Midseason College Invitationals — Men’s Preview: Leon Marchand and Arizona State Setting Up For Championship Run

Leon Marchand -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Midseason College Invitationals — Men’s Preview: Leon Marchand and Arizona State Setting Up For Championship Run

Just like on the women’s side, nearly every top men’s college program will be in action this weekend as midseason invitational season commences, but there is one notable exception: two-time defending national champion California is holding off on its midseason meet, opting instead for the Minnesota Invitational the weekend after Thanksgiving. But every other team expected to be in the mix for a top-five spot in March is racing, with Arizona State and NC State set to match up in Greensboro just weeks after a high-powered dual meet in Tempe.

Additionally, the Texas men will get a challenge from Stanford as the Longhorns welcome top teams to Austin, while other teams will try to post standout times that stack up in the national rankings. The Florida Gators will be at the Georgia Invite, while Indiana travels to Ohio State and Tennessee hosts.

  • Georgia Invitational (Athens): Auburn, Florida, Georgia
  • NC State Invitational (Greensboro): Arizona State, NC State
  • Ohio State Invitational (Columbus): Indiana, Louisville, Ohio State
  • Tennessee Invitational (Knoxville): Virginia, Virginia Tech, Tennessee
  • Texas Invitational (Austin): Southern California, Stanford, Texas
  • Art Adamson Invitational (College Station, Texas): Texas A&M

Note: The Tennessee Invite will feature long course prelims and short course finals.

Here’s what to watch for as we get set for the fastest weekend of short course yards racing since last March:

1. Led By Marchand, Arizona State Aiming for Title

When Leon Marchand last raced at a college championship meet, he delivered one of the all-time great performances in college swimming history, with the fastest time in history in three events plus historic relay splits while helping Arizona State to a second-place finish on the national level, its best in program history. The last time Marchand raced at a championship meet of any kind, he won three individual world titles, lowering his first world record in the process. Now, in his return to the college level, he will again seek to bludgeon his own records, but there’s plenty more at stake in the team competition.

After finishing only 52 points behind Cal in 2023, the Sun Devils could win a national championship this season. With Marchand anchoring the squad, head coach Bob Bowman has a group with the depth and breadth required to give this a real chase. ASU does lose veteran Grant House, but nearly every other major piece returns. Specifically, watch for Hubert Kos to make a far greater impact this year after he captured the world title in the 200-meter back this summer.

With regard to the freestyle events, the Sun Devils have a sprint contingent led by Jonny Kulow and Jack Dolan, with Patrick Sammon and Julian Hill in the middle-distance races. David Schlicht joins Marchand and Kos in the IMs, and backstroker Owen McDonald returns after making two A-finals as a freshman. Additionally, ASU adds one of the country’s most talented freshman in Ilya Kharun, fourth in the 200-meter fly at the recent World Championships and a legitimate NCAA-title contender in both butterfly events as a freshman. Kharun plus Alex Colson makes the 200 fly a huge strength for Arizona State, even with 200-meter fly world champ Marchand focusing on the 200 breaststroke instead.

The only possible holes for the Sun Devils are distance freestyle, sprint breaststroke and diving, but top rival Cal won’t get any diving points nationally either, and Marchand’s insane short course breaststroke abilities more than masks that problem when it comes to medley relays. This positions the Sun Devils with a real chance to break through. We will monitor that storyline for the next four months, but this weekend’s trip to North Carolina will provide a litmus test for how Bowman’s pieces are coming together.

2. Texas Depending on New Blood

Within the past 15 NCAA Men’s Championships, the Texas Longhorns and legendary head coach Eddie Reese have earned six national titles, seven runnerup finishes and a pair of third-place finishes. But that top-three streak might be in jeopardy in this season, Reese’s 46th and final campaign leading Texas. One year after Drew Kibler eschewed his fifth year to focus on professional swimming opportunities, Caspar Corbeau and Jake Foster made the same call this year while Carson Foster ended his college career after just three years to turn pro.

The Texas roster still features Luke Hobson, last year’s national winner in the 200 and 500 free, as well as a dynamite middle-distance group around him and plenty of diving depth, but beyond that, Texas needs its strong freshman class to step up and deliver right away. Central to those efforts is Will Modglin, an Zionsville, Ind., native who was last year’s National High School Swimmer of the Year. Modglin is already A-final worthy in his best event, the 100 back, and he is faster than any swimmer Texas had leading off its medley relays last season (Carson Foster was forced into emergency duty in those events). Any Texas run this season will depend on Modglin consistently performing in other events and impacting the relays right away.

Additionally, Texas adds Nate Germonprez, who projects as an impact breaststroker and IMer right away, and Will Scholtz could also help rack up points in those events. The key for Reese and associate head coach Wyatt Collins will be getting those swimmers to make the jump right away, for their first taste of college training to pay instant dividends. It has worked in the past, with swimmers like Hobson and Townley Haas before him coming in highly recruited and living up to every expectation. We’ll get a sense at the Texas Invite if history will repeat itself.

3. Sensational Sprinting Season

Consider this weekend’s set of invitationals round one of what’s shaping up to be an intense battle in the freestyle sprints in March. The Cal duo of Jack Alexy and Bjorn Seeliger will be idle, but everyone else is racing, including 2023 NCAA champions Jordan Crooks (Tennessee, 50 free) and Josh Liendo (Florida, 100 free). It might be early in the season for anyone to reach 17-second territory in the 50 free, like Crooks did last spring, or 40-low in the 100 free, as Liendo did in his dominant NCAAs performance, but the Olympic year can bring out some sterling efforts at any time.

We also must consider who will be assembling powerful relay contingents as they point toward championship season. Currently, Arizona State and NC State dominate the national rankings in the 50 free. The Sun Devils, led by Dolan and Kulow, are not a big surprise, but after the offseason departures of Nyls Korstanje and David Curtiss, NC State is really showing some impressive results, with sophomore Drew Salls joining veterans Luke Miller and Noah Henderson as headliners.

Meanwhile, Florida has flown under the radar in the early going, even after winning three out of five relays at the NCAA Championships last year. The Gators have some important pieces to fill in for, including Eric Friese and breaststroker Dillon Hillis, but Liendo combined with Macguire McDuffAdam Chaney and Julian Smith is a powerful group. Expect to see results this weekend much more indicative of Florida’s strength in the events. Finally, Tennessee still has the country’s best sprint duo (outside of maybe Cal) with Crooks and Gui Caribe. What can the Volunteers assemble around those two in hopes of moving up in the relay ranks.

We are long past the days of Caeleb Dressel simply dominating the sprints on the college level, but now it’s arguably more exciting as so many swimmers are nearly even and raising the bar on what’s required for a top-three or even top-eight finish. The 100 fly fits into this pattern as well, with Liendo joining Youssef Ramadan under 44 last year and a time of 44.65 required just to make the A-final. For this season, let’s see which men can boost their own positioning with strong efforts this weekend.

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