Swimming World Magazine (May): A Celebration Of Cal’s Latest NCAA Title; The Upside of Leon Marchand

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In the May issue of Swimming World Magazine, Cal’s latest NCAA title is celebrated, along with the dazzling talent of Arizona State freshman Leon Marchand.

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After trailing for most of the meet and still behind after the final day’s first event, Cal outscored Texas 167 to 108.5 in the final six events to top last year’s champions by 51 points, 487.5 to 436.5.

THE TOP 10
1. CALIFORNIA 487.5
2. TEXAS 436.5
3. FLORIDA 374.0
4. NC STATE 291.0
5. INDIANA 265.0
6. ARIZONA STATE 236.0
7. STANFORD 231.0
8. GEORGIA 194.0
9. OHIO STATE 165.0
10. VIRGINIA 154.5

At every NCAA Men’s Championships since 2010, the California Golden Bears have finished either first place or second place. After placing second to Texas by 27 points at the 2021 edition of the meet, Cal stormed back in 2022 to capture the national title, the team’s fifth since head coach Dave Durden took over in advance of the 2007-08 season and seventh in program history.

Cal trailed Texas in the team competition through the first 11 events until the 100 back. While NC State’s Kacper Stokowski won the event in 44.04, the Longhorns scored 33.5 points (4-8-12T-14) to take a 4.5-point advantage over Texas.

Texas regained the lead after 3-meter diving by 2.5 points, but in the final event of Day 3, the 400 medley relay, the team of Destin Lasco, Reece Whitley, Trenton Julian and Bjorn Seeliger scored an upset win in the 400 medley relay (3:00.36), despite not racing in the fastest heat as the 10th-seeded team.

After that win, Cal was up by 7.5 points, and during the last day of prelims, Cal swimmers qualified for seven A-final swims and five B-finals, setting up the Bears to pull away on the final night.

“It’s the best meet in the world to see young men go after a goal and do it for each other,” Durden said. “We knew how the path of this meet was going to go, knowing that the last day is our best day. I don’t like it that way. I would like to get to a spot where it’s more comfortable, but that’s a testament to the programs that we’re swimming.

“This meet is getting faster and faster. That’s probably our fastest NCAA meet that we’ve ever had. It’s super competitive. Our conference meet was tough. Moving the three-and-a-half days at our conference meet really put us in a spot where we could handle the situation at this meet. Have it be close when we get to Saturday, and we can get after this thing.”

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The top performance of the meet by a Cal swimmer came from senior Hugo Gonzalez, who recorded the fastest time in history in the 400 yard IM, his time of 3:32.88 good enough to lower Chase Kalisz’s American/NCAA/U.S. Open/meet records of 3:33.42 from 2017 and to win the title by more than a second. Gonzalez had recorded the fastest time of the meet in the 400 IM at the 2021 NCAA Championships, but he swam in the B-final. This time, he left no doubt in prelims, allowing himself an opportunity to shine at night.

But despite his record-breaking swim, this race was about team points, not time. “It’s a close meet, so I’m just thinking, ‘Score more points than Texas,’” Gonzalez said. That’s why as he walked out for the final, Gonzalez stepped out of line to hug Cal junior Jason Louser, who had missed the A-final after a disappointing morning swim, but rebounded to win the B-final.

“I wanted J-Lo to know that he was a great swimmer. I had that experience last year,” Gonzalez said. “I wanted to let him know that he can prove himself by winning the B-final. That’s just going to fire the boys up, fire me and Sean (Grieshop) up. I wanted to make sure that he knew that, and that’s why, when I was walking behind the blocks, I took a moment to hug him.”

On the final day, Cal got a second individual win as Lasco placed first in the 200 back in 1:37.71—6-hundredths ahead of Texas’ Carson Foster. Lasco also placed second in the 200 IM, while sophomore Bjorn Seeliger took second in both the 50 and 100 freestyle and junior Liam Bell earned a third-place finish in the 100 breaststroke, won in 49.90 by Minnesota senior Max McHugh (one of only two swimmers to repeat in individual events, the other being Florida’s Bobby Finke in the 1650). Seeliger also delivered the quickest 50 backstroke leg (20.08) ever while leading off Cal’s 200 medley relay to open the meet.

