2011-2012 NCAA Women's Previews: No. 4 Stanford Bring in Two Top Freestylers in Freshman Class to Improve Despite Losses

Braden Keith
by Braden Keith 1

September 04th, 2011 College

Key Losses: Kate Dwelley (38 NCAA Points, 4 NCAA Relays), Liz Smith (15 NCAA Points, 2 NCAA Relays), Meg Hostage (32 NCAA Diving Points), Kelsey Ditto (NCAA qualifier), Kerry Kraemer (former All-American)

Kay Additions: Maddy Schaeffer (sprint free), Annemarie Thayer (backstroke/IM/free), Alexandra Gabor (free), Haley Sims (sprint fly/free), Katie Olsen (breaststroke), Mackenzie Stein (distance)

2010-2011 Recap: 2011 was an odd sort of year for the Stanford Cardinals. As you can see above, they had a very good senior class, but they were without that Julia-Smit type of superstar that they had the year before who was extremely versatile and a huge individual scorer as well. They brought in a fantastic freshman class that had some big names in it, but none of them were the type that could bear a national-championship type of load in their first year.

Young Stars: That three-headed monster that was the Stanford freshman class came in with lots of credentials last year. Felicia Lee, Andie Taylor, and Maya DiRado made up what was hailed as the top recruiting class in the country. Taylor had a decent season last year, she placed 14th at NCAA’s in the 500 free (though if she were closer to her best time of 4:06.2 it would have put her in the A-final). Lee came in with a lot of hype, but really didn’t have a great season. She didn’t place higher than 40th in any of her individual events, although her season-best in the 100 fly (52.84) would’ve put her just outside of a B-final. This was tough for the Cardinals, because they were really leaning on her heavily as their only top-flight butterflier. She ended up being slower than all but one butterflier in the 400 medley final, and the slowest butterflier in the 200 medley final.

DiRado was the star of the class, though maybe she came in as the least heralded. She took top-5 finishes at NCAA’s in all three of her individual events. In the 200 back, she placed 5th in 1:52.4, and that was just her3rd-best event. The IM’s are where she has the potential to be a superstar – she placed 3rd in the 400 IM (4:01.02), and 2nd in the 200 IM (1:54.66). The only swimmers that bested her in those, her two-best races, were the defending NCAA Swimmer of the Year (Katinka Hosszu from USC) and the 400 IM World Champion (Elizabeth Beisel).

DiRado showed flashes of a young Julia Smit, which is not a comparison I make lightly. DiRado’s 1:54.6 in the 200 IM for silver and 4:01.0 in the 400 IM for bronze are both easily faster than Smit was her freshman year. Part of what made Smit so valuable at Stanford is that, even though she was an IM’er, she made huge relay contributions, and that’s something that DiRado has shown flashes of too. Her 1:44.6 split on the 800 free relay was the fastest on Stanford’s 9th-place relay, and she also put up an awesome 48.1 split on the 400 free relay to establish herself as arguably Stanford’s best returning 100 freestyler as well. And here’s the really scary part about DiRado: whereas Smit had already turned 19 by her first NCAA Championship meet, DiRado was only 17. She was effectively coming to Palo Alto as a high school senior (she didn’t turn 18 until April) and tore up the country. That’s phenomenal.

Sprint Freestyles: The Stanford sprinting group is one of the most underrated in the country. They will struggle with the loss of Kate Dwelley, who was 2nd only to the U.S. Open Record holder Anna Vanderpool-Wallace in the 100 free, took 6th in the 200, and tied for 9th in the 50. Even without her, the 200 relays will still be just fine, because the woman she tied with in that 50 free was teammate Sam Woodward at 22.22, who will be beginning her senior season. She wasn’t quite as fast in the 100 free, however, with a 19th-place finish in the individual in 48.64. Those 100 frees are going to be where Dwelley’s loss will be felt the most, because the gap becomes quite sizable between her and anyone else on the Stanford roster. Betsy Webb is also a great sprinter; she placed 4th in the 50 free in 22.05, and just behind Woodward in the 100 free.

Those two will make very good foundations for the free relays. The loss of Dwelley, however, makes Felicia Lee hitting her taper this year that much more important. That’s because Woodward is also the best butterflier on the team (52.9) and Webb is the best backstroker on the team (52.71 – 12th), which are Lee’s two primary strokes. Lee needs to effectively lock up one of those strokes in the medley, or else DiRado might be put into the freestyles and there might be some other shifting around.

Junior Andie Murez will also be an important part of these relays. She didn’t have a great championship season, but with career bests of 22.5/48.2/1:45.5 in the three freestyle races, improvements from her is the best way for Stanford to improve their relay placings. In the 800 free relay, where she led off in only a 1:48, if she goes close to her best time, that relay could improve to top-5 in the country by next year.

Freshman Sprinter: Whereas last year, the Cardinal really focused on their biggest area of need – namely mid-to-distance swimmers and the strokes – this year, they really needed to do something special in sprinters. Dwelley is graduated; Webb and Woodward are entering their final seasons; Stanford needed a sprinter to build around for the future.

And oh boy, did Stanford do just that by bringing in the best high school sprinter we’ve seen since Amanda Weir in 2004. St. Francis product Maddy Schaefer, who has already been training with Palo Alto Stanford Aquatics, has a National Independent High School Record to her name in the 50 free in 22.24. She’s been even faster than that in USA Swimming competition, with a best of 22.12 in the 50 and 48.2 in the 100. Those times both put her either in or just outside of the A-final, and with even small improvements all of a sudden things become wide-open for the Stanford relays. The four shorter relays could be just as good as they were last year, and there’s now a lot more flexibility in them.

