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: Lyndsay DePaul (42 NCAA Points, 3 NCAA Finals Relays, 1 NCAA Prelims Relay), Presley Bard (29 NCAA Points, 4 NCAA Relays), Ellie Doran (two-time NCAA Qualifier)
Key Additions: Kate Davey (Fly)
2010-2011 Recap: After the 2006 season, when USC placed 6th at the NCAA Championships, they nearly dropped off of the map. With the departure of legendary coach Mark Schubert that year, USC women’s swimming nearly disappeared from national relevance in Dave Salo’s first year. During that 2006-2007 season, USC dropped all the way to a tie for 20th place at NCAA’s. But Dave Salo hit the recruiting trails, and began to build his own legacy at USC after following in the footsteps of two of the all-time great college coaches (Schubert and his predecessor Peter Daland).
That first recruiting year, he didn’t exactly make his impact quite yet. In fact, that first year, his initial class (according to the USC website), he recruited only one swimmer: two-time NCAA qualifier and team co-captain Ellie Doran. But with the rise of Rebecca Soni rose too the fortunes of Dave Salo. The next season, he landed a big-time recruit out of Hungary named Katinka Hosszu. But he also brought in two All-Americans who had just finished their sophomore seasons: Lyndsay DePaul from UC-Irvine and Presley Bard from Indiana. The pair both redshirted that season, but the trend was becoming clear – USC was building a force to be reckoned with. Their quality increased year-after-year before coming to a head last season with their first top-3 finish since 2003, and a squad that was in title-contention until the final day of the meet.
The highlight of the team was an NCAA Women’s Swimmer of the Year Award from the junior Hosszu, and that decision was an obvious one with her sweep of victories in the 200 IM (1:53.39), 200 fly (1:52.69), and 400 IM (3:59.75). That includes three pool records at the Jamail Swim Center on the University of Texas campus and becoming the second women ever at any level to crack four minutes in the 400 IM (after Julia Smit the year before).
The losses for USC this year are few, but extremely significant. DePaul scored over 40 points individually and was a huge relay piece. Bard scored almost 30, and because of her sprint-freestyle abilities may have been an even bigger piece to the overall Trojan puzzle. The pair made up half of USC’s two medley relays that both took top-3 spots, and, along with Doran, made up a huge portion of the team’s leadership.
Olympic Year Bugaboo?: USC is one of the squads (along with Florida, Cal, and Georgia) that will be impacted the hugest by the fact that 2012 is an Olympic year. At last check, offical word was that Hosszu intends to swim collegiately this year, which makes sense because Hungary has already declared her as qualified for their Olympic squad. Here’s the interesting thing about her approach to this collegiate season though: in 2011, she had a terrible long course season after her phenomenal NCAA season. She got a late start on the summer, and only made one final (in the 200 IM). She didn’t have the same problems in past offseasons, so this could go one of two ways. She might either train through NCAA’s to avoid another relapse, or she could have just been using last summer to recharge prior to another 12-straight months of hard training. I’m leaning more towards the latter. Either way, she’s got such huge margins between herself and the rest of the country that it’s unlikely for her to slip below 2nd even on partial rest (maybe behind Stanford’s Maya DiRado in the 200 IM).
The swimmer who is more likely to be impacted is distance freestyler Haley Anderson. Last year at NCAA’s, the junior-to-be scored 30 individual points at NCAA’s, including a 3rd-place touch in the women’s mile in 15:48.63. USC coach Dave Salo was probably rooting for the Americans at the World Championships in the open water 10k, and not just for the obvious reasons of patriotism. Here’s why:
As a result of the 13th-place finish by Christine Jennings and the 30th-place finish of Evan Fabian in the women’s 10km at last summer’s FINA World Championships, the Americans have not yet earned a berth for the Olympic 10km in London. The only other qualifying chance will be next summer’s Olympic Qualifying meet in Lisbon, Portugal that will take place from June 9th-10th. There, the top-10 finishers (plus the highest finisher from each continent, plus some contingencies depending on who those top 10 are) will earn Olympic bids. Only the top-finishing American, if she finishes in the top-10 of that race, will qualify for the Olympics.
Here’s where it gets a bit complicated. USA Swimming will have another qualifying for the Olympic qualifying meet to determine which two women will go to that Olympic qualifying event. Anderson would be amongst the favorites in that race – she never got to swim the 25k that she qualified for at Worlds, but she placed 4th in the 10k at last year’s National Championships only 21 seconds behind the leaders.