But the biggest difference makers for Cal were a quartet of swimmers who decided to return for a fifth year of NCAA swimming, allowed under a waiver due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Those fifth-years included Julian, Daniel Carr, Sean Grieshop and Bryce Mefford. Carr grabbed third in the 200 back, while Julian was a three-time individual A-finalist, finishing as high as fourth in the 200 fly—only 29-hundredths behind Indiana’s Brendan Burns, who won one of the closest races of the meet in 1:38.71. Placing seventh in the 200 back was Mefford, who returned to the team at midseason after he qualified for his first Olympic Games and finished fourth in the 200 meter backstroke during the summer of 2021. Finally, Grieshop had his top moment when he finished eighth in the 400 IM.

The most meaningful part of the meet, the fifth-year swimmers said, was getting the opportunity to return to Cal and conclude their college careers together and to do so on a high note after coming up just short the year before.

“I think one reason why I came back this year was to be with the guys. How close I am with them was literally the reason, every practice. What I hold with these three guys I’ll take with me for the rest of my life,” Carr said.

Mefford added, “I’m here for these guys. We wanted each other to come back and fix some stuff we didn’t do last year.”

Cal ended up finishing with 487.5 points, while Texas finished second with 436.5 points. The Longhorns were disappointed not being able to defend their championship after legendary coach Eddie Reese canceled his retirement plans after last year’s meet to chase a 16th title. Still, Texas strung together some impressive performances, including Drew Kibler’s win in the 200 freestyle (1:30.28) and triumphs in the 400 and 800 free relays.

The Texas team of Kibler, Cameron Auchinachie, Caspar Corbeau and Danny Krueger won the 400 free relay in 2:46.03, while Kibler, Coby Carrozza, Luke Hobson and Carson Foster set American/NCAA/U.S. Open/meet records in the 800 free relay on the first night of the meet (6:03.89).

In addition to Gonzalez’s 400 IM, two other individual swims produced all-time bests. Arizona State freshman Leon Marchand became the first man ever to break 1:38 in the 200 IM with his remarkable 1:37.69, and Georgia sophomore Luca Urlando broke Ryan Murphy’s 100 back record of 43.49 when he led off the Bulldogs’ 400 medley relay in 43.35. Urlando also took second in the 100 fly.

Another all-time best was turned in by Florida in the 200 medley relay on the first day of the meet, when Adam Chaney, Dillon Hillis, Eric Friese and Will Davis clocked 1:21.13 for an NCAA/U.S. Open/meet record. And Georgia’s Matthew States set a meet record in the 500 free with his 4:06.61, beating last year’s champ and teammate—and previous meet record holder—Jake Magahey.

* * *

Eight of the teams that finished in the Top 10 last year did so again in 2022. The two teams that missed this year were Louisville (12th), which finished No. 5 for the last two championships and No. 9 in 2018, plus Texas A&M (19th), 10th last year. Aggie diver Kurtis Mathews won both springboard events, scoring 438.20 points for the 1-meter and 466.85 for the 3-meter. Purdue’s Tyler Downs took the platform with 447.20 points.

Besides ASU (No. 6 with 236 points), which redshirted last season, the other team to jump into this year’s Top 10 was Stanford—from 14th with 99 points to seventh with 231. The Cardinal’s top performer was Andrei Minakov, who won the 100 fly (43.71).
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FRENCHMAN FRESHMAN SENSATION

The potential of Leon Marchand has never been questioned. First emerging as an international medalist at the junior level, Marchand wasted little time developing into a standout on the senior circuit. Count his sixth-place finish in the 400 meter individual medley at the Tokyo Olympic Games as evidence.

Now, we can identify the Frenchman as a collegiate sensation.

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

As Arizona State finished sixth in the team standings at the NCAA Championships, Marchand was nothing short of spectacular for the Sun Devils. Having clearly benefited from training under Coach Bob Bowman, Marchand claimed titles in the 200 individual medley and 200 breaststroke and added a runner-up showing in the 400 IM. For good measure, he was a go-to guy in relay action, delivering some of the best splits of the competition.

Coming off a three-title haul at the Pac-12 Conference Championships, Marchand was accompanied by major expectations when he arrived in Atlanta for his first NCAA Champs. While the intensity of the meet can be overwhelming for some, Marchand had no trouble balancing the exhausting physical and mental demands he faced.

