2023 NCAA DIVISION I MEN’S SWIMMING & DIVING CHAMPIONSHIPS
With the two-time defending champion Bobby Finke graduated and on to his pro career, a fascinating and thick field is left behind in the men’s mile at the 2023 championships.
The group of Will Galant, Ross Dant, Jake Magahey, and David Johnston were all between 14:31 and 14:33 at last year’s NCAA Championship meet.
If it weren’t for Michael Brinegar of Indiana turning pro, that group could have been one bigger.
Gallant, Johnston, and Magahey are the 2-3-4 seeds this year, while Dant comes in on a more-moderated seed time of 14:44.87 this season, meaning that he’ll race out of an earlier heat and not in the top final in the evening. He only has two entries in the meet, along with the 500 free.
Magahey, 4th last year, has the best personal-best time of the field of 14:24.96 from the 2021 SEC Championships. While he hasn’t come particularly-close to that since his freshman year, he did drop about 7 seconds off seed at last year’s NCAA Championship meet to finish in 3rd place. He enters with a 14:38 seed this year.
In spite of the resumes on those three, they are all chasing way behind Kentucky freshman Levi Sandidge, who won the SEC title in 14:31.47. That’s 3.35 seconds better than Gallant as the top seed in the event this weekend.
Sandidge was a great distance swimmer in high school (14:49.75 was his best from his last NCSAs), but that SEDC Championship breakthrough was still a noteworthy drop for him.
In spite of their coach Lars Jorgensen being one of the greatest US distance swimmers ever, the Wildcats haven’t done a ton with distance freestylers previously. Isaac Jones was an NCAA qualifier c. 2017-2018, but in general, the Kentucky men have not been a standout in the distance freestyles.
This year has been different, though. Besides Sandidge, they had Nick Caruso go 14:52.13, Zane Rosely go 15:00.62, and Adam Rosipal go 15:04.94. All four swimmers are now in the top nine in program history, and Caruso, just a sophomore, will also race at NCAAs.
Something is clicking for the Wildcats’ distance group this year, and that bodes well for Sandidge. I tend to look at his drop at SECs and think that it was the best he had this season, but with a whole crew to push him forward, he could do something special.
There are a few other interesting cases at the top of the psych sheets. Swedish 5th-year Victor Johansson is in his first year at Alabama after four at USC, and is swimming as well as ever. His 14:39.63 in the mile from mid-season is a new personal best – he hadn’t been a personal best since 2019. With just a 14:47 at SECs, he seems like he’s lined up for another best swim at NCAAs.
Mert Kilavuz from Turkey/Georgia Tech is building off an 11th-place finish at NCAAs last year. He hasn’t been as fast this year as he was at NCAAs, but has a higher seed than his finish last year. That gives him a big opportunity, if he drops like he did at last year’s meet, for a top 8 finish.
Dropping is the key to scoring in the mile. When tapers go badly, they tend to go really badly. When they go well, they go well. Of the top 13 at NCAAs last year, only two added time: one was Tyler Watson of Florida, who added 6.5 seconds from seed to finish 12th.
He’s been two seconds better this year than he was all of last year already.
The other was David Johnston from Texas, who added 1.2 seconds from seed and finished 5th.
The Texas distance group didn’t have a great meet at NCAAs last year. Besides Johnston, then-freshman Luke Hobson added 12 seconds from his seed to place 16th, and then-senior Alex Zettle added 23 seconds to finish 27th.
The Texas taper isn’t perfect, but they rarely screw it up two years in a row. Hobson isn’t swimming the mile this year at the meet, and Johnston comes in with a slower seed (but the same immense talent), so that’s probably reassuring.
The other interesting case is Ohio State junior Charlie Clark. He was 8th at NCAAs last year to wrap a season that saw him drop five seconds from his personal best. Since then, he has been on the road representing Team USA – he placed 7th at the Short Course World Championships in the 1500, and was 10th in the long course edition last summer.
Besides Sandidge, there are a few other freshmen who are contending for top 8 spots. Zalan Sarkany from Arizona State, a mid-season addition from Hungary, has made a big splash in limited racing. He has a 14:41.65 at Pac-12s and at a dual meet in the spring, swam a time in the 1000 that broke an Arizona State Record that had stood for almost 40 years.
Alec Enyeart of Texas is the 11th seed in 14:43.39, and Eric Brown of Florida is the 12th seed in 14:44.06.
There were three freshmen scorers last year, and all but two of the nine freshmen who raced added time. Kilavuz was the best-placing freshman at NCAAs last year at 11th. It’s hard for freshmen to do well at this meet.
Without the clear favorite that we’ve had for many consecutive years, and a lot of 14:30-somethings in the field, this is shaping up to be the most exciting and unpredictable mile that we’ve seen in years.
SwimSwam’s Top 8 Picks, Men’s 1650 Free
Darkhorse: There are a couple of scorers from last year way down the psych sheets too: Oksar Lindholm of Florida, who was 14th at NCAAs last season, is seeded 26th this year at 14:52.71; his teammate Alfonso Mestre, who was 10th at NCAAs last year, is seeded 28th this year at 14:52.88. I like both as darkhorse picks to roar up the rankings, but I’ll lean toward Mestre because he did it last year (he was only seeded at 14:53).