The 2022 swimming and diving ACC Championships kick off Tuesday, Feb. 15, at the McAuley Aquatic Center in Atlanta. Some of the nation’s best collegiate talent, including Olympic medalists and national team members, will converge under the same roof in hopes of claiming that coveted team title.
Although the psych sheets were dropped early last week, it’s important to note that many of the conference’s top athletes are over-entered. In the ACC, each team can score up to 21 athletes, with a maximum of 18 swimmers for each time. Each athlete can swim a maximum of three individual events and four relays. According to the current psych sheet, several of NC State’s best swimmers will have to cut a couple of individual events.
Junior Katharine Berkoff is currently entered in five individual events, and so is senior Kylee Alons. Several of the men are entered in four events, meaning they’ll be forced to scratch at least one before the prelims sessions begin. As such, it’s impossible to make rock-solid predictions from the current psych sheet, but I’ll be going off of last year’s results and each swimmer’s performance during the regular season.
There’s no getting around it — last year’s ACCs was painful for the men. Louisville won by the tightest margin in ACC history, snapping the Wolfpack’s six-year winning streak with a measly two points. This year, NC State will undoubtedly be back with a vengeance to take back the conference title.
On the other hand, the women performed quite well in 2021, finishing in second place overall behind No. 1 Virginia. The Wolfpack pulled away with five individual conference titles, nine second-place finishes and four third-place finishes. This year, the team could see some repeat titles as well as a couple of first-place relays, especially after last year’s performance at NCAAs.
Speaking of relays, this year should see the return of possibly the two best collegiate relay squads in the nation duking it out for a conference title. On the women’s side, the Wolfpack is seeded first in the 800-meter freestyle relay and the 400-meter medley relay — the latter being the women’s first NCAA event title in program history. Although Virginia is armed with a wealth of the nation’s top swimmers, we should see some record-shattering performances this week when it comes to the women’s relays.
On the men’s side, it’s entirely possible that we may see a podium sweep in a distance event or two. The distance dream team — junior Ross Dant, sophomores James Plage and Will Gallant, senior Curtis Wiltsey and graduate Eric Knowles — is undoubtedly going to put out some incredible swims in the 500-, 1000- and 1650-yard freestyle events.
Virginia’s Kate Douglass and Alex Walsh may have medaled in the 200-meter individual medley at the Olympics in Tokyo this past summer, but that doesn’t mean they’ll automatically sweep the podium in the event at ACCs. Graduates Kate Moore and Julia Poole are seeded third and fourth, respectively, so fans should expect a tight race for the Wolfpack. Likewise, Alons will be fighting to retain her conference title in the 50-yard freestyle — her success in doing so might depend on whether or not Douglass will scratch the event or not.
On the men’s side, we should see some tough competition in the 50-yard freestyle. With less than a 10th of a second between them, juniors Noah Henderson and Nyls Korstanje will undoubtedly be fighting for a spot on the podium against Louisville’s Abdelrahman Elaraby and Virginia Tech’s Youssef Ramadan. Although no one will likely come close to NC State alum Ryan Held’s conference record of 18.56, fans should see some incredible performances in the splash-and-dash.
As for the divers, junior Bayne Bennett has a serious shot at medaling in the 1-meter diving event. Seeded over 20 points ahead of the fourth-seeded diver, we might see an NC State diver on the podium. It’s more unlikely that Bennett will medal in the 3-meter diving event, but Wolfpack fans can anticipate a thrilling battle in both for Bennett nonetheless.
ACCs could be a big meet for sophomore Mikey Moore, who’s seeded first in the 400-yard individual medley. Moore, the younger brother of Kate Moore and legendary distance alum Hannah Moore, could be looking at his first individual conference title with two years to go at NC State, following in his siblings’ footsteps as a distance-event powerhouse early on in his collegiate career.
It’s worth noting that Douglass, easily one of Virginia’s best swimmers, is currently entered in seven individual events. Since she’ll inevitably have to cut her schedule down to three events, that opens the doors for some NC State women to cement individual conference titles. If she scratches in the 100-yard butterfly, Alons will likely medal and possibly nab a first-place finish. Senior Sophie Hansson, currently seeded second in the 200-yard breaststroke, will look to retain her conference title in the event should Douglass scratch. We won’t know until the meet begins, so it’s a waiting game for athletes and fans alike.
Hansson, Berkoff and junior Kacper Stokowski look to defend their conference titles in Atlanta this year. Both Berkoff and Stokowski are the returning champions in the 100-yard backstroke, and Hansson swept both breaststroke events in 2021. Their races will undoubtedly be the cornerstone of the Wolfpack’s success at ACCs this year, and tougher competition — especially on the women’s side — indicate an exciting meet all around.
Let’s be honest: it’s unlikely that the women will be able to produce an upset against Virginia. Unless we see several phenomenal, out-of-this-world swims from NC State’s top athletes, Virginia’s depth and skill is going to edge out the Wolfpack for the third year in a row. The men, however, have learned from their heartbreaking loss last year and should be back with a vengeance to reclaim their title. Regardless, it’s likely that fans will see some monumental swims from two of the top teams in the nation weeks ahead of NCAAs.