In his first individual event, the 19-year-old shredded the NCAA/U.S. Open/meet record in the 200 IM, posting a time of 1:37.69. Not only did Marchand become the first man to crack the 1:38 barrier, he took down the 1:38.13 record previously held by some guy named Caeleb Dressel. Simply, the ASU freshman generated momentum that would not be stopped.

Marchand followed his breakthrough swim with a runner-up showing in the 400 individual medley, his mark of 3:34.08 good for the No. 4 performance in history. He then capped the meet with a championship in the 200 breaststroke, where Marchand clocked 1:48.20 for the No. 2 mark of all-time. Additionally, he helped a quartet of relays to top-eight finishes, highlighted by second place in the 400 freestyle relay.

“This is amazing,” Marchand said. “A few years ago, I was watching this record (200 IM), and I was like, ‘This is insane.’ And now I’m beating it, so this is crazy. It is very cool. NCAAs is like an international championships. I didn’t know that before coming here. This is so fast. This is like the Olympics for me. The atmosphere is so great.”

Obviously, Marchand’s move to the United States has paid dividends. In Bowman, Marchand is working with one of the greatest coaches in history, the man who drafted the blueprint for Michael Phelps’ vast success. Marchand, too, is surrounded by quality talent at ASU, with the Sun Devils rapidly rising into a national power. Arizona State’s sixth-place finish in the team battle marked its first Top 10 showing since the program was ninth in 1996.

This summer, we’ll see how Marchand’s new training base has boosted his long course endeavors, with the French youngster expected to contend for the podium in several events at the World Championships in Budapest. If nothing else, Marchand is enjoying his time in Arizona and feeling good about what his career might produce.

“I think I’m having a lot more fun here than in France,” Marchand said. “I’m doing a lot more relays here. It’s more like a team, and we are very nice to each other, so that’s cool. I love to swim for the team, too, to try to bring the most points that I can for ASU. Another thing is that the training is different here. The intensity is different, and I improved a lot on underwater kicking and backstroke.”
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GATORS KEEP CHOMPING AT THE HEELS OF CAL AND TEXAS

The men’s NCAA Division I Swimming and Diving Championships have been ruled by a duopoly since 2010. With one exception—notably, Michigan’s 2013 title—no teams other than the University of Texas and the University of California have occupied the top two spots at NCAAs.

For most of that decade-plus of dominance, Florida has knocked loudest on the door. The Gators’ performance at the 2022 championships wasn’t the long-awaited interloping on the Texas-Cal hegemony. But it marks the height of an era worth celebrating.

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Florida finished third at NCAAs in 2022—for the fifth time in eight editions. The meet was a farewell to two of the biggest figures in Florida’s sustained control of that spot. But the way in which Kieran Smith and Bobby Finke have guided their resurgence, and the role that Coach Anthony Nesty has played in making Gainesville one of the nation’s top training destinations, means the future is plenty bright.

Florida has been here before. The 10-time reigning SEC champion finished third in three of four installments of NCAAs between 2014 and 2017. If there was a sense of them being on the precipice then, it went unrequited: By 2019, they slipped to sixth.

The point totals show progress, however. The Gators scored 374 points in Atlanta, their most since 2014 (387). And the gap has been closing: The Gators’ 367 points in 2021 left them 201 points adrift of second-place Cal; this year, they were within 63 points of the runner-up Longhorns and 113 shy of Cal’s winning total.

The relays illustrate how close the Gators are. They finished no worse than seventh, with victories in the 200 medley—for the first time in program history—and the 200 free. The medley foursome set an NCAA/U.S. Open/meet record of 1:21.13 via Adam Chaney, Dillon Hillis, Eric Friese and Will Davis. (It would’ve rewritten the American record by 75-hundredths of a second, but for Friese being German.)

With their 1:14.11, the 200 free squad of Chaney, Friese, Davis and Smith came within 3-hundredths of a second of downing Auburn’s super-suited NCAA mark from 2009.

It’s the first time since 1983 that the Gator men won two relays at the same NCAAs.

“We came in, we wanted to win,” Finke said after repeating as champion in the mile. “Right now, Cal’s just running away with it. But it didn’t stop us from trying to race and trying to get all the points on the board we wanted to. I’m super proud of the guys and how they race and how this year’s gone. They’ve put in so much work. I’m just glad I got to have my last year with them.”

The Gators will incur heavy losses to graduation. Davis and Hillis are valuable cogs. Finke and Smith have been at the forefront not just of Florida’s resurgence, but a rebirth of American distance swimming.

