After coming off an impressive performance in the ACC swimming championship in late February, NC State’s swim team had momentum for the upcoming NCAA championship. However, the spread of COVID-19 led to the cancellation of the national championship and left a lot of questions unanswered for the team’s fate in the finals. So, here are my predictions for the NCAA men’s swimming national championship.
With the team being ranked fifth in the nation in the most recent CSCAA Coaches Poll, the Pack had a strong chance to finish as one of the top teams in the finals. The team had several swimmers achieving season bests in the ACC championship, and some in multiple events. Senior Coleman Stewart had season bests in 100-yard freestyle, 50-yard backstroke, 100-yard backstroke, 200-yard backstroke, 50-yard butterfly and 100-yard butterfly, and these were all at least top-20 season times in the nation.
Sophomore Nyls Korstanje had top-ranked season bests in 50-yard freestyle, 100 free, 50 fly and 100 fly. Junior Eric Knowles and freshman Ross Dant had multiple top season bests in the longer distance freestyle; Knowles in 200-yard freestyle, Dant and Knowles in 500-yard freestyle, both in 1000-yard freestyle and both in 1650-yard freestyle. Knowles also had a season-best in 400-yard individual medley. More top-season bests from the ACC championship include junior Erge Gezmis in 200-yard individual medley and seniors Noah Hensley and Mark McGlaughlin in 100 backstroke. It’s safe to say the Pack men’s swim team was in peak form.
I think the Wolfpack would have finished top three in the finals and would have kicked No. 1-ranked Texas out of the top three. Texas did not have many season bests in their conference championship and mostly peaked in the beginning of the season, while the Wolfpack has been consistently improving throughout the season. I think the Wolfpack would be in the top three with Michigan and California. However, I think Michigan’s versatility and California’s incredible conference performance would push them over NC State.
But for individual championships, there would be at least one individual gold brought home from Stewart. Stewart would come into the championship with the best 100 backstroke time in the nation and redeem himself with a gold medal. Stewart also had strong opportunities for titles in the 200 backstroke, with the third-best time in the nation, and in the 100 fly, with the fourth-best time in the nation and only 0.09 seconds behind number one. I think Stewart would have come away from the finals with two individual national titles.
Korstanje made a strong showing in the ACC finals, achieving the No. 6 time in the nation in the 50 free. Being only 0.20 seconds behind number one and constantly improving throughout the season, he would have a strong opportunity to upset the finals and take home his first NCAA title.
I think he would also qualify for the finals and finish top six in both 1000 free and 1650 free. There are not many upsets in longer distances, considering it’s unlikely a time would jump so high for such a long distance, but he has top-six times in both events, which would bring him to the finals and put him at least at a top-six finish in the finals.
For relays, I don’t think there would be any national titles, but there will definitely be a few finals qualifiers. The 400-yard freestyle relay team had the top-four time in the nation and could have possibly pulled off an upset, since it was a little over one second behind the top three, but a lot would have to go right. The 200-yard medley relay could have qualified for the finals, having the No. 7 time. Also, I think the 800-yard freestyle relay team would have ousted Arizona to put itself in the finals, considering it was very close between the ninth- and eighth-best times in the nation.
I can’t guarantee the NC State men’s swim team would win the NCAA swimming championship, but I am sure it would put up an exceptional performance because of their consistent improvement all year and its incredible performances and season-bests in the ACC championship. It would definitely be a top-team finisher and would bring home at least three individual titles and possibly even one relay title.