Is this the year when the California Golden Bears Men’s Swimming and Diving can finally put an end to the Texas dynasty? While it is somewhat counter-intuitive that the Cal Bears could be in a more favorable spot than last year, given the graduation of superstar Ryan Murphy, the freshman depth of the Golden Bears and some subpar season performances by Texas (though many “swim experts” expect those Longhorns to swim closer to their time in the past NCAA rather than this year) may just be enough for Cal to win program’s 6th NCAA team national championship in 2018. Hey, Minneapolis was the site earlier this year where the underdog Philadelphia Eagles dethroned the New England Patriots - which are clearly the Texas Longhorns who have won the last three titles (sorry, I am obligated to make this tangential comment as a citizen of Philadelphia).
It's that time of year! The NCAA Championships start Wednesday and head coach Dave Durden and junior Andrew Seliskar took a moment to recap the Bears' Pac-12 team title and look forward to what's ahead. #GoBears pic.twitter.com/v5YOOkE7vX— Cal Men's Swimming (@calmenswim) March 19, 2018
Even though the NCAA men’s swimming (and diving) championships have essentially been a two school race between Cal and Texas for the last 5-6 years, 2018 is expected to be more wide open than usual. If you score the psych sheet (without diving), NC State has a ~30 point edge on Indiana, ~40 point on Cal, ~50 point on Texas, and ~80 point on Florida. However, swim pundits trust the racers under Dave Durden (Cal head coach) and Eddie Reese (Texas head coach) to drop significant amount of time (yet again) between conference championship and the national championship. Indiana has a strong diving program to score points there while Florida’s Caeleb Dressel is perhaps the surest bet to win events (the sprints of 50 Free and 100 Free). Golden Bears, on the other hand, has the distinction of being one of few (if not the only) teams with a full roster - 17 swimmers and 2 divers (roster size limit is 18 swimmers but divers count as 0.5).
Nevertheless, Cal and Texas are the two most probable team winners. We will likely see the two schools set the tone for the week by outperforming the relay seeds in the first two events of the meet.
Quick recap of the scoring, the top 16 swimmers (or relay teams) will score points toward the team championships. Swimmers race in the prelim in the morning to qualify for the A- and B- Finals in the evening. The lone exceptions are the 1650 Free and 800 Free relays where the swimmers only race once, although the winner will most certainly come from the final race with the top 8 seeds.
Points are awarded on a sliding scale:
For Relays (Double the point of individual events), they are
40 (extra points for the winner), 34, 32, 30, 28, 26, 24, 22 for the A-Final participants
18 (again bonus points for the winner), 14, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 for the B-Final participants
For Individual Events
20 (extra points for the winner), 17, 16, 15, 14, 13, 12, 11 for the A-Final participants
9 (bonus point for the winner), 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 for the B-Final participants
It should go without saying, but points are not awarded for finalists who are disqualified (DQ’ed, typically for a false start or illegal turn).
Cal Swimmers and who to watch in what events
All 17 Cal swimmers are capable of scoring points this week. The four swimmers with the worst best seed are in the 20’s; they just need to improve by a reasonable 5-6 spots to make the B-Finals. Cal did win the Pac-12 title rather easily, thanks to its depth.
The final relay is done and that means one thing. The Golden Bears are #Pac12Swim champions in 2018! #GoBears pic.twitter.com/A6WYJbxnHw— Cal Men's Swimming (@calmenswim) March 4, 2018
The most likely Cal leading swimmer in this meet is junior Andrew Seliskar, who swapped out the 200 Fly for the 200 Breast this year, but is capable of making 3 A-Finals. Senior Justin Lynch may be capable of doing this as well. Singapore Calympian Zheng Wen Quah and senior Matt Josa are other likely candidates to make at least 2 A-Finals. Mike Thomas also already has two top-16 seed times.
Freshmen Ryan Hoffer and Sean Grieshop are the best bet to score in multiple events (though my expectation is for them to make at least one A-Final). To maintain Cal’s backstroke legacy, I expect freshmen Daniel Carr and/or Bryce Mefford to make the A-Finals in the two backstroke events. Sophomores Pawel Sendyk and Michael Jensen are the leading candidates to jump on to the scoring list.
Below are the list of participating Cal swimmers for each event and their seed.
