Cal Men's Swimming and Diving seeks a repeat as NCAA team champion
NCAA Men's Swimming and Diving Championships begin on Wednesday afternoon
California Golden Bears will be racing for a repeat team championship, and the 8th overall in school history, at the NCAA Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships from Minneapolis, Minnesota this Wednesday through Saturday. Cal is considered one of the favorites again despite graduating a very successful class of Daniel Carr, Sean Grieshop, Trenton Julian, and 2021 Tokyo Olympian Bryce Mefford that won two NCAA team titles in 5 years (but only 4 NCAA championships held due to COVID)1.
Instead of another two-team showdown against perennial nemesis Texas, the 2023 NCAA Championships might see Arizona State or Florida emerge as Cal’s main opponents. While ASU Sun Devils dominated the dual and Pac-12 championships against Cal, the scoring in those meets and the NCAA are all different. Although both Cal and Florida will have diving representation, swimming should solely decide the team race. Head coach (and now technically the acting director of swimming) Dave Durden’s teams are notorious for peaking at the NCAA Championships and dropping significant time even in the brief two weeks between the Pac-12 and the NCAA championship meets. An important difference this year, however, is Cal doesn’t have as much room to improve upon seeds as in previous years. The exercise of scoring the seed does have the Cal Bears as the overwhelming favorites to repeat.
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Expect an exciting week of races with plenty of Cal Bears in each of the 18 swimming events, and possibly even in two of the three diving events with freshman Joshua Thai qualified for both the 3-meter springboard and platform diving (though the best-likely case scenario would be points from the consolation final).
Results and Schedule of Events:
Cal is eligible for all five relay events at the NCAA Championships and will be represented by the following 16 swimmers in addition to Thai in diving.
Jack Alexy – 50 free, 100 free, 100 back
Liam Bell – 50 free, 100 breast, 200 breast
Patrick Callan – 200 free, 500 free
Hugo González – 200 back, 200 IM, 400 IM
Dylan Hawk – 50 free, 100 free, 200 free
Lucas Henveaux – 1650 free, 500 free, 400 IM
Matthew Jensen – 100 fly, 100 breast, 100 free
Gabriel Jett – 200 free, 500 free, 200 fly
Destin Lasco – 200 IM, 100 back, 200 back
Jason Louser – 400 IM, 200 IM, 200 breast
Colby Mefford – 100 back, 200 back
Dare Rose – 50 free, 100 fly, 200 fly
Björn Seeliger – 50 free, 100 free, 100 back
Sebastian Somerset – 100 back, 200 back
Reece Whitley – 100 breast, 200 breast, 200 IM
Jacob Soderlund - 100 breast, 200 breast2
LIVE STREAM LINKS – ESPN+ (Times in PT)
Wednesday Finals (4 p.m.)
Thursday Swimming Prelims (8 a.m.)
Thursday Diving Prelims (10 a.m.)
Thursday Finals (4 p.m.)
Friday Swimming Prelims (8 a.m.)
Friday Diving Prelims (10 a.m.)
Friday Finals ( 4 p.m.)
Saturday Swimming Prelims (8 a.m.)
Saturday Diving Prelims (10 a.m.)
Saturday 1650 Free Early Heats (1:45 p.m.)
Saturday Finals (4 p.m.)
This is a quick reminder that the top-16 finishers in each event will earn team points. The bigger points come from the A-Finals (top-8), with the event winner earning the max of 20 points in an individual event. The runner-up gets 17 points and each subsequent A-Finalist gets one fewer point down to 11. The B-Final winners earn 9 points, with the next place (10th overall) getting 7 points. Points are doubled for the five relays.
BEARS TO WATCH
Like all collegiate dynasty programs, Cal men’s swimming is constantly reloading with the best talents from around the world. While the freshman class doesn’t have an immediate contributor, the team has several known qualities in Destin Lasco, Bjorn Seeliger, and Hugo Gonzalez, who could feasibly combine for 9 A-Finals appearances (including 6 top-three finishes).
In men’s swimming, many top swimmers don’t become individual champions until their sophomore or junior years (unless you are a superstar like Ryan Murphy who swept the two backstroke events in all four years). For Cal, sophomore Gabriel Jett, already an A-Finalist in 200 Fly last year, is ready to dominate at the NCAA. Jett is the top seed for both 500 Free and 200 Fly this year. His 3rd individual event will be 200 Free where he is seeded 14th. While it may be difficult to hang onto his two top seeds, his massive improvements last summer lends credibility to his title contention potential.
A good early indicator for Cal may be senior Jason Louser in the 200 IM on the first prelims sessions. It’s the worst of his three individual events and the only one in which he didn’t hit a personal best this year. However, he historically has been off his bests at NCAAs despite making 3 B-Finals last year so if he manages to hit a PB, it’s a promising sign for what the Bears could accomplish throughout the week.
NEWCOMERS TO NOTE
For Cal this year, the notable newcomers are graduate students. US Olympic Silver medalist in the 4x200 Free relay and Michigan graduate transfer Patrick Callan could score points in the middle-distance freestyle events just by being right at his personal best times. However, the biggest addition might be Belgium graduate student Lucas Henveaux, who joined the team only this semester after briefly playing golf for the University of South Carolina Beaufort. The distance swimmer fills a weak position for the Bears. Henveaux comes to Cal with no previous racing in yards, but he already broke the school record in the 1000-yard freestyle (this event isn’t raced at the NCAA Championship but is usually a good indicator for the 1650-yard freestyle). While he isn’t currently projected in swimming’s mile, Henveaux is far from his peak times as he is likely still adjusting to the shorter pool, which makes him a legitimate dark horse in this race. If Henveaux manages to finish in the top ten, he might provide the exact catalyst that Jeremy Bagshaw and Nick Norman did in Cal’s 2014 and 2019 championship wins.
