2023 NCAA DIVISION I MEN’S SWIMMING & DIVING CHAMPIONSHIPS
The success of the Texas men over the last number of years at the NCAA Championships has largely gone hand in hand with elite performances in the 800 freestyle relay, as the Longhorns have won the event at three straight championships and four times in the last six seasons.
Although Texas fell to Cal in a razor-thin team battle last season, the Longhorns roared to a dominant win in the 800 free relay, obliterating the previous U.S. Open Record by over a second in 6:03.89.
This season, Texas has its back against the wall with the scored psych sheets ranking them seventh in the team race, a shocking number given that the team has finished either first or second every year dating back to 2013.
If the Longhorns are to prove their doubters wrong and contend for the national title (or at least a spot in top three), the 800 free relay will be a crucial event to set the tone for the meet on Wednesday night.
However, the upstart Arizona State Sun Devils are riding a wave of momentum into NCAAs and would be hard to deny as the relay favorites given what they’ve done this year.
RACE FOR THE TITLE
Arizona State came into NCAAs last year as the top seed in the 800 free relay after swimming a time of 6:07.51 at the Pac-12 Championships. Despite going faster at NCAAs in 6:07.32, the Sun Devils placed fifth, nearly three and a half seconds back of Texas.
ASU was strong on the opening leg with Grant House (1:31.01) and on the anchor leg with Leon Marchand (1:29.96), but lost more than four seconds over the middle 400 to Texas, with Patrick Sammon (1:33.75) and Julian Hill (1:32.60) not holding up to the elite legs produced by Coby Carrozza (1:31.46) and Luke Hobson (1:30.84).
Things are shaping up differently this year, as Sammona and Hill have taken a big leap forward. Sammon has been 1:31.82 from a flat start this year, while Hill was 1:31.86 from a takeover at Pac-12s and 1:32.29 flat start at the Wolfpack Invite.
Looking strictly at flat-start times this season, Arizona State is nearly four seconds up on Texas:
2022-23 Flat Start Add-Ups, 800 Free Relay (ASU v. Texas)
If we take a more realistic look at how this relay might play out, given that the above times don’t take into account what Carson Foster and Hobson are capable of, here’s how the numbers shake out if we give each team one flat-start leg and three flying legs (ASU’s Hill is listed with his flat-start time since he hasn’t been quicker on a relay).
Lifetime Best Add-Ups, 800 Free Relay (ASU v. Texas)
This breakdown makes things much closer, but ASU is still out ahead with a bit of a buffer. The Longhorns no longer have their go-to lead-off man in Drew Kibler, and will be relying on Peter Larson to deliver in this spot.
Many will point to the fact that the Sun Devils may have peaked for Pac-12s in pursuit of the conference title, while Texas swam through Big 12s and is saving everything for NCAAs. Even if that’s true to an extent, ASU performed better than most people think at last season’s championships and have a formidable quartet that looks primed to put Texas’ run of 800 free relay wins to an end.
OTHER TOP CONTENDERS
Looking specifically at the relay this season, which some teams have only raced once at their conference championship meets, Arizona State leads the national rankings in a time of 6:06.30, with Texas third (6:08.79). The other schools sub-6:10 are Florida and Cal.
2022-23 800 Free Relay Split Comparison
Both the Gators and Golden Bears boast strong squads with no real weak links. Florida was seventh last season, and it’s kind of crazy to think they could move up significantly despite exchanging three of their four legs, most notably losing one of the fastest 200 freestylers of all-time, Kieran Smith.
But the addition of transfer Jake Mitchell and the emergence of Macguire McDuff in his sophomore year puts Florida in the hunt for a top finish. Julian Smith and Alfonso Mestre both had outstanding splits relative to their personal bests at SECs, so Gator success in this race will hinge on them at least matching what they produced last month.
Cal has also benefitted from the addition of a transfer in this relay, as former Michigan Wolverine Patrick Callan replaces the now-graduated Trenton Julian to join forces with Robin Hanson, Gabriel Jett and Destin Lasco, who all split 1:31s last year to place fourth at NCAAs in 6:06.90.
However, Hanson hasn’t earned an individual invite, so the Bears will likely turn to Dylan Hawk, who clocked 1:32.79 from the ‘B’ final at Pac-12s to sneak under the 200 free cut line.
Lasco dropped a 1:30.79 split at the Minnesota Invite, and Jett is capable of 1:31. It will then be up to Callan and Hawk to average out at 1:32-low or better to give Cal a chance against Florida, and possibly ASU and Texas.
TOP FIVE BATTLE
Following the top four in the season rankings, NC State and Indiana sit fifth and sixth in the 6:10 range, while Stanford and Louisville aren’t far off at 6:11.
2022-23 Rankings, Men’s 800 Freestyle Relay
Arizona State, 6:06.30
NC State, 6:10.65
Stanford is probably flying a little bit under the radar given their seed, but the Cardinal return all four members of the lineup that placed third behind only Texas and Georgia last year, and the Bulldogs are missing their top two legs from that race and don’t figure to be much of a factor.
Last year, Stanford didn’t use Andrei Minakov on this relay at Pac-12s but then switched things up and led him off at NCAAs, where he delivered with a 1:31.49. The same has happened this year, as freshman Andres Dupont swam 1:33.35 on the third leg to join forces with Luke Maurer, Ron Polonsky and Preston Forst at Pac-12s.
Minakov swam all five relays at NCAAs last season, and that seems likely again given a second swim is far from a certainty in the 50 free (or the 100 free for that matter). So even if the season-best flat start add-up for the Cardinal is only 6:12+, the lineup of Minakov, Maurer, Polonsky and Forst is capable of being sub-6:07, having gone 6:06.83 last season with both Polonsky and Forst splitting 1:31.3s.
Similar to Stanford, NC State brings back nearly the same lineup as they did last season, though Noah Bowers figures to take over for Sam Hoover, who was left off the ACC roster this season.
Luke Miller has been 1:31.87 this season, while Hunter Tapp had a 1:31.67 anchor leg at NCAAs last year and Bartosz Piszczorowicz split sub-1:32 at ACCs. Bowers was 1:33.6 at the conference championships in the individual event, but 1:34.4 leading off the relay.
The Pack went 6:08.22 last season at NCAAs to place sixth, and this foursome looks capable of going a similar time this year—though it’s very possible they finish in the same spot, moving past Georgia while being overtaken by Florida.
The other teams within striking distance of a spot in the top five is Louisville and Indiana.
The Cardinals have four men in between 1:32.2 and 1:33.4 from a flat start this year, but are missing their fastest split from last year, Nicolas Albiero, and seemingly don’t have the multiple 1:31s to challenge the other teams. Murilo Sartori leads the Cardinals, having made the ‘A’ final in the 200 free last season in 1:31.99.
For the Hoosiers, they’re headed up by Rafael Miroslaw, who is their only swimmer sub-1:34 from a flat start this year, but they do have Tomer Frankel, Brendan Burns and Van Mathias who are reliable for an average split of 1:32-mid.
It may come down to Sartori versus Miroslaw to see who comes out on top out of Louisville and Indiana.
Dark Horse: Auburn — The Tigers had a standout showing at SECs, and have a strong quartet made up of Michael Bonson, Mason Mathias, Ryan Husband and Mikkel Gadgaard that out-touched Alabama to take second behind Florida last month in 6:12.39. If Auburn opts to bring Husband and Gadgaard as relay-only swimmers to the meet, they’ll just need one member to drop a 1:31 to be in position to sneak into the top eight.