Five Swimmers Who Could Break Through at USA Swimming Nationals

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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By Andy Ross

The USA Swimming Phillips 66 Nationals will be this week July 25-29 in Irvine, California and will serve as a selection meet for a number of big international meets. The main meet it is selecting for is the Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo, Japan, which are about three weeks away. The meet will be August 9-12 and the United States will be selecting the top three swimmers for Pan Pacs, and the top two overall from Nationals and Pan Pacs will move on to the World Championships in 2019.

The “gap year” is an important one for USA Swimming (as well as the rest of the world) as it is a chance to get to compete on an international stage, but with less pressure. A lot of great swimmers got their first taste of international experience at the Pan Pacs before going on to compete at the Olympics two years later. In 2014, Ryan MurphyLeah SmithCody Miller and Kathleen Baker swam on their first National A team at the Pan Pacs in Australia, and went on to win individual medals in Rio two years later.

The experience gained from competing in the Pan Pacs will be valuable for everyone who makes the team next week in Irvine. So who could get their first taste of international experience by making their first major team this week?

PSYCH SHEET

Ella Eastin

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

It’s almost hard to believe Ella Eastin has yet to make a major international meet. She originally did make the World Championship team in 2017, but was left off the team after a disqualification in the 400 IM. Eastin went on to swim at the World University Games where she won a gold in the 200 fly and silver in the 200 IM.

But Eastin has recently been hit with mononucleosis, something that could hinder her chances of swimming at her absolute best in Irvine.

This past year, Eastin won swimmer of the meet at the NCAA’s in Columbus, where she broke two American Records in the 200 and 400 IM, and also broke the 200 fly American Record a month prior.

Eastin has clearly showed she isn’t messing around in 2018 after what happened last year. She has a potential to make the Pan Pac team in three events, and might even challenge for a spot on the 4×200 free relay.

Michael Andrew

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Michael Andrew is no longer a junior swimmer. The now 19-year-old has been knocking on the door for a long time to get on a major international team and 2018 might be his year. Andrew rocked the Columbus Pro Swim Series a few weeks ago with stellar swims in the 50 free and 100 fly.

Andrew has swam at the last four junior international meets, whether it was Junior Worlds or Junior Pan Pacs. If Andrew can make it next week, it will be his first senior international meet in long course. He could definitely play spoiler in the Olympic events he is competing in, the 50 free, 100 fly and 100 breast.

Katie Drabot

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Katie Drabot was one of the most sought after recruits in the class of 2016. She didn’t have the best freshman season for Stanford in 2017, failing to reach an A-final at the NCAA Championships, and only scoring 14th in the 200 free. But Drabot took a similar route to her Stanford teammate Eastin.

Drabot won a silver medal in the 200 free at the World University Games last summer, after just missing out on a spot to compete at the Worlds. She also had a breakout college season where she reached three A-finals in the 500, 200 free and 200 fly, placing second, fourth and second respectively.

Drabot has been on a roll the past 12 months and could sneak on the team in a number of events like the 200 fly or the 400 free. Drabot also has a chance to get a spot on the 4×200 free relay.

Andrew Seliskar

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

There was a lot of hype around Andrew Seliskar after his Junior National meet in 2013. But Seliskar hasn’t quite lived up to the hype since he was Swimming World’s high school swimmer of the year in 2015. He has yet to win an individual NCAA title at Cal, although he has placed as high as second in 2017 in the 400 IM, and again in 2018 in the 200 breast.

Seliskar has showed he is capable of a big summer, expanding to the 200 free and 100 fly where he could play spoiler. Seliskar is also capable of good swims in both IM’s where he could get a spot on the team behind reigning World Champion Chase Kalisz.

Erika Brown

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The United States doesn’t have a solid second 100 flyer behind Kelsi Dahlia. The reigning Olympic bronze medalist Dana Vollmer said she won’t be competing at Nationals and Sarah Gibson didn’t reach the final last summer in Budapest. In fact, the United States hasn’t had two finalists in the women’s 100 fly at a major meet since Vollmer and Claire Donahue were in the final in 2013 in Barcelona.

Tennessee sophomore Erika Brown exploded on to the scene this past college season where she was second in the 100 fly and 50 free, and sixth in the 100 free. Not bad for someone who didn’t even make the meet in 2017. Brown is the third fastest performer in short course yards in the 100 fly. Can that translate to long course for Brown?

Good But Not Yet

These are swimmers who might not be good enough to make their leap to the senior team now, but could use the 2019 Pan American Games, World University Games as their breakout meet. In the last Olympic cycle, Rio medalists Lilly King and Josh Prenot had breakout meets at the World University Games a year out from Rio. At the Pan American Games that same year, Katie Meili and Kelsi Dahlia had their long course breakout meets and put their names on the map for the 2016 Olympic Team.

Below is a list of swimmers who might not be ready right now, but need another year or so to put themselves in the mix for the Olympic Team.

Daniel Roy

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Let’s be honest, this guy could end up surprising everybody and making the Pan Pac team. But the United States is so deep in the men’s 200 breast that Roy’s time might not be here yet. Roy is having a breakout summer already after he posted a 2:09 in the 200 breast at the Indianapolis Pro Swim Series.