Though they haven’t announced a location or a date for that race yet, one would assume that it will be sometime in the spring. It’s going to be hard to nail down what kind of affect that event will have on Anderson’s season until we know an exact date, but because of how drastically different the open water taper is, one would presume that it will impact Anderson’s performance. If she’s at full-steam, she’ll be one of the few women with a chance to upset the four-year sweep by Georgia’s Wendy Trott in the 1500, should be top-5 in the 500, and will also nab a few points in the 400 IM.
Kasey Carlson: Carlson was sort of the tragic figure of the 2011 NCAA Women’s Championships. Not in the fact that she didn’t swim well; quite to the contrary, in fact, she had one of the best freshman NCAA meets you’ll ever see. In the 100 breaststroke, she placed 4th in 59.29, which is one of the best times ever by a freshman, but she was upstaged by the runner-up finish from Texas A&M’s Breeja Larson which was the best performance by a freshman in NCAA history. In the 50 free, she placed 5th in 22.13, but there too was upstaged by Arizona’s Margo Geer in another performance that was amongst the best ever by a freshman. She had a stupendous showing at the meet overall, but I don’t know if it was sufficiently recognized.
Carlson has a great training-model right there in the USC post-grad program: Jessica Hardy. Aside from hair color, the two are mirror-images as great sprint-breaststrokers/freestylers who hover around 6-feet tall. Considering the levels that Hardy has taken sprint breaststroking to under Dave “sprint” Salo, Carlson’s cieling is unlimited. She also placed 14th in the 100 free (48.59) and could be in-line for three A-finals. I can’t see less than two podiums out of her. She’s also going to be the best leg of each of the four shorter relays, so she has a chance to make a big impact towards keeping this USC program near the top.
Butterfliers: DePaul’s graduation will hurt, but fortunately for USC, the butterfly events are where USC has their greatest depth. Besides Hosszu, who as we mentioned is the defending 200 National Champion, the Trojans will return junior Yumi So and senior Tanya Krisman.
Last year, So placed 13th in the 100 fly in 52.97 (prelims time of 52.71), and with the top-4 swimmers from last year, along with a 5th A-finalist, graduating in that race, she’s got a chance to hover right on that A/B final cut line. She also placed 13th in the 200 fly as a freshman in 2010, but last year slipped back to 20th in a much-slower 1:57.54 as she seemed to shift her focus to the shorter races (she also swam the 100 back at NCAA’s). With 5 graduating swimmers ahead of her in the 200 fly, she’ll be a player for points in that race too.
Krisman finished 13th at NCAA’s in the 200 fly in 1:56.89, though that too was a bit of a slide from her 11th-place performance a year earlier. Also in that 200 fly, Amanda Smith could be a factor this year. At NCAA’s, she seemed to be more focused on her swims in the 200 (1:46.64) and 500 (4:42.93) frees, but her season-best time in the 200 fly was 1:56.86. That time would have made the B-final as well if she had matched it (but she was two seconds off).
For those curious about the medley relay, Katinka Hosszu has a best time of 52.33 from the UCLA dual meet last year. On a taper, she’s probably one of the best 100 butterfliers in the country.
Backstrokers: Bard’s loss in the backstrokes is going to be felt a whole lot more. Their top returner is Christel Simms, who at her best (53.36) is probably a B-finalist, but on her 54.38 from NCAA’s, she placed 44th. As we mentioned, So put some nice improvements into her 100 backstroke last year and ended with a season-best of 53.59. There’s a big opening in that race for anyone who wants to swim their way onto the medley relays, with the sleeper pick being junior Lolo Blair. She had a best of 54.54 last year, but has put in huge improvements in her time at USC. If her trend continues, she could be a third 53-second backstroker for the Trojans this year.
Sprinters: The Trojans are really going to be hit this year in their sprint freestyles, because after Carlson, things are a bit slim. Last year, they were able to cover that up thanks to the fact that they had DePaul and Bard, who were simply great swimmers and could turn their speed into pretty decent 50/100 freestyles. This year, however, Carlson will be the only Trojan swimmer who flat-started under 23 in her 50 free and under 49.5 in her 100 last season. Simms tapered pretty decently in the 50 freestyle (she relay-split a 22.34 at NCAA’s), but beyond that there’s going to be a little bit of forcing pieces into relays.
Hosszu is enough of a sprinter to hold up a decent 2nd-fiddle in the 400 free relay (48.23 off of a roll), but in the medley she may be pressed into 100 fly duty, which would still leave a gap on the freestyle leg. Smith, who we mentioned above, is a very good middle-distance swimmer, but could be on at least two sprint relays this year. Junior Lindsay Parrish could be a force, but she’s waiting for her breakthrough in the sprints. She split a 22.88 on a prelims relay at NCAA’s in the 50 free.
