The academic year has returned. College swimmers are returning from summer training and competition to pick up the books once again. It won’t be long until they are pulling on their school's cap as the collegiate season begins.
In the spring, Stanford dominated women’s swimming with multiple Olympians and Texas claimed the men’s title despite a large graduating class entering the year. It was a predictable year for college swimming. The best held serve and emerged victoriously.
This year, it’s a different story. Katie Ledecky and Kathleen Baker turned professional. Caeleb Dressel and Simone Manuel, among many other stars, graduated. Big name coaches retired or changed schools, leaving room for significant movement this season.
Auburn hired on Gary Taylor from NC State and Wisconsin brought in Yuri Suguiyama from California. Florida men lost head coach Gregg Troy to retirement Dressel wrapped up his college swimming career.
The coaching changes will spice up those schools performances but won’t impact the championships race, at least not yet. Suguiyama inherits backstroke contender Beata Nelson, the favorite to win the 100 backstroke this year.
Taylor, on the other hand, lost star sprinter Zach Apple to Indiana in a transfer. Apple joins a Hooser team that lost Olympian Blake Pieroni but held onto Big Ten Champion Vini Lanza, who had a particularly good summer at the Pan Pacific Championships for his home country Brazil.
As opposed to many other contenders, neither Texas or California lost a lot to graduation. The Longhorns graduated Olympic Gold Medalist Joseph Schooling, who failed to finish top three at the NCAA Championships a year ago. Matthew Josa was the big loss on the Bears side.
California senior Andrew Seliskar had himself a tremendous summer season, performing as one of the top Americans in Tokyo. He will be the driving force for the Bears this season. Watch for a 200 freestyle to come along now and again; a bit of a change from the IM races in the past.
The margin between the two a year ago was 12 points. Indiana followed next behind.
A few other swimmers to keep an eye on as the season draws near. Texas senior Townley Haas has owned the mid-distance freestyle since smashing onto the scene in Atlanta as a freshman. He holds the American Record in the 200 freestyle. Another record holder, Ian Finnerty, returns to defend his 100 breaststroke crown.
On the women’s side, stars such as Mallory Comerford will dominate the scene. Although Louisville isn’t squarely in title contention, Comerford has a chance to cap off a spectacular college career as a leader from the ACC.
While Stanford is no longer loaded with Olympic medalists, their top talent is darn good. Ella Eastin, Brooke Forde, and Katie Drabot return to defend the championship in the post-Ledecky era. All will be in the conversation to claim national titles individually.
Indiana’s Lilly King can’t be forgotten. The world record 100 breaststroker enters her senior year looking to post nearly guaranteed wins before meets even start. She will still have to battle Texas A&M’s Sydney Pickrem in the 200 IM and 200 Breaststroke.
Newcomers enter college hungry for success. Stanford and Georgia both brought great classes on the women’s side, each signing three top ten recruits. Of the next 20 swimmers, Stanford has three more coming to Palo Alto.
Many incoming freshmen will make immediate impacts as well. None more than Stanford freshman and Canadian star Taylor Ruck. She heads to the Cardinal off a summer that includes a Pan Pacific gold medal in the 200 freestyle over Ledecky.
Stanford also adds Texas native Jack LeVant on the men’s side. He’s coming off a tremendous long course season that featured top-eight finishes at the Phillips 66 National Championships in the 200 freestyle and 200 butterfly.
Of the highly talked about newcomers, Reece Whitley is headed to California. The 6’8” breaststroker will complement the returning group well in Berkeley. He will slide into the lineup in the vacancy left by graduate Connor Hoppe.
The defending champions are adding Indiana native Drew Kibler to their squad. The sprinter is one of two top 20 commits joining the Longhorns this year. The Florida Gators picked up four top 20 recruits including World Championship qualifier Robert Finke.
Men’s diving remains constant from years past. Purdue’s Steele Johnson is still the focus. Texas sophomore Jordan Windle will shine on the towers throughout the year. For the women, all three national champions are returning. Minnesota’s Sarah Bacon, Arkansas’ Brooke Schultz, and Northwestern’s Olivia Rosendahl all will be looking to repeat as the year begins.
No preview can end without predictions for the season. On the men’s side, the Longhorns are poised to continue their streak of championships, although it could be a meet decided by less than five points over California. For the women, the elite class coming into Stanford allows them to stay as the favorite. Georgia is in the same boat, just not the level of the Cardinal.
Without a swimmer like Dressel to electrify the swimming world, watch for the Indiana breaststroke duo to be the talk throughout the year. Ian Finnerty and Lilly King have shattered milestones before, why not happen again.
Meets are starting soon, the first major Division I dual matches Ohio State against Alabama on September 27.