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 third day, as well as overall team finish predictions.
200 medley relay
4. Texas A&M
Rationale: Just like in the 200 medley, Cal’s only true question-mark on this relay, the breaststroke leg, is held down by one of the team’s best swimmers: Caitlin Leverenz. It seems hard to believe, but this foursome has a chance at taking down Arizona’s NCAA record of 1:35.29. The other four relays on this list excel at the shorter distance, and will put their pure-speed and great underwaters to the test. Arizona didn’t expect to be this good in this relay so quickly, but their freshman have outdone all expectations.
400 yard IM
1. Katinka Hosszu (USC)
2. Elizabeth Beisel (Florida)
3. Teresa Crippen (Florida)
Wildcard: Jana Mangimelli (Georgia)
Rationale: The head-to-head matchup between Hosszu and Beisel, in a possible preview of the 2012 London Olympic final, will be one of the most anticipated showdowns of the meet. These two represent the second (Hosszu) and fifth (Beisel) fastest 400 yard IM’ers ever. But Crippen, who was the runner-up last year after running Hosszu down on the freestyle, is dangerous too. It’s not clear where Mangimelli’s time is going to be: last year, she was much faster (read: more rested) both at SEC’s and throughout the season. With the different training cycle this season, her final time will be a surprise to us all, but should definitely be 4:04 or better.
100 yard butterfly
1. Lyndsay DePaul (USC)
2. Amanda Sims (Cal)
3. Claire Donahue (Western Kentucky)
Wildcard: Amber Boucher (Boise State)
Rationale: In a repeat of the Pac-10 Championship battle, I think that USC’s Lyndsay DePaul gets the better of Cal’s Amanda Sims. This will be a big swing event for two seniors hopeful for a team title, and will be a big midway momentum swing. Donahue, another senior, is a real threat in this event, believe it or not. She has the pedigree as the 4th-place finisher last season, and really has only this event to focus on (she might be a B-finalist in the 200). Amber Boucher, out of Boise, is a pure-sprint type, and is a name that has bounced around the mid-major world for years. In her first NCAA Championship (she’s been improving by leaps and bounds), she could make a big name for herself.
Another interesting name in this race is Tennessee’s Jennifer Connolly. In the past, she’s focused much more of her efforts on the 100 back, but this season she really clicked in this 100 fly, and is another one of those backstoker-butterfliers that seem to be everywhere on the college scene.
200 yard freestyle
1. Allison Schmitt (Georgia)
2. Morgan Scroggy (Georgia)
3. Karlee Bispo (Texas)
Wilcard: Margaux Farrell (Indiana)
Rationale: This is an event that really highlights how much faster this year’s NCAA Championships are going to be than last year. There are already 16 swimmers at a 1:44 or better this season, and last year there were only 10 even after NCAA’s. Scroggy and Schmitt were the top two last year, by a lot, and nobody has made up that gap. The third pick, however, is incredibly wide open. I’ll give Bispo the nod, based on the slight advantage that she won’t have to swim on the 200 medley at the beginning of the session (unlike some of her competition, such as Georgia’s Romano). This is all based on the expectation that Texas won’t bomb their taper like they did last year, but if they struggle again then Romano or Virginia’s Lauren Perdue should slide in. Indiana’s Farrell has earned some big meet experience since last season, and usually swims well at NCAA’s. If all is going well for Cal, Sara Isakovic should be a top-5 finisher as well.
100 yard breaststroke
1. Jillian Tyler (Minnesota)
2. Laura Sogar (Texas)
3. Jane Trepp (LSU)
Wildcard: Breeja Larson (Texas A&M)
Rationale: This is a loaded field. There’s 1bout 16 swimmers who enter this meet with an expectation of medaling. including last year’s mid-major darling Ashley Danner, who has slow-rolled her taper moreso than last year, when she entered the meet with the top seed. Earning a medal this year is going to take a time roughly a second faster than it did last year, and Tyler, Sogar, and Trepp are the only ones who seem to have shown that kind of improvement. A&M’s Larson didn’t enter college with as many accolades as freshman counterpart (and 5th seed) Kasey Carlson of USC, but she’s impressed just as equally since getting to campus. Larson was a bad turn away from winning a Big 12 title over Sogar, and A&M breaststrokers seem to generally perform well at NCAA’s, which makes her dangerous.
100 yard backstroke
1. Maggie Meyer (Wisconsin)
2. Presley Bard (USC)
3. Cindy Tran (Cal)
Wildcard: Iuliia Kuzhil (Kansas)
Bonus Wildcard: Sarah Denninghoff (Arizona)
Rationale: At the Georgia Invite in December, Kuzhil put up a 53.05 that at the time stood as one of the best marks in the country. Since that swim, she clearly has been at anywhere near that level of rest, including at Big 12’s. We know she has 51-low potential, and despite being seeded 25th, she’s by no-means out of medal contention. Meyer too went her best time at the beginning of December, and as a National-Teamer, I think she’s got the goods, and the offseason resources, to swim well here. Bard and Tran will be one heck of a battle though; I don’t know if Tran has a whole lot more to give than her 51.2 from Pac 10’s (but man, was that an impressive swim or what?). It’s going to be hundreths separating her and Bard in this race, and I think senior experience pays off.
Jennifer Connolly is the top returning 100 backstroker, but she has a very busy second day, as this will likely be at least her 6th swim. I think that could cost her a medal in this race. Arizona’s Sarah Denninghoff would be my super-reach pick as a medalist, but as a freshman, she’s done more impressive things than I think even the Arizona coaches expected out of her. Let’s take her for an A-final with a big springboard into contention for next season.
1. Kelci Bryant (Minnesota)
2. Victoria Ishimatsu (USC)
3. Casey Matthews (Purdue)
Wildcard: Abby Johnston (Duke)
Rationale: Without A&M’s Jaele Patrick competing this season (reportedly, she’s taking a redshirt), this seems to be a slam-dunk for Bryant, with Ishimatsu as a solid 2nd. Last year, Matthews (a USA National Team member) became the second-best 3-meter diver in the impressive history of the Purdue program. Working under arguably the best diving coach in the country right now, Adam Solari, she could do something very impressive this season. That battle for 2nd will be awesome.
800 free relay
Rationale: No need to beat around the bush on this one. If you pick anyone besides Georgia to win this relay, then you’re wrong. Period. Only a DQ loses this race for Georgia, and given that nobody will ever be within 2 seconds of them at an exchange, I doubt that will happen. A more exciting pick would be Georgia versus Cal’s 6:25.69 U.S. Open Record. I think they’ll get there, without a problem, and will fall somewhere in the 6:51 range. As for second, this is an event that the 200-specialist Florida Gators need to do well in, and I think they will. Texas outswam the sum-of-it’s-parts at Big 12’s, and that’s the sort of “relay motivation” that I love to pick. Indiana has a very good, and very underrated, group of 200 freestylers, led by Brittany Strumbel. This is going to be a long and emotional day for Cal, and I think they’ll be drained by the time this relay rolls around, so I’ve dropped them a few spots off of their seed. Big point swing here for Georgia, as this is also one of USC’s weaker relays.