2016 British Universities & Colleges Sport League Men’s Preview

Chris Walker-Hebborn of British Swimming
Photo Courtesy: FINA Doha 2014

By Sophia Chiang, Swimming World College Intern

Two weeks ago, Swimming World covered the 2016 British Universities & Colleges Sport (BUCS) League Women’s Preview. Now, it’s time for the men’s.

This past November at Short Course Championships, the men put up some seriously strong finishes that left us all wondering what the rest of the season will bring. BUCS men are expected to make some of the top times at this April’s British Nationals, which will double as Olympic Trials. We’ll certainly be seeing more than a few of them at this summer’s Olympic Games in Brazil.

Which athletes and teams are predicted to dominate? You’re about to find out.

1. Loughborough


Photo Courtesy: British Swimming

Both Loughborough’s women and men sit atop the BUCS throne, as they have for the past thirteen years. This January, they’ll likely dominate once more. There’s no question to the Loughborough mens team’s immortality– just look at their 1500m freestyle, which swept the top podium places this past November with sophomore Tony Robinson (14:45.74), freshman Tim Shuttleworth (14:52.76), and sophomore Caleb Hughes (15:02.56) coming in 1-2-3, respectively.

That was just the beginning of a weekend of pure domination.

Shuttleworth is still in the process of transitioning from being a serious open water swimmer (this past year, he was named England’s Open Water Athlete of the Year) and has made remarkable progress doing so. While long term there’s no doubt Shuttleworth intends to become more serious in the pool (and he’s done a great job in mid-distance and distance freestyle events), his best hope for an 2016 Olympic spot will land him in open water. However, being only a freshman, he has lots of time for improvement and looks good for being a top contender in the pool for both 2016 and 2020.

While the Loughborough men aren’t number one on the podium as much as they used to be (#2 University of Stirling is quickly catching up) they succeed with enormous depth over the other teams. They have more swimmers in finals grabbing points than any other team in the game and they know exactly what is necessary in order to have that competitive edge over their rivals.

The team’s experience is a big part of the equation.

Unlike Stirling, which sports a big group of newcomers, Loughborough’s well-established program has churned out athletes that really know what they are doing, and it shows. Athletes such as Leo Jaggs (100m freestyle, 49.37), Andrew Weatheritt (100m freestyle, 48.95), veteran World University Games (WUG) athlete James Wilby (100m breaststroke, 1:00.07), Laurent Carnol (100m breaststroke, 1:00.19), and Joe Elwood (100m backstroke, 53.86) are just a sampling of Loughborough’s high powered crew which continues to dominate BUCS.

But don’t discount Loughborough’s other newer athletes, such as Kevin Wallbank (100m butterfly, 53.14; 200m butterfly, 1:57.66), who is just beginning to prove himself as a serious force to deal with in the pool. Wallbank grew up under England’s Talent Development Programme and placed third in 2015’s British Nationals. If he does the same or better this next year, he’ll be well on his way to Rio.

What really proves the Loughborough men’s dominance over the other teams is their strong relay showings. In the 200m medley relay this past year at the 2015 BUCS Short Course Championships, they knocked out Edinburgh by a slim margin 1:37.53 to 1:37.86. Similarly in the 200m freestyle relay, they similarly fought Stirling off to second in a similarly slim margin 1:28.37 to 1:28.84.

2. Stirling


Photo Courtesy: Roberto Pavoni

If anyone is going to unseat Loughborough, it’s going to be Stirling’s men.

The Scottish university wisely sent several of their top athletes to the University of Florida’s swimming program for athletic development, and the progress shows. While Loughborough certainly retains its great depth, Sterling had more individual wins than any other men’s university this past November.

Freshman Duncan Scott opened up Saturday night’s men’s finals with a blazing 1:44.98 in the 200m freestyle, fending off the Loughborough pack by almost three seconds. At 18 years old, Scott has already had an amazingly successful career, becoming the most decorated British swimmer at the 2015 European Games winning three gold medals in the 200m freestyle, 100m freestyle, and 4x 100m freestyle relay. He was also part of the British squad that took home gold a month later in the 4x 200m freestyle relay at the 2015 FINA World Championships in Kazan. Scott is probably the best freestyler in the BUCS division. He raced to a second gold Sunday in the 100m freestyle (47.78) and grabbed fifth in the 50m freestyle (22.40).

