2023 NCAA DIVISION I MEN’S SWIMMING & DIVING CHAMPIONSHIPS
It’s hard to believe it’s only been eight years since David Nolan made history by becoming the first swimmer under 1:40 in the men’s 200 IM.
The event has been transformed in a mind-boggling way in the time since, as 13 swimmers have now broken the barrier, including one coming last season out of the NCAA ‘B’ final.
Additionally, we’ve now seen six different men go under 1:39, led by the record-breaking machine known as Leon Marchand.
MARCHAND CONTINUES ASSAULT ON RECORD BOOKS
After Nolan, Caeleb Dressel was the next swimmer to push the 200 IM record down another notch, as he became the first swimmer sub-1:39 at the 2018 SEC Championships, clocking in at 1:38.13. Then last year, it was Marchand’s turn, as the French native soared to the NCAA title in his freshman year in a time of 1:37.69 for a new all-time mark.
This season, Marchand has been on an absolute tear, rewriting the record books with new U.S. Open and NCAA marks in the 200 breast (1:47.67) and 400 IM (3:31.57) while leading the NCAA rankings in a number of other events.
In the 200 IM, the Arizona State sophomore leads the field in a time of 1:37.81, just shy of his 2022 record, which gives him the two fastest swims in history. How low can he go at NCAAs?
With Marchand setting new records in the 200 breast and 400 IM at Pac-12s, but not the 200 IM, there’s the question as to whether or not there’s more for him to drop in the shorter medley event—maybe 1:37-mid is the peak of human performance right now. That might sound silly, but seriously, Marchand is so strong across all four strokes, there doesn’t seem to be too much left to drop.
In his two 1:37 performances, his splits were nearly identical across the board:
Marchand, 2022 NCAAs
Marchand, 2023 Pac-12s
Marchand could conceivably bring his breaststroke split sub-28 and then his freestyle into the 23-low range to challenge the 1:37 barrier, but that seems like a tall order given we’d then be expecting him to be the fastest ever not only in the 200 IM as a whole, but essentially on each individual split.
Let’s be conservative and say 1:37-low is the most likely outcome, but regardless, Marchand is the big favorite here despite facing a daunting field full of legitimate contenders.
THE SUB-1:40 CLUB
Destin Lasco and Hugo Gonzalez give Cal a very strong 1-2 punch in this event, and both men posed a legitimate threat to Marchand in each of his 1:37 swims before ultimately falling short.
Lasco reeled off a pair of 1:38 swims at the 2022 NCAAs, including dropping a sizzling back half in the final that brought him within a half-second of Marchand. Lasco was tied for sixth at the 100 and then split 27.98 on breast and 23.10 on free, making up nearly nine-tenths on Marchand over the second 100.
Lasco’s final time of 1:38.21 ranks him fourth all-time. It’s easy to suggest that the reigning 200 back NCAA champion should lean a little bit more on that leg in order to inch closer to Marchand, but then he likely wouldn’t have the same splits coming home.
2022 NCAA Splits
For Gonzalez, the 400 IM has always been the better of his medley events, evidenced by his NCAA title and U.S. Open Record last season in 3:32.88. But his 200 IM took a big step forward at Pac-12s last month, as the Cal fifth-year was right with Marchand with 50 yards to go before falling back on the freestyle leg.
Nonetheless, Gonzalez, who placed fifth at NCAAs last season in what was a personal best of 1:39.82, crushed that mark by over a second in 1:38.72. That time ranks him second this season, with Marchand the only other man under 1:40.
2023 Pac-12 Splits
Lasco was fourth in that heat, clocking 1:40.60, which is more than a second faster than he was last year at Pac-12s (1:41.70).
It seems to be a race between the two Cal teammates for the runner-up spot, and given Lasco’s ability on the closing 50, he gets the edge.
Two other swimmers in the field who have been under the 1:40 barrier are Carles Coll Marti and Ron Polonsky, two names that largely fly under the radar given how many heavy hitters there are racing in the medley events.
