After a grueling four-day NCAA meet in Atlanta, Stanford (7-0, 5-0 Pac-12) finished seventh in the nation — a substantial improvement from its 14th place result last year.
Pac-12 foe Cal (6-1, 4-1 Pac-12) won the NCAA title, but Stanford saw success in multiple relays and individual events, including an NCAA title by redshirt freshman Andrei Minakov in the 100 butterfly.
After finishing second at the Pac-12 Championship two weeks ago, Stanford faced high expectations entering the national championship meet.
The Cardinal got off to a promising start on Wednesday, with junior Leon MacAlister, true freshman Ron Polonsky, Minakov and sophomore Jonathan Affeld taking eighth place in the 200 medley relay. Their performance of 1:22.41 broke the school record, which was posted at the Pac-12 Championships in early March. The podium-finish earned the four NCAA All-America honors.
Polonsky and Minakov, together with sophomores Luke Maurer and Preston Forst, gave Stanford its second podium finish of the day in the 800 freestyle relay. The foursome placed third with a time of 6:06.83. Minakov broke the school record in the 200 during his opening leg and solid performances from his teammates helped the relay set a school record in that event.
“Andrei and Ron were on both relays, which is a tough double, and they held their own and put up fantastic splits, so that was really great,” said Head Coach Dan Schemmel, in a Stanford Athletics press release. “All the splits across the board were awesome. In the 800, all four of those guys had best times.”
On Thursday, Stanford looked to carry its momentum into the second day of events.
Senior Conor Casey and freshman Jack Ryan kicked things off for the Cardinal, competing in the 1-meter diving competition and taking 11th and 12th places, respectively.
Though the Cardinal swimmers struggled in the morning’s preliminaries, largely coming up short for podium finals, Minakov, Affeld and Maurer were joined by junior Mason Gonzalez to swim a season’s best and take 14th in the 200 freestyle relay later in the day.
In two encouraging performances, Polonsky took 9th in the 200 individual medley, and Forst edged out Florida’s Bobby Finke, a two-time gold medalist at the 2020 Olympics, to win the consolation final of the 500 freestyle.
At the event’s halfway point, Stanford sat seventh in the team rankings, with 94 points.
The third day of competition was once again a busy one for the Cardinal.
After taking first in the preliminary 100 butterfly, Minakov set a blistering pace in the championship final of the event to claim his first career NCAA title and the Cardinal’s first top finish of the meet. The individual title was the first for a Stanford swimmer since 2018. His time of 43.71 also set new school and pool records.
“We’re excited,” Minakov said in a post-race interview. “We’re a very young team, we trust our coaches. I feel like we’re on a great route, and that’s just the beginning of our Stanford career.”
Schemmel praised Minakov’s performance, describing him as someone with “a lot of grit and a lot of passion for his teammates and his team.”
“Andrei lays it out on the line every time he competes,” Schemmel said. “We’re grateful that he’s here with us, and I look forward to having him on our side and representing us at the highest level over the next few years.”
Also on Friday, Casey and Ryan returned to the board in the 3-meter diving competition. In the consolation final, Casey came 12th overall and earned All-American honors. With the performance, the Virginia-native wrapped up a decorated diving career at Stanford, having claimed multiple Pac-12 titles. Ryan has had a promising freshman season himself, taking second and third behind Casey’s recent Pac-12 victories in the 1- and 3-meter events.
“It was super competitive on the swimming side, but this may have been even more competitive on the diving side,” Schemmel said of Casey’s efforts. “So for him to get in scoring position was really impressive, and a testament to how much he cares for this team.”
Minakov, MacAlister, Polonsky and Affeld later teamed up for the 400 medley relay, clinching sixth place and a podium finish with a time of 3:01.70.
Carrying this momentum into the last day of competition, the swimmers were quick to take advantage of opportunities in Saturday’s podium finals. The Cardinal came away with high finishes in all four of the night’s first events.
Graduate student Grant Shoults kicked things off, finishing ninth in the 1650 free. The performance, Shoults’ second-fastest career swim in the event, earned him All-American honors.
“He’s had two shoulder surgeries, and then swims the hardest events that you can swim,” Schemmel said. “And I think that’s a true testament to who he is as a person.”
MacAlister then gave Stanford its first podium finish of the night, racing to fifth in the 200 backstroke in 1:39.67 and also earned an All-American nod.
Next, Minakov followed up his title from the previous night by breaking his own Stanford record once in the preliminaries and again in the final of the 100 freestyle. He finished in third overall with a time of 41.09.
Senior Daniel Roy then swam his season’s best of 1:51.17 to take eighth in the 200 breaststroke.
The Cardinal wrapped up the championships with eighth place in the 400 freestyle relay, as Minakov, MacAlister, Polonsky and Maurer swam a time of 2:48.21.
The Cardinal’s seventh-place finish caps off the best season of Schemmel’s career. He arrived on The Farm three seasons ago, and post-NCAAs expressed gratitude for the team’s seniors, in particular, who he says welcomed him with open arms when he took over the program’s helm.
At the same time, however, Schemmel has confidence in the program’s future. With a relatively young roster, Schemmel said that he was “incredibly proud of how they stepped up and weren’t intimidated by the competition and the environment.”
“This is a group of guys that care a lot for one another and love the sport,” he said. “They have done everything they can to get Stanford back to being a national championship caliber program, and I feel like we’ve made really positive strides in that direction this year.”