The final result may be just like the last few years, but we got there in a very different way. The 2018 NCAA Men’s Swimming and Diving championship ended on Saturday night with the Texas Longhorns successful in their bid to four-peat, but the California Golden Bears were just a mere 11.5 points behind. Like it has happened a few times for both Cal Men and Women in the last decade, the Golden Bears actually scored the most points in the swimming part of the meet (18 of 21 events) but Texas Longhorns had two scorers in all three diving events for 70 points. The hope is that the newly opened Legends Aquatic Center with its platform diving facility will pay dividend soon. Cal Diving improved from sending just one diver in 2017 to two divers in 2018, but sophomore Connor Callahan and freshman Johnny Robinson still have quite a way to go to get to the top 16 (scoring positions) in the country.
In an year where the Golden Bears’ team have more depth than transcendent star power (like Florida’s senior Caeleb Dressel at this meet, who completely rewrote numerous records), it is mildly surprisingly that the Bears were completely shut out from any national titles. It is only by the program’s insanely high standard that this meet may be viewed as a bit of a disappointment. Swimming is a sport where one can also compete with his/her own time. In that way, this was again a very successful meet as numerous Cal Bears set personal best this last week.
Out of the 17 Cal swimmers, 15 of them scored points via either the individual events or the relay.
Junior Andrew Seliskar made three more A-Finals, with a 2nd place finish in the 200 Breast to go with a 3rd in 400 IM and 5th in 200 IM, but that top of the podium again eluded him. The likely future Calympian will get one more chance next year.
The brightest spot for the Bears have to be their freshmen’s performances across the board. Like I had mentioned in my preview, Ryan Hoffer stepped up big times in dropping a lot of time at this meet. The top ranked recruit from last year was able to make the A-Finals in 50 Free (5th) and 100 Fly (6th) as well as swimming in 4 of the 5 relays (anchoring both the 2nd place 200 medley relay and 4th place 400 medley relay). Hoffer had a near miss in the 100 Free with the 18th best prelim time in a very competitive field. Fellow freshman Bryce Mefford made a surprising A-Final in 200 Free to go with the more expected 200 Back (4th place). Daniel Carr made the B-Finals in both backstroke events. The one Cal freshman with perhaps the best seed times coming in, Sean Greishop managed a 500 Free and 1650 Free B-Final swims to go with a near miss in 400 IM (17th place). Trenton Julian made a surprising 200 Fly final (7th place) to round out the great freshmen performances.
Other than Seliskar’ 2nd in 200 Breast, the other close calls are junior Connor Hoppe in the 100 Breast and Cal’s 200 medley relay in 2nd place behind USC. Both Seliskar and Hoppe lost to Indiana’s Ian Finnerty. Hoppe also finished 6th in the 200 Breast A-Final. Cal managed to set a new American record in that 2nd place 200 Medley Relay swim by Daniel Carr, Connor Hoppe, Justin Lynch, and Ryan Hoffer.
Bears got 3rd in both the 200 Free relay and the meet ending 400 Free relay. For the final event, a Cal victory and a Texas 6th (or worse) finish would have flipped the standings. Texas finished 4th just behind the Cal Bears in that event. Junior Nick Norman had an incredible mile swim to take 3rd in that event.
Sophomore Pawel Sendyk finished 4th in 50 Free. Seniors Justin Lynch and Matt Josa made the 100 Fly A-Final along with Hoffer. Junior Mike Thomas (4th) and sophomore Zheng Quah and also made the 200 Fly A-Final along with Julian. Both Fly events saw three Golden Bears. Thomas also scored points in the 400 IM B-Final (9th) while Quah scored some points in the 100 Fly B-Final. Junior Carson Sand scored in the 100 Breast B-Final (9th) and sophomore Michael Jensen swam in a couple of point scoring Cal relays.
The rich Cal swimming tradition can also be seen by the alumni supporters in the stand. Both Ryan Murphy and Nathan Adrian are just a few of famous Calympians that made the trip to Minneapolis to cheer on their younger training partners.
Final Team Standings:
1. Texas 449
2. California 437.5
3. Indiana 422
4. NC State 385
5. Florida 347
6. Southern California 253
7. Stanford 205
8. Michigan 168.5
9. Louisville 156
10. Georgia 129
It was an exciting 5 way race at this year’s championship - which is a sort of fun (I will not apologize if Cal goes on to dominate this meet the same way that Texas has, starting next year or two - whenever diving starts to score some points) change of pace. As before mentioned, Florida’s Caeleb Dressel broke a bunch of records in getting under 18 seconds (17.63) in 50 Free, 43 seconds (42.80) in 100 Fly, and 40 seconds (39.90) in 100 Free - (somewhat arbitrary) time limits that some thought would not be breakable. The senior Dressel was easily the Swimmer of the Meet.
Texas got a couple of individual wins by junior Olympic Gold-medalist Townley Haas in 200 Free (retaking the NCAA record from Indiana’s Blake Pieroni who set it in the leadoff leg of the 800 Free relay) and freshman Austin Katz in 200 Back. They will certainly be back next year. Longhorns also got a lot of diving points from freshman Jordan Windle - A-Finalist in all three diving events.
Indiana was in the hunt thanks to great meet from Pieroni and Finnerty (dominating the breaststroke almost akin to the Hoosiers’ Lily King on the women’s side). Hoosiers also always have had a strong diving program though their Michael Hixon, winner of the 1-meter, is a senior.
NC State set some relay records in this meet, including the 800 Free and 400 Free relays. They also won the 400 medley relay. Their Olympian Ryan Held is a senior at this meet. Junior Andreas Vazaios won the 200 Fly and took 2nd in the 200 IM.
Looking ahead to 2019
Like the other Cal Aquatics teams, the future is bright for the Golden Bears program. Another top class will come to Berkeley in the fall, lead by breaststroker Reece Whitley. Whitley has already been called the future face of USA Swimming (that’s a lot of burden on a young kid) but also may have the personality to turn that into a realization.
Whitley was also named to The Root’s 2018 #YoungFuturists list—25 of the best and brightest African Americans between the ages of 15 and 22 who are already making an impact.
Meet Reece Whitley (@_reecewhitley), an 18-year-old HS senior who won 3 silver medals in swimming at the World Junior Championships—and was named one of five captains on the U.S. World Junior Team: https://t.co/wGzJfeDHWY #YoungFuturists pic.twitter.com/hKtoSJhYr6— The Root (@TheRoot) March 20, 2018
He sounds like a great addition to not just the Cal swimming program but also as a student-athlete in the Berkeley campus. I would not be shocked if Whitley and other less heralded but no doubt impact freshman can allow the Bears to put an end on the Longhorn tyranny atop the collegiate men’s swimming and diving world.