Conference Championships are streaky. Though there’s plenty of bouncing around between teams’ finish order at NCAA’s, a big majority of the Division 1 conference championships are held by what could best be termed “dynasties”.
One of the newer of these dynasties is the Virginia women. In their first 20 years in the ACC, they won only three conference championships. Beginning in 2008, however, they’ve run off four-straight, including a tight victory last year over the North Carolina Tar Heels.
This year’s Cavalier team has been quiet. Despite graduating some big individual scorers, however, they look like they might be even stronger as a team this season. Meredith Cavalier almost overnight went from a lane-filler to possibly the front-runner for ACC Swimmer of the Year. Their freshman class, including Ellen Williamson, have quickly acclimated to the college landscape and been huge difference makers.
Sophomore Rachel Naurath hasn’t had a great swim in the 200 fly yet this season, where she’s the defending ACC Champion. In the 500, however, she comes into the meet with a 4:40 season-best in the 500 free: two seconds better than she was at this time last year.
North Carolina, on the other hand, is hurting after the loss of All-American Carly Smith to injury. They also have had trouble replacing their top swimmer Rebecca Kane, who graduated, and was one of the few freestylers in the conference who could maintain contact with Virginia’s Lauren Perdue.
Though the Tar Heels might not be able to compete with Virgnia on a full-team level, they have a lot of extremely good pieces. Sophomore Stephanie Peacock is on fire this year, and Katie Nolan (of the Hershey Nolans) is having a great year as well.
Outside of the team battle, this will be a highly-emotional meet. With the Clemson women likely without an NCAA qualifier, this will be the final meet (for the swimmers at least) in the program’s history. In an all-too-familiar march for this ACC meet, the Maryland women, barring a huge fundraising effort, will be beginning their march to a similar ultimate ending.
The ACC has poured-out support for these cut programs in the past, so expect the stands to be a sea of orange-and-red.
Competitively, Maryland won’t contend for the team title, but they will leave a huge imprint on the university’s alumni, and show that the program is one that is worth saving. Megan Lafferty is fired up, and on-fire. Junior Addie Koelle. Ginny Glover is also swimming very well.
Florida State is a program that’s really come a long way in the last two years. They’ve got a stout women’s 800 free relay that should easily outperform their seed of 7:21. Expect a breakout meet from Seminole sophomore, who hasn’t broken 1:50 in the 200 free this year but is capable of 1:45.
Among other names to watch in this meet include Miami sprinter Kelsi Hall, Duke sophomore record-setting breaststroker Christine Wixted, Virginia Tech ironwoman Erika Hajnal, and Georgia Tech butterflier Keren Siebner.
Here’s the best races to watch at the meet:
North Carolina’s Stephanie Peacock has had a whirlwind two seasons in Chappel Hill. This 500 free is her best race, and she’s broken the ACC Record many-times-over. But watch out for Rachel Naurath to give her a great push. Naurath has only barely broken the two-minute barrier in the 200 fly this season, which is a race where she’s the defending ACC Champion. What’s the relevance of her 200 fly? When she went a 1:59 in the 200 fly (not a great time for her), she also went her 2nd-best time ever in the 500 free in 4:40.
What that says to me is that she’s got a big 500 in her for ACC’s, and with Peacock likely saving her full taper for March, this could be a heck of a battle between two of the best sophomores in the country.
Assuming all that are expected to swim this race end up actually swimming it (Rachel Naurath, Lauren Perdue, Ginny Glover, Stephanie Peacock, Tiffany Oliver, Emily Kelly), this will be the best top-to-bottom race of the entire meet. Perdue takes this race out like a rocket (remember her valiant opening at NCAA’s last year, where she held on for 2nd). Oliver also goes out very hard. Naurath closes extremely well. The rest all swim relatively fair races. Perdue should win, but hold onto your seats for 2nd-8th, as it’s going to be a wild ride.
Virginia is going to dominate this race. They take the 5 top seeds in this race. It’s too bad that there’s no Carly Smith, which would make this a great race for a whole different reason. But as it stands, this race is foremost evidence of the turnaround that UVA has put into their backstroking group that was a hole after the graduation of Mei Christensen and transfer of Lauren Smart prior to last season. In 2011, UVA’s highest finish was Meredith Cavalier in a tie for 4th. Both her and Charlotte Clarke are swimming out of their minds this season. At the Georgia Fall Invitational in early December, both women posted their personal top-3 times ever.
There’s little Virginia can do to lose this meet. Even with a relay DQ, they should be far enough clear that it wouldn’t matter. When paging through the psych sheets, their dominant depth is pretty obvious. North Carolina takes 2nd. Maryland likely outswims Florida State, but the Florida State divers (especially with the addition of All-American transfer Ariel Rittenhouse) are going to dominate. Being able to throw out somewhere in the neighborhood of 130 points of diving at a conference championship meet is a huge boost. They only then need to score about 150 points from their individual swimmers in 13 events to ensure another 3rd-place finish.
In the end, the final conference standings are going to come out nearly identically to last year’s.
(Update: had to make a slight tweak to the predictions after noticing that Miami’s Carrie Dragland is not on the psych sheets. She’s one of the best divers in the conference – big loss for the Hurricanes).
2. North Carolina
3. Florida State
5. Virginia Tech
8. Georgia Tech
9. North Carolina State
11. Boston College