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 finish with the two defending National Champions from Berkeley. To keep track of all of our season previews, we’ve added a link in the menu bar, just click “College Previews” at the top of the page (now located under the “In the News” menu).
Key Losses: Allison Schmitt (45 NCAA Points, 4 NCAA Relays – redshirt), Morgan Scroggy (45 NCAA Points, 4 NCAA Relays), Chelsea Nauta (22.5 NCAA Points), Hannah Moore (6 NCAA Diving Points), Sara Nicponski (2 NCAA Relays), Emily Montesinos (1 NCAA Relay)
Key Additions: Amber McDermott (Distance Free/IM), Maddie Locus (Sprint Free), Lauren Harrington (Fly), Nicole Vernon (IM), Jordan Mattern (Free), Shannon O’Malley (breaststroke), Megan Molnar (sprint free/breast), Meghan Faulkner (IM), Sommers Creed (Mid-D/IM), Anna Neumeister (Mid-D), Olivia Boggs (Breaststroke)
2010-2011 Recap: The Georgia women were in-it to win-it in 2011. With a strong senior class graduating, they knew that they had a short window with the all-time-great group of freestylers that they had assembled to try and take an NCAA Championship. They were in contention in the final day, but even an American Record in the meet-closing 400 free relay couldn’t pull off the upset. The Bulldogs ended up finishing 2nd with 394.5 points (29.5 behind the champs), but along the way broke NCAA and American Records and racked up a slew of National Titles.
Lost Bookends: In 2012, the Bulldogs will be without their two huge bookends: Allison Schmitt and Morgan Scroggy, who each went for 45 points and were a part of 4 NCAA Relays. Scroggy we knew about, as she exhausted her eligibility, but Schmitt’s decision was only made recently as she decided to put her full focus on preparing for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, and will instead be training at NBAC this year. There has been no declaration as to whether or not she will return post-Olympics for her senior season, though if she pulls off the times that she’s capable of in London, the endorsement deals might be too much to turn down. But that’s neither here-nor-there in terms of the 2011-2012 season, Schmitt is out.
Including those two, a total of 118.5 individual points and 11 out of 20 relay spots are gone. Nauta has been a significant part of these relays in the past, including at the 2011 SEC Championships, but at NCAA’s it was decided that she should focus on her individual events instead. With these graduations, Georgia goes from being one of the best collegiate freestyle teams in the country to just a very-good freestyle team, at least until they reload.
Romano Carrying the Load: In the mean time, coach Jack Bauerle seems to have developed himself the next great Georgia Bulldog in Megan Romano. Last year, she placed 7th in the 200 free (1:43.74 in prelims), 7th in the 100 back (52.35 in prelims), and 6th in the 100 free (48.07). She was even better on the relays, with best splits of 21.6/47.0 in the sprint freestyles. While those times are very good, she really exploded on the long course scene this summer during an epic dual with Laure Manaudou at the Georgia Senior Sectionals meet.
Over the course of the summer, Romano went best times (and Olympic Trials cuts) in 5 different events, including three-and-four-second drops in the 100 and 200 backstrokes, respectively. She earned her way onto the National Team in those two events, thanks to 4th-place finishes in each at US Nationals, and also went a 54.8 in the 100 free to make herself a serious Olympic relay contender. This year, besides being the lead-swimmer on at least four relays, she could easily match the 45 individual points of her two former teammates.
Margalis Stepping Up: In 2011, Melanie Margalis had a great freshman season. This year, she will be leaned on even more heavily as one of the young leaders of this team rather than just a quiet weapon amongst the veterans as she was last year. At NCAA’s, she placed 9th in the 400 IM (4:06.21) and 6th in the 200 IM (1:55.42). Other than Caitlin Leverenz and defending double-IM champ Katinka Hosszu, Margalis has one of the best breaststroke legs in the country (amongst contenders). Independently, though, they’ll be looking for her to close her 200 breaststroke a bit better and head towards the B-final (she was 34th last year at NCAA’s, though her best time of 2:10.64 would have scored points).
Junior Jana Mangimelli will also be great in the IM’s this year. She placed 8th in the 400 at NCAA’s (4:06.80) and DQ’ed her way out of a B-final in the 200.
Butterfliers: Georgia was hurting for butterfliers last season, which they knew headed into the year. They didn’t even enter a single swimmer in either butterfly distance in Austin. They kept their heads above water with Morgan Scroggy in the 400 medley relay (where they took 7th), but even she is no longer an option this year. Senior-to-be Lauren English swam decently well in the shorter 200 medley on the basis of pure speed, but even she is a backstroker by trade (she’s never been better than a 56 in the 100 fly).
This hole will finally be shored-up, at least for the next four years, as Georgia brought in the best sprint butterflier in the class in Lauren Harrington out of Memphis. She has bests of 53.64/1:59.36, which should immediately insert her onto the medleys and leaves her within striking distance of points in the 100. She’s fairly versatile, especially through the shorter races, and has bests of 22.84/50.25 in the sprint freestyles that could make her an important piece there too in terms of relay replacements. Across-the-board, she’s got better times in long course than in short course, so there’s still plenty of room for her times to develop (and develop quickly) in the collegiate season.
Other Backstrokers: Besides the aforementioned Romano, the Bulldogs are pretty loaded in the backstrokes this year. Senior Kristen Shickora had a top time last season of 52.78 that earned her a 14th place finish in the 100. Other NCAA qualifiers in that event included junior Kelsey Gaid (53.02) and senior Lauren English (53.65). Neither swam a best time at NCAA’s (English had to split her focus with the sprint butterfly, Gaid was more honed in on her speciality the 200) but if they can more comfortably make NCAA’s next year, points are possible in the 100 for either. This is especially true for Gaid, who placed 7th in the 200 back in 1:53.70. Improvements to that 100 are going to be very crucial to her, because the front half of her 200 is where she really fell behind the field in finals at NCAA’s.
