By Chris Harrell
With the women’s meet in the books, it’s time to turn our focus on the men. California turned in an incredible top-to-bottom performance a season ago to get past the University of Texas and win their second consecutive NCAA championship. While those two teams should be in the mix again, the University of Michigan and Stanford looked primed to make a run at the top spot this time around as well. We are mere hours away from finding out for sure…
1,650 Freestyle: Georgia’s Martin Grodzki won a come-from-behind thriller over defending champ Chad LaTourette and took down a more than decade old NCAA record a year ago but Grodzki is going to have to pick his game up if he wants to defend the title in what will be the final collegiate race of his career. Barring enormous drops, Michael McBroom of Texas (14:33.53) and Connor Jaeger of Michigan (14:34.87) look to be the clear favorites. McBroom won the title during his first season in Austin but slipped all the way to eighth a year ago. Jaeger entered the meet ranked second a year ago and took third, just off the blistering pace set by Grodzki and LaTourette. Expect a war between McBroom and Jaeger.
The Pick: Michael McBroom, Texas. You can’t go wrong picking either McBroom or Jaeger. Both men have what it takes to win the title but McBroom has actually done it once before and the 2012 version looks to be much faster this time around (Last year’s pick: Chad LaTourette, Stanford; Last year’s champ: Martin Grodzki, Georgia).
Swimmer to Watch: Zane Grothe, Auburn. Grothe always brings his ‘A’ game to NCAA’s and he’s already been considerably faster in season this year than he has in past years. It would not surprise me a bit to see him battling McBroom and Jaeger to the wire.
200 Backstroke: With three-time champion Cory Chitwood lost to graduation, a new champion will finally emerge here. Stanford’s David Nolan (1:40.39) made a hard charge at Chitwood a year ago, resulting in one of the best races of the meet. Nolan will get a major challenge from Auburn’s Kyle Owens (1:39.69) has taken his swimming to a completely new level in 2013. Owens enters as the national leader and wasn’t even challenged in this race at SEC meet. Nolan isn’t the only competitor in the field with an NCAA silver medal in his pocket. Indiana’s Eric Ress (1:40.22) was second to Chitwood in 2011 before sitting out last season.
The Pick: David Nolan, Stanford. Nolan enters the meet seeded a little more than a half second behind Owens – but last year he nearly made up a two-second deficit to Chitwood. With another year under his belt, expect him to not only be fast enough to beat Owens but Ress as well. (Last year’s pick: Cory Chitwood, Arizona; Last year’s champ: Chitwood)
Swimmer to Watch: Matt Thompson, Stanford. Thompson has been ninth, then fifth, then third at NCAA’s yet enters the meet ranked way back at 21st. Don’t expect him to finish there.
100 Freestyle: Vlad-Marcelo, Round 2. For those that didn’t get enough on Thursday, here’s another morsel to satisfy your sprint grudge match craving. Marcelo topped Vlad by .1 a season ago but Vlad enters the favorite this season. These two (41.38 vs. 41.60, respectively) have clearly established themselves as the cream of the crop, though 200 stud Joao De Lucca (42.05) could give them a run with a significant drop in time. Aaron Wayne of Stanford (42.60) was fourth behind Feigen, Vlad and Marcelo a year ago. Perhaps he can step up and challenge De Lucca for the bronze.
The Pick: Vlad Morosov, USC. I think Marcelo is practically unbeatable at 50 yards but 100 is a different story. I’ll take Vlad in the longer distance. (Last year’s pick: Jimmy Feigen, Texas; Last year’s champ: Feigen)
Swimmer to Watch: Dax Hill, Texas. The defending NCAA 200 champ was fifth as a sophomore but slipped up and didn’t make the big boy final last year (though he did win consols). Though he ranks ninth entering the meet at 42.71, I fully expect him to get back in the ‘A’ and make some noise once there.
