By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
When you first scan our World University Games roster, you might notice a few things:
1. Recent high school graduates, such as Texas-bound Jack Conger, are on the team despite never having taken one college course.
2. Older swimmers who have already completed NCAA eligibility are also on the roster, like 28-year-old Mike Alexandrov.
3. None of this matters, because regulations for the World University Games are different than those defined by the NCAA here in the United States.
Not to be worried: Our roster completely falls within the guidelines of the WUG rulebook. As such, a few swimmers, such as recent high school graduates Conger and USC-bound Chelsea Chenault, or Mike Alexandrov (who completed his NCAA eligibility in 2007) are the benefactors.
The World University Games, taking place through July 10-17 in Kazaan, Russia, give these swimmers one more big-time international swim meet in another nation, another time zone, against an international field. It is a chance to gain much-needed experience. For swimmers who did not qualify for the World Championships, the WUGs also allows them to swim -- and potentially win -- a big-time meet.
Here are a few storylines to watch:
1. Can Mike Alexandrov break 1:00 in the 100 breaststroke? Alexandrov, nicknamed "Euro" due to his Bulgarian roots, will be in the running for a 2016 Olympic roster spot. No doubt about it. Before the 2012 Olympic Trials, Alexandrov switched athletic citizenships and attempted to qualify for the London Olympics on the U.S. team. Though he didn't make it, Alexandrov is back in the pool and has swum impressive times. The former American record holder in the 100-yard breaststroke has the tools capable to break 1:00 at the WUGs. Can he do it? As a veteran who has already competed in the Olympics for Bulgaria, look for Alexandrov to handle the pressures of WUGs and excel in the breaststroke events. It should be interesting to compare his times to those on our World Championships roster at the end of 2013. They could be very, very similar.
2. Megan Romano has a busy July. Romano, senior at Georgia and recent American record-breaker in the 200-yard freestyle, qualified to swim in four individual events, the most of any female on our U.S. roster. Also, Romano will swim at the World Championships in the 400 freestyle relay. This means her July is very packed with warm-ups, warm-downs, and international racing. On the flip side, she's going to gain valuable international experience while attending two major swim meets this summer. Romano, if you remember, was one of the great success stories earlier this spring at the NCAA Championships, helping Georgia claim the NCAA Championship. She's been on a mission since barely missing the 2012 Olympics by .16, a miss described as "the cruelest 16-hundredths of a second of Megan Romano's life." This summer will give Romano plenty of chances, including a lower-pressure international meet where she could theoretically do very well, then a higher-pressured meet to further hone her racing.
3. High schoolers get a preview of NCAA Swimming. As previously noted, recent high school grads Jack Conger and Chelsea Chenault haven't completed a collegiate course. But they'll get their first taste of "NCAA Swimming" against an international WUG roster. Conger, one of the bright up-and-coming stars in the United States, will swim the 200 back as well as the 50 and 100 butterfly. Chenault, a talented freestyler, is slated to compete in the 200 and 400 freestyles. She'll also compete at the World Championships in the 800 free relay. The jump from high school swimming -- where you're top dog -- to the wavy waters of NCAA swimming can be a formidable transition for some. But these WUGs allow these high school seniors to preview what it'll be like. It should be interesting to see how they respond to the bigger (literally) competition.
4. Michigan distance swimming on display. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to visit the University of Michigan, and sit with 2012 Olympian Connor Jaeger, along with his teammates Sean Ryan and Ryan Feeley, for an hour before practice. Then I talked with their distance freestyle coach, Dr. Josh White. What an impressive group. Ryan, Feeley and White will all be at the WUGs (along with Emily Brunemann of Club Wolverine). The former two will compete head-to-head in the 1500. It seems oddly appropriate that at the biggest "university" competition in the world, Michigan, the 2013 NCAA Champions, could put on a veritable distance swimming clinic. Keep monitoring what's coming out of Ann Arbor. They're doing some special things in the world of distance swimming.
5. Laura Sogar in the breaststroke events. One of the Cinderella stories of the NCAA Championships was Texas senior Laura Sogar. Always the bridesmaid but never the bride, Sogar claimed an NCAA title from the outside lane, upsetting American record holder Breeja Larson in the 200-yard breaststroke. Sogar barely missed qualifying for the World Championships. At the WUGs, she'll swim all the breaststroke events. While she finished up her collegiate career, expect Sogar to be a force to be reckoned with over the next few years. This WUG competition is just the venue that could provide Sogar with the confidence to continue going. While the U.S. already has some pretty good breaststrokers in Rebecca Soni, Breeja Larson, Jessica Hardy, and Micah Lawrence, Sogar proved this spring that she belongs. Now it'll be interesting to see how that momentum carries over to the long course format and a large international competition.
For more information about the World University Games, visit our International Events page. Catch a live stream of the action at WatchESPN.