While Cal senior Tom Shields, and incoming recruits Ryan Murphy and Celina Li were winning medals at the recently concluded Short Course World Championships in Istanbul, there were a few notable pre-holiday meets occurring in the US, including the Cal/Nev. Short Course meet in Long Beach. Incoming frosh Sven Campbell from Orinda lowered his personal best in the 200 back winning in 1:43.88. Campbell also placed 3rd in the 100 back in another personal best in 48.00. But perhaps more significant news for Cal, was the second place finish by transfer Tony Cox (from Auburn) who clocked 47.18, including a first half split of 22.32, the quickest in the meet. Although the time was well off Coxís point winning times swam at the 2011 NCAAs, itís a relief to see he is getting back into form, and assuming he is eligible to compete this spring, he could be a factor for the Bears, especially in the 200 yard medley relay. I believe his 22.32 split is the fastest 50 yd back for the Bears so far this year, excluding Shields who will likely swim the fly legs in both medley relays.
Campbellís and Coxís performances also underscore how deep Cal will be in backstroke for years to come, even with the graduation of Shields. A backstroke group comprised of Murphy, Tarczynski, Pebley, Campell and Cox rivals the Cal womenís backstroke group of Franklin, Tran, Bootsma, Pelton, Klaren and Au for being the most dominant stroke group in college swimming.
As we end the fall swimming period, the Cal men have Pebley (1) and Tarczynski (14) in the 200 back, and Tarczynski (11) and Pebley (16) in the 100 back, where Tom Shields is the defending champion and Cox a finalist in 2011, before taking a redshirt transfer year. Looking ahead Ryan Murphy swam a NAG record for the 200 back in 1:38.15 at the Winter Nationals, which is well below Pebleyís 1:41.62 which is the D1 best time so far this season. Even allowing for Ryanís taper, thatís a helluva swim.
The Cal women backstroker group have even posted more dominant results; five Cal swimmers have season top 16 times in the 100 back: Tran (1),Bootsma (2),Pelton (3),Klaren (13) and Au(14). They aso have three of the top 16 times in the 200 back: Pelton(1),Tran(8) and Klaren (14).
Despite the superb backstroke(and IM) results to date, extremely competitive performances have also been recorded by the Arizona men, and the USC and Georgia women. Arizona is somewhat of a surprise, but their breastroke group led by phenom Kevin Cordes is very strong and they also feature the top college eligible times in the 100 back (Friedemann) and 100 fly (Giles Smith). Shields is still the favorite in these events, but Arizona has somewhat similar team depth in multiple events like Cal, and can compete with Cal across the board on the critical relay events. The Stanford and Texas men havenít posted strong early season results yet, but their qualifying meets are still ahead. But both squads have serious holes in the breaststroke, but perhaps their divers can compensate for those points. Michigan at this point looks like a top 3 menís squad.
A look at mid-year for the women later.
I think we may see Tarczynski move back to his roots and swim 100 fly this year on the second day. He was better in it in Georgia and Shields, Cox, and Pebley are all potential finalists. In fly there are Shields and Austin Brown, who has been inconsistent, maybe Will Hamilton if he moves to a short schedule and Seth Stubblefield, who wasn't great in fly last year.
Concerning Arizona and USC, keep in mind that they use their midseason meet to qualify for NCAAs and were fully tapered. In fact, Friedemann was actually a bit slower than last year, and Smith got second at NCAAs last year, and he's not beating Shields so it's not like he's gaining any points in that event. Arizona lost too much from last year and their coach, Hansen, has yet to prove he can coach a championship team (he was mediocre at Wisconsin and they disappointed overall last year). However they are still definite favorites in the 200 medley relay, as Friedemann and Smith are both sprint specialists, plus Cordes, who negates their weaker freestyle leg.
Texas does have Israeli Olympian Imri Ganiel in breaststroke (hypocritically bringing in a foreign swimmer after a bad recruiting year) who has been decent, but their best 200 swimmer (and IMer) Nick D'Innocenzo was kicked off the team, at least for the time being.