With multiple podium finishes, a handful of event titles, a range of NCAA Championship cuts and a lot of fast swimming (and quality diving), the men of Stanford’s swimming and diving squad returned home from their mid-season invitational full of confidence for the rest of the season ahead.
Last weekend saw the team’s divers launch into the 2022 Texas Diving Invite, while their swimming teammates converged on the Greensboro Aquatic Center for the 2022 NC State / GAC Invitational alongside Duke, Pennsylvania State, the US Military Academy and fellow swimming heavyweights Arizona State and hosts North Carolina State. The six-team showdown in Greensboro, NC, encompassed three days of prelims-finals action and marked the first meet of this format for the swimmers this season, as the Cardinal men competed alongside the women’s squad for the first time since their season-opening victory over Utah. The men’s swimming contingent claimed third in the final team scores standings in Greensboro, with 1642 points.
Day 1 – Stanford men into the pool and onto the podium
Kicking things off on the men’s side of the schedule, Stanford’s team of juniors Luke Maurer (19.54) and Jonathan (Jonny) Affeld (19.50) and senior Leon MacAlister (19.44) were anchored to the silver medal spot in the men’s 200-yard freestyle relay by freshman Rafael Gu’s 19.20 final leg split, stopping the clock at 1:17.68.
Fresh off a Triple Distance freestyle crown, junior Preston Forst’s 4:17.42 (a half second drop from his prelims performance) was good for fourth in the men’s 500-yard freestyle final to open the men’s squad’s individual finals account at the mid-season invitational in Greensboro, N.C. Ron Polonsky followed Forst into the top-five, the sophomore dropping nearly three seconds from his morning swim to claim fifth in 4:17.73.
ASU’s Leon Marchand — one of the top in-form swimmers in world swimming, let alone the NCAA — ran away with the 200-yard IM victory in a new pool record of 1:39.28, but that didn’t stop Stanford’s Affeld (1:44.67), freshman Zhier Fan (1:44.96) and Maurer (1:46.36) from swimming to fourth, sixth and seventh in the final, with both Affeld and Fan dropping fractions of a second from the qualifying round.
Taking on a heavy event schedule in a quickfire finals session, Maurer stepped up to the starting blocks yet again in the 50-yard freestyle, blasting a 19.65 — nearly identical to his season-best 19.64 from that morning’s heats.
As the first day came to a close, ASU again showed their depth in taking both first and second place in the 400-yard medley relay, but the Cardinal quartet largely kept the pace to place third (3:06.38) and make it two podium finishes in the first two relay events. MacAlister posted a speedy 45.58 lead-off in the backstroke, handing over to Fan (breaststroke, 52.72) and junior Ethan Hu (butterfly, 45.82) before Maurer’s 42.26 freestyle leg – having swam in all but one of the evening’s ‘A’ finals — snatched the final podium spot back from NC State. That result left Stanford’s men second behind only ASU in team scoring, with 469.5 points.
Continuing the trend of NCAA qualifying seen from the women’s contingent, Stanford’s men grabbed NCAA ‘B’ cuts in the 400-yard medley relay. Maurer added ‘B’ standards in each of his three individual events, with Polonsky (500-yard freestyle), Affeld (200-yard IM) and Fan (200-yard IM) also earning qualifying times for this season’s championship meet.
Over in Texas, there was another Stanford podium finish as sophomore Jack Ryan dove into third place in the 1-meter event with a 369.25 score. Junior Ethan Foster’s 272.00 score saw him take 19th overall in that event.
Day 2 – Swimmers rake in NCAA cuts as a diver is crowned champion
Day two saw several of the Cardinal’s top performers on the men’s team back in action and in amongst the medals alongside some new faces to the finals scene at the Greensboro Aquatic Center.
MacAlister (21.28) and Maurer (19.19) kept their spots (and the same stroke legs, backstroke and freestyle respectively) from day one’s 400-yard medley relay on the 200-yard variation, but this time were joined by junior Ethan Dang (23.99) on the breaststroke and Affeld (20.30) for butterfly. The four placed third in the day two finals opening relay in 1:24.76. Maurer’s split also put him a couple tenths of a second quicker than his 50-yard freestyle leg in the previous day’s 200-yard freestyle relay.
With fifth place and an NCAA ‘B’ cut in the 500-yard freestyle secured on day one, Polonsky was back in the water in day two’s first individual male ‘A’ final, for the 400-yard IM. The Stanford sophomore finished an agonizing 0.23 seconds short of third-place but did improve from his sixth-place prelims swim to grab fourth, dropping 4.82 seconds to go 3:44.50 for another NCAA ‘B’ cut. Polonsky also interrupted what otherwise would have been an ASU sweep of the top-four spots.
After swimming the butterfly leg in the 400-yard medley relay the previous day, Hu raced his way to fourth in the 100-yard butterfly – his finals time of 45.86 a third of a second quicker than he went that morning, and a mere 0.09 off of third place. Junior Aaron Sequeira’s 46.19 saw him take sixth in that ‘A’ final, while Affeld (46.75) tasted victory in the ‘B’ final. All three men earned NCAA ‘B’ cuts with their swims.
In the 200-yard freestyle ‘A’ final, Maurer (1:34.77) and Gu (1:35.73) managed seventh and eighth placed respectively, both within a second of their times from the morning’s heats — but it was freshman Andres Dupont (1:34.64) who clocked the fastest Stanford time of the evening session. Al three were inside the NCAA ‘B’ time, joined in that accomplishment by Forst (1:35.43) — who finished just behind Dupont in the ‘B’ final.
It was in the 100-yard races of breaststroke and backstroke that the Cardinal men found their highest individual finishes of the day in Greensboro, through men at the beginning and in the twilight of their collegiate careers.
