Texas, Cal to Clash in Minnesota Invite in Biggest Invitational of the Year: Nine Races You Will Not Want to Miss

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Austin Katz will lead a Texas team into Minnesota as they return to the site where they won the 2018 NCAA title. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Each year in the NCAA Division I swimming and diving landscape, the number of big-time invitationals seems split between the week before Thanksgiving and the week after. This year however with Thanksgiving being so late, most of the power five Division I schools elected to swim at invites the week before Thanksgiving, leaving only one major invite for the first week of December, and that in itself a pretty big one: the Minnesota Invitational.

The Twin Cities will play host to Cal and Texas, two of the best men’s programs this entire decade, who have placed first and second at men’s NCAAs in some order every year since 2010 except one. The only other team to win in that stretch was Michigan in 2013, and they will be present in Minneapolis this weekend as well. It is safe to say this is the biggest invite of the year and maybe the biggest meet this season after NCAAs including all the conference championships.

Texas usually hosts its own invite this time of year, but with Stanford and Arizona backing out of the meet because of final exams falling the immediate week after, the Longhorns wanted a chance to see Cal early in the season.

Arizona, Harvard, Iowa, Minnesota and Utah will also be present, and it is safe to say that a majority of the races this weekend will produce the nation-leading time thus far this season.

We have highlighted below 9 races that will be can’t-miss for swimming fans, but in all reality the entire meet will be a can’t-miss opportunity for fans of the sport with many of the best amateur swimmers in the world on display.

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Dave Durden; Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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Eddie Reese; Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Minnesota Invite: Details

When: December 4 – December 7

Where: Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center, Minneapolis, MN

Tickets: Available for purchase here

What is at stake: Texas returns to the site where they won the 2018 NCAA title in thrilling fashion over Cal as both teams have dominated this decade in NCAA Division I men’s swimming. The Cal women will have a chance to show what they are made of as there does not seem to be a clear favorite on the women’s side in who will win the national title this year. Led by Abbey Weitzeil, the Golden Bears will be able to put the rest of the country on notice as they gear up for their first national title since 2015.

The meet will start Wednesday night with the 200 medley and 800 free relays, simulating what most of the conference championships will look like in February.

Last 10 NCAA team champions (Men’s Swimming)

  • 2019: Cal
  • 2018: Texas
  • 2017: Texas
  • 2016: Texas
  • 2015: Texas
  • 2014: Cal
  • 2013: Michigan
  • 2012: Cal
  • 2011: Cal
  • 2010: Texas

Minnesota Invite: Races to Watch

Men’s 500 Free

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Felix Auböck, Michigan; Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Key Players: Felix Auböck, Michigan (4:15.91); Ricardo Vargas, Michigan (4:15.90); Brooks Fail, Arizona (4:25.25); Sean Grieshop, Cal

Nation-Leading Time: 4:12.19, Mark Theall, Texas A&M

The 500 can be one of the most exciting races in any meet if it comes down to the finish. Race and strategy play a big part and this weekend’s meet in Minnesota should be no different. The second, third, and fourth place finishers at NCAAs last year will be present at the Minnesota Invite, and none of those three are the early favorite to win this year. That distinction belongs to Michigan senior Felix Auböck, who had a disastrous 500 at NCAAs, falling out of the top 16 after coming in as the top seed.

Cal’s Sean Grieshop (2nd), Arizona’s Brooks Fail (3rd), and Michigan’s Ricardo Vargas (4th) were all finalists at NCAAs last year and are the fastest returners coming into this year with the graduation of three-time champ Townley Haas. Auböck was a 4:09 at Big Ten’s last year and was third at NCAAs in 2017 and second in 2018. He and Vargas have the top two times out of these schools this season with both of them putting up 4:15’s at Michigan’s intrasquad meet in October. It is safe to say that whoever comes out of this weekend’s meet in this event will be the favorite for the NCAA title come March, and a nation-leading time is possible as well.

Women’s 50 Free

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How fast will Abbey Weitzeil go? Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Key Players: Abbey Weitzeil, Cal (22.55); Maggie MacNeil, Michigan (21.70)

Nation-Leading Time: 21.19, Erika Brown, Tennessee; Anna Hopkin, Arkansas

After both Erika Brown of Tennessee and Anna Hopkin of Arkansas put up identical 21.19’s at their respective invites before Thanksgiving, what does American record holder Abbey Weitzeil have in response? Cal has been known to taper for their mid-season invite since they generally don’t go all-in at Pac-12’s. Does Weitzeil have a chance to go faster than 21.19? If she does, then she is creeping closer and closer to being the first woman to break 21 seconds from a flat start, something she has gotten close to doing (21.02 at NCAAs) but no one has been able to crack. If Weitzeil is on, then she could take a stab at her own American record. But if she is not, then we might have to wait until NCAAs to see the epic duel between her, Brown and Hopkin.

