The summer of 2011 will feature a huge meet in the FINA World Championships, but that doesn’t mean it’s too soon to begin looking at the 2012 NCAA season. Over the next few months, we will count down the top 12 teams from last year’s NCAA Championships, along with a few teams that we expect to break through, until we finsh with the two defending National Champions from Berkeley. To keep track of all of our season previews, we’ve added a link in the menubar, or you can click here to see them all.
Key Losses: Martina Moravcikova (2 NCAA Relays, 6 NCAA Points), Aleksa Akerfelds (1 NCAA Relay), Tricia Weaner (NCAA Qualifier)
Key Additions: Arden Pitman (Back/Sprint Free), Caroline Simmons (Sprint Free- Buffalo Transfer)
Team Overview: This Tennessee team surpassed all expectations last season with a 12th-place finish at the NCAA Championships. We only had them pegged to finish 15th, and at the NCAA level, jumping from 15th to 12th is a huge move. They were led by typically-big swims from Jennifer Connolly, but Kelsey Floyd was a pleasant surprise. She broke school record in the 200 fly, which was the longest-standing on the books, in a January dual meet of all places. She went on to crush that record a few more times, and score 15 big NCAA points for the Vols.
Leaders: Floyd finished 11th at NCAA’s in the 100 fly (52.79) and 8th in the 200 fly in 1:55.15. Connolly tested her endurance in Austin with a tough 100 back-100 fly double on day two of the competition, where she finished 6th-and-5th respectively. She definitely showed signs of fatigue during the finals session in both races, though she could challenge for either National Championship if she dropped the other.
The Surprising Key: Lindsay Gendron finished in the top 10 in both the 200 free and the mile as a freshman last year, which was a huge boon considering she was a sprint freestyler and IM’er in high school. Gendron has looked even better this summer. In five swims of the 400 LC free, she’s posted five marks better than her previous career-best (including a 7th-place at the Charlotte Grand Prix).
She’s one of the few distance swimmers in the country who can also make a huge contribution on more than one relay, which increases her value infinitely for this Volunteer team. She anchored Tennessee’s 400 free relay in a swift 47.92, and was the only reason that they snuck into the A-final there. She’ll also be chasing the school record of the legendary Christine Magnuson in the 200 free (1:43.00). I’d go so far as to say that she’s the key to their success at NCAA’s next year, simply because of her huge versatility.
What Needs to Work: The Vol’s return a very young, and extremely talented, medley relay group that took 4th in the 200 at NCAA’s last year and were the SEC Champions. They’ll have to replace Martina Moravcikova, who at this summer’s Mare Nostrum series set the Czech National Record in the 100 breaststroke. Moravcikova swam two B-finals at NCAA’s, but in terms of relays was only the medleys’ third-most important leg.
That makes senior Kirstyn Colonias very important to the team’s success. She was an NCAA qualifier in 2011, and is the heir apparent to take over the 3rd leg of the medleys. Colonias was originally recruited by Cal, which says that she’s got the talent to get the job done.
Peaking Too Early: Last year, Tennessee peaked at SEC’s and several of their swimmers fell way off of their season bests at NCAA’s. If they can flip that trend this season, with more confidence in a slightly-more-veteran squad, they could make a huge move in the National standings. Moreso than any individual performer they’re looking at this year, simply hitting their taper at NCAA’s rather than SEC’s could make the single-biggest improvement in their scoring at the year’s-end.
Other Keys: Sophomore Lauren Solernou has a great SEC Championship meet last year — that included a 4th-place finish in the 200 backstroke in 1:54.90 — but didn’t save much for NCAA’s and failed to score. This year, she and her coaches will be more confident that she can earn a spot at NCAA’s without blowing her taper early, which will hopefully lead to a better year-end finish.
Tennessee also has three legs to an extremely good 200 free relay. They graduated one part of that relay, Akersfeld, but her 1:48 is by no-means irreplacable. Gendron had a poor relay swim (two seconds off of her individual mark) at NCAA’s, and if she shapes that up and they can work a replacement for their slow-leg, there’s another relay with top 5 potential for the Volunteers.
The Freshwoman: As of now, Tennessee only has one big-impact freshman in their recruiting class, and that is Arden Pitman, who is following in her sister’s footsteps (junior Sloane Pittman) to Knoxville. Arden is part of the nearby Baylor School group that has been lighting up the High School Record books over the past few years with several new relay marks.
At the same time, Pittman is exactly what this team neams: a sprint freestyler. As previously mentioned, last year’s Tennessee freestyle relays were carried not only by a freshman, but by a freshman who was also their best miler (Gendron). That’s not a good situation for a team looking for a top-10 finish. She’ll have a little bit of work to do to supplant anybody from the Tennessee relays, but last year she flat-started a 23.5 and rolled a 23.00 on the relay.
She’s also a future NCAA scorer in the 100 backstroke (53.89) and is just fast enough in the 50 to push Connolly a bit for the short medley spot.
Simply put, Pitman comes from one of Tennessee’s great swimming families, and one of the country’s best high school programs, and that should lead to a very quick acclamation to college training.
Tennessee also brings in a few solid 200 freestylers (Meghan Connolly, 1:49, and Jenny Darby, 1:48) that should help shore up the spot on the 800 free relay that they graduated.
Call a Doctor!: Tennessee had a fair-number of swimmer redshirt last season that could be big contributors this year. If they can stay healthy, this Tennessee team shapes up to get some big improvements, especially from breaststroker Molly Hannis. Hannis has best-times of 1:00.1/2:13.03, and should be a huge difference maker for a Tennessee medley relay that could conceivably compete for a National Title this year. Better yet, she still hasn’t used a single year of eligibility.
Another redshirted swimmer from last season is Marina Ribi, who is a 2:00/4:12 IM’er, both of which should get her to NCAA’s this year.
Out of the Tundra: Another big piece coming in for the Tennessee relays will be University of Buffalo transfer Caroline Simmons. She’s got bests of 22.7/49.7 in the sprint freestyles. That’s
Diving: Tennessee didn’t qualify any divers for NCAA’s last year, though senior Gabrielle Trudeau definitely has the capability of getting there in the platform.
2012 Outlook: Tennessee didn’t bring in a whole lot of new blood, but they didn’t need a whole lot either. They’re on a bit of an island as the 4th-best team in the SEC, and I think they’ll finish there again. They’ll be hoping to capitalize on their big NCAA finish during this fall’s recruiting season, but until then they’re a young-enough team that they won’t slip below their 12th-place from last year. Their top-end finish is probably around 8th, but my guess is closer to 10th or 11th.