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By David Rieder.
With one day to go at the Big 12, men’s ACC, men’s Big Ten and women’s Pac-12 championships, it’s time to empty out the NCAA swimming notebook.
And after yet another record-breaking night, let’s start with Katie Ledecky.
Another record for Katie Ledecky… and another dilemma.
For the second straight year, Katie Ledecky took down the American record in the 400 IM at the Pac-12 championships. Ledecky’s Stanford teammate Ella Eastin has taken the American record away at last year’s NCAA championships, but on Friday, Ledecky recorded a time of 3:56.53, crushing Eastin’s previous American mark of 3:57.37 and also beating Katinka Hosszu’s U.S. Open record of 3:56.54.
Get all that? Good, because Ledecky probably won’t swim the 400 IM at NCAAs.
Why? For the same reason she didn’t swim it last year. With the 500 and 1650 free locks for Ledecky’s NCAAs program, that leaves the 200 free or 400 IM—and with Eastin and Brooke Forde in the IM, it makes sense to let Ledecky dual with teammate Simone Manuel and her co-champion from last year, Mallory Comerford, in the 200 free.
Yes, Ledecky did swim both the 400 IM and 200 free at Pac-12s, but that means she won’t be involved in the 1650 free Saturday—not that Stanford will be starving for points in the Cardinal’s quest for another Pac-12 title. At NCAAs, head coach Greg Meehan will take no chances.
But for the moment, stop and appreciate this: The world’s greatest freestyler is the fastest in history in the 400-yard IM. Flat-out greatness.
Indiana men on a medley relay championship hunt.
Thursday night at the men’s Big Ten championships, Indiana’s team of Gabriel Fantoni, Ian Finnerty, Vini Lanza and Blake Pieroni laid down a time of 3:01.30 in the 400 medley relay. How fast is that? Well, the American record in the event is 3:01.51, and only one team (Texas) beat that mark at last year’s NCAA championships. So yeah, pretty good.
Both the women and men of Ray Looze’s Hoosiers have shown massive progress in recent years, and placing three swimmers on the 2016 U.S. Olympic team (Pieroni, Lilly King and Cody Miller) was a huge boost to the profile of the program. The IU men ended up finishing sixth in the team competition at last year’s NCAA championships.
Now, in Pieroni’s last collegiate hurrah, winning a title in this relay is realistic. Check the splits from Thursday night:
1 Indiana-IN 'A' 3:05.57 3:01.30#A 64 1) Fantoni, Gabriel A FR 2) r:0.37 Finnerty, Ian JR 3) r:0.32 Lanza, Vinicius JR 4) r:0.28 Pieroni, Blake SR 21.58 45.17 (45.17) 1:08.36 (23.19) 1:35.33 (50.16) 1:56.01 (20.68) 2:20.19 (44.86) 2:39.59 (19.40) 3:01.30 (41.11)
The one that jumps out is Finnerty’s 50.16 breaststroke split. For some comparison, Finnerty split 51.73 on the Hoosiers’ relay at NCAAs last year. The only man faster than 50.16 at last year’s NCAA championships was Will Licon, who’s now graduated. There are probably two others in the country capable of a 50-second split. (More on them in a second.)
The other splits were almost as strong. Pieroni’s capabilities are no secret, Lanza has developed into a strong fly/IM specialist for Indiana, and his fellow Brazilian Fantoni has been an excellent addition this year.
Who can match that type of all around balance, plus excellence on the breaststroke? Well, Cal—potentially. The Golden Bears won’t get their shot to blast a strong 400 medley relay until next week’s men’s Pac-12 championships, but why not take a stab at projecting?
The Bears have a breaststroker who can split under 51: Connor Hoppe did that at NCAAs last year. Matthew Josa and Justin Lynch have both posted times of 45-mid flat start in the 100 fly this year, and 41-low is well within the range of either Ryan Hoffer or Michael Jensen on the anchor leg. And while Daniel Carr is no Ryan Murphy, he did swim a 45.96 100 back mid-season.
And then there’s Texas, who has a 44-second backstroker in John Shebat, an all-world butterflyer in Joseph Schooling, very capable freestyle options in Townley Haas and Brett Ringgold… and what, exactly on the breaststroke? The Longhorns will almost surely need better than the 52.22 Austin Temple split Thursday night at the Big-12 championships to contend with Indiana and Cal.
Oh, and who was the third man who can split 50 for a 100 breast? That would be Caeleb Dressel, and if Florida could use him on the breast, fly and free legs, the Gators would be a national title lock. But they can’t.
NC State men remain the class of the ACC.
In 2016, Braden Holloway and the NC State Wolfpack men finished in the top five at the NCAA championships for the first time. In 2015, the team won its first ACC title under Holloway. But it was in 2014 when the Wolfpack men first began to make the country take notice.
At those ACC championships, held in Greensboro, N.C., just like this year’s meet, NC State was by far the best team. The Wolfpack finished first in four of five relays, Christian McCurdy won both the 400 IM and 200 fly and Simonas Bilis won his first conference title in the 100 free.
The only problem? Diving—held one week earlier with the women’s meet. Each day, NC State would seemingly take the lead, only for points from a different diving event to be added back into the team score the next day. Thus, Virginia Tech won that meet by 40 points, but the message was sent: NC State was on the rise.
It’s crazy to think that that meet was four years ago—and that nobody from that team remains on the NC State roster. Andreas Schiellerup and Soren Dahl, the last major contributors from that 2014 team, both graduated last year after distinguished careers. Bilis, two years removed from his last college meet, was on deck Friday night to present awards to the winner of the 200 free—which turned out to the Wolfpack’s Justin Ress.
Last summer, Ress went from scoring in one event at his sophomore year NCAAs to winning the 50 back at U.S. Nationals. This year, the Wolfpack have Coleman Stewart—14th in the 100 back at NCAAs as a freshman and now the fifth-fastest swimmer in history at 44.54.
Those faster? Ryan Murphy, Nick Thoman, John Shebat and Matt Grevers. Three of those four are proud owners of Olympic gold medals.
Get ready for a heck of a national final in the men’s 200 free.
Three of the top four finishers from last year’s NCAA final of the men’s 200 free were in action Friday night—and already, one month out from the NCAA championships, two of them swam faster than Simon Burnett’s 1:31.20, which lasted a decade as the fastest time in history.
First up was Harvard sophomore Dean Farris, who moved up to fourth on the all-time list with his 1:31.12 at the Ivy League championships. That beat his previous best of 1:31.56 from last year’s Ivy champs. Those who have been faster? The three who beat him at last year’s championships: Texas’ Townley Haas, Indiana’s Blake Pieroni and USC’s Dylan Carter.
Not too long later, Pieroni and Haas went after the eight-lap race. At the Big Ten championships, Pieroni swam with a full beard and recorded a time of 1:31.16, not far off his lifetime best of 1:30.87. Haas was decidedly less impressive, winning the Big-12 title in 1:33.53.
The questions that remain: Should we be worried about Haas? How will Carter and ASU’s Cameron Craig respond next week at the Pac-12 championships? Will someone go under 1:30 at NCAAs?
There is no single event in college swimming that is more compelling right now than the men’s 200 free.