Can Arizona State Men Contend For National Title?

Arizona State's Grant House -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Can Arizona State Men Contend For National Title?

In men’s college swimming, racing against Cal and Texas can be viewed as a measuring stick. These two programs have dominated the sport for more than a decade, with the Golden Bears and Longhorns occupying the top two spots at the NCAA Championships every year but one going back to 2010. The exception was 2013, when Cal finished second and Texas third. Thus, Arizona State’s 211-87 win over Cal in Saturday’s dual meet has to be considered a big deal.

The Sun Devil men won all but two swimming events for the entire meet. Cal’s only wins came in the backstroke races, where Destin Lasco, last year’s 200 back national champion, got to the wall first. Leon Marchand went off for ASU, swimming the fastest time ever in the 400 IM while posting eye-popping breaststroke times, but Grant HouseJack DolanAlex ColsonMax McCusker and midyear arrivals Hubert Kos and Zalan Sarkany all scored individual wins in the victory.

The obvious caveat to the very one-sided meet is the teams’ choice of apparel: Bob Bowman’s Sun Devils raced in technical suits while Dave Durden’s Bears opted for training suits. The tech suits provide a physical boost in racing plus an obvious mental advantage, but both coaches picked the swimwear they felt would best prepare their swimmers for the end of the season. After all, that’s the goal. Swimming fast in dual meets is great, but every swimmer and coach on deck Saturday at Mona Plummer Aquatic Center is eyeing the NCAA Championships in Minneapolis above all else.

That meet is a different beast, the fastest meet in the world and a cutthroat environment demanding success and precision in morning prelims to give a team a shot in finals. Plenty of teams struggle at the national meet, but two men’s groups always show up: Cal and Texas. Last season, for instance, Cal outscored its pre-meet projection by 129.5 points, and Texas ended up 75.5 points up. The third-best team was +45.5 while Arizona State was among the teams to score slightly less than its projections.

In two months, when the teams return to championship format and everyone is suited up, the goal is to get as many swimmers in the top-16 as possible. Marchand, House and Colson are returning A-finalists while Dolan and Julian Hill were individual B-finalists. Kos and Sarkany have very good chances to score individually as well. Relays, of course, count double.

Arizona State has to contend with Cal and Texas teams returning six individual A-finalists each plus plenty of depth, relay talent and a history of performing at a premium level in March. There’s a chance for Marchand, Bowman and co., but the Golden Bears and Longhorns have to be considered the title favorites.

However, a top-three or even a top-five finish that would be the program’s highest under Bowman’s leadership would be a huge accomplishment — and a very realistic one. In addition to Cal and Texas, the Sun Devils will have to contend with consistently-excellent Florida and North Carolina State.

The Gators, third last year, lost Olympic medalists Bobby Finke and Kieran Smith to graduation and Trey Freeman to retirement, but they add World Championships medalist Josh Liendo to a deep and accomplished sprint group that won a pair of 200-yard relays at last year’s NCAA Championships with Adam Chaney and Eric Friese among the accomplished performers returning.

NC State, meanwhile, has one reigning national champion in Kacper Stokowski (100 back), a pair of valuable sleepers in Nyls Korstanje and Luke Miller and possibly more sprint depth than any other team in the country. The Wolfpack have finished in fourth place at four of the last five NCAA Championships.

There’s a long way to go to see how these teams stack up, and we’ll have more indications following next month’s conference championship meets. Right now is too early to make any absolute predictions beyond this: Arizona State is squarely in the conversation, but until proven otherwise, don’t bet against Cal and Texas in March.

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1 year ago

Analysis on point, David.

Need to point out, though, that while Kos swam well for first time in SCY he did not have an individual win over the weekend. Three seconds in Cal meet, twice to Lasco in the backstrokes and then to the Frenchman in the 4 IM.

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