Morning Splash: Five Men Could Win NCAA Title in 200 IM

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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By David Rieder.

One year ago, in the men’s NCAA final of the 200 IM, Will Licon was in major trouble at the halfway point. Buoyed by his typically-strong backstroke leg, Ryan Murphy turned in 46.41, ahead of Florida’s Jan Switkowski (46.72) and Cal’s Josh Prenot (46.96). Licon was back in fifth place at 47.90.

But somehow, Licon pulled out the win. Then a junior at Texas, he out-split Prenot by a half-second on the final 50 of freestyle and held off a late surge from Murphy to finish in 1:40.04. Prenot was second in 1:40.14, and Murphy ended up third in 1:40.27.

  1 Licon, Will            JR Texas             1:41.36    1:40.04P  20  
    r:+0.71  21.78        47.90 (26.12)
        1:15.74 (27.84)     1:40.04 (24.30)
  2 Prenot, Josh           SR California        1:41.07    1:40.14   17  
    r:+0.70  21.38        46.96 (25.58)
        1:15.33 (28.37)     1:40.14 (24.81)
  3 Murphy, Ryan           JR California        1:41.15    1:40.27   16  
    r:+0.65  22.28        46.41 (24.13)
        1:16.09 (29.68)     1:40.27 (24.18)

Prenot has moved on to the professional ranks, but Licon and Murphy are back for this year’s championships, and so, too, is Chase Kalisz, who seven months earlier won Olympic silver in the 400 IM.

So it’s a three-man race? Not at all. Kalisz, Licon and Murphy enter the meet seeded third, 10th and 11th, respectively.

It’s more like a five-man race—maybe even more. Let’s meet the contenders.

Andrew Seliskar, Cal

andrew-seliskar-

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Seventh in the 200 IM and fifth in the 400 IM as a freshman, Seliskar arrived in Indianapolis seeded atop the field in the shorter IM in a time two seconds quicker than his entry time last season. He easily out-paced Murphy to win the Pac-12 title in the event and finished in 1:41.24, ranking him 11th all-time in the event.

Seliskar also enters the meet with the fourth-seed in the 200 fly at 1:40.74, so he figures to do well on the opening leg, and he split a 52.08 as the breaststroker on Cal’s 400 medley relay at the Pac-12 championships. In his first race of the meet at NCAAs, Seliskar split 1:31.58 on the Bears’ 800 free relay.

It’s just the backstroke leg that could slip up Seliskar, especially with men like his teammate Murphy, the Olympic gold medalist in both the 100 and 200 back, in the field as well.

Andreas Vazaios, NC State

andreas-vazaios-nc-state-relay-exchange-acc-championships

Photo Courtesy: Todd Kirkland, theACC.com

The name doesn’t ring a bell? Just check out the results from the 200 IM semifinals from this past summer’s Olympic Games. Representing Greece, Vazaios finished 15th in Rio after making his Olympic debut four years earlier in London, where he finished 23rd.

Vazaios arrived at NC State this year with two years of eligibility in his pocket, and he won the 200 IM in 1:41.25. That time has him entering NCAAs seeded second. Like Seliskar, Vazaios’ best stroke is butterfly—he is seeded ninth in the 200 fly later in the week—and his 24.56 backstroke split from ACCs is faster than anybody aside from Murphy swam in last year’s NCAA final.

He could very well have the lead at the halfway point, but the breaststroke leg could spell trouble for Vazaios.

Chase Kalisz, Georgia

chase-kalisz-400-im-prelims-2016-rio-olympics

Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher- USA TODAY Sports

In his return to collegiate swimming after a redshirt year, Kalisz has looked stronger and more comfortable in short course than he was during his first three years in Athens. His season-best time of 1:41.26 from the Georgia Invite in December, ranks third heading into the meet, just behind Seliskar and Vazaios, and is just off his lifetime best of 1:41.19.

Like Seliskar and Vazaios, Kalisz is entered in the 200 fly, where he’s seeded third, but his strategy in the IM races is no secret—hold back on the front half and then go for it on the breaststroke and freestyle legs. Just ask Kosuke Hagino, the Olympic gold medalist in the 400 IM, who almost saw Kalisz run him down on the back half in that Olympic final.

Kalisz has also filled in this season as Georgia’s top breaststroker, and he figures to swim that leg on both medley relays this week. His season-best split in the 100 breast is a 51.76.

But for all his strength in the 200-and-below events, it’s in the 400 IM that Kalisz excels, and he is a good bet to break his own American and NCAA record of 3:34.50 in that event. The 200 IM is a little bit too short for Kalisz to get comfortable, especially short course, but he will still be coming home hard.

Will Licon, Texas

IMG_0773

Photo Courtesy: Andy Ringgold / Aringo Photos

Now a senior, Licon finished second in the event behind David Nolan two years ago and picked up the win in 2016. His times in those races were 1:40.09 (2015) and 1:40.04 (2016).

Safe to say that Licon would like to see a 1:39 on the clock this time around, but his IMs have not been as strong as his breaststroke events this season. Licon posted a strong 51.15 in the 100 breast at the Big 12 championships, prompting a lineup switch from the 400 IM to 100 breast, and he is heavily favored to win a third-straight national title in the 200 breast, entering seeded first by more than two seconds (1:49.89).

But in the 200 IM, Licon has not posted any special times this season, entering with a 1:42.35 from the Big 12 meet. Of course, Texas swimmers are notorious for posting large time drops at the national meet, so he’s definitely not to be counted out.

Ryan Murphy, Cal

ryan-murphy-2016-o-trials-4800

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Before he goes for his fourth-straight NCAA titles in the 100 and 200 back, Murphy figures to factor into the IM as well. No one will match his backstroke split, and he posted the quickest homecoming freestyle split in the 200 IM final at NCAAs last year.

Especially in short course, Murphy has freestyle skills: He split 41.56 anchoring Cal’s 400 free relay at NCAAs last year—the Bears were DQed, but it was not Murphy who jumped early—and he split 1:32.08 on the 800 free relay on night one.

If the IM consisted only of fly, back and free, Murphy would win easily. But breaststroke exists, and Murphy split 29.69, almost two seconds slower than Licon, on that leg at NCAAs last year.

Anybody else?

Well, maybe. Florida’s Mark Szaranek was among the most impressive swimmers of the SEC championships, finishing second and challenging Kalisz in both IMs, and he is seeded fourth in Indy in 1:41.30. His teammate Switkowski is still around and seeded seventh at 1:42.25.

Also seeded in the top ten are Indiana Hoosiers Vini Lanza and Ian Finnerty, Virginia Tech’s Brandon Fiala and NC State’s Soren Dahl.

In between a potential challenge to Peter Vanderkaay’s nine-year-old American record in the 500 free and the Caeleb Dressel show in the 50 free, the loaded 200 IM will have five or more guys with different strengths that could all win the race.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

Comments Off on Morning Splash: Five Men Could Win NCAA Title in 200 IM

Author: David Rieder

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David Rieder is a staff writer for Swimming World. He has contributed to the magazine and website since 2009, and he has covered the NCAA Championships, U.S. Nationals, Olympic Trials as well as the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and the 2017 World Championships in Budapest. He is a native of Charleston, S.C., and a 2016 graduate of Duke University.

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