The Texas Longhorns enter the 2018-2019 swim season as the defending NCAA champions, and they could be poised to capture another title this spring if the returners match their performances from last year. Other teams that could be in the hunt for a team trophy include Indiana, NC State and Cal, all top four finishers from last season. Texas returns 200 and 500 freestyle national title winner Townley Haas, while the Hooisers bring back breaststroke champion Ian Finnerty, but Haas and Finnerty aren't the only athletes returning this season. Here are 15 swimmers who could make an impact this year based on their performances at NCAAs last year, U.S. Nationals and Pan Pacs this summer:
1. Jacob Molacek, Senior, NC State
Molacek enters the 2018-2019 season as the highest returning point scorer in college swimming, totaling 184 points at last year’s NCAA championships between his team’s relay performances and his fifth place finish in the 100 freestyle. Along with Ryan Held, Justin Ress and Coleman Stewart, Molacek earned an NCAA title and broke a national record in the men’s 400 freestyle; he also teamed up with Held, Justin Ress and Andreas Vazaios to win a title in the 800 freestyle relay and set a new NCAA record. With the gradation of Held, Molacek’s ability to perform in relays will be even more critical for the Wolfpack this season.
Squad. pic.twitter.com/qj45OffG45— NC State Swimming & Diving (@packswimdive) September 29, 2018
2. Justin Ress, Senior, NC State
Ress has been a consistent weapon for the Wolfpack since he arrived on campus in 2015. He earned All-American honors in his first NCAA appearance in the 800 freestyle relay, and, the last two seasons, he captured the gold in that same event; he finished third individually in the 100 freestyle as well last year. Ress also earned NCAA titles in the 400 freestyle relay with Molacek last year and will look to finish his career out strong by elevating the Wolfpack in the national rankings as a team even further. After a summer competing for the U.S. world team in the 100 backstroke, Ress has the experience he needs to help bring the Wolfpack another ACC title and compete for a national championship.
Love how people talk about improving the sport, and yet still doing the same old intrasquad meet... Why not be different? Why not bring the HYPE to the sport? So great to see young swimmers in attendance at the Wolfpack Games and EXCITED about our sport! pic.twitter.com/sugvFgHU4c— Bobby Guntoro (@bobbygunt) September 29, 2018
3. Ian Finnerty, Senior, Indiana
A defending champion in the men’s 100 and 200 breaststroke, Finnerty has the chance to build on his legacy and add to the tradition of Indiana breaststroke excellence this year. He set the NCAA record in the 100 breast last year and became the first swimmer in history to break the 50 second barrier. Yet, Finnerty adds versatility as well. The senior finished eighth in the 200 IM at NCAAs and could pose a threat in that event this year.
Indiana will be counting on Finnerty in the breaststroke and IM events, as well as in the relays, where he helped lead the Hoosiers to a first and second place finish in the 400 medley relay and 800 freestyle relay, respectively.
4. Ryan Hoffer, Sophomore, California
After a standout freshman campaign in which he earned six All-American honors, Hoffer returns for a second season with the Bears and should continue to bring versatility and speed to the Cal lineup. At last year’s NCAA championship, Hoffer tied for fifth in the 50 freestyle, finished sixth in the 100 fly and helped Cal to an American record performance in the 200-medley relay. The 50 freestyle will be a more open race for Hoffer this year with the graduation of Florida’s Caeleb Dressel, the Olympic gold medalist who set an NCAA record in the event last year and beat the field by more than a second, and the Cal sophomore could be in contention to fight for that title.
5. Vini Lanza, Senior, Indiana
Lanza, like Finnerty, comes into the season off a championship performance at NCAA’s last year as part of the winning men’s 400 medley relay, a race Indiana has not won since 1977. He’ll be a threat in the 200 IM as well, where he finished sixth last year, and the 100 fly, where he finished third in a field that was dominated by now-graduated seniors. Lanza also joined Finnerty on the second-place 800 freestyle relay team and the third-place 200 medley team. As seniors, he and Finnerty will be leaders on the Hoosier team and will no doubt want to carry the momentum from the 2018 relay title into this year.
Swimming for Team Brazil, current Hoosiers Vini Lanza and Gabriel Fantoni take fourth in the 4x100m medley relay with a time of 3:32.16!#GoIU ⚪️🔴— Indiana Swim & Dive (@IndianaSwimDive) August 12, 2018
6. Coleman Stewart, Junior, NC State
Stewart made a name for himself at last year’s NCAA championship when he raced to a first-place finish in the men’s 100 backstroke, edging out Texas’s John Shebat by 0.01. With Shebat and most of the top eight finishers from last year returning in that event, Stewart will need to step up again for the Wolfpack. Last year, Stewart also just missed the A final in the men’s 100 fly in NCAAs but came back to win the B Final. He could have another shot at that top field in that event with the graduation of athletes such as Dressel. His experience in high pressure situations, including anchoring NC State’s winning 800 freestyle at the end of last year’s meet will serve him well coming into the 2018-2019 season, but the expectations will be higher. Stewart’s accolades from last year also included a second place finish in the 200 free relay and the second-place 400 medley team, finishes that he and the Pack will hope to translate into national titles this season.