Men’s 50 Free

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Daniel Krueger will take on defending NCAA champion Ryan Hoffer; Photo Courtesy: Texas Athletics

Key Players: Ryan Hoffer, Cal (19.57); Daniel Krueger, Texas (19.72); Pawel Sendyk, Cal (19.75); Gus Borges, Michigan (19.77)

Nation-Leading Time: 19.10, Blaise Vera, Pittsburgh

Last year’s defending NCAA champion Ryan Hoffer is one of just two defending champions that is returning this season to defend his title (the other being Michigan’s Felix Auböck in the 1650). But Hoffer will have his hands full this weekend; not only with last year’s runner-up and Cal teammate Pawel Sendyk, but Texas sophomore Daniel Krueger. Krueger has been on fire this fall for the Longhorns as he is experiencing a nice sophomore burst this season, something Hoffer had last season when he broke out to win his first title.

It is very possible that four guys will break 19 seconds this weekend, at the Minnesota Invite something no one has done this season. And it is very possible that Hoffer might not touch first. Of course, what happens this weekend will not necessarily mean much in terms of the big picture of this season (Hoffer was tied for 14th after mid-season last year), but like a football game, this will be Krueger’s first test to see if he is for real in terms of vying for a national title.

Men’s 400 IM

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Michigan’s Charlie Swanson had a breakthrough this summer; Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Key Players: Charlie Swanson, Michigan (3:45.77); Hugo Gonzalez, Cal (3:48.90); Jake Foster, Texas (3:49.31); Sean Grieshop, Cal (3:54.39)

Nation-Leading Time: 3:42.14, Clayton Forde, Georgia

The men’s 400 IM is one of the wide open events this season with two-time defending champion Abrahm DeVine graduating. Cal’s Sean Grieshop was second last season at NCAAs but has been a little off this season, only registering a 3:54 at Cal’s triple distance meet. That doesn’t necessarily mean Grieshop is out of shape per-se but he will be in a stacked race with this summer’s breakout star Charlie Swanson of Michigan.

At the Pan American Games in August, Swanson won the 400 IM with a 4:11, which would have won him a medal at the World Championships and put him fourth in the world. And yet, nobody seems to be talking about him. Swanson has quietly become a favorite to make it to Tokyo next summer and we will see what he has for an encore in short course this weekend when he lines up alongside Cal’s Hugo Gonzalez and Texas super freshman Jake Foster.

Gonzalez is in his first season at Cal after taking last year off and transferring from Auburn where he was a 3:35 in 2018. If he is anywhere close to his 2018 status, then he will be tough to beat. We just have not seen that from Gonzalez yet this season. Foster has been a 3:49 this year and a 4:15 this summer. He may be a year away in terms of a contender in the NCAA title race, but he will definitely be a factor this weekend against some of the nation’s best.

Women’s 100 Fly

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Is a US Open record possible from Maggie MacNeil? Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

Key Players: Maggie MacNeil, Michigan (49.57); Isabel Ivey, Cal (54.04)

Nation-Leading Time: 49.57, Maggie MacNeil

This race really seems to be a race between Michigan sophomore Maggie MacNeil and the clock as she already has the fastest time in the country from the Michigan Intrasquad, sitting ahead of Tennessee’s Erika Brown at 49.79. Is MacNeil in the right kind of shape to chase down the fastest time in history? She may be waiting for a full rest for the Canadian Trials in April as she chases her first Olympic berth, but she could still take down the record not fully rested. Louise Hansson was a 49.26 at last year’s NCAAs in setting the NCAA and US Open record and MacNeil has the potential to be the first to break 49. But like in the aforementioned 50 free, the 100 fly will be a tight race at the end of the year between MacNeil, Hansson and Brown, and a record is certainly at stake.

MacNeil was on fire this summer, becoming the World Champion for Canada in the 100 fly and taking down world record holder Sarah Sjostrom in the process. What kind of encore does she have in yards this fall? She seems to not have missed a beat this season with that 49.5 at a no-pressure intrasquad in October, which was faster than her best time last year. It could be possible she takes down the US Open record this weekend at the Minnesota Invite.

Women’s 100 Breast

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Lindsey Kozelsky will take on Michigan’s Miranda Tucker; Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Key Players: Miranda Tucker, Michigan (58.77); Lindsey Kozelsky, Minnesota (59.77); Ema Rajic, Cal (1:02.19)

Nation-Leading Time: 58.27, Zoie Hartman, Georgia

If the Golden Gophers are to get a win at home this weekend in the stacked Minnesota Invite, then Lindsey Kozelsky might be the best chance. The senior has been a consistent performer the last three years on the national stage, placing second as a freshman in 2017, third in 2018 and fourth as a junior. With no more Lilly King, the breaststroke field is wide open and Kozelsky has a serious shot at a national title this year, but will have to deal with Big Ten rival Miranda Tucker, who she will see this weekend in her home pool.

