8 Things to Watch During the NCAA Swim Season; Regan Smith Ready To Roll

Jul 27, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Regan Smith (USA) after the women's 200m butterfly heats during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

8 Things to Watch During the NCAA Swim Season

After an exciting Olympic Games this summer, college swimming has returned. The season kicked off in mid-September, with UNC-Wilmington comfortably dispatching Army at the Seahawk Natatorium in Wilmington, North Carolina. As many campuses across the country open up for the first time in over a year, it looks to be the first “normal” college swimming season since 2018-2019. 

With coaching changes, new swimmers entering the NCAA and revamped teams, there are multiple storylines in play as we return to normalcy in the sport. Here are eight things to look out for as you follow the NCAA swim season. 

1. How will the temporary Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) rulings impact college swimming?

On June 30th, due to various state NIL laws going into effect, the NCAA adopted a temporary policy, allowing student-athletes from all three divisions to profit from their NIL. Now athletes can receive endorsements, sponsorship deals, host camps, and do a host of other things without violating NCAA rules and putting their eligibility in jeopardy. 

While most believe that the ruling would solely impact revenue sports like football and men’s basketball, we are seeing multiple swimmers inking contracts to high-profile deals. In early August, Olympic medalist and world-record holder Regan Smith became the first athlete to sign an endorsement deal with a swimwear brand when she inked a three-year contract with Speedo. 

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Carson Foster; Photo Courtesy: Texas Athletics

Smith’s Stanford teammate, American-record holder Torri Huske, followed suit 10 days later, signing with rival swim brand TYR. Most recently, Texas’ Carson Foster joined forces with Japanese swimwear brand Mizuno as their tech suits continue to gain popularity among American swimmers. 

With the NCAA boasting superstar talent like Maggie MacNeil, Bobby Finke, Kate Douglass, and others, expect more swimmers to commit to high-profile brands in the coming months. 

2. Will Eddie Reese ever retire?

After Eddie Reese announced his retirement following a 15th NCAA title with Texas, swimming fans were interested to see what the Longhorn coaching staff would look like heading into the 2021-2022 season. However, after submitting his paperwork at the beginning of July, athletic director Chris Del Conte and school president Jay Hartzell jokingly began corresponding on Twitter about rejecting his retirement paperwork and that he would be back on deck. 

To everyone’s pleasant surprise, he reconsidered his decision and has returned for at least the upcoming season. In a statement posted on Texas Swimming and Diving’s Twitter account, Reese said: “there’s more that I want to do for this current team. We have a great group of guys in our program. They have a great future in our sport, and I want to help them see how good they can be.” 

Looking at his remarks and considering the recent news of Shaine Casas joining his pro group, it does not seem like Reese is only coming back for one more season. I could see him going all the way until Paris 2024 or even further. There are no limits on what Eddie Reese can continue to achieve in the sport. 

3. How will Tokyo Olympic stars fare this season?

In recent times, coming off the Olympic Games right into the NCAA has proved difficult for many athletes. 

The most obvious example is 2016 Olympic champion Joseph Schooling. While he dropped time in both the 100 fly and 50 free in the 2017 season, he failed to defend his 100 and 200 fly titles. The 200 fly was exceptionally alarming as he placed 37th, more than eight seconds slower than his NCAA record-setting swim a year prior. 

Though world-record holder Ryan Murphy defended his backstroke titles, he was over half a second slower in the 100 and more than a second slower in the 200 compared to the year before. The post-Olympic hangover is real. Let’s hope no swimmers suffer from it this time around. 

4. Can the Virginia women defend their NCAA title?

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Todd DeSorbo. Photo Courtesy: University of Virginia Athletics

After continuously improving under Head Coach Todd DeSorbo, and being robbed of the opportunity to chase their first-ever title in 2020, the University of Virginia women won their maiden NCAA Championship in style in March. The Cavaliers dominated the competition, finishing almost 150 points ahead of conference rival N.C. State. 

While they lose triple event winner Paige Madden and All-American Caroline Gmelich, their top-five recruiting class certainly makes up for that. Highlighting the additions are Olympic silver medalist Emma Weyant, who deferred her enrollment to train for Tokyo, and Gretchen Walsh, one of the fastest sprinters in the United States. 

Combining the newcomers with the star firepower the Cavs already have, defending their title feels like it should be inevitable. 

The biggest obstacle in their way? Stanford. 

Although the 11-time national champions only managed to muster a ninth-place finish in 2021, they will have a completely different team competing in 2022. Last year’s team missed top recruits Regan Smith, Samantha Pearson and Lillie Nordmann, who deferred their enrollments due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Add in Taylor Ruck’s return, combined with a recruiting class containing Torri Huske, Amy Tang, and two other top-25 women in the 2021 class, and that team looks unstoppable on paper. 

It should be an enthralling battle between the two teams that could come down to the 400 free relay on Saturday night. 