Fan dropped just over half a second from prelims to jump up into third spot overall with Stanford’s 12th-fastest performance in event history at 52.96. The freshman breaststroker was joined in the 100-yard breaststroke ‘A’ final by recently crowned Triple Distance breaststroke king Dang (53.48) in sixth, with both beating the NCAA ‘B’ cut.
Meanwhile, MacAlister (45.82) shaved three tenths of a second to touch second in the 100-yard backstroke. Sequeira, in his second individual ‘A’ final of the day, swam to seventh in 47.37. Both NCAA ‘B’ time achievers were followed by freshman Hayden Kwan (eighth, 48.90).
Grabbing another podium finish to see out the second finals session of the meet, Stanford’s 800-yard freestyle relay team made the bronze medal spot comfortably their own. Polonsky put up the team’s fastest split in the lead-off with 1:33.44, before MacAlister (1:34.27), Gu (1:35.52) and Maurer (1:34.12) braved swimming’s longest relay to end day two on a high as their total time of 6:17.35 counted for another NCAA ‘B’ cut.
However, Stanford men’s swimming & diving’s highest placing of the day came not in Greensboro, but from the divers in Texas. Scoring 411.85, Jack Ryan grabbed first place in the 3-meter event, while Ethan Foster’s 300.20 earned him 20th.
Day 3 – Dynamic stroke duos (and trios) as the Cardinal close out NC State Invite ’22
After an individual gold in Texas, the Cardinal men in Greensboro followed suit straight out of the gates on day three. After sophomore Gabe Machado’s (seventh, 15:17.91) 1650-yard freestyle opened the meet’s final session with an NCAA ‘B’ cut (alongside Liam Custer’s 15:20.56 for ninth and his own championship meet qualifying time), MacAlister headed up a four-strong Stanford group in the 200-yard backstroke ‘A’ final with a victory. The senior dropped almost a second from his prelims time to touch first in 1:40.13, joined again in a backstroke ‘A’ final by Sequeira (fifth, 1:42.68) and Kwan (seventh, 1:44.55), as well as freshman Josh Zuchowski (eighth, 1:45.24). That trio also improved all around from the morning, with MacAlister, Sequeira and Kwan all earning NCAA ‘B’ cuts.
“I was pretty happy with most of my performances,” MacAlister said of last weekend, explaining that the team generally view these mid-season competitions as a “checkpoint” for how their training and performance progression is going rather than being too caught up in the times themselves. With that being said, times across the squad still show undoubted improvement.
“Almost all returners swam faster than what they went at last year’s mid-season meet, and the freshman held their own,” the backstroke specialist noted, saying he believes this sets them up well for strong performances and continued improvement over the rest of the season.
MacAlister plans to coterm next year — giving the senior another year competing for Stanford. As well as keenly awaiting big end-of-season performances at Pac-12s and NCAA Championships in the new year, he also looks forward to spending the rest of his penultimate season in and out of the pool with the rest of his class, some of whom are competing their final collegiate season.
Regularly the team’s top sprint freestyler this season, Maurer added to his finals appearance tally for the meet with a fifth-place finish in the 100-yard freestyle ‘A’ final, dropping 0.2 from prelims to clock a 42.71 with another NCAA ‘B’ cut of his own.
Meanwhile, there were duos repping the big Stanford ‘S’ on their caps in each of the 200-yard breaststroke and 200-yard butterfly, with all four doing so in NCAA ‘B’ standard-achieving times. Fan (1:55.61) and Dang (1:56.24) raced their way into a breaststroke ‘A’ final for the second day running, both dropping fractions of a second from their heats to place fourth and sixth, respectively. In the backstroke ‘A’ final, Stanford’s top performer over 200-yards was sophomore Matt Fenlon with a 1:43.79 in sixth place, as junior teammate Affeld — likely feeling the effects of a grueling prelims-finals meet schedule — added a little to his morning time with a 1:46.96. Fellow junior Hu won the ‘B’ final of the event in 1:45.31.
For the final race of the 2022 NC State / GAC Invitational, Stanford’s 400-yard freestyle relay team of Maurer (42.79), MacAlister (42.72), Polonsky (42.49) and Dupont (42.38) clocked in at 2:50.38 for fourth, earning the Cardinal one more NCAA ‘A’ cut. Senior Neel Roy (44.20), Gu (43.37), Sequeira (43.63) and sophomore Avery Voss (43.85) teamed up for sixth place with a 2:55.05 final time.
“We are very pleased with our performances so far,” said head coach Dan Schemmel. The Goldman Family Director of Men’s Swimming echoed MacAlister’s assessment, noting that the team as a whole swam well and were faster than at this point last year — a product of their hard work that should, they hope, translate into an even quicker championship meet stretch.
“Our expectation was to swim well, knowing our best swims will be ahead of us in February and March [Pac-12 and NCAA Championship meets],” Schemmel continued, explaining that his squad had a few days of rest to sharpen up heading into the Greensboro meet, but nothing like a full taper.
“Leon MacAlisrer, Luke Maurer and Jack Ryan were the standouts this weekend. Ethan Hu, Aaron Sequeira and Andres Dupont also performed extremely well, and are positioned to do special things later this year,” he added — also giving kudos to the women’s team on their dominant performance.
Stanford’s swimmers and divers will head back to the Avery Aquatic Center as they lock in for a couple more months of tough winter training. Then, they’ll set their sights on a home dual meet against the Pacific Tiger (Jan. 13) and the UCLA Bruin Diving Invite (Jan. 13-15 in Los Angeles), with a big dual meet double header against Arizona State (Jan. 20 in Tempe, Ariz.) and Arizona (Jan. 21 in Tucson, Ariz.) the following weekend.