500 Freestyle - Sean Greishop (12), Nick Norman (33)
200 Individual Medley - Andrew Seliskar (6), Matt Josa (8), Mike Thomas (14), Trenton Julian (30), Zheng Quah (32), Daniel Carr (37)
50 Freestyle - Justin Lynch (7), Pawel Sendyk (11), Ryan Hoffer (15), Michael Jensen (17), Kyle Coan (64)
400 Individual Medley - Andrew Seliskar (4), Sean Grieshop (16), Mike Thomas (18)
100 Butterfly - Justin Lynch (5), Matt Josa (7), Zheng Quah (17), Pawel Sendyk (39), Ryan Hoffer (41)
200 Freestyle - Kyle Coan (22), Bryce Mefford (31), Trenton Julian (32), Michael Jensen (38)
100 Breaststroke - Connor Hoppe (6), Carson Sand (16), Matt Whittle (31)
100 Backstroke - Daniel Carr (19)
1,650 Freestyle - Nick Norman (6), Sean Grieshop (10)
200 Backstroke - Daniel Carr (19), Bryce Mefford (21)
100 Freestyle - Justin Lynch (13), Ryan Hoffer (15), Michael Jensen (21), Pawel Sendyk (34), Kyle Coan (55)
200 Breaststroke - Andrew Seliskar (2), Matt Whittle (20), Carson Sand (31), Connor Hoppe (32)
200 Butterfly - Zheng Quah (2), Mike Thomas (10), Matt Josa (14), Trenton Julian (21)
Cal enters the NCAA Championships with 27 swims - 22 individual and five relays - that are in scoring position (top 16) based on the psych sheet. Senior Justin Lynch leads the squad with appearances in seven events.
- 50 free - Justin Lynch (7th, 19.00), Pawel Sendyk (11th, 19.09), Ryan Hoffer (15th, 19.13)
- 100 free - Justin Lynch (13th, 42.01), Ryan Hoffer (16th, 42.28)
- 200 free - Andrew Seliskar (4th, 1:32.12) [but he’s not going to swim this event, not listed on the psych sheet]
- 500 free - Sean Grieshop (12th, 4:14.44)
- 1,650 free - Nick Norman (6th, 14:39.77), Sean Grieshop (10th, 14:43.35)
- 100 breast - Connor Hoppe (7th, 51.91)
- 200 breast - Andrew Seliskar (2nd, 1:51.30),
- 100 fly - Justin Lynch (5th, 45.14), Matthew Josa (7th, 45.27), Zheng Wen Quah (16th, 45.60)
- 200 fly - Zheng Wen Quah (2nd, 1:40.24), Mike Thomas (10th, 1:41.22), Matthew Josa (14th, 1:41.41)
- 200 IM - Andrew Seliskar (7th, 1:41.85), Matthew Josa (9th, 1:42.08), Mike Thomas (14th, 1:42.83)
- 400 IM - Andrew Seliskar (3rd, 3:38.65), Sean Grieshop (16th, 3:42.06)
- 200 free relay - 2nd, 1:15.73
- 200 medley relay - 3rd, 1:23.14
- 400 free relay - 4th, 2:48.42
- 400 medley relay - 2nd, 3:03.91
- 800 free relay - 4th, 6:13.30
Some thoughts about Texas
Texas will have 15 swimmers at the meet, including 5 freshmen.
We have 15 qualified swimmers and 3 qualified divers with us in Minneapolis. They're all in it together starting with the 800 free relay Wednesday night. https://t.co/nigl2P5pEF #HookEm pic.twitter.com/m8ZCnfaLSW— Texas Men's Swimming & Diving (@TexasMSD) March 21, 2018
Joseph Schooling is probably the surest bet to lead the Longhorns in scoring at this meet. Schooling, who was on the same high school team as Ryan Murphy, is the top seed for the 100 Fly.
Townly Haas and John Shebat (who pushed Ryan Murphy in the backstroke events last year) are the two main Longhorns that swimming pundits believe can drastically improve on their psych sheet. While Haas, a Rio Olympian and Gold Medalist, has the track record to drop time, I am not sure Shebat is in that category.
Texas have their own stable of impact freshmen, of course. Parker Neri, John Thomas Larson, Braxton Yeager, and Sam Pomajevich are the next wave of mid to distance freestylists. However, they all have to jump more spots than their Cal counter parts to score points in those events. Their freshman Austin Katz is trying to take over the backstroke vacuum vacated by Murphy’s graduation - Katz has the top seed time in the 200 Back.
While the Bears have basically someone who is the threat to score in every event, Texas does not have any impact breaststrokers.
There is a reason why the Texas psych sheet score is so low. While I expect them to exceed that by having Haas and their relay stepping up, I simply believe that the Cal Bears are better positioned to do that more across the board - particularly in the sprint events.
Regardless, I do think this meet will come down to the last few events on the final day. That 200 Fly with Quah, Josa, and Thomas for the Bears vs. Schooling and Pomajevich for the Longhorns may go a long way in deciding this meet.
Cal Swim Alum are a passionate Sleuth of Bears
Expect to hear a lot of Cal cheers either at the aquatic center or via the live stream this week as the Cal support group is known as a fairly vocal bunch.
