Breaking Down the 2021 ISL Final: Which Team Will Win in Eindhoven?

HAUGHEY Siobhan ENS Energy Standard (ENS) ISL International Swimming League 2021 Match 8 day 2 Piscina Felice Scandone Napoli, Naples Photo Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto
Energy Standard’s Siobhan Haughey is expected to star in the ISL final this weekend -- Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Breaking Down the 2021 ISL Final: Which Team Will Win in Eindhoven?

This week’s ISL final will feature a familiar collection of teams. Just like December 2019 in Las Vegas and November 2020 in Budapest, this Eindhoven final will feature Energy Standard, the Cali Condors, the London Roar and the LA Current. All four of those teams collected match victories during the ISL playoff round, and each group is led by a collection of superstars in the sport.

No offense to the LA Current, but it’s very tough to imagine that team having enough depth to hang with their three competitors in the final. Ryan Murphy has been dominant since he returned for the playoffs, and the trio of Tom Shields, Abbey Weitzeil and Madison Wilson have been consistently very good. Ingrid Wilm and Anastasia Gorbenko have been revelations this season. But expect this championship to come down to Energy Standard, Cali and London.

So how can each of these well-rounded teams walk away with the league title? Let’s check out the scenario for each one.

Energy Standard: Sjostrom, Siobhan and Shymanovich

Energy Standard was the winner of the inaugural ISL final in 2019 before Cali stole away the title last season. But this has been the best team thus far in the playoffs. Energy features swimmers Chad le Clos, Evgeny Rylov and Kliment Kolesnikov, all Olympic medalists in their own right, and all will be in contention for wins in their respective events for the final. But there are three swimmers who will determine Energy’s fate in the final.

isl-Energy Standard (ENS) Energy Standard (ENS) ISL International Swimming League 2021 Match 8 day 2 Piscina Felice Scandone Napoli, Naples Photo Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Can Energy Standard reclaim the ISL championship? — Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Out of 561.5 points that Energy Standard scored in their final playoff match, 228 of those were from three swimmers: Sarah Sjostrom, Siobhan Haughey and Ilya Shymanovich. Sjostrom, on track to be the MVP of the entire season, has won 18 individual races this season, including the 50 freestyle six times and the 50 butterfly seven times. She is a threat to break the world records in both of those 50s during the final, and she is an absolute star on all relays.

Haughey, meanwhile, has 19 wins, including seven in the 200 free and six each in the 100 free and 400 free. In her final match before the final, she swam a 1:50.65 in the 200 free that was the second-fastest time in history, and she certainly could break Sjostrom’s world record of 1:50.43 in the final. She has very little experience racing the 400 free in long course, but there is no one in the ISL capable of hanging with her in the short course version of the event.

There is a swimmer on Haughey’s level in the 100 free (more on that later), but the Hong Kong-native could score enormous points and collect big jackpots with her 200 and 400-meter victories. In her near-record 200 free swim last week, Haughey won by 3.71 seconds and jackpotted six of the other seven swimmers in the field.

Finally, there’s Shymanovich, who has 16 individual victories in breaststroke this year. His playbook is simple: he can win the 200 breast, and he can utterly dominate the 50 and 100-meter events. In his last playoff match, he jackpotted six of the seven swimmers in both races — and on both occasions, the only other swimmer to keep his points was Energy Standard teammate Felipe Lima. So Energy ended up with all 37 points from both of those events. In Friday’s 100 breast, Shymanovich and Lima turned a six-point deficit into a 32-point lead in one fell swoop.

Simply, these three swimmers must deliver as they have for the entire ISL season for Energy to reclaim the league title. Sure, they likely won’t collect the same huge jackpots with all the top swimmers peaking for the final, but it will be a lot of points. Just ask London, which watched as a narrow lead turned into a blowout loss just one week before the final.

Cali Condors: Repeat Everything from Last Year

In 2020, Cali won the ISL final by 97 points, and the entire crew is back in tow this year. On the women’s side, Hali Flickinger picked up wins in the women’s 400 free and 200 back in last year’s final, Lilly King swept the women’s breaststrokes, and Olivia Smoliga and Beata Nelson combined for a backstroke sweep. Smoliga has not been swimming with the same great form this year, but Kelsi Dahlia has been pushing the world record in the 100 butterfly. It is a women’s squad with few holes.

