Thomas Heilman, Maximus Williamson Could Lift Virginia Men Into National-Title Contention

Thomas Heilman -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Thomas Heilman, Maximus Williamson Could Lift Virginia Men Into National-Title Contention

During the recent stretch where the Virginia women have dominated college swimming, they have understandably overshadowed their male counterparts in the Cavaliers’ combined program. Still, the Virginia men have been a solid team under head coach Todd DeSorbo and his staff, with an American record in the 200 freestyle relay at the 2022 ACC Championships likely their most impressive achievement, and they have finished recorded ninth and 10th-place finishes on the national level in 2021 and 2022, respectively.

Why the gap? It’s not because DeSorbo can’t coach men. Before he took the UVA job in August 2017, he was best known for his work guiding the sprint group at NC State. During DeSorbo’s tenure, the Wolfpack notched multiple relay wins at the NCAA Championships and placed Ryan Held on the 2016 Olympic team.

Simply, the primary difference has been depth of talent. Star power has driven the Cavaliers’ three national titles: Paige MaddenAlex Walsh and Kate Douglass were all individual national champions in 2021, and after Madden departed college swimming, Gretchen Walsh joined her older sister and Douglass to create one of the fiercest trios in NCAA swimming history.

Now, the Virginia men could be vaulting to national prominence, with the program-changing news breaking at almost the exact same time Noah Nichols won the first international medal by a UVA male swimmer under DeSorbo’s leadership, a Pan American Games silver in the 100 breaststroke. The program’s first men’s gold was followed one day later as Jack Aikins set a Games record in the 200 backstroke.

But the likes of Thomas Heilman and Maximus Williamson are on another level of talent, both multi-time National-Age-Group-record breakers and both serious contenders to qualify for next year’s U.S. Olympic team as teenagers.

Heilman’s commitment to UVA cannot be considered a huge surprise. He lives in the Charlottesville, Va., area, and his older brother Matthew is currently a sophomore on the Cavaliers’ roster. Heilman is currently coached by Gary Taylor, who worked alongside DeSorbo at NC State. And at age 16, he nearly won an individual medal at the World Championships this summer.

He shocked many by simply qualifying for the U.S. team bound for the World Championships in Fukuoka, Japan, earning surprise second-place finishes in the 200 fly (behind Carson Foster) and the 100 fly (behind Dare Rose) at U.S. Nationals. Heilman then qualified for the 200 fly final at Worlds and blasted home on the final length to finish in 1:53.82, less than two tenths off the podium (tied with Canada’s Ilya Kharun for fourth) and seven tenths faster than Michael Phelps swam to win a world title at the same age.

Heilman did depart the meet with a gold medal by virtue of his prelims leg on the U.S. men’s 400 medley relay, and while he has yet to showcase the stroke at a senior-level international meet, his freestyle is promising as well, so he shapes up to be an instant-impact four-relay swimmer for Virginia. He is a favorite to qualify for the Paris Games in the 200 fly at least, with more events a possibility given his rapid improvement.


Maximus Williamson — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

And when Heilman becomes a Cavalier in the fall of 2025, he will team up with his only true peer among teenage male stars in the country, Williamson, who is coming off a monster effort at the World Junior Championships where he won six gold medals and one silver, including individual golds in the 100 free (over Aussie speedster Flynn Southam) and 200 IM.

Williamson, too, will take a shot at an earlier-than-usual Olympic appearance, and the chances of qualifying in his best events are legitimate. Williamson dropped almost two seconds in the 100 free this year, lowering his time to 48.38, and he won’t have to swim much faster to book a spot on the Paris 400 free relay. And as for his college prospects, a swimmer who specializes in IM and short freestyle is poised to prosper in the NCAA format, with the Virginia coaches surely eager to determine which events he fits best on a team that will be absolutely loaded by the time he arrives.

It would not be a surprise if both Heilman and Williamson win individual NCAA titles as a freshman. That’s how elite their skillsets are. And it’s not like they will be alone in boosting the Cavaliers prospects: top-ranked IMers Thomas Mercer and Grant Murphy plus sprinter Josh Howat have all committed to attend UVA in the fall of 2025, and before that, skilled prospects arriving in 2024 include Sandpipers of Nevada-trained Dillon Wright and Heilman’s club teammate David King.

Well, there’s the elite talent in position for DeSorbo and co. to mold, and this staff has consistently helped less-heralded names emerge as key complementary pieces, particularly in the sprint events. Consider how much Lexi Cuomo contributed to Virginia’s national-title-winning relays in recent years.

It would be unfair to expect the Virginia men to put together a true dynasty like the women have since 2021, but this collection of swimming ability in one pool will put a scare into the likes of Cal, Texas, Arizona State, Florida and the other programs who have sat for years in pole position in men’s college swimming. Look for the Cavaliers to soon join that chase.

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