Coll Marti, a Spaniard out of Virginia Tech, won a dominant ACC title in this event last season before dropping a 1:39.63 to place fourth at NCAAs. Now a junior, Coll Marti was the runner-up at the conference championships last month in 1:41.02, seeding him eighth on the psych sheets.
Similar to Lasco, Coll Marti is very strong on the back half and will need to stay within striking distance opening up to have a shot at retaining his finishing position from one year ago.
Polonsky dropped his sub-1:40 swim out of the consolation final last season as a freshman, clocking 1:39.96 to finish ninth overall (would’ve been sixth in the ‘A’ final). The Stanford sophomore was slightly quicker than he was last season at Pac-12s in 1:40.42, and after missing the championship final last year, expect him to be dialed in for the prelims and make it back into the top eight.
OTHER RETURNING FINALISTS
It might come as a bit of a surprise that we’ve yet to touch on Carson Foster, the 2022 World Championship silver medalist in both long course and short course meters, but he’s never cracked the 1:40 barrier. Foster has been 1:40-point four separate times in his career, but has yet to get over that hump. That seems destined to come to an end.
The Texas junior hit a PB of 1:40.07 in the 2022 NCAA prelims before placing sixth in the final (1:40.13). Coming into this season, his fastest swim outside of NCAAs was 1:41.32, and he demolished that at Big 12s in 1:40.42.
The Longhorns figure to drop quite a bit of time across the board this week relative to their seed times, and that should be the case for Foster as well. He’s got no real weak stroke, but given how many swimmers have been splitting in the 28s on the breast leg over the last 12 months, Foster will need to be at least sub-29 to be a top-three contender. He had the second-slowest breast split in the 2021 NCAA final and then the slowest last year.
The other returning ‘A’ finalist from last year is Carson’s older brother, Jake Foster, who is outside of scoring position on the psych sheets (19th) with his season-best time of 1:42.50. However, Foster was faster at Big 12s this year compared to last year, when he ultimately hit a pair of 1:40s and finished eighth at NCAAs.
Seven of eight 2022 consolation finalists are back, with Grant House, Gal Cohen Groumi, Raunak Khosla, Caspar Corbeau, Jason Louser and Braden Vines joining Polonsky.
Behind Polonsky, the fastest among that group this season is Khosla, who was 1:41.11 at the Ivy League Championships, while Cohen Groumi, House and Louser have all been in the 1:41 range.
Corbeau and Vines, both representing Texas, haven’t been under the cut line in this event this season and are hard to predict, but like all other Longhorn swimmers, we expect them to drop from their season-bests.
A highly-touted recruit in the boys’ high school class of 2021, Arsenio Bustos fell just outside of the cut line in both the 200 breast and 200 IM as a freshman last season for NC State, narrowly missing qualifying for the NCAA Championships.
Bustos has really come into his own in his sophomore season with the Wolfpack, highlighted by his monstrous ACC Championship victory in the 200 IM in a time of 1:40.31.
That swim marked a three-second drop from his previous best, and he now enters his first NCAA Championship meet seeded third behind only Marchand and Gonzalez.
Two other swimmers who will be racing at NCAAs for the first time are freshmen Baylor Nelson and Owen McDonald, who have both had very strong seasons at Texas A&M and Arizona State, respectively.
Nelson won the SEC title in a personal best time of 1:40.86, while McDonald dropped a best of 1:41.60 to fifth at Pac-12s.
Another first-year swimmer to keep an eye on is ASU’s Hubert Kos, the 2022 European champion in the long course version of this event. Kos’ skillset probably translates better to the 400 IM in short course yards, but he’s still could be a factor in the ‘B’ final, with his PB of 1:42.37 two one-hundredths slower than what it took to earn a second swim last year.
Dark Horse: Giovanni Izzo, NC State – After predominantly focusing on the sprint freestyle events early in his career, Izzo has picked up the 200 IM of late and found increasing success, placing third at ACCs last year in 1:42.97 and then upping the ante with a 1:41.13 swim to place third last month. The graduate senior has no real weak stroke—his 100 yard best times in IM order are 45.9/45.4/52.3/42.5. Putting everything together, and having the endurance to hold on, could easily result in him earning a second swim, and maybe even the ‘A’ final.