This 400 free relay seems just a little bit less muddled than the 200 free relay that we previewed yesterday. Of course, these relays are never easy to pick, especially when you get down closer to those 7th and 8th spots, but there’s some more clearly-defined contenders in this one.
Georgia, I think, has to be the favorites, and if there’s one relay that they don’t compromise on for the sake of the medleys, I think it may be this 400 free relay. If they stick with the group of Allison Schmitt, Chantal van Landeghem, Shannon Vreeland, and Megan Romano, they’re nearly unbeatable. Heck, that foursome would make a pretty decent Olympic relay.
So who is in this battle for 2nd place, then? Stanford’s 400 free relay this year, with swimmers like Maya Dirado and Felicia Lee joining the star Maddy Schaefer, is better than its 200. Arizona again has their big hammer in Margo Geer, who will battle with Romano and Schmitt for the individual NCAA title.
The Cal 400 free relay is really kind of an interesting one. At Pac 12′s, they were much better than the shorter 200, and sit 2nd in the country with a 3:12.37. That included a 48.00 leadoff from Liz Pelton. I think the real key to this Cal free relay is Rachael Acker: as the races get closer to a 200, she gets really good. Sophomore Kaylin Bing is the unsung hero of all of Cal’s sprint free relays. Rachel Bootsma showed some fortitude on the anchor to simultaneously run-down Arizona while holding off Stanford at Pac-12′s for the victory.
The top three teams in the Pac-12 this year also rank 2-3-4 in the country behind Georgia.
The Florida Gators’ “speed revolution” showed up just as much in this 400 as it did in the 200; their first three legs actually competed with Georgia at SEC’s, but anchor Elizabeth Beisel couldn’t keep pace with Romano (few can). That could be their bugaboo at NCAA’s as well: the lack of that 47-low hammer to put at the front or the back of their relay.
Tennessee’s 400 is a little slower comparatively than it’s 200, with swimmers like Faith Johnson and Caroline Simmons who really crush the 50 more than they do the 100. Still four very good legs. Minnesota and Texas A&M, meanwhile, both are about equal between the two relays.
Virginia will be coming from an 18th seed, but at a bare-minimum they are a top-12 relay when tapered (remember how tired Lauren Perdue looked by the end of ACC’s where this race was - she alone should take off a second or more when she brings on a taper).
The best kept secret in this race will be Auburn. They haven’t had that “wow” factor on this relay this season without Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace to anchor, but here’s the thing: at NCAA’s last year, they were 5th in prelims…without AVW, or any other seniors for that matter. Four times hovering right around 48.0 can get the job done in this relay for an A-final.
Here’s our picks (with seed times); I feel much better than the last relay picks about who we have in the top 8, though their exact position, as always, is up for plenty of debate. There is a handful of other teams that have a really good shot at making the A-Final; the hardest one to leave out was definitely Minnesota (3:15.18). They are good enough to end up on a podium if they have a perfect taper.
1. Georgia, 3:11.23
2. Cal, 3:12.37
3. Stanford, 3:12.63
4. Arizona, 3:12.42
5. Tennessee, 3:14.18
6. Florida, 3:13.21
7. Auburn, 3:15.90
8. Virginia, 3:16.94
Darkhorses: The North Carolina women have a 400 free relay that goes three freshmen and a sophomore. Those three freshmen happen to be very, very fast, though, and you never know when a rookie is going to surprise and do something special at the end of a season. Also Wisconsin is a good relay – the Martin sisters are the pivots, and they’re joined by Beckie Palm and Laura Miller in a veteran relay.