Key Losses: Andrea Murez (sprint freestyle – 1 individual A final, 1 ind. B final, 5 A final relays)
Key Additions: Lea Neal (New York – freestyle), Nicole Stafford (Georgia – fly/back/free), Grace Carlson (Oregon – free/back), Kassidy Cook (Texas – diving)
In a vacuum, Stanford’s 2012-2013 short course season could be viewed as a disappointment. The team finished just 8th at NCAA’s, their lowest ever finish since the inception of the program, and didn’t reach the top of the podium in any event. All factors considered, however, the first year of the Greg Meehan era was a huge step in the right direction, highlighted by an upset victory over USC, Cal, and Arizona to win the PAC 12 title, the quick recovery/revival of Felicia Lee off shoulder surgery, and the impressive development of a “middle tier” group that should contribute big time this year.
There was a fair amount of uncertainty prior to Meehan’s arrival. Apart from a few bright spots, the Stanford women were pretty disappointing at Olympic Trials; after having multiple medalists at every single Olympics in the last 40 years, the women didn’t even send anybody to London. The fourth place squad from the 2011-12 season was led in large part by a multi-NCAA champion and American record holders Sam Woodward and Betsy Webb, who accounted for 59 individual points and 8 huge relay swims. The loss of Woodward and Webb, combined with the lack of incoming freshmen that could immediately contribute in the sprint events, meant the 2012-13 team (and future squads, with Andi Murez being a senior) had some serious question marks in the sprint ranks.
Thanks to the development of some unusual suspects (Alex Whitford, Annemarie Thayer, and Allison Brown, among others), and big performances by their seasoned veterans (Andi Murez, Maya Dirado, Felicia Lee, and Maddy Schaefer), Stanford stole the PAC 12 team title, and put together an impressive NCAA’s considering their severe lack of depth. Murez was a workhorse for the Cardinal in her final season, making the A final in the 200, finishing 10th in the 100 free, and swimming on all five relays at NCAA’s. Dirado came away with two wins at PAC 12s and a runner-up finish in the 400 IM at NCAA’s (she was narrowly edged by Florida’s Elizabeth Beisel). Schaefer had a career year in her sophomore campaign, putting up lifetime bests in her top three events, including busting the 22 barrier for the first time for a top four finish at NCAA’s.
A big story from last season for the Cardinal was the surprising return and improvement of junior Felicia Lee, who was sidelined following surgery in July 2012 to repair a torn labrum and rotator cuff. Seeing Lee return to the pool wasn’t particularly shocking so much as how she performed when she came back. The North Baltimore Aquatic Club product was better than ever after just six months away, swimming in-season bests shortly after returning and lifetime bests at NCAA’s.
Overall, the Cardinal largely surpassed expectations, and with a staff that has proven it can develop new talent and advance already-elite swimmers, they have set themselves up to make run for a team title in the next few seasons.
At the risk of repeating ourselves, we’ll keep this section short. Stanford’s top four chances this year hinge largely on seniors Maya Dirado and Felicia Lee. After a breakout summer where she qualified for Worlds in three events, Dirado has become a household name in USA Swimming. She has largely played the role of bridesmaid each of the last three seasons, battling Olympic/World Championship medalists Caitlin Leverenz, Elizabeth Beisel, Elizabeth Pelton, and Katinka Hosszu in a loaded IM field. With the additional confidence boost from this summer, look for Dirado to challenge for some titles in her final campaign.
Lee, the other half of the 1-2 punch, had a career year in 2012-13, and built off that with a great summer. After looking like she had plateaued a bit from her dominant days as an age grouper, Lee dipped back under :59 the 100 fly for the first time since 2010, and posted long course bests in the 100 free, 100 back, and 200 back. She proved to be one of the country’s most versatile swimmers a year ago, and will be looking to build off of that…
– 50 back relay leadoff: 24.20 (2nd fastest at NCAA’s)
– 100 back: 51.58 (4th)
– 100 fly relay split: 51.52 (4th)
– 50 free relay split: 21.75 (9th)
– 100 free relay split: 47.93 (12th)
– 200 free: 1:45.13 (13th, 1:44.96 at PAC 12’s)
While Stanford will need big performances from Schaefer and Neal, ultimately, their fate at NCAA’s lies in the hands of these two.
