Swimmers to Watch as Midseason Invitationals Get Underway; Regan Smith Among Those Set to Shine

Jul 25, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Regan Smith (USA) reacts after swimming in the women's 100m backstroke heats during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Swimmers to Watch as Midseason Invitationals Get Underway; Regan Smith Among Those Set to Shine

Besides conference and the NCAA championships, midseason invitationals are the most anticipated meets of the college season. Here, we get to see many of the top teams in college face off with each other in a format similar to the postseason. 

Midseason meets bring plenty of fast swimming, and over the years, we have seen numerous school, American, and NCAA records broken at these competitions. It is also fascinating and a little comedic to see swimming enthusiasts try to guess how much each team has tapered and how that may impact the remainder of the season. 

This year promises to be no different as we’ve seen many swimmers produce exceptional performances already over the past month. Heading into midseason invitationals starting this week, here are five male and five female swimmers to watch as you follow the different meets across the country. 

Men 

Carson Foster – Texas 

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The Texas sophomore has been exceptional since narrowly missing the U.S. Olympic team in the 400 IM. At Sectionals in late July, Foster threw down a speedy 4:08.46, a time that would have won him the Olympic gold medal in the event.

He has carried that momentum into the college season, putting up impressive swims in multiple events over three meets so far. His 400 IM against Virginia caught eyes all around the NCAA. Arguably the top swim so far this season, Foster’s 3:40 in Charlottesville is undoubtedly one of the fastest times we have ever seen someone do the event in a practice suit.

It sounds crazy to say we are on NCAA record watch in November and December, especially when talking about one of the toughest marks on the books. But given Foster’s extraordinary talent, Chase Kalisz’s 3:33.42 is within striking distance for him at the Minnesota Invite.

We assume he will be suited and have a little rest for the early December meet. With some quality competition in Cal’s Hugo Gonzalez, it would not be surprising to see him put that record under threat. 

Luca Urlando – Georgia 

The Georgia Bulldog is another swimmer who has bounced back phenomenally following Olympic Trials disappointment. The Sacramento, California native was a top contender for a Tokyo berth in the 200 butterfly, but the fast-finishing duo of Zach Harting and Gunnar Bentz overtook the Georgia sophomore on the last 50 to relegate him to third in Omaha.

Urlando has quickly moved on from the setback with some electrifying early-season performances in the NCAA. Heading into the Georgia Tech Invite this week, the USA National Team member leads the country in the 100 and 200 fly and is ranked second in the 100 back and 200 IM.

What is impressive is not only where he is positioned in the NCAA presently, but how close he has been to his best times in October and early November. Against Florida at the end of October, Urlando was just over a half-second away from the 44.97 he swam at SECs in February. He has also been only a little over a second off his 100 back best time this season.

Looking at his performances over the past month, Urlando is primed for some eye-popping swims at the McAuley Aquatic Center. Expect him to continue his climb up the NCAA all-time rankings in multiple events. 

Brooks Curry – LSU

The Dunwoody, Georgia native has been having a spectacular year. Though he had been one of the top collegiate sprinters over the past two seasons, he surprised many when he made the Olympic team as a member of the 400 freestyle relay. Curry won gold swimming on the team in the preliminaries and has carried that momentum into his junior season at LSU.

He is ranked in the top three in the NCAA in the 50 and 200 free this year. His most impressive feat so far in the collegiate season is his 18.7 practice swim in the 50. The time unofficially cut two-tenths from his personal best, set at SECs back in February.

Considering how fast he swam in practice, swim fans are excited to see what he can do across all three sprint free events at the Art Adamson Invite this week. Some stiff competition from the USC sprint duo of Alexei Sancov and Nikola Miljenic and others could push Curry to best times as he looks to solidify himself as a favorite to capture NCAA titles in the 50, 100, and 200. 

Grant House – Arizona State

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

After missing the past two seasons through Olympic and COVID redshirt years, 2019 World University Games representative Grant House emphatically returned to college swimming this month. Though he did not compete in the NCAA season due to Arizona State redshirting its entire team last year, House still put up some impressive times at USA Swimming meets in the spring. The Maineville, Ohio native won the 50, 100, 200 free, 100 fly, and 200 IM at Phoenix Sectionals, all in personal best fashion with the exception of the latter.

He has picked up where he left off from last season, putting up some of the top times in the NCAA this year against USC. House won the 100 and 200 free, posting the seventh and fifth-fastest times in the country, respectively. More impressively, he was less than a second off his 100 best time and only a little over two seconds away in the 200.

