Townley Haas Impresses and Excites Imagination at Men’s NCAA Championships

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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By David Rieder

Anyone who visited the McAuley Aquatic Center this past weekend hoping to watch some fast swimming got exactly what they were looking for. A U.S. Open record – the fastest time ever – was recorded in eight of the 13 individual events contested at the men’s NCAA championships, twice in the 100 back.

With five different athletes accounting for those records, picking the swimmer of the meet was such an arduous task for the coaches Saturday night that for the first time ever, there was a three-way tie in the voting for the award between former Bolles teammates Caeleb Dressel, Ryan Murphy and Joseph Schooling.

On the outside looking in were a pair of Texas Longhorns. Will Licon broke Kevin Cordes’ American record on his way to victory in the 200 breast and recorded the second-fastest time ever in winning the 200 IM. He also finished second in the 400 IM to boot. Then there’s Townley Haas, the freshman out of Richmond, Va., who went from depth contributor to headliner in the span of just over 90 seconds.

Haas opened the meet as the second-leg swimmer on Texas’ 800 free relay on Wednesday night and split a 1:30.52, the fastest ever – more than 2.5 seconds faster than what had been his lifetime best flat start – helping to lead the Longhorns to the win in U.S. Open record-time. On Thursday Haas picked up his first NCAA title in his first individual NCAA race with a 4:09.00 triumph in the 500 free.

A day later, though, Haas simply exploded, demolishing the field in the 200 free in an effort that in a meet full of record-breaking performances was second to none. Haas clocked 1:30.46, shattering Ricky Berens’ American record of 1:31.31 and also Simon Burnett’s U.S. Open record of 1:31.20 – set in the very same pool a decade previously.

“[That] means his 500 wasn’t very good,” said Texas coach Eddie Reese after the race. “If you go 1:30, shouldn’t you go out in 1:34?”

Haas replied, “Well I wasn’t 1:30 at the time.”

Georgia’s Matias Koski finished as runner-up in the 200, coming in just over a second behind Haas. Koski clocked 1:31.54, moving him to fifth on the all-time list, but Haas made Koski look pedestrian with his effort.

“It was pretty crazy,” said Koski after the race. “It was pretty cool to look up and see that I had a pretty good swim, but then to see that he went 1:30, almost a full second faster was pretty cool just to say that you swam next to him in that heat.”

Georgia head coach Jack Bauerle was similarly impressed, noting that he and his coaching peers appreciated seeing fast swimming from anyone, including this Texas freshman.

“I was thinking this: we recruited him, and I wish we had him,” said Bauerle. “That’s exactly what I was thinking. Then I thought I was pretty happy for him.”

But the widest eyes on deck after Haas’ race – aside from Haas’ Texas teammates and coaches – belonged to Frank Busch. The U.S. National Team director got to watch a teenager that he hopes can be a staple in the middle distance freestyle for the stars and stripes for a long time.

“It’s one of the best swims I’ve ever seen,” said Busch on the 1:30.46.

Busch, who a decade ago coached Burnett to the previous U.S. Open record during their days with the Arizona Wildcats, thought it extremely appropriate that the record went down in the very same pool.

“Georgia Tech is a special place,” said Busch. “Records are made to be broken, and for a young guy like that to break a record that’s been in existence for ten years now, it’s pretty special.”

Busch admitted that as soon as he saw the time, he began to wonder how the performance might translate to long course with Olympic Trials just three months down the line, but Reese expressed optimism that his charge would do fine in the big pool.

“Well did you see the turns?” said Reese. “Michael McBroom texted me and said, ‘What’s he gonna do when he learns to turn?’ He’s turning a lot better than he has in the past, but that is not one of his strengths. So as good as he has [swum], this summer long course it’s gonna be better for him.”

“And there are a lot of people around the country that decided they were gonna practice a lot harder tomorrow morning because of what he did tonight.”

6 Comments

6 comments

  1. avatar
    Bill Bell

    Interesting to see that Busch was on hand to see Burnett’s record demolished ( and incidentally, David, the 200 was on Friday, a day after Haas won the 500 free in a Big 12-record 4:O09.00 not thecdaybafter the 800 free relay)

    Anyway if anyone was a one- hit wonder it was Burnett but I think Haas will be much mire successful come the next three years.

    As for the Trials, hope he can get in the 1:46-plus range as that’s what it’ll likely take to make The Big Dance, rite, Messrs. GOAT, Lochte et al.?

    • avatar
      David Rieder

      I re-worded that to make it less confusing. Thanks, Bill. I think Eddie and Frank are both very optimistic about what Townley can do LCM. The best Berens got down to was 1:31.3 (slower in college), and he was 1:46 consistently.

      Mike Stott asked Frank about the average age of the men’s team, and I really think it could be a lot younger this time around. In 2012, Jaeger was the only guy with NCAA eligibility on the Olympic team. This time, any of the five guys who set ARs NCAAs (including Conger, none were seniors) and a guy like Maxime Rooney could all be in the mix. Promising for a men’s team that’s relied on aged veterans for a while.

  2. avatar
    Bill V.

    He swam fast, and had the personality of a pull buoy on camera after the race.
    Good for him!

  3. avatar
    tgm

    In the 2008 Olympic Trials, Dara Torres won the women’s 100 free in a close race with Natalie Coughlin. At the 50 meter turn, Dara’s push off and resumption of fast swimming were more effective than Natalie’s dolphin kicks off the wall.

  4. avatar
    tgm

    Clarification of my comment: Dara and Natalie swam the first 50 about even. Turning at the same time as Natalie, Dara streamlined with a couple dolphin kicks, emerged and started swimming. Natalie streamlined and did her 10 or 11 body dolphin kicks, and came up behind the already-swimming Dara, who wound up winning by about .1.
    In that case, it looked like fast freestyle outdid underwater dolphin, especially facing a long course 50 meter sprint to the finish.

    • avatar
      tgm

      My apologies: I just watched the women’s 100 free finals at the 2008 Olympic trials on You Tube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDY6XP2pWp8). Natalie actually came up from her long dolphin slightly ahead of the already swimming Dara, and they battled all the way from there, Dara winning in 53.78 and Natalie placing second in 53.83.
      But I think that Townley Haas is better off turning the way he already does, at least for now. He has a very fast flip turn and comes off the wall like a shot to start swimming that beautiful, balanced freestyle. Less oxygen is expended, and the more he just swims, the better! 200 free short course often translates well to 100 free long course. He could be in the mix for the 400 free relay as well as the 800 free relay. Based off his wins in Junior competition in distance events (where I first heard of him), he is likely to contend in the 400 and 1500 at Trials, too.

Author: David Rieder

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David Rieder is the host of Swimming World TV and a staff writer. A contributor to Swimming World since 2009, he has covered NCAA Championships, U.S. Nationals, Olympic Trials and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. He is a native of Charleston, S.C., and a 2016 graduate of Duke University.

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