7. Andreas Vazaios, Senior, NC State
A two-time national champion in the 800 freestyle relay and a 2018 champion in the 200 fly, Vazaios will look to add to his collection of titles this year during his final season with the Pack. He will be a valuable asset in the 200 IM and 100 back as well, both events that he earned All-American status in last year. A native of Greece, Vazaios has competed for his home country in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. His international experience and versatility will make him a key element on the Wolfpack team this year.
8. Townley Haas, Senior, Texas
Haas returns for his final season as a Texas Longhorn with a list of accomplishments that includes an Olympic gold medal and three NCAA team titles. He will look to earn his fourth-consecutive title in the men’s 200 freestyle at the NCAA Championships this year while also contending with the deep field of sprinters in the 100. Haas is also the returning national champion in the 500 freestyle.
@TexasMSD going old school with their ‘18 national championship ring .. When the discussion of all time greatest coaches regardless of sport, we must include Eddie Reese who has won 14 national championships... simply the 🐐!! pic.twitter.com/TtSJnRRGtd— Chris Del Conte (@_delconte) October 2, 2018
9. Felix Auböck, Junior, Michigan
A distance powerhouse, Auböck returns for his junior season after runner-up finishes in the 500 and the mile at last year’s NCAA championship. With the graduation of NC State’s Anton Ipsen, Auböck sits in a strong position to battle for a 1650 freestyle win this year, but he will be fighting off senior Nick Norman from California and sophomore Zach Yeadon from Notre Dame who both put up solid performances last year. The distance events will be particularly interesting this year with Haas vying for another individual title in the 500 and a crop of younger swimmers entering the mix. Auböck, a 2016 Olympian for Austria, has shown that he can consistently hang with the top tier NCAA distance swimmers, but a top finish at NCAAs is by no means guaranteed.
10. John Shebat, Senior, Texas
Like Auböck, Shebat comes into the 2018-2019 season looking to turn his two second-place finishes at last year’s championships into national titles. Shebat finished behind N.C. State’s Coleman Stewart and Texas’s Austin Katz in the 100 and 200 back respectively, but his performances were still enough to help the Longhorns capture their fourth title in as many years.
This year, in his final season as a Longhorn, Shebat is hoping to finally capture the individual NCAA title that has eluded him. His teammate Katz will offer Shebat some of the best competition he will face in the distance backstroke and can also push him in the 100 as well, making Texas, the defending national champions, a dangerous team, not only in these events but across the board.
Hunt for #15 starts October 19th. pic.twitter.com/Lx0qcm4OJb— Texas Men's Swimming & Diving (@TexasMSD) September 19, 2018
11. Austin Katz, Sophomore, Texas
Katz finished his freshman season an individual NCAA champion in the 200 backstroke and a team NCAA champion with the Longhorns. He also earned a bronze medal in that event at the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships this summer in Tokyo, a meet that will set him up well for fast swimming this fall. Katz contributed to Texas’ relay success in the 800 freestyle relay last year as well and will be an important part of the team’s success this year as the Longhorns aim for another consecutive title.
12. Abrahm DeVine, Senior, Stanford
Devine dominated at the national championships in the 400 IM last year, winning the race by over three seconds and earning Stanford’s only first-place finish at the meet. He also finished fifth in the 200 IM at NCAAs and went on to second in the race this summer at nationals, earning a spot on the 2019 U.S. World team because of his performance in the event. Stanford is going to need high-caliber swims from more than just Devine if the Cardinal want to make a run for a top team finish, but their senior IMer could still put the team in the national conversation if he delivers the same kind of performances he did last year.
13. Dean Farris, Junior, Harvard
Farris has the kind of speed and versatility that will make him a dangerous threat this season across a variety of events, particularly the freestyles. He finished sixth in a stacked men’s 200 free last season, and he will race three-time 200 free champion Haas again in that event this year. Farris also notched a seventh in the men’s 200 back and broke a Harvard record in the men’s 50 freestyle with his prelims swim of 19.16. The expectation for Farris this year will be to notch a few more All-American honors, as well as make an impact at the Ivy League and NCAA championships again.
14. Andrew Seliskar, Senior, California
After finishing third in the 400 IM and second in the 200 breast at NCAAs in 2018, Seliskar could be poised to make a run for an individual title at this year’s championships. The senior wrapped up his successful summer with a silver medal in the men’s 200 freestyle at the Pan Pacific championships and a gold medal in the men’s 4x200 freestyle relay at U.S. Nationals. He also earned a bronze medal at U.S. Nationals in the 200 IM, further underscoring his versatility and speed. He and Finnerty return are the only two swimmers in the top six of the 200 breaststroke that return from last year’s championships, and given the race that Seliskar put up last year, the scene could be set for another showdown. Seliskar will also be counted on as a key member of the Bear’s relays this year.
15. Ricardo Vargas, Sophomore, Michigan
Vargas is part of Michigan’s strong distance squad that also includes national runner-up in the 500 and 1650 Felix Auböck. With Auböck pacing him all season, Vargas could be a surprise threat this year. After finishing 8th and 7th in the 500 and 1650 respectively at NCAAs in 2018, Vargas has the chance for two more top performances in those long events. He could also be a factor in the 400 IM, after placing third at the Big Ten Championships and earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. However, he will need to have a stronger 400 IM at NCAAs than last year where he missed out on the final and finished 29th, to make an impact. Watch for Vargas to burst on the scene again this year and add more All-American honors to his name this year for the Wolverines.