Given that the meet in Tempe was only his first official competition for the season, his performances bode well for the NC State/ GAC Invitational. Look for House to be among the nation’s best as we head into Thanksgiving. 

Jack Dahlgren – Missouri 

Although not as much of a household name as the other four swimmers, University of Missouri senior Jack Dahlgren has been quietly racking up some eye-catching swims so far this season. He has already racked up personal bests in the 50 and 100 free, with the latter currently a nation-leading time. Dahlgren also leads the NCAA in the 200 back with a speedy 1:40.97 at the start of the month against Purdue.

It is important to note that Missouri does suit up for dual meets, which can cause their in-season times to be slightly misleading. Nevertheless, we are only in November, and the three-time All-American is hitting similar times to what he went at NCAAs in March.

With some rest and a multi-day meet format, expect to see more best times from the Minnesota native at the Mizzou Invite this week. 

Women

Maggie MacNeil – Michigan 

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

It was only a little over three years ago when the Canadian took the NCAA by storm as a freshman, setting a school record in the 100 fly in only her second meet for the Wolverines. Since then, she’s accumulated numerous accolades both on the collegiate and international scene.

While the world and Olympic champion has been relatively quiet up until this point this year, she is known for putting up big-time swims whenever she puts a tech suit on, and there is no reason to believe this time around will be any different. Even without a full taper, look for the NCAA record holder to threaten multiple collegiate marks at the Minnesota Invitational. 

Regan Smith – Stanford 

World-record holder Regan Smith comes into college with tons of pedigree. The three-time Olympic medalist already has best times faster than the NCAA records in both backstroke events. Smith also has incredible versatility, with NCAA A-final worthy times in the 200 and 500 free and 100 and 200 fly.

Seemingly under a heavy training cycle this fall, we have not seen any standout swims from Smith and the rest of Greg Meehan’s Stanford women yet.

While we know the Cardinal will suit up this week, based on what seems like a change in approach to their dual meets, no one knows how rested they will be heading to the NC State Invite. Rest or no rest, given Smith’s track record, it is a given that she will be posting a number of top times nationally.

The most intriguing thing to watch, though, will be what she chooses to swim in Greensboro. Not limited to the three individual event lineup as one is at conference or postseason championships, Smith has a chance to go after multiple events that she won’t be able to swim at PAC-12s or NCAAs.

With a good showing this week, Smith could head back to Palo Alto with a few collegiate-leading times and maybe even an NCAA record.

Gretchen Walsh – UVA

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Photo Courtesy: Harpeth Hall Athletics Instagram (@hhathletics)

Arguably the top recruit in the class of 2025, Walsh landed in Charlottesville with high expectations to be an instant success in the NCAA. After a little over a month, it is safe to say she has lived up to those lofty standards so far. Walsh leads the nation in the 100 free and 100 back and has top-five times in the 50 free and 100 fly.

The freshman is one of the favorites to win the 50 and 100 free at NCAAs in March, but has to contend with MacNeil, teammate and Olympic bronze medalist Kate Douglass, Missouri fifth year Sarah Thompson, and others. She can use the Tennesse Invitational to make a statement to her more experienced rivals. 

Calypso Sheridan – USC

After sitting out last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the former Northwestern star has been phenomenal in her return to the NCAA. In her debut for USC at the Trojan Invite, Sheridan threw down a personal best in the 200 fly and sped to collegiate-leading times in the 200 and 400 IM.

Swimming at the Art Adamson Invitational this week, the Brisbane, Australia native will look to build upon her top times in both events and solidify herself as a favorite to win both events at NCAAs next March. 

Emma Sticklen – Texas 

After finishing seventh as a freshman in the 200 fly at NCAAs last spring, Sticklen has already put herself in the title conversation for 2022.

The Longhorn sophomore has been outstanding in the event this season. Against the University of Virginia, she blasted an NCAA-leading 1:54.46 at the start of the month. To put the swim in perspective, it was faster than what she went to place third at Big XIIs, and her fourth-fastest time ever.

Being less than a second off her personal best in-season, she looks primed to excel with a suit and a little rest at the Minnesota Invitational. Additionally, with a deep 200 fly group in Austin, including fellow NCAA finalists Olivia Bray and Kelly Pash, expect her to battle with the two to get under Kathleen Hersey’s 1:51.18 school record from 2009, not just in Minneapolis, but for the rest of the season.

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