In Chase for 16th Men’s National Title, Texas Looks Unstoppable

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Carson Foster will lead the Texas Longhorns in their national title defense -- Photo Courtesy: University of Texas Athletics

In Chase for 16th Men’s National Title, Texas Looks Unstoppable

The University of Texas Longhorns are the defending national champions in men’s swimming and diving, and they have won five of the last six national titles — one year by as many as 193 points, another year by as few as 11.5. Texas was likely to win the title in 2020, too, before the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the national championships. In total, legendary coach Eddie Reese has led Texas to 15 national titles, the first all the way back in 1981.

And in 2022, you can bet that Texas will be adding another trophy to the case. After the performances at this weekend’s Minnesota Invitational, the Longhorns look simply unstoppable.

The craziest part is how the Longhorns stunned everyone on a weekend where their established stars were quiet. Carson Foster appears on the verge of an enormous breakout after barely missing the U.S. Olympic team, swimming the world’s fastest 400-meter IM later in the summer and then recording the fastest dual-meet time ever in the 400-yard IM in November, but in Minnesota, Foster swam one individual race. He won the 400 IM in 3:37.65, the second-best time in the nation so far this year.

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Texas senior Drew Kibler was a U.S. Olympian on the 800 free relay in Tokyo — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Drew Kibler, the only returning Olympian on this Texas team and a swimmer who finished second twice and fifth once in his individual events at last year’s NCAAs, was also unexceptional. He was second in the 50 free and posted some quick relay splits, but in the 100 and 200 free, Kibler did not even make the A-final.

Here’s what did happen: Texas goes into Christmas break with the nation’s top time in four out of 13 individual NCAA events from four different swimmers, none of whom have ever won an individual NCAA title.

One such No. 1 time is in the men’s 100 breast, where junior Caspar Corbeau swam a 50.79 to become the eighth-fastest performer ever and defeat reigning NCAA champion Max McHugh. Corbeau also swam a 1:50.81 in the 200 breast while beating McHugh and 2021 NCAA runnerup Reece Whitley, and he ends the calendar year at No. 2 in the event behind Penn’s Matt Fallon.

Corbeau is a case of a good swimmer (two individual A-finals at NCAAs last year) developing into a great one. After making his Olympic debut for the Netherlands this summer, Corbeau has exploded this season. He also owns the country’s third-fastest 200 IM at 1:41.62, and his free relay splits were sensational: 18.75 in the 50, 41.56 in the 100 and 1:32.30 in the 200.

Senior Danny Krueger is in a similar situation. He tied for second in the 100 free at NCAAs last year with Kibler, and winner Ryan Hoffer graduated, so Krueger certainly looked like a title contender heading into the season. Indeed, he swam a 41.45 in the 100 free for the top spot in the country and then delivered a 40.90 relay split.

Cameron Auchinachie, University of Texas

Cameron Auchinachie ranks first in the country in the 50 free — Photo Courtesy: Stephen Spillman/University of Texas Athletics

Before the season, it was reasonable to count on Krueger being a big piece for Texas in the sprints. But Cameron Auchinachie? No way. Auchinachie is a graduate transfer from the University of Denver, and last swam at an NCAA Championships in 2019 (in Austin, coincidentally). He made a couple consolation finals at that meet. Now, he is the fastest 50 freestyler in college swimming by two tenths — an enormous margin in the splash-and-dash — at 18.80. He ranks second in the country in the 100 back at 45.01.

The last top-ranked individual is another newcomer to the Longhorns, freshman Luke Hobson. He arrived in Austin with lifetime bests of 1:35 in the 200 free and 4:16 in the 500 free. Then, on the first two days in Minnesota, he split 1:31.34 on Texas’ 800 free relay B-team, and he won the 500 free in 4:09.72. Twice in one day, he broke a 17-18 National Age Group record that had belonged for 18 years to the great Michael Phelps.

Hobson also ranks second in the nation in the 1650 free behind Olympic gold medalist Bobby Finke, and he sits 12th in the 200 free, although his relay split suggests he has more in the tank. His star turn is reminiscent of the improvement that Townley Haas showed in his freshman year at Texas, long before Haas qualified for two U.S. Olympic teams.

The relays? Texas ranks first in the country in every single one. Krueger, Kibler, Corbeau and Auchinachie are a formidable bunch in the sprint free relays, and that group has already recorded a time quicker than last year’s NCAA-winning time in the 400 free relay. The medleys are similarly stacked with fifth-year senior Alvin Jiang a very capable piece to go along with Auchinachie or Anthony Grimm on backstroke, Corbeau on breaststroke and Krueger anchoring.

Wednesday, Oct., 27, 2021. (Stephen Spillman)

Texas freshman Luke Hobson owns the nation’s top time in the 500 free — Photo Courtesy: Stephen Spillman/University of Texas Athletics

The 800 free relay will certainly include Kibler and Foster and likely Hobson, with rapidly-improving sophomore Coby Carrozza and junior Peter Larson as the main contenders for the fourth spot.

Just a completely stacked roster — and we have not even mentioned Jake Foster, Carson’s older brother and an Olympic Trials finalist in the 400 IM and 200 breast. Texas probably has at least one high-impact A-finalist in every event minus the 200 fly, and there will be a lot of chances for individual national titles.

That is a far cry from last year, when Texas won the title despite winning no individual swimming events. Only two relays (the 800 free and 400 medley) and diver Jordan Windle finished in first place, but the Longhorns’ depth proved to be enough.

Of course, Cal will not roll over and let Texas cruise to a crown. The Golden Bears have finished in the top-two nationally every year since 2010, including winning four titles during that span and finishing second to Texas in all six title-winning efforts. Cal’s men did not perform to their potential this weekend in Minnesota, but they always come to swim in March. Head coach Dave Durden’s squad also won’t be missing two of its best swimmers, Hugo Gonzalez and Trenton Julian, at the end of the season.

Still, it’s virtually impossible to see a scenario where Cal can muster up enough improvement to knock off Texas. Not with Texas getting championship-level contributions from the most unlikely of sources.

Last March, while Texas was on its way to winning the national title at the NCAA Championships in Greensboro, N.C., Reese began telling those close to him that he was going to retire. Two days after the meet, the announcement came from Texas that Reese would be done as head coach following Olympic Trials.

At the time of his retirement announcement, Reese said, “We never talk about winning. All we talk about is what they can do to help me make them faster. If everybody on my team goes faster, win or lose, then we’re successful.”

Now, after the coach reconsidered his retirement and returned to the Longhorns, he has once again succeeded in making his swimmers faster. It’s a simple goal, but his enormous success in doing so has Texas in position to finish in a very familiar spot in March — for the 16th time.

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Jonny Newsom
8 months ago

Wow. December is a little early to give someone the crown but ok.