NCAA Men’s Championships: Cal Leads But Five Teams Within 40 Points Entering Day Three

Cal's Destin Lasco -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

NCAA Men’s Championships: Cal Leads But Five Teams Within 40 Points Entering Day Three

With seven out of 21 finals complete at the NCAA Men’s Championships in Minneapolis, this meet has the makings of an all-time classic, perhaps akin to the 2018 championships — the last edition of this meet held at the Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center — when Texas won its fourth consecutive championship by just 11.5 points over Cal, with Indiana only 15.5 points further behind. Entering day three of this year’s meet, four teams are within 40 points, and none have much of a margin for error.

Cal leads the way with 184, followed by Texas (165), Arizona State (154), NC State (151.1) and Florida (145). Four of these teams have already scored at least one event win, all in dramatic and impressive fashion. Surprisingly, the one team without a win thus far are the first-place Golden Bears, but Dave Durden’s squad has shown the impressive swimming throughout that gave them the title of slight favorites entering the week.

For NC State, it was that first relay win in the 200 medley, with a pair of veterans (Kacper Stokowski and Nyls Korstanje), a much-acclaimed sophomore sprinter (David Curtiss) and an impact graduate transfer (Mason Hunter) putting together the fastest relay in history. NC State has reached nearly a decade as a stalwart top-five team, but somehow, the program still gets forgotten somewhat in the national discussion without as many recognizable stars. Entering this meet, the Wolfpack once again lacked the blunt star power of the other four schools, yet the team is well-placed in the hunt and unlikely to fall away.

Texas winning the 800 freestyle relay for the third year in a row? Even after the departure of Drew Kibler, not terribly surprising, not with World Championships team members Carson Foster and Coby Carrozza plus U.S. national champion Luke Hobson on the squad. But Hobson swimming a 1:29.63 the leadoff leg, moving into a tie for fourth all-time in the 200 free? That was the clue that despite run-of-the-mill results during the season, Eddie Reese and his Longhorns would be firing on all cylinders once again on the national level.


The Texas men celebrating an 800 free relay win Wednesday night — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Wednesday ended with a Texas win, and Thursday began that way as Hobson claimed his first individual national crown in the 500 free and David Johnston grabbed second. Same old story here — Texas, as always, showing up in March.

For the purposes of the team discussion, let’s set aside the fact that Leon Marchand just went 1:36.34 in the 200 IM, just an incomprehensible performance. Marchand got 20 points for the Sun Devils as expected. But what Arizona State could not count on, particularly after an especially swift prelims session left Grant HouseDavid Schlicht and Hubert Kos all in the B-final despite swimming 1:41s, was a 24-point rush from the consolation heat with the three men occupying the top three spots.

Finally, Florida shined in the 200 free relay, with the Gators walloping Auburn’s 14-year-old NCAA record from the polyurethane suit era of 2009 by seven tenths, not an unexpected outcome with Josh Liendo joining a group that missed the mark by just three hundredths last year but no less satisfying to finally get past the mark.

All that, and Cal is in the lead. How? Through consistently strong performances in every race. The relays have been fourth, third and second, with the 200 free relay team also getting under the long-standing Auburn mark. Gabriel Jett fell to sixth in the 500 free and Bjorn Seeliger to third in the 50 free, but on the flip side, Destin Lasco and Hugo Gonzalez were brilliant in the 200 IM, finishing second and third, respectively, behind Marchand, while Jack Alexy has been huge so far in the sprints, jumping up from outside the scoring to the A-final in the 50 free while swimming a pair of 18.1 relay splits.

Marchand is undoubtedly the swimmer of the meet so far, but Lasco split 1:29.53 on Cal’s 800 free relay, a two-second improvement from his 2022 split, and he swam a time of 1:38.10 in the 200 IM to break Caeleb Dressel’s American record. Easy to miss, given the circumstances, but that’s faster than the likes of Andrew Seliskar and Shaine Casas ever swam during their high-octane college careers.

Cal has contributors coming from every direction, and it would not be surprising if the Bears end up with a top-eight finisher in every single event, with Friday’s action headlined by defending 400 IM champion Gonzalez plus Jason Louser while Lasco races the 100 back. And on the final day, the Bears will have a whopping nine swimmers seeded in the top-eight Saturday, with Lasco, Gonzalez and Colby Mefford seeded 1-2-3 in the 200 back, Bjorn Seeliger first in the 100 free and Jett atop the field in the 200 butterfly. That does not count Lucas Henveaux, the 500 free B-final winner surely heading for a big drop in the 1650.

Cal and Texas have occupied the top two spots in the team competition every year since 2014 and every year but one since 2010, so how can the Longhorns respond? By maximizing their strengths in certain events while trying to squeeze anything out of other events. For Friday, that’s the 400 IM, with Carson Foster seeded second and Johnston and Jake Foster both heavily in the mix along with possibly Braden Vines, and the 200 free, with Hobson and Carrozza.

Caspar Corbeau should move up in the 100 breast (he was second in that event last year), but Texas also needs Will Chan (seeded 19th) to at least get into the B-final. Texas also has three entries in 3-meter diving with a chance for points, but every one is crucial with the 100 fly and 100 back both likely empty events for the Longhorns. The 400 medley relay at the end of the night has Texas entered as the 14th seed, but Texas just jumped from the 20th seed to seventh in the 200 free relay, from outside the scoring to 24 points.

“It feels great,” Hobson said. “It kind of keeps us in the team race. I’m really happy with where we’re at. As a whole, our team, we’re in a good spot right now.”

Big picture, Texas is swimming lights-out, but near-perfection is required with Florida in store for a big Friday with Arizona State seeded to achieve six individual A-finals Friday with Florida having five top-eight seeds and NC State four. Each of those teams has a chance for a three-up performance in prelims: ASU in the 400 IM with Marchand, Kos and Schlicht; the Wolfpack with Stokowski, Korstanje, Aidan Hayes and Arsenio Bustos in the 100 fly; and the Gators with Aleksas SavickasDillon Hillis and Julian Smith in the 100 breast.

A long way to go in this one: Cal’s wide-ranging talent against Texas middle-distance and IM superiority against a Marchand-led stampede for Arizona State against the sprint depth of Florida and NC State. But if Cal can keep it close or even maintain its lead through Friday, you have to like the Golden Bears’ chances Saturday.

Live Results

Team Scores:

  1. California                        184   2. Texas                             165
  3. Arizona St                        154   4. NC State                        151.5
  5. Florida                           145   6. Indiana                            99
  7. Tennessee                          87   8. Stanford                           74
  9. Auburn                             57  10. Louisville                         55
 11. Virginia                           53  12. Virginia Tech                      52
 13. Texas A&M                          44  14. Georgia                            36
 15. Ohio St                          31.5  16. Alabama                            26
 17. Lsu                                22  18. Wisconsin                          19
 19. Notre Dame                         17  20. UNC                                15
 21. Southern California                14  22. Michigan                           12
 23. Arizona                            10  23. Missouri                           10
 25. Miami                               9  26. Princeton                           4
 27. Georgia Tech                        3  28. Pittsburgh                          1
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