IM’ers: The swimmer to look out for on this roster is sophomore Stina Gardell out of Sweden, who is going to have a huge season. As a freshman last year, she placed 9th in the 200 IM (1:56.78) and 12th in the 400 IM (4:07.38). Her emphasis-stroke is the breaststroke, where she was 19th at NCAA’s last year in the 200 in 2:11.55 (but with 5 graduates ahead of her, she oughta be a B-finalist in 2011). Over the summer, she cut nearly a full-second off of her best long course times in both the 400 IM and 200 breast in the USA Swimming Grand Prix circuit, and those were off of best-times that were done in polyurethane. In the 400 IM, for example, she sliced better than 7 seconds off of her textile-best. The returning IM fields nation-wide will be very strong, but based on her strong summer and a few graduations, I’d pick her as at least a 20-point scorer.
800 free relay: Whereas last year, this group was strongest in the four shorter relays, I think this year they could do some damage with their tough 800 free relay that finished 8th at NCAA’s last year. The leader will be Hosszu, who with a 1:44.06 from Pac-10’s is much better than she showed on this relay at NCAA’s. Haley Anderson prefers a bit longer, but can go a 1:44-high off of a relay-start. If Gardell and Smith can roll into 1:45-highs (which is within reach), this quartet could push down to a 7:00, which puts them right in the mix for top-5.
Other Scorers: The Trojans have another very good breaststroker in Jessica Schmitt, who complements Carlson very well. Whereas Carlson doesn’t usually race the 200, Schmitt specializes in it, with a 12-th place finish at NCAA’s in 2:10.15. At NCAA’s last year, she swam the IM’s instead of the 100, but if she can find even a 1:00 -low in the 100 IM, it might free up Carlson for the free as another option for the 400 medley relay.
Freshman: In the past year, it seems like everyone and their boyfriend has gone West to train with Dave Salo at USC…which is why it’s surprising that his freshman class this year was so small. Specifically, only one commit that I’ve been able to find. There may be an international on the way too that just hasn’t been released yet, but as of now, not much is coming in. Lest there are a few that we haven’t seen yet, my initial reaction is that USC has chosen to save the scholarship/recruiting budget to hit the monstrous classes of 2012/2013 hard (they’ve already pulled in a top-20 recruit for next year).
The one for this year is Kate Davey out of Ripon Aquatics. Davey won’t really fill the programs immediate needs (aka relay pieces), but she will fit in splendidly with the group that USC already has. She’s an IM’er-Butterflier type (think DePaul, Hosszu, etc.) with bests of 2:02.7/4:22.6 in the IM’s, and 54.9/2:01.7 in the flys. She didn’t have a great summer (few do when preparing for the college transition), but she’s put up some stellar long course times in the past that indicate she can do more in yards than she has even. Her biggest improvement will need to come in the long-axis strokes (free and backstroke) if she wants to jump up and join her teammates as an NCAA scorer.
Diving: The Trojans have a great diver in Tory Ishimatsu, and she was the Pac-12 (then Pac-10) Champion in both the 1-meter and 3-meter last year, in addition to a 4th-place finish on the platform. She slipped up at NCAA’s to placed 9th on the 1-meter and 13th on the plaftorm, but strangely sat out of the 3-meter that she placed 4th on the year before. There was no apparent injury (she dove platform the next night), but that cost the Trojans some points. She had a pretty good Senior Nationals – she placed 9th on the 1-meter and 3rd on the platform synchro with sister Haley – and seems to be pumped up and ready to go for what will be her 4th-year in Los Angeles (but only 3rd of eligibility used). If she’s firing on all cylinders, it could be the biggest difference-maker in accounting for the lost points in swimming.
She has a good supporting cast, including Michela Fossati-Bellani, that is capable of significant Pac-10 scoring. (Note: Ariel Rittenhouse was one of the best freshmen divers in the country in 2010, but has transfered to Florida State).
2011-2012 Outlook: It’s hard to downgrade a team because of two individual losses, but those two losses are worth big points, especially in the freestyle relays where there’s not a ton of talent to back-fill their spots. The good news for USC is that there’s a lot of room left from last year’s team, even without the big-time recruits, to pick up points. Gardell and Ishimatsu have tha ability to improve at least 40 combined. Carlson was much better individually than she was on the relays, so she could pick up some of the slack there.
A lot of the placing of this team goes back to the initial point about how much focus Anderson and Hosszu put on NCAA’s. If they are there 100%, then this team probably fights with Texas for 5th-place. If those two either end up redshirting or saving their tapers (much more likely for Anderson than Hosszu), then this team might slip as low as 8th. Aside from all of the politics of tapers and Olympics, if there’s one big key to this team’s season, it’s finding another good-to-solid sprinter. That not only improves the free relays, it frees up Hosszu to swim the butterfly in the 400 medley.