The 2011 NCAA Women’s Championships are just over a week away, which means it’s time to start making predictions again.
We’ll break the events down day-by-day, and pick the top 3, with a “darkhorse” pick that nobody’s talking about; either because of their seed or where they come from, but with a great swim has a chance at a top-3, or even a win. For relays, because “darkhorses” aren’t as common, we’ll pick the top 5 finishers instead. Check back this week for more picks from the second and third days, as well as overall team finish predictions.
200 free relay
Rationale: Cal and Auburn have the two best sprinters in the country (Liv Jensen and Ariana Vanderpool-Wallace), but Stanford has the best 1-4. Unlike much of Stanford’s expected scoring at this meet, this is a veteran relay. They return more intact than anyone else from last year, having to likely slide Felicia Lee in for Julia Smit. Combined with the improvement of the other three swimmers, I think Stanford wins this. Auburn and Cal will be very tough, but with the potential of the fastest-ever relay split from Ariana Vanderpool-Wallace, I’ll take the Tigers. This isn’t Georgia’s best relay, but I still think they’re seeded 6th, and will be much faster than at SEC’s. Texas has two great freestylers, Kelsey Amundsen and Karlee Bispo, who I anticipate will lead them to a top 5 finish.
1. Allison Schmitt (Georgia)
2. Wendy Trott (Georgia)
3. Chelsea Nauta (Georgia)
Wildcard: Meredith Budner (Towson)
Rationale: The first of multiple sweep-opportunities for the Georgia women in this meet. Schmitt shouldn’t have much of a problem winning this race, and has a chance of breaking Caroline Burckle’s NCAA Record of 4:33.6. Her teammate, freshman Shannon Vreeland, has the top seed, but I don’t know if it’s her time to win yet. This is an event where Georgia needs to (and has a great opportunity to) improve off of their seeds. Budner was a top-8 finisher at NCAA’s last year, and is already 3-seconds faster this season. If she holds on to that time drop, she’s got the experience here to break up the Georgia stronghold.
1. Katinka Hosszu (USC)
2. Morgan Scroggy (Georgia)
3. Karlee Bispo (Texas)
Wildcard: Alyssa Vavra (Indiana)
Rationale: Hosszu is so strong in the IM disciplines right now, has the durability, and is great on all four strokes. Scroggy is one of only two returning A-finalists (along with Caitlin Leverenz) from last season, and swam a 1:54 at SEC’s without being rested. Bispo has historically been known as strictly a freestyler, but she has serious chops in this IM. With how she’s been swimming, she could take a top-3 spot. I really love the way that Indiana’s Alyssa Vavra swims her IM. With some improvement and confidence in her butterfly leg, she’ll be able to contend with the big-girls.
1. Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace (Auburn)
2. Liv Jensen (Cal)
3. Lauren Perdue (Virginia)
Wildcard: Maggie Meyer (Wisconsin)
Rationale: To win this Race, Arianna V-W just needs to not screw up what she has. Her SEC performance was legendary, and included an SEC record in this event. There’s a good chance that she’ll take out Lara Jackson’s U.S. Open record, and this might be one of the more dominating 50 free performances that you’ll see at the college level. Jensen, as the defending champion, has looked like a strong second-place contender here, and Perdue had an off swim in this race at ACC’s, but looked fantastic in her other two swims. This sprint free is usually the last race to come around for her, and I think she’ll be much better here. Maggie Meyer skipped this event at Big Ten’s to focus on relays, but don’t let her 25th-seed fool you. She’s went a 22.5 mid-season, and split a 21.7 on a relay at Big Ten’s, where Wisconsin clearly was looking ahead to NCAA’s. I don’t know if she’s good enough to win a medal in a very competitive 50, but she can definitely make an A-final.
1. Kelci Bryant (Minnesota)
2. Tori Ishimatsu (USC)
3. Abby Johnston (Duke)
Wildcard: Lauren Figueroa (Missouri)
Rationale: Diving entries will not be settled until after this weekend’s Zone Championships are completed, but these three will have little concern about qualifying for NCAA’s. Bryant was the runner-up last year on the 1-meter, and with the defending gold and bronze medalists both out of contention this season, she’s a strong favorite. Beyond that, it’s difficult to compare across competitions, but I think that Tori Ishimatsu has improved by leaps and bounds this season. Duke’s Abby Johnston is also very good, and trains in a great program.
400 medley relay
4. Texas A&M
Rationale: The top 5 teams in this event from last season were all shredded by graduation. Regardless, the nation as a whole, has stepped up their collective games in this event this year, leaving a wide-open field. Cal has top-two ranked swimmers on every leg of this relay except for breaststroke, and Leverenz would probably be top 6 or 7 if she competed in the 100. USC and Wisconsin will both have to have big bounce-backs to make this prediction come true. Texas was a little better than A&M at Big 12’s, but historically A&M has had much bigger drops at NCAA’s. However, both squads are young , so anything can happen.