Men’s swimming heads to NCAAs

The men’s swimming and diving team has already had an accomplished season and is seeking more. They’ve lost only once in 10 dual meets, they swept their formidable Bay Area rivals — Cal and Stanford — for the first time since 1997, and they’re coming off a successful conference championship where they sent a vast array of swimmers to the podium. Starting Wednesday, the team has a chance to turn their excellent campaign into an unforgettable one.

The No. 9 Trojans begin their chase for the national championship in Atlanta this week, where they will face off against top conference rivals Cal and reigning Pac-12 champion Stanford, as well as other top-ranked teams in Georgia and reigning NCAA overall champion Texas.

USC opened the championships with a ninth-place finish in the 800-yard free relay on Wednesday.

Historically, the Trojans have fared well in the NCAA championships: USC has the fourth-most overall national championships nationwide, winning the title nine times from 1960-1977. Since the team’s first appearance in the NCAAs, Trojan swimmers have captured 120 event titles (98 individual and 22 relay titles), which is also the fourth-most in the country. Though USC hasn’t finished in the nation’s top-three overall since 1990, the Trojans have taken home four fourth-place finishes in that time, including a fourth-place finish at last year’s NCAAs.

For the Trojans to match or improve upon last year’s result, they’ll have to rise to the occasion without their top performer from last year’s championships. Recent alumnus Christian Quintero, who also represented Venezuela at the 2012 London Olympics, won an individual title in the 200-yard freestyle and helped lead USC to titles in the 400- and 800-yard freestyle relays. Without Quintero, the Trojans will have to rely on a host of young talent and experienced leadership to replace his point contributions.

Senior captains Ted Singley and Morten Klarskov and junior captain Reed Malone all come into this week’s action with postseason experience. Singley competed in last year’s NCAAs and returns this year to swim in three different events: the 500- and 1650-yard freestyle, as well as the 200-yard butterfly. Klarskov is set to swim in the relays, while Malone — who won the 500-and 200-yard freestyle at the Pac-12 Championships — will swim in both events at the NCAAs, as well as the 100-yard freestyle.

Junior Steven Stumph, who has won the conference championship in the 200-yard breaststroke twice, is seeded 10th in the event at the NCAAs. He will also compete in the 100-yard breaststroke as well as the 200-yard individual medley. Sophomore Ralf Tribuntsov, who won the 100-yard backstroke at the Pac-12 Championships, is seeded fifth in the event at the NCAAs; Tribuntsov will also swim the 100-yard freestyle and the 100-yard butterfly.

For the Trojans to make a strong impact at this year’s NCAAs, they will have to receive strong efforts from their exceptionally talented freshman class, led by the trio of Patrick Mulcare, Alex Valente, and Carsten Vissering.  Mulcare, who holds USC’s all-time record in the 200-yard backstroke, will swim in that event as well as the 400- and 200-yard individual medleys.  Valente has USC’s top time in the 100-yard butterfly for this season, and Vissering was USC’s top swimmer in the 100-yard breaststroke this year. Valente will also swim in the 100-yard backstroke and the 200-yard butterfly at the NCAAs, while Vissering will also compete in 200-yard breaststroke.

Trojan divers will also need to contribute to the overall effort, as senior Collin Pollard and sophomore Dashiell Enos will look to ride off the momentum of their individual conference titles in the platform and three-meter, respectively. Pollard scored twice in his first NCAA appearance last season, both on the one-meter and the platform.  Senior Deon Reid will compete as well; all three divers are returning for their second-consecutive NCAA appearances.

The Trojans aren’t seeded first in any events at this year’s NCAAs, but, as the team knows, it’s the results — and not the predictions — that matter.

USC head coach Dave Salo will lead the team from March 23-26 as the Trojans look to take home their first team title since 1977. All events will take place in Georgia Tech’s McAuley Aquatic Center in Atlanta.