The most intriguing newcomer may be freshman diver Joshua Thai, who qualified in the 3-meter springboard and platform diving events. Cal hasn’t earned any diving points at the NCAA Championship since 2008 (Durden’s first year at Cal), but a prerequisite to getting points would be qualifying divers, which the Bears haven’t done since 2019. Even though he’s likely still on the outside looking in, Thai will benefit from the collegiate diving experience of new diving coach Pei Lin, who had seven top-ten finishes in diving events at the NCAA Championships from 2015 to 2018. If Thai manages to score, he may just become one of the Bears’ hottest commodities.
CAL BEARS RELAY
The double-pointed relays can decide the NCAA team titles, especially given the greater likelihood of disqualifications and thereby forfeited points. Other than 400 Free relay where Cal is seeded 1st, the Bears can gain points against the psych sheet because they are only seeded 4th or 5th in the other four relays. NCAA switched to timed heats for the relays after the COVID-effected 2021 championships (when they held a meet with every other lane empty to limit the number of people on deck), reducing the advantages to deep teams like Cal that can use four different swimmers in the prelim session to qualify for the A-Final. Nonetheless, the final heat of relays should have all of the championship contenders except for Texas. Unlike some of the other programs that will be in contention, Cal’s relay lineups may be shrouded in mystery thanks to that roster depth.
At the Pac-12 Championships, Cal was disqualified in the 200 medley relay and Seeliger, who swam the fastest 50 back in history in this relay last year, was not in the lineup. With a Seeliger-Bell-Rose-Alexy squad, the Bears can win this relay and take down the NCAA record in the process. In the 400 medley relay, Whitley and Rose were faster in the breaststroke and butterfly legs at the midseason invitational than at the conference championships. Florida has the nation’s leading team by over 1.5 seconds and will likely run away with the title. The caveat, however, is the SEC meet, due to the difference in format, has historically resulted in fast times that aren’t replicable just weeks later.
In the two shorter freestyle relays, Cal boasts one of the countries’ best sprint freestyle duos in Seeliger and Alexy. They’ll face stiff competition in Tennessee’s Gui Santos and Jordan Crooks as well as Florida’s Adam Chaney and Josh Liendo. But, where Tennessee may not be able to put up elite swimmers to fill in the squads, Florida absolutely has the pieces to challenge NCAA records in both relays. For Cal, there are a lot of reasonable athletes to slot in and still move up in an attempt for more points. It could be Lasco (likely lock for both relays), Jett, Hawk, Bell, Jensen, Gonzalez, or Rose. In the 800 freestyle relay, the Bears likely don’t have the firepower to truly contend with Texas and Arizona State, but they’re well-rounded enough to take 3rd.
A STRONG FINAL DAY EXPECTED
A big part of why Cal should feel good about this meet even if they are slightly behind heading into the final day is that the Bears are projected to have a big day. Golden Bears should continue their dominance in 200 Back with junior Destin Lasco being the favorite of teammates graduate student Hugo Gonzalez and senior Colby Mefford. Junior Bjorn Seeliger, another Cal top seed, and another sophomore ready to break out in Jack Alexy should score points in 100 Free. Graduate student Reece Whitley and senior Jason Louser are contenders in 200 Breast. Junior Dare Rose should join Gabriel Jett in the 200 Fly A-Final. With scoring potential in the 1650-yard freestyle, 2 possible A-Finalists in every event on the last day, and the top-seeded relay in the final event of the meet, Cal will have the strongest finish on paper of any title contenders to the team championship.
OPPONENTS TO WATCH
ASU showed that they are more than just French superstar Leon Marchand. The Sun Devils could realistically walk away from four individual titles at this championship, and if they do, that may be the most by any single team. Should they be considered the favorites over Cal due to the depth they showed at the Pac-12?
Despite having the edge in diving over both Cal and ASU, Texas is projected (before their expected time drop at the NCAA) to finish significantly behind the two Pac-12 foes this year. Texas is seeded low in the relays. They certainly have talent in the Foster brothers, Luke Hobson, Caspar Corbeau, and Daniel Krueger, but it’s not the same firepower that terrorized the collegiate swimming world for much of the last decade.
With a surging Arizona State, slightly weaker Texas, a re-tooled Florida, and a seemingly always present NC State, there seems to be a number of ways the top five will be ordered. Cal has elite depth and a history of improving at NCAAs, which makes them the favorites to defend their title. But, if the Bears slip up any bit, this will be the most hotly contested championship meet in the Durden era.
Check back on our site for daily updates on this meet over the next four days.
This class also included Ryan Hoffer initially, but the sprint/butterfly specialist opted to graduate in 2021 and turn pro. Hoffer as the second overall pick of the International Swimming League (ISL) made some money before the ISL had halted competitions due to the war in Ukraine (ISL is founded by a Ukrainian billionaire). The 4x NCAA individual champion has now retired from competitive swimming.