Key Losses: Sarah Bateman (13 NCAA points, 4 NCAA relays), Teresa Crippen (38 NCAA point, 4 NCAA relays), Jennie Smith (1 NCAA point)
Key Additions: Sinead Russell (Canada – back/free), Natalie Hinds (TX – Fly/Free), Lindsey McKnight (FL – Free/IM), Sierra Kuhn (WI – back/fly), Ashlee Linn (FL – back/free), Jess Thielman (Great Britain – Middle/Distance Free), Taylor Roy (GA – middle distance free), Emily Mosher (OH – diving)
2011-2012 Lookback: The Florida women couldn’t have been thrilled with their 2012 NCAA Championship meet. A DQ by superstar Elizabeth Beisel in the 200 IM on the first day set a rough tone for the meet, and though she recovered well for a National Title in the 200 backstroke, the Gators ended up just 10th with 160 points.
The silver lining is that with a 40-point gap to move to 9th, it was unlikely that even coming-through in the areas where they came up short would have been enough to move them up in the standings. Though their top sprinter Sarah Bateman had a great season, there just wasn’t enough speed on this team for a top-5 finish, even just two years removed from an NCAA Championship.
This year’s Sprinters: Bateman is now graduated, which leaves senior Jamie Bohunicky as the top returning freestyler. The challenge is that she’s not a true sprinter – at NCAA’s, she swam the 500 free (season best of 4:40.63 from SEC’s), 200 fly, and the 200 free, the latter of which she placed 10th in with a 1:44.79. Still, this year the pressure will step up a bit on her in the shorter relays.
She was pretty good in the 200 and 400 free relays at NCAA’s in 2012; she split a 48.69 in the 100 and a 22.45 in the 50 last season.
But in terms of a pure sprinter, the Gators will look for junior Kaitlin Frehling to come through this season. She is a very good relay swimmer – at NCAA’s, she was much better on all of her relay splits than her individual swims, with is not always a given. That includes a 22.34 in the 200 free relay. As a sophomore, her flat-start 50’s didn’t get any faster, but she put in some great work in her 100’s. This year, she’ll hopefully bring that all together.
Olympian Refocused: Elizabeth Beisel last season didn’t perform as well in the 400 IM as one might expect, given that she took the Olympic silver medal in London. However, perhaps it was a focus on London that cost her a few seconds at NCAA’s. That, combined with the fact that she was going up against the two-fastest yards IM’ers in history, left her with a 3rd place finish.
This year, though, with USC’s Katinka Hosszu graduated, the two IM races will likely be competed just between Caitlin Leverenz from Cal, Beisel, and Stanford’s Maya DiRado. In the 200 backstroke, Beisel will again compete with Maya DiRado, though she’ll proobably get her biggest push from Cal freshman-to-be Liz Pelton, who is the American Record holder. Still, the Gators should anticipate at least 49 or 50 individual points (at least) from their superstar.
A New Wrinkle: Beisel’s quest will be made easier next season, as she’ll get some big-time relief from the incoming freshman class that is easily one of the top 4 in the country. The biggest name is Canadian National Record holder and Olympic finalist Sinead Russell. Russell was dealing with a nagging hip injury this summer, but when she’s at her best she’s every-bit-as-good of a backstroker as Beisel is.
Russell has bests of 59.6 in the 100 and 2:08.0 in the 200 back (converted to about a 52.0 and 1:52.2 in yards). At a bare-minimum, she should be an A-finalist in both events next season at NCAA’s. More importantly, she’ll help limit the number of events on Beisel’s schedule. The elder Gator is phenomenal at the 200 backstroke, but the 100 and especially the 50 are not her forte. There, Russell can take at the very least the spot on the 200 medley relay, if not both medley relays. Last year, Beisel swam the shorter race right before her 400 IM, and the Gators didn’t even final.
In addition to the medleys, multiple freshmen are likely to join Bohunicky and Frehling on the relays to give Florida the best speed-group that they’ve had in quite a while. One is the aforementioned Russell, who is a very solid sprinter with long course bests of 25.92 and 55.55, respectively, in the 50 and 100 freestyles. She’s one of those incoming freshmen who is not just elite in their specialty, but is simply a “great swimmer”. She can branch off into several different events (including a 1:59 in the 200 free long course).
Natalie Hinds has speed-to-burn across the 100 meter races. She was the 2011 Texas State Champion in the 100 fly with a 52.96, and may still be undervalued in yards as she didn’t swim high school as a senior. She’s also been a 54.4 in the 100 back, a 22.8 in the 5o free, and a 49.8 in the 100 free.
Lindsey McKnight is another incredibly talented swimmer who already has a pair of Olympic Trials experiences under her belt. She can be a factor for the Gators in almost any race 200 yards or shorter (with the backstrokes maybe being the lone exception). She’s already gone 22.7/49.1/1:45.3 in the three shorter freestyles. That’s already about a slam-dunk to be on three relays.