5. How will Margo Geer fare in her first head coaching position? 

There have been quite a few high-profile coaching hires heading into the season. Undoubtedly the most surprising is Margo Geer nabbing the head coaching position at the University of Alabama following Coley Stickels’ departure. While she was a very accomplished swimmer herself, she has no head coaching experience, with her only credentials coming as a volunteer assistant coach at Ohio State and Alabama. 

Considering the facts, Geer most certainly will have a lot of doubters to prove wrong. The Crimson Tide are coming off a strong year last season. The women posted their best finish at NCAAs in more than 30 years, taking fifth, while the men secured 15th. 

Geer has gotten off to a good start, as Alabame easily dispatched Division II powerhouse Delta State.

6. Who will be the highest-impact transfer?

One of the most intriguing parts of the NCAA offseason is seeing what swimmers decide to transfer. 

This summer brought a wealth of high-profile swimmers into the NCAA Transfer Portal. Undoubtedly, the most surprising was Shaine Casas leaving Texas A&M. He would have certainly been the transfer with the most impact had he not decided to forgo his remaining eligibility and join Eddie Reese’s pro group at Texas. Now it is wide open for who that swimmer could be. 

SEC 100 free champ Matt King is coming off a successful freshman year at the University of Alabama and will be suiting up for Virginia this season. He was the Crimson Tide’s highest scorer last year, and heads to Charlottesville with times that would have gotten him silver and gold at the ACC Championships in the 50 and 100 free, respectively. Additionally, his speed instantly puts UVA into the NCAA title conversation in both sprint-free relays. 

Abbey Webb Auburn

Photo Courtesy: Abbey Webb

Another enticing transfer prospect is N.C. State pickup Abbey Webb. She transfers to the Wolfpack from Auburn after only swimming with the Tigers during the 2019-2020 season. While she did not compete for Auburn last year, she had an impressive showing at the Australian Olympic Trials, finishing fourth in the 100 fly, eighth in the 100 back, and ninth in the 100 free. Looking at her best times, she could immediately contend for ACC titles in the 50-200 free and the 100 fly. Coming into Raleigh as a top sprinter, she is a welcome addition to the N.C. State sprint relays as they look to back up their historical NCAA runnerup finish last year with another top-three finish. 

All-American David Schlicht took advantage of the PAC-12 eliminating its intra-conference transfer rule when he switched from Arizona to Arizona State. The Australian was critical to the Wildcats’ 12th place finish at NCAAs, the team’s highest finish since 2014. Schlicht will bolster a Sun Devil squad that returns everyone after the entire team redshirted the 2020-2021 season. While he may not have the relay impact King and Webb will, he still is a massive pickup for Bob Bowman. Being one of the best IMers in collegiate swimming, he could be the swimmer ASU needs to secure its first top-ten finish since 2000. 

7. Can Virginia’s men break into the NCAA top 5 for the first time?

After trending in the wrong direction a few seasons ago, Todd DeSorbo turned a men’s team that did not even score at NCAAs four years ago into a top-ten team. Can he take the team one step further and cap off his first fives years at the program’s helm with a historic top-five finish? 

While the team loses key points through Keefer Barnum graduating, it retains stars like Matt Brownstead and August Lamb. Add in an arguably top-five recruiting class featuring Alabama transfer Matt King, Olympic Trials finalist Jack Aikins, and Max Iida, and breaking into the top five seems achievable. 

DeSorbo does have to make sure all his stars peak at the right time. After sweeping the sprint free events at ACCs, Brownstead failed to make the A-final in either event at NCAAs. If the Cavaliers want to make history, all their top guys need to be firing next March in Atlanta. 

8. How well will high-profile freshmen (and redshirt freshmen) adapt to the NCAA?

With a talented incoming freshman class combined with several top-ranked 2020 recruits opting to defer college enrollment a year, collegiate swimming is loaded with rookie stars. Regan Smith and Torri Huske headline the newcomers as they have already broken world and American records and won Olympic medals before even making their first collegiate splash. They, without a doubt, will dominate the NCAA for as long as they decide to stay. 

On the men’s side, other top-ranked recruits include Texas’ Anthony Grimm, N.C. State’s Aidan Hayes, and Stanford’s Andrei Minakov. Highlighting the women’s side are UVA’s Gretchen Walsh, N.C. State’s Grace Sheble, and Stanford’s Samantha Tadder

How they do in their rookie year will be interesting. We have seen at times how little recruit rankings matter once one gets to college swimming. There are always multiple highly touted freshmen who end up never scoring or even making the NCAA meet. It is also important to remember that freshman year does not define anyone’s collegiate career. Some people may take longer to adapt to college swimming than others. 

Regardless, the freshman class is riddled with superstars, and it will be exciting to see how they impact the NCAA. 

Heading Into The Season 

Overall, it is great to have college swimming in full swing again. It will be nice to see teams enjoying practices with little to no interruptions and fans back in the stands. Expect fast times, fun, and fierce competition.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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