Caeleb Dressel (photo: Mike Lewis)

Caeleb Dressel will need to be on top form if the Cali Condors want to repeat as ISL champions — Photo Courtesy: Mike Lewis/ISL

But the MVP of last year’s final was Caeleb Dressel, the superstar who went on to win five gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics. In the ISL final last year, Dressel won the 50 and 100 free, 50 and 100 fly and 100 IM. He set three individual world records (50 free, 100 fly and 100 IM). But Dressel has not been the same dominant Dressel recently. He has only competed once during the ISL playoffs, and he was not great in that match. He then sat out the Condors’ final tuneup to rest and prepare for the final.

With the Olympics having just finished, it’s no big deal at all for Dressel to be a bit off, but it does hurt the Condors’ chances of a repeat title. If Dressel can get himself in top form really quickly, that is a huge boost for Cali. Even if he does not, he would probably be favored to win his three world-record events and score significant points elsewhere, but in a match that figures to be very tight, Cali will need every point it can get.

London Roar: Sprints, Relays and Duncan Scott

Since he made his debut halfway through the regular season, Kyle Chalmers has been a beast for the London Roar, and that doesn’t include his world-record setting 100 free during the FINA World Cup circuit. In the women’s sprint free and fly events, the Roar have Emma McKeon, who recently completed an Olympics where she won more medals than any female athlete ever at a single Games. She is the only swimmer who can challenge Sjostrom in the 50-meter events. Also for the London women, Kira Toussaint (backstroke), Alia Atkinson (breaststroke) and Sydney Pickrem (IM) have been really strong.

SCOTT Duncan LON London Roar (LON) ISL International Swimming League 2021 Match 8 day 1 Piscina Felice Scandone Napoli, Naples Photo Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Duncan Scott will be favored to win the 400 freestyle and both IM events in the ISL final — Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

But the most valuable swimmer for London is Duncan Scott, who will be favored to win the 200 IM, 400 IM and 400 free in the final, and he also typically collects valuable points at the intermediate checkpoints in the 400-meter events. Scott’s best event is the 200 free, but Chalmers can swim that event and allow Scott to rest for the 400 IM. Scott is new to competing in the 400 IM, but with Daiya Seto, Ilya Borodin and Alberto Razzetti all eliminated, there will be no one who can touch him in the ISL final.

London also has the league’s fastest time this season in the men’s 400 freestyle relay and the women’s 400 medley relay. However, the knock on the Roar is everything was going perfectly in Playoff Match 5 before Energy Standard surged ahead and ended up with a huge victory.

And despite London having superstar Adam Peaty listed on its roster all season, the two-time gold medalist in the 100 breaststroke will not be making a last-minute return for the ISL final.

The X-Factor: Skins

Each of the first 35 events of each ISL match matter. But matches can swing in the skins races, with 85 points on the line in both women’s and men’s skins. And this is a case of rich-get-richer as the top teams in the medley relays get the deciding vote in which stroke is contested for skins — and each team definitely would have their preferences as far as strokes.

On the women’s side, Sjostrom would be the big favorite in freestyle for Energy, King crushes breaststroke skins for Cali whenever she gets the chance, Dahlia (Cali would probably be the slight favorite over Sjostrom and McKeon in butterfly, and backstroke would be more open. Nelson and Maaike de Waard (Cali), Wilm (LA) and Minna Atherton (London) have all been backstroke skins champions this season.

For the men, Dressel (Cali) would certainly be the favorite in free or fly skins, but imagine watching Dressel and Chalmers go head-to-head in free. The opposing coaches will surely rule out men’s breaststroke skins so that Energy Standard does not gain a huge edge with Shymanovich. In backstroke, Murphy has won in both of his appearances this season.

In this league, a match can turn on the skins. That’s how Cali came back to defeat Energy in the first playoff match and how LA upset London in the second.

The Verdict

The best team in Eindhoven probably belongs to the Cali Condors. If everyone is on top form, Cali probably wins this. But if Dressel is slightly off his top form and with the trio of Sjostrom, Siobhan (Haughey) and Shymanovich likely to collect significant jackpots, Energy Standard may have enough to knock off last year’s champs and reclaim the top spot.