To jump into the top four, the Cardinal will be looking for big performances from their next level swimmers:
- Rising junior Annemarie Thayer was on point last season, cutting 1.5 seconds off her previous best in the 100 and nearly 2 full seconds in the 200 to finish 17th at NCAA’s in both events. Don’t be surprised to see Meehan use Thayer on prelim (and possibly final) relays to give Lee and Dirado (who have loaded schedules) a break.
- Distance specialist Allison Brown squeaked into NCAA’s in the 500 free a year ago after dropping four seconds as a true freshman, providing Stanford with a badly-needed threat over the longer freestyles.
- After making huge improvements a year ago, there are a fair amount of expectations on Alex Whitford, a rising senior who served as Stanford’s fourth body on the 200 free relay. It never hurts to have enough sprint depth, and Whitford will prove to be a huge asset if she can get down to a 22.2-22.3 flat start.
- A big need for Stanford this year is the development of a top-flight breaststroker. Junior Katie Olsen and sophomore Sarah Haase are both right on the cusp, but need to make the next step if the Cardinal are going to contend in the medley relays.
One Big Loss:
Stanford’s senior class wasn’t a particularly deep one, but they did lose Andi Murez, a perennial All-American. Murez was a staple on Cardinal relays all four years, winning multiple NCAA titles and setting a couple American records. Lucky for Stanford, that graduation gap can easily be filled by Maddy Schaefer and incoming freshman superstar Lia Neal (more on that below).
The otherwise thin Stanford sprint group gets a big boost from Olympic bronze medalist Lia Neal, who competed for Team USA on the American 400 free relay in London. Neal didn’t quite have the results we expected this summer (she failed to final at World Championship Trials), but she did have a fantastic senior short course season. She was 22.4 in the 50 (would have just missed making it back at NCAA’s), 47.9 in the 100 (good for an A final), and 1:45.5 in the 200 yard freestyles (B final), and she can immediately take Murez’s spot on all three free relay.
Two other notable swimmers (Nicole Stafford and Grace Carlson) highlight this small-but-mighty class. Stafford, a ten-time Georgia High School State Champion, is best known for her prowess in the butterfly events (53.4/1:58.0), but she’s also a great backstroker (54.2) and freestyler (49.3/1:45.2). Despite battling some pretty serious health issues this summer, Stafford swam lifetime bests of 1:00.1 and 2:15.6 in the 100 and 200 fly. Carlson, from Tualatin Hills in Oregon, has proved to be a very good freestyler (50.2/1:47.0), but is even stronger in the backstrokes (53.8/1:57.9).
Double Diving Trouble:
Joining the Class of 2017 off the boards is Kassidy Cook, the number one diving recruit in the country. The Woodlands, Texas native has won multiple Junior National titles on both springboards, and just barely missed the Olympic Team in the 3-meter at the Olympic Trials (she finished 4th). She has shied away from the platform in recent years after suffering a dislocated shoulder back in 2012, but she could still dive a reduced program off the 5 and 7 meter platforms to score at NCAA’s (as Kristian Ipsen did back in 2012 on the men’s side). Expectations from the farm are that she should be a top three NCAA finisher off both boards, with potential to land on the top of the podium.
Cook will have the benefit of practicing every day with rising senior Stephanie Phipps. Phipps won the 3 meter diving event at the 2013 PAC 12 Championships, but didn’t compete at the 2013 NCAA’s. If she comes back and makes it through zones, she should land in the top 8 at the big meet.
The Overall Outlook:
Stanford finishes in the top 3 if…
- Lee and Dirado stay on a roll
- Schaefer builds off a great summer
- Cook and Phipps combine for 55-60 points
- Neal makes us forget about the graduation of Andi Murez
- Meehan and Duchac continue to develop the “second tier”
Stanford is back down in the 8th spot if…
- Neal doesn’t quite rebound from her long course season
- Lee and Dirado don’t get enough help from the middle tier
- Neither breaststroker breaks through the 59 barrier range on relays