How Florida Could Surprise Favorites at NCAA Men’s Championships and Contend for Title

Florida's Josh Liendo -- Photo Courtesy: Florida Athletics

How Florida Could Surprise Favorites at NCAA Men’s Championships, Contend for Title

The dominant teams of men’s college swimming over the last decade have been Cal and Texas, and this season, Arizona State has vaulted into headliner status with a remarkable regular season. Sun Devils sophomore Leon Marchand entered conference championship season with the top time in the country in a mind-blowing seven events — and he still has five No. 1 times — and ASU’s supporting cast joined Marchand in putting on a show in the final dual meets of the season, including a dominating performance against Cal.

But could Anthony Nesty’s Florida Gators find themselves in the hunt as well? The same Gators who lost a pair of Olympic medalists and American-record holders (Bobby Finke and Kieran Smith) to graduation plus another member of last year’s U.S. World Championships team (Trey Freeman) to midseason retirement? The results of last week’s SEC Championships scream a resounding “yes.”

First off, the relays: there are several major conference championship meets still remaining, but Florida currently owns the top time in the nation in three out of five relays. The only exceptions are the 200 medley relay, where Florida is the defending national champion, and the 400 freestyle relay, and in both of those events, the Gators are within three tenths of top-ranked Tennessee. In the 200 free relay, Florida’s top time this year is a mere 0.11 off an NCAA record that has stood since the supersuit era (after the Gators fell just three hundredths short last year), and in the 400 medley, Florida was less than three tenths off the mark set by an all-star Texas squad in 2017.


Adam Chaney — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The star of this year’s team is Josh Liendo, a Canadian freshman who won a pair of individual medals at last summer’s World Championships. If he’s not the top sprint freestyle and butterfly specialist in college swimming right now, he’s second-best behind Tennessee’s Jordan Crooks. Meanwhile, Adam Chaney now owns the top time in the country in the 100 backstroke (and he has serious sprint freestyle skills as well) while Dillon Hillis and Aleksas Savickas are both among the top four in the country in the 100 breaststroke. Eric FrieseMacguire McDuffJulian Smith and Alberto Mestre all have important relay roles.

Perhaps the only relay where winning is far-fetched is the 800 free relay, with Texas, Cal, Arizona State and Stanford all entering with likely superior squads. But four relays with national title hopes? Noted.

Individually, yes, Florida has some holes, particularly in the backstroke events aside from Chaney in the 100 back. But Jake Mitchell, a junior transfer from Michigan, had the best performance of his college career at the SEC Championships, overtaking Georgia’s Jake Magahey to win the 500 free in 4:09.85 before winning the 200 free B-final in 1:32.42. Both Mitchell and Alfonso Mestre split 1:31s on the Gators’ 800 free relay. Swimmers including Joaquin Gonzalez Pinero (200 fly), Gio Linscheer and Mason Laur (both 400 IM) all had performances at SECs that earned some notice. Perhaps these men will provide enough balance to the Florida lineup since sprinters can wrack up so many points at college meets thanks to relays.

This isn’t to say Florida should be considered the national-title favorite. Heck, all of their major rivals other than NC State still have to compete in their conference meets, although we should not expect to see Texas or Cal close to full strength until NCAAs. But if the Gators can repeat or slightly improve upon their conference relay performances when they arrive in Minneapolis, they will pose a serious threat.

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George Schmidt`
George Schmidt`
1 year ago

I think it’s wrong to subsidize non-citizens’ education at the expense of U.S. citizens with athletic scholarships, and train them to beat our swimmers in the Olympics. Just sayin’… We should require them to pay their own way if they want to train with our coaches.

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