Tucker currently sits second in Division I with her 58.7 at Michigan’s October intrasquad and will be a formidable challenge this weekend. Tucker and Kozelsky are both seniors and both will be hungry for some success in their final collegiate seasons, and they will clash this weekend in Minneapolis.

Not to be counted out is Cal sophomore Ema Rajic, who made last year’s A-Final at NCAAs in placing eighth as a rookie. Rajic has only been a 1:02 this season, but could have something up her sleeve to challenge Kozelsky and Tucker.

Men’s 200 Back

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Austin Katz; Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

Key Players: Austin Katz, Texas (1:43.27); Ryan Harty, Texas (1:43.48); Bryce Mefford, Cal (1:44.68); Daniel Carr, Cal (1:45.73)

Nation-Leading Time: 1:38.21, Shaine Casas, Texas A&M

Three of last year’s NCAA A-Finalists return to the Minnesota Invite this weekend, led by Texas junior Austin Katz, who was two seconds faster than Cal’s Bryce Mefford and Daniel Carr in last year’s A-Final. Katz looks to be the heavy favorite this weekend after he won the World University Games and was fifth in this summer’s World University Games. However, he will match up with Pan American Games gold medalist Daniel Carr of Cal. Although he was a 1:58 in Lima compared to Katz’s 1:55 in Naples, the two juniors will certainly be a race to watch this weekend.

Texas A&M’s Shaine Casas put up a 1:38 at the Art Adamson Invite and that will be in the back of these guy’s minds as they race against each other this weekend. Not to be counted out is Texas senior Ryan Harty, who has also been a 1:43 in a dual meet this season along with Katz. Harty was the B-Final champ at NCAAs last season with a 1:39 and will definitely be a big piece for Texas this season in chasing a national title.

Men’s 200 Breast

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Reece Whitley is looking for a big sophomore season; Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

Key Players: Reece Whitley, Cal (1:53.49); Tommy Cope, Michigan (1:54.82); Max McHugh, Minnesota (1:56.41); Charlie Swanson, Michigan (1:57.05); Caspar Corbeau, Texas (1:57.65)

Nation-Leading Time: 1:52.48, Andres Puente Bustamante, Texas A&M

Cal sophomore Reece Whitley has been on fire this season. After winning his first national title over the summer, Whitley swum a 1:53.49 in the 200 breast at the Cal triple distance meet with Stanford. To put that into perspective into how fast it was, he currently sits fourth in Division I behind three swims from November invites and Whitley wasn’t even suited! He was a 1:50.8 at NCAAs for fifth last year but was a 1:55 at the same triple distance meet last season and was a 1:52 at the Georgia Invite. Whitley is already well ahead of where he was last season and the rest of the nation will certainly be taking notice when he lines up behind the blocks in Minnesota.

But Whitley might not be all by himself in the 200 like we keep hyping up. Minnesota sophomore Max McHugh was the NCAA runner-up last season with a 1:49.4 and will be swimming in his home pool this weekend. McHugh and Whitley are the two best high school breaststrokers all-time based on times, and will be matching up this weekend. McHugh might be better at the 100, but has an equally impressive 200 as he beat Whitley last March in Austin. And McHugh is ahead of where he was last season as well with his 1:58 in-season best from last fall and 1:56 this year. It should be a quick race and who knows — a sub-1:50 might even be possible?

Not to be counted out is Texas freshman Caspar Corbeau. The 6’6″ freshman has been hyped up by Eddie Reese as the “best breaststroker in the world” who just does not have the build to compete with the best in the globe. He has been a 1:57 in a duel this season and will have a chance to showcase his talent against two of the best guys in the nation in Whitley and McHugh.

Women’s 200 Fly

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Kelly Pash has not lost a race this season; Photo Courtesy: Angela Wang / Texas Athletics

Key Players: Kelly Pash, Texas (1:55.67); Vanessa Krause, Michigan (1:56.42)

Nation-Leading Time: 1:53.14, Katie Drabot, Stanford

Texas’ Kelly Pash has been on fire this fall, having not taken a loss in a dual meet yet. The freshman out of the powerhouse Carmel Swim Club in Indiana might continue that undefeated streak at the Minnesota Invite this weekend as she will be tough to beat in the 200 fly, coming in with a season best of 1:55.67. That time puts her eighth in Division I this season and she may well be sitting at the top after this week is complete. Stanford’s Katie Drabot (1:53.14) has that distinction and Pash will be chasing that time in Minnesota.

Pash was a 2:10 this summer at US Nationals with a 13th place finish, but something has clicked for her in Austin as she has already gone a lifetime best in the 200 fly this year. What is she capable of when she puts a suit on at the Minnesota Invite?

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