200 Breaststroke: Both Kevin Cordes of Arizona (1:50.73) and Cody Miller of Indiana (1:51.03) have dropped nearly three seconds from where they were at this time a year ago. Much like Vlad and Marcelo in the sprints, they have distinguished themselves as a cut above the rest. It will be interesting to see how much of a drop Josh Prenot (1:53.63) gets in his first NCAA meet. If it’s anything like what happened with many of the Cal swimmers a season ago, he could step up and surprise. Others that could also contend include Fink (Nic, 1:54.43, Georgia) and Funk (Richard, 1:53.32, Michigan).
The Pick: Kevin Cordes, Arizona. Both Cordes and Miller have steadily dropped time throughout their careers but I think Cordes, while younger, has the higher ceiling. I look for him to make a clean sweep of the breaststrokes. (Last year’s pick: Nick D’Innocenzo, Texas; Last year’s champ: Carlos Almeida, Louisville)
Swimmer to Watch: Trevor Hoyt, California. The Cal senior (1:53.76) was second behind Almeida last season and is seeded to final again this year. He may be the one person able to legitimately challenge the two favorites.
200 Butterfly: Cal’s Will Hamilton (1:42.75) surprised his more heralded teammate Tom Shields (1:41.23) for the win a season ago. The two are both back and ranked among the top five. But it’s neither one of them that enters as the fastest seed. That honor goes to Michigan freshman Dylan Bosch (1:41.18). The biggest threats to these three come in the form of a trio of Florida Gators: last year’s bronze medalist Marcin Cieslak (1:42.17), Sebastien Rousseau (1:42.18) and Cameron Martin (1:43.04).
The Pick: Tom Shields, California. This is the one race that Shields hasn’t won of the three he usually contests. With this being the final individual race of his collegiate career, don’t think he isn’t mindful of that. (Last year’s pick: Tom Shields, California; Will Hamilton, California)
Swimmer to Watch: John Wojciechowski, Michigan. Though he’s only the third ranked Wolverine in the field (Bosch, Kyle Whitaker), one shouldn’t forget he won consols a season ago and was the only Wolverine with a second swim here.
Platform Diving: This year’s platform diving final pits 2011 champion Nick McCrory of Duke against 2012 runner-up David Bonuchi of Missouri and Stanford’s Kristian Ipsen among others. Ipsen did not impress on the tower a season ago, finishing 10th but he did dominate all three boards at Zone E. The divers that finished fifth through seventh return from a season ago: Indiana’s Conor Murphy was fifth a year ago and won the vaunted Zone C tower title. Virginia Tech’s Logan Shinholser, like Ipsen, won all three boards at his Zone meet as well. His teammate, Ryan Hawkins, grabbed third at Zone A.
The Pick: Nick McCrory, Duke. The last time McCrory dove tower at NCAA’s, he downed the great David Boudia. Easily. This is a no-brainer. (Last year’s pick: Drew Livingston, Texas; Last year’s champ: Ben Grado, Arizona)
Diver to Watch: John Santeiu, Auburn. Santeiu gets the nod here for the second day in a row. Santeiu dropped Bonuchi at SEC’s to deny him a sweep of all three boards. If he gets hot again, could he drop McCrory?
400 Freestyle Relay: USC dropped a nasty time of 2:48.66 at PAC-12’s, beating second place Stanford by well over two seconds. That makes them a strong favorite. Auburn (2:50.12), who tied Cal for second a year ago, will be in the mix with Marcelo and James Disney-May returning for the Tigers. One should not sleep on Cal (2:54.78) or Texas (2:52.24) either. Three of four legs return from Texas’ first place team from a season ago while the Golden Bears should have a lot of options on who to swim on this relay.
The Pick: USC. The Trojans are already more than a second clear of last year’s winning time. This should be theirs to lose. (Last year’s pick: Auburn; Last year’s pick: Texas)
Relay to Watch: Florida. The Gators were solid at SEC’s, finishing within a second of Auburn. Expect them to make a big climb from their 13th place finish in Federal Way.