2015-16 Men's Swimming Preview
Updated: Tuesday 10/08/2015 (ET)
by Jacob Skipper
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One year after finally climbing the mountain to claim the Colonial Athletic Association Championship, the challenge facing the William & Mary men's swimming team is continuing to excel and make strides on the national stage.  Director of Swimming Matt Crispino '02 and his staff have one more year with perhaps the most lauded class in school history, as well as a strong freshman corps with which to tackle another 10-meet regular season and conference championships.

The sprint group is perhaps the biggest question mark coming into the season, which speaks more to the strength of all the other event groups than to any weakness in the Tribe's line-up.  Senior Billy Russell enters his final year fully healthy after missing most of last year, a season in which he still ranked among the top four in the league despite that time off.  Already the school record-holder in the 50, 100, and 200 freestyles, Russell will focus on taking those three events as well as an elusive first-ever 200 free relay at the CAA Championships in February.

Backing Russell up is an intriguing and eclectic mix, almost different in each event.  The one constant is big Joe Eiden, a junior who transitioned down from the distance group last year.  At 6-5, Eiden is the tallest swimmer on the team and maybe even the whole league, a size he uses to great advantage in the 50 and 100 free.  He can also hold his own in the 200 free, using some of that distance endurance to accelerate downhill over the back-half of the course.  Another veteran just coming into his own is Kyle Neri, a 6-3 sophomore who is looking to make significant gains in the 50 and 100 now that he has a full year of college workouts under his belt.

The freshman rep in the sprinting lane is Ramzy Ali, a 6-4 swimmer out of Zurich International School.  He comes in close to the freshman record set just last year, and looks to get even faster as he adjusts to collegiate swimming and the 25-yard course of the NCAA as opposed to the SCM and LCM pools prevalent internationally.  Sophomore Evan Baker set that freshman record in the 50 free at CAAs last spring, in a strong performance in his third event.

Others who will contribute here and there include senior Will Manion, a back-stroker who none-the-less swam 44.58 to lead-off the gold-medal 400 free relay last spring, as well as another back-stroker in Alex Henderson.  Henderson, a junior, swam a strong 1:39.45 in the 200 free last spring to earn a spot on the CAA Championships squad.  Senior Jeremiah O'Donnell could also find his way onto the 800 free relay team, after he broke the W&M pool record in the 200 free with a 1:40.77 on Senior Day last January.

The distance group is very young and very fast, a combination that associate head coach Chris Carter will look to capitalize on this winter.  Mirroring Eiden's move down to sprinting last year, sophomore Tommy Kealy made the move up in distance to provide one of the surprises of the CAA meet.  Kealy ranks second on the depth chart in the 500, 1,000, and the mile, and also ranks second on the team in the 200 fly.  He'll look to continue his development in those events this spring, with the aim of challenging for all-conference honors come February.

Stepping into the top distance role is freshman Eric Grimes.  Grimes comes in with a best of 15:34.92 in the mile, 10 seconds better than anyone on the team, and ranks third in the 500 at 4:29.75.  He has a lot of promise to drop time, as well, as his 1,000 is only 9:40.12.  Sophomore Conrad Zamparello will also be looking to move up in the league rankings, after finishing 12th in both the 500 and the mile at CAAs as a freshman.  Others who will provide depth include Sean Higgins and Conor Cudahy and freshman Joey Rento, as well as Alex Henderson, who leads the team in the 500 free with a 4:27.25 PB.

The backstroke has been a Tribe hallmark for the last three years, and will do so again at least one more time in 2015-16.  Senior Will Manion enters his final season as W&M's all-time leader in conference championships, and though he lost his 100 back conference record last winter, gained the 200 back crown in its place.  He returns as the undisputed top entrant in both events, and is aiming for an NCAA invitation to go with his already-earned Olympic Trials cut.

Manion's top competition in the backstroke is own classmate and teammate Justin Barden, who was runner-up in the 200 back and fourth in the 100 back in 2015.  Barden's style is more akin to cutting through the water than powering through it, but is still far better than most at getting from one end of the pool to the other.  Alex Henderson improved by leaps and bounds last year in the 200 back, and ranks third on the depth chart at 1:46.78.

Providing depth in the position group is Wyatt Grubb, who dipped under the 50-second barrier in the 100 back at North Carolina, as well as senior Austin Glass and junior Alex Montes de Oca, who rank fourth and fifth in both events, respectively.

W&M has become the dominant breaststroke school in the CAA, sweeping both the 100 and the 200 each of the past three years.  The Tribe is just the second school to do so, matching American University's run from 1989-91, and is in great shape to set a new record of four-straight sweeps this winter.  In the 100 breast, junior Josh Zimmt swam a freshman-record 55.11 in 2014, and was fifth in the league last year.  He'll be looking to return to top form in his third go-round, and will be pushed at the top by senior Andrew Nyce, seventh in the CAA finals in 2015.  Nyce has a best of 55.83.  Freshman Brooks Peterson has already swum 56.80 to rank fourth on the team, and on the basis of his new teammates' improvements, should go much faster come February.

The 200 breast is even deeper, with the addition of 2015 CAA Swimmer of the Year Jeremiah O'Donnell.  O'Donnell won the 200 breast last spring in 1:57.39, his third title of the meet, and broke the school record that had been set by Zimmt the year before of 1:58.08.  Zimmt was the silver-medalist to his teammate, and Nyce picked up another seventh-place finish in the event.  Peterson is again fourth on the team, with a prep best of 2:03.10, and three more swimmers have all gone 2:05.50 or better.

The fourth stroke has the potential to be another golden one for the Tribe.  Justin Barden is the two-time defending champion in the 100 fly, and came within two-tenths of a second of breaking the conference record with his 47.55 showing last February.  Evan Baker was the runner-up in the 200 fly as a freshman and seventh in the 100 fly, setting freshman records in both events and the school record in the longer.  That performance led to Baker win CAA Rookie of the Year honors.

Tommy Kealy is second on the depth chart in the 200 fly at 1:47.10, and Sean Higgins third at 1:48.54.  Freshman Maicoll Gomez has also gone under 1:49, and senior Ryan Natal gives the Tribe five under that mark.  Natal is also third on the chart in the 100 fly, and Alex Montes de Oca and Austin Glass have both surpassed 50 seconds in the 100.

Individual Medley
When you put all the strokes together, you have the individual medley, and when you put all the Tribe's strengths together, you have the IM group.  Leading the way is Jeremiah O'Donnell, who set the school and conference records in both the 200 and the 400 IM en route to gold medals in both last winter.  W&M swept the 200 IM, with silver medals going to Will Manion and Alex Montes de Oca, and in the 400 IM, sophomore Conrad Zamparello was third while setting the W&M freshman record.

Sophomore Brett Barden was a consolation finalist in both IM events his freshman year, including a win in the 400 IM consolation heat.  Sean Higgins (in the 400 IM) and Andrew Nyce (in the 200) were also finalists in 2015, and freshman Eric Grimes joins the Tribe ranked fourth on the depth chart in both events.

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