NC State Bringing Underrated Teams to Texas for Late-Season Dual Meet Showdown (Video)

NC State's Katharine Berkoff -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

NC State Bringing Underrated Teams to Texas for Late-Season Dual Meet Clash

Last season, two Division I universities finished in the top five at the NCAA Championships for both women’s and men’s swimming. One of those schools has split women’s and men’s programs, both steeped in swimming tradition and the men’s team owning the top record of any in swimming history. The other is a combined team without much consistent national-level success until the last decade.

Those universities are Texas and NC State, respectively, and they will meet this weekend in the final top-notch non-conference dual meet of the season. Both Longhorns teams finished second at last season’s NCAA Championships, with the Texas men finishing just behind Cal after winning five of the six previous national titlesCarol Capitani’s Longhorn women snuck in ahead of powerhouse Stanford on the final day of the meet for the team’s first top-two finish since 1994. Earlier this year, the Texas women scored an upset dual meet win over defending champion Virginia.

Meanwhile, the Wolfpack teams led by 12th-year head coach Braden Holloway, somehow fly under the radar in star-laden college swimming. NC State returned to the national spotlight in the middle of the last decade with a strong sprint group leading the men to the top of the ACC. The team’s fourth-place finish at the 2016 NCAA Championships matched the best in program history, a mark previously achieved in 1955 — yes, 61 years earlier.

Months later, Ryan Held qualified for the Olympic team as the third-place finisher in the 100-meter freestyle at Olympic Trials. If there was any question what that result meant to the program, watch the race from one particular angle:

The coaches in that video include Holloway as well as three assistants who went on to become head coaches elsewhere: Virginia coach Todd DeSorbo, UNC-Wilmington’s Bobby Guntoro and former Auburn coach Gary Taylor. But despite that staff turnover, NC State’s men are still in that elite territory, with four additional fourth-place finishes on the national level since and a strong likelihood of another top-five this year.

Kacper Stokowski is the returning NCAA champion in the 100 backstroke, while Will GallantRoss Dant and James Plage comprise arguably the best distance trio in the country. Nyls Korstanje, Luke Miller and David Curtiss are all returning A-finalists. All five NC State relays placed sixth or higher last year, and every relay swimmer is back except for breaststroker Rafael Kusto, but graduate transfer Mason Hunter should successfully fill that spot.

Sure, NC State lacks the star power of Cal, Texas, Arizona State and even Florida, but that sprint depth and individual scoring potential makes this team dangerous — at the national level but also in the dual-meet format against Texas.

Initially, the Wolfpack women rose in the rankings at a slower pace than their male counterparts, but the dynamic shifted drastically in 2021 when NC State grabbed second behind conference rival Virginia. The team was fifth nationally last year, just nine points shy of fourth-place Alabama. This year’s team must replace the production of departed breaststroker Sophie Hansson, the winner of a pair of individual national titles in 2021, but Katharine Berkoff will aiming to win her third consecutive national title in the 100 back this year after becoming the first woman ever under 49 in 2022.

Junior Abby Arens and fifth-year swimmer Kylee Alons both joined Berkoff on four top-four relays at last year’s NCAAs, and freshman Kennedy Noble and fifth-year Emma Muzzy could join Berkoff in scoring significant backstroke points. As for the upcoming dual meet, a win over Texas would be a tough ask, but racing elite squads in back-to-back weeks (after Virginia last week) should provide valuable experience heading into championship season.

Just like the men’s team, not the country’s flashiest outside of the record-breaking Berkoff, but a consistently really good one — over the past decade, one of the top combined programs in the country.

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