Given the number of Cal alum that still trains with the current team in the pro group, you can always find a number of Calympians in the stands rooting on the current Bears. I expect these signature Bears suits to be back yet again.
Cal Diving vs. Texas
1-meter diving: Connor Callahan for Cal vs. 3 Texas Longhorns in Grayson Campbell, Jacob Cornish, and Jordan Windle
3-meter diving: Connor Callahan for Cal vs. 2 Texas Longhorns in Grayson Campbell and Jordan Windle
Platform diving: Johnny Robinson for Cal vs. 2 Texas Longhorns in Jacob Cornish and Jordan Windle
This is the 2nd NCAA championships for sophomore Connor Callahan who did not score a point last year in Indianapolis. Cal freshman Johnny Robinson will be making his NCAA debut. It would be nice if the Bears can somehow sneak in one or two B-Finalists in diving.
As for Texas, their freshman Jordan Windle set a Big 12 platform diving point record and is a real contender in that event. Sophomore Grayson Campbell placed 8th in the 1-meter and 17th in the 3-meter at the NCAA last year. Sophomore Jacob Cornish did not score in the platform even at the NCAA last year.
As much as Cal diving is exponentially growing, the edge for 2018 in diving still goes to Texas. I would give them a minimal of 2 A-Finalists and 1 B-Finalist for about 40 points or so in diving points over the Bears.
Schedule of Events and How to Watch
Live Stats: SWMEETS
Live Diving Stats: DIVEMEETS
Wednesday, March 21 finals, 4pm PT: https://www.btn2go.com/game/ncaa-championships-at-minnesota
800 Freestyle Relay
Thursday, March 22 prelims, 8am PT: https://www.btn2go.com/game/ncaa-championships-at-minnesota-1
200 Freestyle Relay
200 Individual Medley
1 Meter Diving - Trials
1 Meter Diving - Consolation Finals
Thursday, March 22 finals, 4pm PT: https://www.btn2go.com/game/ncaa-championships-at-minnesota-2
200 Freestyle Relay
200 Individual Medley
1 Meter Diving
400 Medley Relay
Friday, March 23 prelims, 8am PT: https://www.btn2go.com/game/ncaa-championships-at-minnesota-3
400 Individual Medley
3 Meter Diving - Trials
3 Meter Diving - Consolation Finals
Friday, March 23 finals, 4pm PT: ESPN3
400 Medley Relay
3 Meter Diving
200 Medley Relay
Saturday, March 24 prelims, 8am PT: https://www.btn2go.com/game/ncaa-championships-at-minnesota-4
Platform Diving - Trials
Platform Diving - Consolation Finals
1,650 Freestyle (1:45 p.m.)
Saturday, March 24 finals, 4pm PT: ESPN3
400 Freestyle Relay
Keys to a Cal victory
1. Win the Relays: I expect the bulk of the NCAA titles won by the Golden Bears this week to come from the relays, where the points are doubled. Texas graduated a couple key members of their winning relay from past years. Cal will be counting on freshman such as Ryan Hoffer (more on him later), but will likely use senior Justin Lynch as the anchor for many of these races. I can see Lynch pull a Farida Osman and singlehandedly be responsible for a couple of relay wins by catching up on the last leg.
2. It’s all about the Prelims: All those B-Finalists earn about 3-7 points which adds up, particularly given the numerous Golden Bears present at this meet.
3. Who will be this year’s Jeremy Bagshaw? On the 2014 championship, Cal’s Jeremy Bagshaw had an out of nowhere 1650 Free swim that placed in the top 3. That swim from the Saturday afternoon session had a huge emotional lift for the rest of the team. My pick would be senior Kyle Coan making a big move in the 200 Free on Day 2.
4. Ryan Hoffer is the X-Factor. The consensus top prospect in the country, Ryan Hoffer has had a pretty good freshman year. The sprinter is seeded to make the B-Finals in his individual events but will surprise no one if he jumps to the top 8. That potential time drop would also be what can put the Bears over the top in the relays.
Make shots (sorry, wrong sport). This is Andrew Seliskar’s meet. Speaking of the top overall recruit in the country, Andrew Seliskar had that title few years ago. He is also a potential heir in the national scene now that Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte have retired. This meet can really be Seliskar’s big announcement that he has arrived. Seliskar has the chance to win 200 IM, 400 IM, and 200 Breast. Can he find his way to the top of the podium? Seliskar was 2nd in 400 IM and 6th in 200 IM and 200 Fly in 2017.
Due to some real life obligations, I will be covering this championship from the comfort of my home rather than in person as I had hoped. The comment section below will be updated during each session before either this post is updated or a new post is created. The current plan is to have a Friday and Saturday post before a recap post on Sunday (which will likely go up on Saturday night IF I get to use that “Breaking News” banner).