Schaefer, not surprisingly with her speed, is also a very good 100 butterflier (54.5), 100 backstroker (53.5), and 200 freestyler (1:46.5). My guess is that during her freshman year, she will swim all four relays, with the exception being the 200 medley.

Breaststroke Needs: Stanford graduated their two-best breaststrokers, Liz Smith and Kerry Kraemer, and are really going to be hurt there this year. The top returner is junior Alisa Finn, who last year went 1:02.0 in the 100 and 2:11.72 in the 200. She’s got a chance at scoring in the 200, but isn’t much of a solution in the relays.

The solution to this was to bring in the country’s top breaststroke recruit, Katie Olsen, from Sun Devil Aquatics. Arizona State has had a good time developing breaststrokers, so it was fortuitous to snap Olsen up, but she enters as the only breaststroker in this class to have already broken a minute. She was the yards Junior National champion last year in both the 100 (59.81) and 200 (2:10.03) breaststrokes. That puts her already in position for both A-finals her freshman year. She’s one of the most overlooked swimmers of this freshman class, but is going to be a major contributor.

Breakout Year? A swimmer who I see ready to have a big-time breakout season is sophomore Sara Giberson. She hasn’t matched her best times done when she was 16 during the polyurethane-suit era, but at 6’1, she’s got big time potential. She focuses on middle-distance races, including the 200 free, 200 back, and 200 IM last year, but also came to campus with very good all-around freestyle times (50.4 in the 100 free, 4:46.0 in the 500 free). If she can get back into that rhythm, then she could be a very good surprise for Stanford.

Other Freshmen: Nobody in this class is as fast as Schaefer in the freestyles, but Stanford may have doubled up with the top two freestylers in the class when you add in Canada’s Alexandra Gabor. She is already a veteran of international swimming, with trips to compete in World Cup meets and the 2009 World Championships; her career-bests in long course meters are 55.5 in the 100; a 1:58.6 in the 200 free; and a 4:14.2 in the 400 free. The conversions of those times to yards are 48.5/1:43.6/4:42, and she’s a better swimmer in short course than she is in long course.

Another freshman recruit, Haley Sims, is the reigning Illinois Swimming Female Athlete of the Year, and a great butterflier. She comes in with bests of 53.8/2:00.0 in the butterfly races. For those looking ahead to recruiting in the class of 2014, the Sims family will be again in the spotlight, as Haley’s younger twin sisters (Maddy and Gabby) are entering their sophomore years at Downers North High School. The trio combined with a fourth piece to set a State Record in the 200 medley relay, and the younger sisters are already putting up times that are worthy of Division 1 scholarships. Gabby, for example, put up a 50.7 in the 100 free at NCSA Junior Nationals in March.

Annemarie Thayer out of the Cascade Aquatic Club in Seattle has been on recruiting radars since her sophomore year of high school, when she first went a 4:49 in the 500 free. She’s very strong through all of the middle-distance events, where Stanford could really use some shored-up depth. She goes a 1:56.1 in the 200 back, which would have been good enough to qualify for NCAA’s last year, and 2:00.2’s in both the 200 fly and 200 IM. I think that she could be a very good distance freestyler if she focused on it, but either way she’s a future NCAA scorer. MacKenzie Stein, out of Denver, has very similar strengths, only she’s a bit better at the 200 fly. Her best time in that event of 1:57.11 would have put her 18th, and just outside of points, at NCAA’s last year. She goes a 1:58.1 in the 200 backstroke as well.

Stein and Thayer have squared off at a number of big meets already, and they should really push each other in practice.

Diving: Meg Hostage qualified for NCAA’s in all four years of her Stanford career, and last year as a senior returned to the world-class form that she showed her freshman season to score 32 huge points. As she moves on, though, Stephanie Phipps steps in for her sophomore year with similar lofty goals. Last year, Phipps placed 16th on the 3-meter for her single NCAA point, and was the Pac-10 Freshman Diver of the Year. She’s great on the springboards, and should be a double-scorer at NCAA’s if all goes well. They brought in a very good group of divers before last season, including Kylie Rosenstock who had a great showing on the 1-meter at Pac-10’s to finish 5th.

2011-2012 Outlook: Stanford’s rivals the Cal Golden Bears are sitting across the bay getting a ton of attention as the defending National Champions and landing top-recruit after top-recruit, but Stanford is still getting things done in Palo Alto. They have pulled in a phenomenal recruiting class, even if it’s flown under the radar, and don’t have much in the way of a true weakness. They’ve got great talent, and keys to their season will be Lee and Murez unloading on NCAA’s like they’re capable of doing, and how quickly the young sprinters can improve. This team certainly is a top-four squad again, and they will be battling with Georgia and Arizona for runner-up position (Cal is going to be tough to beat again). I see a 3rd-place finish as their most likely result, with a spot up or down creating a huge confidence interval.

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John Sampson

I agree that it is crucial that lee hits her taper because she is so versitile, she could be a factor on all the relays and in her individual events. Im shocked at her performances at NCAAs (they were not bad by any means) i just thought she would have taken the college world by storm. Best of luck to her this year!

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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