Plunging back into NCAA action after the winter break hiatus, the Stanford men’s swim squad (2-0, 1-0 Pac-12) swept aside Pacific with a commanding 179-67 victory on Friday. The win, under stormy gray skies at the Avery Aquatic Center, means the Cardinal men remain unbeaten in dual meets this season, and retain an unblemished all-time record against the Tigers that extends to 13-0. This also marks nine straight dual meet triumphs for the Cardinal dating back to the beginning of the 2021-22 collegiate season.
14 for 14 as freshman class continues to shine
14 races went off, and 14 times a Cardinal swimmer got their hand to the wall first. The first of those was the 200-yard medley relay — an event which served as the meet’s first exhibition of Stanford’s depth. Sophomore Aaron Sequeira and juniors Ethan Dang, Andrei Minakov and Luke Maurer teamed up for the win on the day, clocking in at 1:28.14. Just behind them, in second place, were freshmen Hayden Kwan and Rafael Gu, sophomore Hayden Zheng and senior Leon MacAlister at 1:29.37, followed by freshman Josh Zuchowski, sophomore Ron Polonsky and juniors Jonny Affeld and Preston Forst. The latter team touched third in the race at 1:30.99.
With the teams electing to swim the 1650-yard freestyle as the day’s distance event, it was freshman Liam Custer’s time to shine. The distance dynamo shaved five seconds from his seed time to win with a 15:15.47, while a lifetime best 15:26.00 for Matt Fenlon earned the sophomore second place. Freshman Henry Morrissey was just shy of his mid-season performance to take third place in 15:35.59.
Neel Roy made the 200-yard freestyle his own, and a time of 1:37.55 earned the Stanford senior his first career event title, per Stanford Athletics. Freshman Andres Dupont (1:38.07) and junior Rick Mihm (1:39.49) finished in second and third place respectively.
In one of several strong swims to kick off the first meet of 2023, Gu grabbed first place in the 100-yard backstroke in 48.35 — the remaining podium places going to Zuchowski (49.32) and senior Shane Blinkman (49.96). That was Gu’s first of two individual titles on the day, as the freshman also claimed the 100-yard butterfly title in a time of 47.27, beating out reigning NCAA champion Minakov (48.29). Sophomore Avery Voss (48.72), Mihm (49.41), Dang (50.64), Kwan (50.86) and Forst (51.40) placed third through seventh in that event, but, along with Minakov, were swimming as exhibition only due to the NCAA dual meet “mercy rule” with Stanford having already secured the meet victory.
“I would like to be in every single relay … since I want to help the team win the [Pac-12] Championship in as many ways as possible,” Gu said. On the individual side, the in-form freshman’s ideal event line-up by the end of the season comprises relays and the sprint freestyle (50-, 100- and 200-yard) events — but, enthused by Friday’s performance, Gu is also eyeing the 100-yard butterfly as a potential future event.
Voss earned an individual event win of his own — another career first, per Stanford Athletics — in the 50-yard freestyle, out-touching MacAlister 20.43 to 20.49. Senior Will Tarvestad was third to the wall in 21.13, charging to the wall one one-hundredth of a second ahead of Dang.
Making his first meet appearance for the Cardinal this season, Minakov swam to a comfortable victory in the 100-yard freestyle — an event in which he earned bronze at last season’s NCAA Championships — in 43.91, followed by Roy (second, 45.22) and Affeld (third, 46.07).
Zheng was a staple in the breaststroke events against the Tigers, winning the 100-yard event — his first individual title, per Stanford Athletics — in 56.17, ahead of Affeld (56.30), before finishing runner-up to Polonsky (2:01.78) in the 200 with a 2:02.64. Along with his win in the 200-yard butterfly (1:48.89), that distance breaststroke title saw Polonsky join his freshman teammate Gu as another two-time individual event winner. Forst (1:51.65) and Sequeira (1:53.36) placed second and fourth in the 200 fly, respectively.
Even with the mercy rule in effect, ruling out any points scored other than for first place, the Cardinal claimed first through fourth-placed finishes in both the 200-yard backstroke and the 500-yard freestyle. The backstroke event went to Kwan, the freshman’s 1:45.35 launching him clear of teammates Zuchowski (1:48.55), Blinkman (1:50.35) and Sequeira (1:55.08), while senior Andrew Matejka tasted victory in the 500 free, clocking 4:32.58. Just four seconds separated the four Cardinal in that mid-distance freestyle event, with Matejka followed by MacAlister (4:33.72), sophomore Gabe Machado (4:34.85) and Dupont (4:36.97).
Maurer was the sole Stanford swimmer in the final individual event of the day — but the junior was all his team needed, cruising to the 200-yard individual medley win in 1:52.13.
Finally, win number 14 came in the 200-yard freestyle relay — Gu, MacAlister, Polonsky and Dang proved to be the quickest quartet with a 1:21.10, as Gu served up a meet-leading 20.14 50-yard freestyle split in the lead-off leg. Even then, the chasing team of Minakov, Voss, Sequeira and Matejka were just a second and a half back (1:22.69), with both of Stanford’s remaining relays — Roy, Mihm, Maurer and Machado at 1:23.14, and Dupont, Affeld, Tarvestad and Forst at 1:23.42 — less than a second away again.
In the relay events at last season’s NCAA Championships, the Cardinal were regularly amongst the nation’s best, including a bronze medal in the 800-yard freestyle relay. Dan Schemmel, the Goldman Family Director of Men’s Swimming, is suitably optimistic about his team’s chances at this edition of the Championship meet in March.
“Of our five relays at NCAAs last year, we’re returning 19 out of 20 legs. We’re hoping to be competitive and move up in all of them.”
A tough, tropical winter break — and what’s up next
Prior to Friday’s meet, the team spent just over a week (Dec. 28 to Jan. 6) in Hawaii for winter training camp — a trip which MacAlister and Gu said allowed quality time with their “closely-knit family” of teammates, but also presented them with some of their toughest sessions of the year.
“We’re still in the thick of training — we have just started to come down in terms of [training] intensity” MacAlister said, reiterating that taper for their end-of-season championship meets “is still far, far away.”
This was only the Cardinal men’s second dual meet of the season (they also competed in a Triple Distance meet vs. arch-rival Cal, and a mid-season invitational meet before the winter break), but it kicks off a busy remainder of the season for Schemmel’s squad.
While the program’s divers are currently competing at the three-day UCLA Bruin Diving Invite, the swimming contingent next travels to Arizona for a double-header against Arizona State (Friday, 1 p.m. PT) and Arizona (Saturday, 10 a.m. PT). Their final two dual meets of the season follow, in the form of an all-day home meet against USC (Feb. 4) before a battle in Berkeley against the reigning NCAA Champion, Cal (Feb. 18, 12 p.m. PT). The latter is a showdown which MacAlister is eagerly anticipating, adding “we won last year by a small margin, and I’m sure it’s going to be just as exciting this year.”
Then, it’s championship meet time — when eyes will turn first to Pac-12s (March 1-4) and then NCAA Championships (March 22-25).