But Roy will be just a freshman at Stanford this fall, and is no longer training alone, like he has done for the last few years after the 2016 Olympic Trials. Roy has already made the move to Palo Alto this summer to get a head start on college classes and training with the team. Will that be enough to push him over? Or will we have to wait until the World University Games next summer to see what this guy is fully capable of?

Reece Whitley

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Everything that was said above about Daniel Roy, you could say here about Reece Whitley. Whitley is going to be a freshman this fall at Cal, as Swimming World’s High School Swimmer of the Year for 2017 will be just across the bay from his good rival and friend, Daniel Roy. But Whitley elected not to make the early move to Cal this summer to focus on one last summer with his club coach.

Again, the men’s breaststroke events are so deep in the United States that Whitley might have to wait until the World University Games in 2019 to make his mark.

However Whitley broke the National High School record in the 100 breast this year, which would have placed him tied for second at the NCAA’s this past season. Whitley is also becoming a very marketable star, already claiming Sports Illustrated’s Sports Kid of the Year in 2015, and being named to the Young Futurists list of 2018.

Jack LeVant

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The men’s 200 free is relatively wide open. With no Michael Phelps and an aging Ryan Lochte, the United States is desperately searching for a new identity in the 4×200 free relay. Townley Haas won a silver medal at Worlds last year in the 200 individually, but Blake Pieroni missed the final. Jack Conger and Zane Grothe swam on the relay last summer but barely scraped out a bronze medal after almost missing the final altogether.

There has been a lot of movement in the 200 free this year, including Pieroni busting through 1:30 in the yards version at NCAA’s. That movement could really been from the junior ranks. Florida commit Trey Freeman broke the National High School record in the 200 free this year, and Stanford commit Jack LeVant has put up good long course swims alongside the pros this summer.

LeVant has already been a 1:48 this summer in the 200 free and it took a 1:47.25 to finish top four at last summer’s Nationals. LeVant may not be ready to make that leap yet, but he is in the same freshman class as Daniel Roy at Stanford, and those two could be on their way to big things in the next few years.

Carson Foster

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Foster is proving to be one of the United States’ most versatile young swimmers. It’s hard to even pinpoint what Foster’s best event it. He claims it’s the 200 IM. The 2017 world rankings suggest it’s the 200 back. His 200 fly also isn’t bad. And he has showed that he can put together a solid 200 free for a relay.

Regardless, Foster could be blossoming into a star of the future for the United States. He is going to be a junior this fall and he has already committed to swim at the University of Texas, following in the footsteps of his older brother.

In 2016, Foster competed at the Olympic Trials when he was just 14. With that experience behind him and his growing confidence, he could make some noise in 2019.

Alex Walsh

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Alex Walsh might be the most underrated swimmer in the United States right now. She is only going to be a junior in high school this upcoming fall and she is one of the most talented high school swimmers in the country. Walsh has yet to swim in a Pro Swim Series meet, so a lot of people might have forgotten about her.

At the East Winter Juniors in December, Walsh put up times in the 200 IM and both breaststrokes that would have gotten top eight at the NCAA’s in March. And she was only a sophomore! Granted that was short course, but Walsh could surprise some people in the final if she can swim up to her potential in long course.

Last summer, Walsh was fourth in the 200 IM on the last day of the meet at Nationals. She was able to grab a spot on the Junior Worlds team where she finished fourth in Indianapolis in the 200 IM. Could Walsh snag a spot to Japan this summer or will she see her breakout meet at the 2019 Pan American Games?

Emily Weiss

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Like Walsh, Emily Weiss put up a time in the 100 breast at the East Winter Juniors in December that would have placed in the top eight at the NCAA’s in March. Weiss went even faster two months later when she broke the National High School record in the 100 breast. Weiss is going to be a senior this fall and has already committed to in-state Indiana, where she will look to follow the path blazed by Lilly King.

Weiss placed tenth at Nationals last summer in the 100 breast, where she got a spot on the World Junior team. Weiss won the gold in the 50 breast at World Juniors and could be dangerous as she gets stronger at Indiana.

Remember how much better Lilly King got at Indiana in just a year? She went from a 1:06 to a 1:04 and Olympic gold medalist in just a year. Weiss and King don’t share many similarities, but they both have early speed. And who knows how Weiss could develop that speed as we move toward 2020.

Erica Sullivan

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

With Katie Ledecky and Leah Smith dominating the distance races for the United States, there isn’t a lot of room at the top. Those two are almost becoming Phelps and Lochte-esque in the 400, 800, and now the 1500 free. But Smith has started to branch out in to other events like the 400 IM and 200 fly. She elected to not swim the 1500 last summer at the World Championships, and if she decides to do that again in 2020, then it could leave the door wide open for someone like Erica Sullivan.

Sullivan already swam best times this summer in the 800 and 1500 at the Indianapolis Pro Swim Series. She will be a freshman at the University of Southern California this fall where she will join the likes of Open Water distance swimmers Haley Anderson and Becca Mann. Sullivan is going to be a freshman but is the second fastest swimmer in the NCAA in the 1650 off best times alone, sitting only behind Penn State rising senior Ally McHugh.

6 comments

  1. Emily Fogle

    Great, thorough article, Andy Ross!!

  2. avatar
    Anonymous

    Eastin just has bad luck. She is a great short course swimmer than long course swimmer.

  3. avatar
    Anonymous

    Where is Katherine Berkoff in this list?