Column by John Lohn, Swimming World senior writer
BASKING RIDGE, New Jersey, January 31. ONE of the most exciting times of the year is just a few weeks away. Soon, conference championships will swing into full force, followed by the NCAA Championships. Not only will some tremendous individual battles emerge, team action will be engaging, too. This week, we're going to look at some storylines on the men's collegiate scene. In two weeks, we'll go over the women's side.
**At one point during last year's NCAA Men's Championships, eventually captured by the University of Texas, California appeared poised to hoist the team trophy. Ultimately, the Golden Bears settled for a runner-up finish. However, with the majority of its scoring returning this season, it's hard to not pick Cal as the favorite during competition at the University of Minnesota.
With power players like Nathan Adrian, Tom Shields and Damir Dugonjic on the roster, there's no question the Bears have the top-line talent to get the job done. More, coach Dave Durden should receive the necessary nickel-and-dime points required of a championship team. As for the all-important relays, it's hard to imagine Cal not winning both medley relays, along with the 200 and 400 free relays. It's a feat it accomplished last year, so there is a precedent in which that scenario can unfold and the team doesn't prevail.
With more than 400 points returning from last year, Swimming World will be selecting Cal to capture the 2011 crown when the March preview of the NCAA Championships is released. Whether the Golden Bears can make that prediction a reality will be determined in late March, and will require three days of on-target performances.
**Away from the collegiate scene last season for personal reasons, Stanford's Austin Staab was a major missing part for the Cardinal. Well, the short-course star is back at Skip Kenney's disposal and will be a major spark for a team that has title-contending potential. The big question is whether Staab will be as good as he was two years ago. If Staab is anything close to the guy who won the 100 butterfly during the 2009 campaign, look for Stanford to be a major player.
**There isn't a freshman in the country with more hype and potential than Southern California's Vladimir Morozov. The sprint sensation, who set a pair of national high school records last year, has the ability to contend with the likes of Nathan Adrian and Jimmy Feigen in the 50 and 100 freestyles. His in-season times have already been impressive, and his work with Dave Salo in Trojanville has made Morozov one of the world's most intriguing performers.
Southern Cal finished outside of the top 10 last season, but a repeat of that scenario is almost impossible. While USC is one of the hardest teams to predict in terms of its finish, the addition of Morozov as an individual and relay cog makes the Trojans capable of pushing for a top-five finish. In addition to Morozov, USC also boasts quality returning scoring.
**The reigning NCAA champion, Texas can't ever be discounted from championship discussion, and Eddie Reese will have a team in the mix once again. With the likes of Austin Surhoff, Scott Spann and Jimmy Feigen, along with impressive depth, the Longhorns will be a factor. One guy to really keep an eye on is Dax Hill, a sophomore freestyler who could emerge as the breakout performer of the meet.
**Another storyline to follow is that of Conor Dwyer. The reigning NCAA Swimmer of the Year won't be a surprise this March, but he could be as sensational as last year, when he surged to NCAA titles in the 200 and 500 freestyles.
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