18.67/18.19 splits).
That'll change this year, and probably from multiple teams. The top 200 free relay the first semester was ASU - Dolan/House/Marchand/McCusker all split under 19, with FSU transfer Max McCusker anchoring in 18.50. Jack Dolan's 18.92 leadoff was his PR and first time under 19, but House and Marchand have each been half a second faster last year.
The Florida team that scared the record last year loses their Willie Davis/Kieran Smith 18.28/18.59 back half, but pick up a midseason 18.17 Josh Liendo and a 19.11 flat start McGuire McDuff. 2022 runner-up Cal returns three out of four legs, and adds UCSD transfer Spencer Daily, who's split as fast as 18.8 for the Tritons and is always at his best for relays (he's also a 20.2 50 fly split off of a 46.7 100 fly).
Tennessee has the fastest front half in the nation with Jordan Crooks and Gui Caribe but needs to get at least one other guy out of the three that have swam NCAA relays under 19 to have a shot. American record holders Virginia return everybody and may be the dark horse here. Can it come full circle? Auburn, depending on the status of Russian sprinter Daniil Markov, who was announced as a signee but hasn't shown up in a meet or on the team roster, have been swimming excellent. That would be a stunning turnaround in year 2 of Ryan Wochomurka's tenure.
Midseason Pickups and Question Marks
We've mentioned a couple of them, but there are some high profile second semester transfers and international swimmers that haven't shown yet this year but could make a difference in the second semester. The biggest is, of course, Hugo Gonzalez. He's the defending champion and record holder in the 400 IM, was 5th in the 200 IM and 10th in the 200 breast, has also split sub-42 in the 400 free relay, and is an elite international backstroker from the 50 up to the 200. Between him and aforementioned Spencer Daily (who, aside from his sub 19 free relay split has also split 20.2 in the 50 fly and is a legitimate piece for the 200 medley relay), the rich Cal Golden Bears only get richer.
The highest profile piece that could potentially impact the team podium race is Andrei Minakov. The Russian hasn't indicated that his Stanford career is over, but has been competing in Russia over the first semester. The defending 100 fly champ would put the Cardinal in an outside chance for a podium finish.
Just behind him in terms of overall impact is Hungarian IMer Hubert Kos. He should suit up for ASU in the second semester, and will provide another A-finals worthy 200 and 400 IM, while most likely choosing between the 200 back or fly for a last day event. He's got a little less impact than Minakov just because there's no obvious place for him on relays, while Minakov is absolutely essential for the Cardinal in that regard.
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