This past Winter at Junior Nationals, she was also a 1:01.4/2:14.9 in the breaststrokes, 54.8/2:00 in the butterflies, and a 1:58.0 in the 200 IM. She will most likely settle in as a 200 freestyler and a 200 IM’er, where she would score as a freshman with even small drops. But small drops have not been something that has come easily for McKnight since 2008. As a 14-year old, she was one of the best the country has ever seen and was on par to be an international swimmer before moving out of high school. Her progression stalled, however, and she even went backward a little bit.
This spring, however, she decided that a change of scenery would do her good, and she began training with the St. Andrew Swim Club. Her long course times in 2012 started trending in the right direction, including a 2:01 in the 200 long course free. If Gregg Troy can really begin pulling that once-epic potential back out of her, then this could be one of the better comeback stories in swimming. Even if she just stays where she’s at, though, she’s an All-American and a great pickup for the Gators.
Sierra Kuhn is a backstroker/butterflier. She’s been 54’s in the 100’s of each stroke and a 1:57 in the 200 back. Joining Russell and Beisel, among others, she will have a great backstroke group to train with. Also joining that group is Ashlee Linn, who is even better with times of 53.9/1:55.6 in the backstrokes as a senior. That 200 time would have been in the top 25 at NCAA’s last season.
Taylor Roy gives the Gators another very good middle distance freestyler, with best times in the 200 and 500 of 1:48.0 and 4:48.2, as does British Junior National champ Jess Thielmann. Thielmann has long course bests of 4:14.4 and 8:38.8 in the 400 and 800 freestyles respectively.
800 Free Relay: Florida’s 800 free relay was their best last year, and even though they’ve graduated their best 200 freestyler Teresa Crippen, that shouldn’t change in 2013. This group placed 6th at NCAA’s with a 7:00.84 last season. The three returning members are Bohunicky, Beisel, and freshman Natasha Fung. Fung was sort of the positive surprise of this group; she had stalled out in her improvements in about 2010 but anchored this relay with a 1:46.98 in her first year in Gainesville (a positive sign for McKnight, in a similar situation).
McKnight should add another 1:45, at least, to this relay, and based on her long course times Russell should be a 1:45 or 1:44, at least. If Beisel can be the one huge leg for this group (she should be capable of a 1:43), then the Gators have as good of a shot as anybody to finish second in the country in this relay (behind Georgia).
One Icelander Out, the Other Comes Through: Bateman, though born and raised in the United States, competed in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics for Iceland. She’s moved on, but her Icelandic Olympic teammate Hrafnhildur Luthersdottir is coming into her own as an elite breaststroker. She scored a couple-of-points last year at NCAA’s in the 100 with a 1:00.05, and after a phenomenal long course season, she should break a minute in 2013. An A-Final is certainly within reach this season.
Other Potential Contributors: Junior distance swimmer Alicia Mathieu was 12th in the 1650 at last year’s NCAA Championships in a 16:08, but didn’t follow that up with a great summer (she was 6 seconds from her best in the 800 at Trials). Corinne Showalter had a great year last year, but is leaning toward retirement after battling back injuries last year. She is still expected to remain close to the team and remain a part of the program.
Another big piece that will help on relays, and overall, is Elise Zalewski. She competed for the Gators all year, including at SEC’s, and would have probably been an invitee in the 100 free and certainly would have gone in relays, with a 48.95. She had a huge taper (almost a three-second drop from her in-season times) to get to that number too, and was peaking at the right moment. But Australia’s Olympic Trials were held at the same time as women’s NCAA’s last season, and her hand was forced.
Junior Trish Regan if she can get back to her freshman form (1::55 in the 200 back) should also qualify for NCAA’s this coming season.
Diving: The Gators didn’t have a single NCAA qualifier in diving last season, but Troy clearly recognizes the value of a strong diving program. He must, as the divers are what put this team over-the-edge when they won their National Championship in 2010.
To that degree, he’s brought in two big freshmen diving recruits. Emily Mosher out of Cincinnati is a two-time All-American who, in 2011, placed 3rd at the USA Diving 16-18 age group championship on the 1-meter.
The huge coups, though, was signing Delaney Dye out of Tallahassee. The Gators stole this one right from under the noses of their counterparts at Florida State (she dives for the Tomahawk Diving Club – the club affiliate of FSU). Dye is the three-time defending Florida High School State Champion on the 1-meter springboard.
2012-2013 Outlook: This Gator team is getting a lot of great new pieces next season, but they’re also losing some huge ones. I think those coming in probably outweigh those going out, especially if you include the return of someone like Zalewski for the NCAA Championships.
The whole of the top 12, though, has made sizable improvements. This will be the theme over-and-over in women’s swimming this season: almost every big-time team got better. The Gators can probably move up a spot or two, but this year it’s hard to see them better than about 7th. In two years, when Beisel is a senior, the Gators could be contenders again, though. This team’s best-chance at the top 5 this year would have to include a whole lot more of their relays in the A-final, which means big performances by freshmen. That’s more likely from women than men, but still a long shot to some extent.