Stirling’s other darling is fellow freshman Craig Benson. At 21 years old, Benson is already a decorated veteran: he swam in the 2012 London Olympics as the youngest member of the team in the 100m breaststroke, although he fell short of qualifying in the semifinal. Since then, he’s represented Britain in European Junior Championships, in the 2011 FINA World Junior Swimming Championships, in the 2011 Commonwealth Games (and was named the Athlete of the Games), in the 2014 Commonwealth Games, and in the 2015 World University Games.

Benson is a gifted breaststroker and grabbed three golds for Sterling this past November in the 50m breaststroke (26.84), 100m breaststroke (58.26), and 200m breaststroke (2:06.12). He is expected to place similarly this coming January.

But the Stirling wins don’t stop there. Cameron Brodie brought home a gold in the 200m butterfly (1:55.49), was slightly edged out by Plymouth’s Anthony James (51.12) in the 100m butterfly (52.74), and was seventh in the 50m butterfly (24.59). Brodie has experience swimming in the 2014 Scottish Gas National Championships, where he grabbed gold in the 200m butterfly (1:58.18) and silver in the 100m butterfly (54.06), and, the same year, grabbed a fourth at the Commonwealth Games in the 200m butterfly.

Stirling really dominated in the individual medley, too, where Brodie and Scott came in 1-2 in 1:57.77 and 1:58.81, respectively. Unfortunately, this did not translate to a win in the 4x 50 medley relay, where Stirling was edged out by Loughborough and Edinburgh and took bronze in 1:37.91. The relay team, made up with backstroker Martyn Walton, Benson, Scott, and Calum Bain, proved the team unfortunately does not have the depth to take on reigning division champion Loughborough.

While the 4x 50m freestyle relay yielded a much better finish for Stirling’s men (silver, 1:28.84), they were still out touched by Loughborough for gold. While Stirling has come a long way, and will continue to go far (and, possibly, unseat Loughborough soon), this January may not quite be the year as of yet.

3. Edinburgh


Photo Courtesy: British Swimming

Edinburgh is not a team that stands out via many individual top finishes, but rather gathers depth through multiple final finishes like Loughborough. The team has been steadily rising on both the men’s and the women’s sides, and continually proves to be an even match with Stirling for the Scottish crown. The university has turned to their student sport more in recent years by bringing in new training staff and recruiting top athletes, and it is obviously their diligence is beginning to pay off.

Other than Loughborough and Stirling, Edinburgh was the only university to have two athletes in the 200m freestyle final. Kieran McGuckin grabbed sixth (1:49.65) and Jack Thorpe took eighth (1:52.11). McGuckin is one of Edinburgh’s top male athletes. Currently the Scottish men’s 50 freestyle champion (22.39), he is a gifted freestyler and is key to Edinburgh’s relay success. This past November, he took bronze in the 100m freestyle (48.79), falling slightly short at the finish to Stirling’s Scott and Plymouth Mark & John’s Benjamin Proud (48.34). McGuckin also took bronze in the 50m backstroke (25.36), proving he is looking to widen his event versatility, which can only mean good things for Edinburgh.

Irish Nicholas Quinn is also a key component of Edinburgh’s program. The breaststroker took seventh in the 50m breaststroke (28.40), fifth in the 100m breaststroke (1:00.58), and bronze in the 200m breaststroke (2:11.58). In the past, he has semifinaled for Team Ireland in Senior and Junior European Championships, and is the current Irish Junior Record Holder in the 100m breaststroke.

Another athlete of note is freshman Chris McColm, who proved his versatility in the 200m individual medley (2:04.92). McColm was recruited for the developmental group (Edinburgh’s second team) and has since risen to a first team nomination, and proved his place this past November. That kind of growth is what we have been seeing more and more and is a testament to head coach and recruiter Chris Jones strength.

We can’t wait for what 2016 will bring.

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