A Georgia sweep of the freestyle relays? I think there’s probably more people who expect this to happen than there are people who would be surprised by it. Heck, we’ve already had at least one pick in our Pick ‘Em Contest (enter your selections here!) who believes that Georgia will pretty-well sweep the freestyle races, individual and relay, and even that is not entirely out of the question (though, getting past Haley Anderson and Sarah Henry in the mile will be the biggest roadblock).
Georgia will win this 800 free relay, though, with as much certainty as there is at this meet. The U.S. Open/NCAA/American Record breakers from the SEC Champioships are seeded four seconds ahead of anybody else in the country, and they have such insane depth that they could probably swap one or two swimmers out and still be runaway favorites. So, the conversation for who will be the champion in the event can probably stop right there.
After that, things get much more interesting. We’ve seen more sub-seven minute relays this season (6, to be exact) than we’ve ever seen in a single season in NCAA history. That means 6 different teams can average better than 1:45.0 across four 200 freestylers.
That shows the key to this relay: depth. If you want to place in the top 8, you have to have at least three very, very good 200 freestylers. That hasn’t always been the case; in the past you could get away with a star at 1:44.0 and a bunch of 1:46’s and 1:47’s to go with it. Not anymore, and especially not this year. Aside from the sub-7’s, there’s another 5 teams at 7:01-lows.
You can never sleep on Cal in this relay. They always seem to come up with a surprise 1:43, even when they don’t seem to have the guns to do so. Tennessee, the 4th seed, this year fields the best 800 free relay we’ve ever seen out of Knoxville. Last year they added a little bit from SEC’s to NCAA’s. Most 800 free relays add-or-match their best in-season times in this longer relay. That’s not a surprise given that it comes at the end of a long day 2 session, as compared to most conference championship meets where it’s early on in a sleepy first day. Teams that drop succeed, and last year, those teams were Arizona, USC, and Minnesota, who went 3-4-5. Expect all three of those relays to place in the top 10 again this year, at least.
Minnesota is challenged in conference by Indiana, who took another title in this event at Big Tens this year: their 4th-straight. This season’s relay, though, with Haley Lips and Brooklyn Snodgrass seems to be more complete and less fragile than last year’s was; even though last year’s relay had three seniors. They added four seconds to drop out of the top-8 at NCAA’s.
We know that Virginia will be better than they were at ACC’s, and they’re the 10th seed. They finished 9th at NCAA’s last year with no Lauren Perdue, and four underclassmen. That gives them great options. Texas A&M, the 7th seed, should be faster than they were at their conference championship meet too. The Aggies would qualify as a great “sleeper” pick based on last year’s results, where they didn’t even swim this relay. With Lili Ibanez and Sarah Henry both returning from injury, they should get a couple of 1:43’s out of this relay. The other two legs, which should be distance swimmer Maureen McLaine, plus either Kelli Benjamin or Meredith Oliver, will dictate how high the Aggies can push.
If there were any teams anywhere that could possibly pull off the upset (and we’re talking a 1 in 10,000 sort of odds), it would be Stanford and Florida (not surprisingly, the 2-3 seeds). They’ve each got four swimmers who are capable of flat-starting 1:44’s or better, meaning that something like a 6:54 is doable for them. The Gators, with Zalewski swimming out-of-her-mind well right now, have a relay that could, when relay starts are accounted for, even get four 1:43’s. Georgia may not even do that.
Top 8 Picks, along with seed times:
1. Georgia, 6:52.64
2. Florida, 6:56.63
3. Stanford, 6:57.12
4. Cal, 6:58.95
5. Virginia, 7:01.56
6. Minnesota, 7:01.27
7. USC, 7:01.28
8. Indiana, 6:59.48
Darkhorse: Arizona State, 7:05.16 seed. The Sun devils’ best relay has shifted from the medleys to this 800, and with three seniors and a junior they will be ready-to-race. Their front-half of Shannon Landgrebe and Cassie Morrice is certainly top-8 worthy. If this were a 4×500 free relay, they’d be contenders for sure.