Finke is an 11-time All-American and three-time NCAA champ, defending his title in the 1650 freestyle in 14:22.28. He did the mile/400 IM double as a junior in 2021. He etched his name indelibly into history by winning gold in the 800 and 1500 free at the Tokyo Olympics in the sensational come-from-behind style that has become his trademark.

Smith is a 28-time All-American, the maximum. The Olympic bronze medalist in the 400 free, he won the 200 free at NCAAs in 2021 and holds the NCAA record in the 500 free, 4:06.32 from February 2020. His 2022 program was impressively eclectic—fourth in the 500, fifth in the 200 free, fourth in the 200 back, anchoring the 200 free relay and leading off the 800 free relay with a time (1:30.66) that would’ve been second in the event.

Smith is the archetype for the swimmer Nesty often produces, an all-around contributor for the college meet. Underclassmen standouts in waiting—sophomore Chaney finishing third in the 100 back and ninth in the 50 free; Trey Freeman making B-finals in three freestyle distances—show the promise that lies ahead for the Gators.
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A SPLASH OF PURPLE

It can seem sometimes at the NCAA Championships like the same few schools trade titles, the elite club of powerhouse programs brandishing such depth that any new colors on the top step of the podium are cause for celebration.

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Enter the splash of purple enrobing the gawky smile of Brooks Curry at the men’s NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships. As special as a sprinter sweeping the 50 free and 100 free titles would be for any swimmer, Curry’s accomplishment is even starker, given the paucity of history for his LSU program. In the process, the LSU junior has helped haul the Tigers back onto the American swimming map.

In its history, LSU had produced six NCAA champions before the men’s meet began March 23. Four were female divers, the last in 2000. The two men’s swimming titles—Todd Torres in the 100 breaststroke, Mark Andrews in the 50 freestyle—dated to the 1980s. (For comparison, the California men won five titles at the 2021 meet alone.)

In three days, Curry nabbed two crowns, advancing the LSU program by decades.

“I’ve been looking forward to this meet for a really long time,” Curry said. “Super stoked that the team is all behind me and they’re watching. It’s a huge deal for me to finally get a title. Last year was hard. I worked really hard this year. I had some awesome training partners this year, and I’m super excited that I made it happen.”

“It’s an amazing day for LSU,” Coach Rick Bishop said, “and it’s an amazing day for Brooks Curry.”

Curry’s history with the Tigers is dripping with firsts. When he qualified for the men’s 400 free relay at the Tokyo Olympics, he was the first LSU Olympic swimmer since 2008 and LSU’s first-ever American Olympic swimmer. He became the first LSU swimming gold medalist from his Tokyo prelims swim.

It’s not often that such a program-changing recruit not only finds his way to a place like Baton Rouge, but sticks around and delivers on the promise. But Curry has done just that, tirelessly improving at every step. The Atlanta native was the 2020 Freshman of the Meet at SEC Championships. He made two A-finals at NCAAs in 2021, finishing sixth in the 200 free and seventh in the 100.

That outing may not have tipped the sensational summer to come, but his taste of Olympic glory has only deepened his commitment to improving. He won the 100 free crown at SECs this year to go with runner-up results in the 50 and 200 free.

At NCAAs, Curry was the rare elite sprinter with no relay responsibilities, channeling all his speed into his individual events. In the 50 free, he finished first in 18.56 seconds—3-hundredths ahead of Cal’s Bjorn Seeliger—shaving a tenth off his time at SECs. After finishing sixth in the 200 free, he clipped 15-hundredths off his SEC Championships record to win the 100 free in 40.84.

Brace yourself for more “since” caveats: In addition to the first NCAA title for LSU since 1988, he also helped the Tigers tie for 15th in the team standings, the highest finish since 1997. The 53 points Curry scored alone would’ve placed 19th in the team standings, nestled between Tennessee and Minnesota.

For a swimmer on a dream-like run the last year-plus, Curry’s win in his hometown in his specialty event was the cherry on top of an outstanding season.

“I’ve been dreaming about this race in particular for a long time, especially to be in this pool, coming back home,” Curry said after the 100 free. “It’s the greatest feeling to come back here in such a high-stakes meet, such a fast field, and to be able to win that race. It’s awesome.”

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Jesse
10 days ago

the Longhorns scored 33.5 points (4-8-12T-14) to take a 4.5-point advantage over Texas.

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