Key Losses: Katie Nolan (21 NCAA Points / 2 NCAA Relays), Jackie Rudolph (3 NCAA Points), Kelsey Cummings (transfer to Michigan, ACC scorer)
Key Additions: Hannah Runyon-Hass (TN – Butterfly, IM), Liliana Casso (CA – Distance Freestyle), Katie McKay (NJ – Sprint Free), Catherine Munch (VA – Breaststroke, IM), Emily Pfeiffer (NC – Breaststroke), Hellen Moffitt (VA – butterfly), Abi Fisher (NJ – breaststroke), Sarah Hitchens (PA – sprint free), Sarah Koucheki (OH – free/fly), Catherine Hulsey (GA – free/IM)
2012-2013 Lookback: Last year, the Tar Heels finished in third place at the ACC Championships and finished 12th overall at the NCAA Championships in Indianapolis, making it a very successful year for the team. Stephanie Peacock, a junior, was making headlines in December. She broke not one, but two NCAA records while swimming the 1650 freestyle at the Ohio State Invitational with her final time of 15:37.06. She also managed to break the 100o freestyle record en route, splitting a 9:28.92 to the feet at the 100o. That was the fourth fastest swim in history in that 1650. At the 2012 NCAA championships, Peacock set the previous record at 15:38.79. Unfortunately, she had to miss the 2013 ACC and NCAA Championships due to a very mysterious illness.
There were several other swimmers ready to step up to in place of Peacock, but her absence left a big hole in North Carolina’s roster.
The team was very young this past season. They are only graduating two swimmers that scored at the NCAA championships. Their sprint relays struggled and neither 200 relay qualified for the NCAA Championships, but that is nothing to count them out for.
Newly Veterans: Experience may have held the Tar Heels back this year, but it will benefit the team in the next few years. Their top three 50 freestylers, Hannah Lincoln, Lauren Earp, and Ally Hardesty, were all freshman and their fourth, Nikki Barczak, is only a sophomore. With a few more years of experience, and the potential for some fast incoming freshman or transfers, their sprint relays could start to earn points at the NCAA Championships as soon as this year.
The 400 freestyle relay was a little stronger, but still very young. When you throw sophomore, Danielle Siverling, into the list above, you have three swimmers with the NCAA B qualifying time, and a few more who just missed the cut. The top five 100 freestylers were all freshman and sophomores last year. They placed 17th, but Siverling was a .61 slower than her best time this season and Earp was .5 slower in this relay than she was in the 400 medley relay. Their relay had the potential to be over a second faster than they were, which is both disappointing but also exciting, because they only missed the B final by .36, but will all be back again next season. They were 3:15.88 at the ACC Championships.
The 800 freestyle relay finished 14th at the NCAA Championships. Without Peacock, who had the third fastest time of the year in the 200 freestyle from back in December, Katie Nolan had to fill in as the fourth swimmer. Peacock’s time would have made up a five second difference for the relay and put them in the race for fifth, rather than 14th.
The 400 medley relay was their most experienced relay, and they were able to finish 15th. Carly Smith, a redshirt junior led off in a 53.8 for the Tar Heels, although her season best was a 53.0. Having her back and basically at full-strength after injury the year before was a big boost to this team.
Katie Rechsteiner, a junior, was right at her best time in the breaststroke, which set up senior, Katie Nolan, and freshman, Lauren Earp, up for a fantastic back half. Nolan split 51.1 on the butterfly leg and Earp managed to split a 48.7 on her freestyle. Nolan went a 52.02 to finish 5th in the individual 100 butterfly, and she will be the most missed member of this team next year.
Other Individual Scorers: Junior Cari Blalock was the star of the IM events, breaking two ACC records to finish 8th in the 400 IM and 10th in the 200 IM. Her 200 IM time was 1:55.86 and her 400 IM time was 4:07.58. Freshman Annie Harrison also scored at the NCAA Championships in the 400 IM, finishing in 16th.
The 200 butterfly was another very deep event for the Tar Heels. Cari Blalock finished in 3rd, Junior Meredith Hoover broke the ACC record in prelims at 1:54.47 but finished 4th in finals, and Katie Nolan finished in 11th.
Six swimmers scored individually at the championships, as well as three relays, leading the team to a 12th place finish at the NCAA Championships.
Super Star Freshman:
- Liliana Casso – Distance Freestyle, Member of USA Open Water National Junior Team. 1000-yard freestyle (10:10.31), 1650-yard freestyle (17:09.69).
- Hannah Runyon-Hass – (Transfer from Western Kentucky) Butterfly, Individual Medley, 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials Qualifier. 200-yard butterfly (2:00.26), 200-yard individual medley (1:59.99), 400-yard individual medley (4:14.48).
- Catherine Munch – Breaststroke, Individual Medley, NSCA Junior National Finalist. 100-yard breaststroke (1:03.71); 200-yard breaststroke (2:17.43); 200-yard individual medley (2:04.43).
- Hellen Moffitt – a 53.83 butterflier who should help stem the bleeding from Kathleen Nolan’s departure.
- Abi Fisher – a 1:02 100 breaststroker, but an impressive 2:12 200 breaststroker, which should be huge points in a very breaststroke-thin ACC.
- Sarah Hitchens (22.9/50.8) and Sarah Koucheki (23.4/50.5) are more pieces that could develop into improved relay contributors.
The team finished well last season and was still very young. The Tar Heels are not graduating many and the freshman they are bringing in have a lot of potential to learn from some great swimmers already on the team. Nolan scored very well at the NCAA Championships, and will be a big loss for the team, but they will still have Peacock and Blalock, two of the biggest contributors. Peacock has set herself up for a very successful senior season. This summer she competed in Kazan, Russia at the 2013 World University Games for Team USA. She won the women’s 1500 meter freestyle in a meet record time of 16:04.44.
What was really stunning about this team last year was the way that they hit their tapers at NCAA’s. At a meet, where so many swimmers came up short of their best times, North Carolina swimmers were absolutely flying up the rankings: in many circles, they were the talk of the meet.
With another year of experience, many of the freshman and sophomores should be better prepared and able to earn night swims at the NCAA Championships Aaron Workman is coming in as a new assistant coach. He previously coached at Penn State and will be mainly be focusing on the speed-oriented swimmers. Provided everyone stays healthy, I do not see any reason why North Carolina should not be a top ten team at NCAA’s next year.