Adjustments in College Season Have Aiden Hayes Looking Toward Trials

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Adjustments in College Season Have Aiden Hayes Looking Toward Trials

Chances are, if you knew of Aiden Hayes before he arrived at NC State, the two talking points would’ve been Oklahoma and the 50 free.

The native of Norman and Swimming World’s 2021 Boys High School Swimmer of the Year, Hayes made his name primarily in the 50 free, downing Matt Brownstead’s national record in the splash and dash with a time of 19.20 seconds. He also carried the 100 butterfly national mark of 45.47 to Raleigh, downing a long-standing Joseph Schooling record.

Three years into his college career, the 50 seems a distant dream. And it’s a very different event, the 200 fly, that might offer Hayes’ best chance to punch a ticket to Paris.

It has already brought an NCAA title, as a sophomore in 2023. As he plots his program for Olympic Trials, the 200 fly has pride of place.

“As time went on and we got moving into college, it was something I knew I needed for my team to help put points on the board, and something I also knew I’d be able to really do some work on over time,” Hayes said at the NCAA Championships. “I just kept developing and working on it.”

Hayes hit a bit of a ceiling in the 50. He was 25th in the event as a freshman and 26th as a sophomore. He has turned to butterfly as his breakout stroke, with three straight NCAA A finals in the 100 – seventh as a freshman, sixth each of the last two years.


Aiden Hayes; Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

As a junior, Hayes made the switch to the 100 back, giving him a Day 2 double in Indianapolis. He responded by pairing sixth in the 100 fly (44.39 seconds) with 10th in the 100 back (44.55), an event he has swum sparingly.

“It showed me I’m in really good shape so I don’t have to worry about that a ton,” he said. “It also showed me that my backstroke swimming is a lot better than I thought it was.”

Developing along that backstroke/butterfly lane fits NC State’s bread and butter. The Wolfpack have developed internationally notable swimmers in both strokes, like Kacper Stokowski and Nyls Korstanje. Hayes stepping into the college environment and training with those guys has unquestionably challenged him to get better.

“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “Especially for some guys, me and Kacper do the double, so every single day of the week with training is a different stroke or a different idea that you’re looking at. It’s never the same thing over and over. I think it helps with the longevity of the season and not burning out your swimmers.”

The American depth consigns him to the dark horse category at Trials. He went 1:56.71 in the 200 fly at World Team Trials last year, a best time and the 12th fastest among Americans since the start of 2023. There will be a lot of swimmers to crawl past at Trials, and despite the 1:53s posted by Thomas Heilman and Carson Foster at Worlds last year, no spot seems set in stone.

To get there, Hayes will have to continue doing what he’s shown himself to be so proficient at in Raleigh. He went from a big fish in a small pond to a much larger pond with plenty of big fish, but he has continued to improve nonetheless. He’ll now have a spring to translate that to the long-course pool.

“It’s definitely a big adjustment,” he said. “I came in with a little bit of a head on my shoulders; it’s hard not to coming out of high school. And you learn very quickly through practice, especially those first few weeks, that life is a lot tougher than it was in high school. Learning to manage school and swimming and on top of that, the dudes you’re racing every day aren’t slow. It’s something to get a grasp on that takes a little bit of time, but it’s also something that, if used right, can propel every athlete to get better.”

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