Depending on what Romano ends up swimming, this backstroke group should be good for at least 40 (with upwards of 50 if Romano swims the 200). That’s a big number for any of the stroke groups, and should help shift some of the scoring stress off of the freestyle group.
Next Great Freestyler: Schmitt and Scroggy have left big shoes to fill in Georgia’s freestyle ranks, and those shoes will not both be soon occupied. The next swimmer who will be stepping up onto that freestyle podium is sophomore Shannon Vreeland. Her best finishes at NCAA’s was 11th in the 200 free, where she swam a best of 1:44.23 in prelims, and the 500 free, where she placed 7th but had the 5th-best time in prelims of 4:36.95.
She came in with great 100 free credentials, but really excelled more as a middle-distance swimmer in her first year at Georgia – that 200 free was a career-best time by over 2.5 seconds. She had a solid season-best of 16:07 in the mile, but struggled in that race at NCAA’s to slip back to 33rd place. With the absence of Schmitt and Scroggy, it might make sense for her to gravitate back towards that 100 free. Her best time of the season, and career, in that event was a 50.76 from the UNC duel meet in October.
Distance Specialist: The distance specialist of the group is senior Wendy Trott who hails from South Africa. The 2008 Olympian scored two finals at this summer’s World Championships and had an all-around superb long course season. She’s one of the most dominant distance swimmers in NCAA history, and has never been upended for the national title in the 1650. Last year, she swam a 15:40.32, and depending on how concerned she is about Olympic qualifying (she shouldn’t be at all) could chase the NCAA Record that belongs to Janet Evans at 15:39.14. She had an 8-second gap between her and any other returning swimmer in this race, and another 5 to the 3rd-best returner. In other words, the national title in the mile is as close to a shoe-in as there is in 2012.
She’s also a very good 500 freestyler, with a 4:37.55 to place 5th in that event at NCAA’s, though she’ll get a big challenge to stay that high this season.
(On another note, congratulations to Trott for winning the 2011-2012 Joel-Eaves Scholar-Athlete Award for having the highest GPA of any senior student-athlete for the entire university).
Freshman Class: We already mentioned one key to the freshman class above in Harrington. Though she, as a butterflier, will fill a very important need for this team, coach Bauerle didn’t lose sight of his bread and butter: the freestyles.
He brought in a freshman in Maddie Locus out of Houston who comes in with freestyle times of 22.7/48.7/1:45.9 and should immediately fortify the sprint relays that will need to fix some big leaks.
The top swimmer in the class, nationwide, is also headed to Georgia. Amber McDermott has made three straight national teams, including the senior squad this year thanks to a long-course 4:08.93 in the 400 free to win the B-final at Nationals (that was the 3rd-best time overall at the meet).
When looking through her times, it’s no wonder that she’s the top recruit in the class. She already goes a 4:38.9 in the 500 free and a 16:02.79 in the mile, and it’s quite rare for a swimmer to come out of high school that well-developed in those two races (though both of those were done during the rubber-suit era). That already puts her in primo position for two top-8 finishes. If you look at her yards times, she didn’t have a great 2011 season, but when you look at her meters times, she clearly is still improving. She’s also a great IM’er with times of 1:58.77 and 4:09.33 in the two distances, both of which, if matched, could also score points as a freshman.
Jordan Mattern is one of the overshadowed teammates of Missy Franklin under the tutelage of Todd Schmitz in Colorado, but she is a great swimmer in her own right. Her primary event at the college level will be freestyle, with bests of 50.7/1:46.1/4:45.9 in the 100-through-500 freestyles. She’s also got some chops in the IM’s, with a best of 2:02 in the 200.
Beyond the freestylers, the next-biggest recruit is Nicole Vernon, with a 1:59.9 in the 200 IM and 4:12.76 in the 400 IM, the former of which was done to win the Delaware High School State Championship this past season. Meghan Faulkner, the defending Georgia state champion in the 200 IM, is another great IM’er.
Shannon O’Malley will bring some needed depth to the breaststroke group, with bests of 1:01.9/2:13.7. That should make her any NCAA qualifier as a freshman, and she should be a scorer no later than her sophomore year. Megan Molnar is even better in the 100, with a best of 1:01.2, though her 200 isn’t as good. With the graduation of Sara Nicponski, this depth is going to be key.
This class of 13-strong is unlikely to immediately place what was lost, but in 2013 (hopefully upon Schmitt’s return) could be a wide-base for another National Championship run.
Diving: Georgia graduated their best diver and only NCAA qualifier in Hannah Moore. She was their only Zone qualifier this year, and so Georgia is unlikely to score an NCAA diving points this year. They did bring in a freshman named Darcie O’Brien who, while still a relative newcomer to the sport, placed 3rd at the Georgia High School State Championship meet.
2011-2012 Outlook: With Allison Schmitt still on this team, they’re still in the hunt for the National Title. She was so important to this team though, in individual scoring, in relay scoring, and in leadership, that I don’t think they can replace enough. Cal has reloaded, Arizona has dominantly young relays, and I’m not sure Georgia’s got the experience to contend this year. I foresee a battle with Stanford for 3rd place.
The key to this season is Maddie Locus. Though she’s not their highest-ranked recruit, she will have a huge relay impact. If she can come close to matching what Stanford picked up in Maddy Schaeffer, then this is a 3rd-place team. There’s no way they slip below 5th.