The women’s 100 breaststroke is the first of our women’s previews that will leave a really big hole from a non-returning Olympic medalist. That non-returner is silver medalist Rebecca Soni, who is not officially retired, but is taking a year to look at grad schools and rest an ailing back injury that she nary let on about in the lead up to the Games in London.
Soni’s step-out makes this race on paper pretty much of a two swimmer race, it would seem, with Texas A&M junior Breeja Larson coming in as the top seed in 1:05.92 (she joined Soni in the Olympic final last year), and Jessica Hardy the second seed in 1:06.12. Those two seeds are more than a seconds head of anybody else in the field, which means that if anybody wants to take a roster spot away from either of them, they’d have to really move up the ladder in a big way.
Larson was a 1:05.92 and actually won the Olympic Trials in this race over Soni last year. She has done some of the most unbelievable things in yards swimming we’ve ever seen, and when she’s struggled in finals its been almost exclusively in the 200 (she always seems to peak at the right time in this 100.)
Hardy, meanwhile, after a big short course meters season, is back into long course with a vengeance as well. At the two post-NCAA Grand Prix, Larson won in Mesa (1:07.32 – no Hardy in finals), and Hardy won in Charlotte (1:07.03 – no Larson at the meet.) Larson has the advantage of focusing exclusively on breaststroke, while Hardy has the added pressure of being of huge importance to the American sprint group as well. Both should have the same number of races coming into the 4th day of the meet in Indy, for what it’s worth, and neither has a double on this day.
Though breaststrokers have a strange way of coming on to the national scene in a hurry, almost from out of nowhere, to me there’s two obvious swimmers who have the best shot at putting in the swim-of-a-lifetime and taking one of those top two spots away from Hardy or Larson.
One is Tennessee’s Molly Hannis. She gave Larson all she could handle for about 75 yards at the SEC Championship in the 100 breaststroke, and when you factor in that Breeja has two fewer pullouts with which to work (she’s got about a 6 inch height advantage), Hannis could maybe hold on a little better. She’s already shown that her yards success was no fluke: while Hannis didn’t have a great 2012 long course season, she’s already been three seconds better in 2013 than she was in 2012 (a 1:07.39 to be runner-up to Hardy in Charlotte.) You could get a lot of support for picking Hannis as the favorite to be a representative in the 50 breaststroke, but she’s showing that the 100 is not out of the question either.
The other is Ellyn Baumgardner, who was 4th at last year’s Olympic Trials in a 1:07.19. She’s lost her training partner at Arizona in the now-retired Annie Chandler, but Baumgardner’s big tally is that she seems to be a big meet swimmer. She seems to nail her taper every season, especially in summer.
Looking specifically at long course, last summer, she swam three best times in three straight rounds at the Olympic Trials. In 2011, she hit her lifetime best at Nationals. She did the same in 2010. Even going back to the 2008 Olympic Trials, though she didn’t make it out of the heats, she hit a best time. That may seem like a simple thing, but don’t undervalue it.
The sleeper of the field is probably Wisconsin’s Ashley Wanland. She never finished higher than 7th in the 100 breaststroke at the NCAA Championships, but has spent a lot of time on the U.S. National Team because she too is always on her game in long course. She was 8th at last year’s Olympic Trials, but her best time from the semi’s would’ve bumped her into the top 5. Despite being constantly at the top of the American ranks, she seems to rarely get the hype and buzz she deserves.
There’s a whole lot of swimmers in the 1:07-range who will be able to make a strong case for a top 5 finish at Trials. The swimmer with perhaps the most momentum is Texas’ Laura Sogar., who has now completed her eligibility. She was the NCAA Champion in the 200 last year, and while that’s clearly her best event, she has a lot of broad momentum behind her, even in this shorter breaststroke. She was a 1:07.5 at Charlotte a week ago, which is her lifetime best.
There’s a pair of swimmers out of mid-major schools who could easily be finalists (though, with the fallout in the Big East and the rise in Ivy League power, perhaps they ought to be consider a “major” in swimming, but I digress). Wisconsin-Milwaukee junior Emily McClellan was 6th at last year’s Olympic Trials. She swam well at NCAA’s, but we haven’t seen her in long course since.
The other is Columbia now post-grad Katie Meili. She had a ton of momentum at the end of the NCAA season. Though she has been much better to this point of her career in yards than meters (she was only 48th at the Olympic Trials in the 100 – though that wasn’t her best time), she’s still getting better at a rapid rate. Strong improvements in yards, are leading to similarly strong improvements in meters. She swam the two best times of her career at the Orlando Grand Prix, including a 1:09.00.
One more sleeper pick in this race, to final at least, could be Georgia’s Melanie Margalis. She’s a very good IM’er, and is definitely a contender there, but in her junior year at Georgia, she showed unprecedented speed in the 100 yard breaststroke race. She was as good as 59.3 on a flat-start, and at NCAA’s (where she didn’t swim it individually) she split under 59 seconds on the medley relay.
After battling some health issues, USC’s Kasey Carlson was fit and on fire at NCAA’s; she placed 2nd to Breeja Larson in the 100 yard race. Though her seed won’t be all that high, she’s a great chance to final. Remember that she was on the World Championships team in 2009, so it won’t be a total shock (though it would still be a big surprise) if she were to sneak up and take a spot in the top two.
Andrea Kropp, Micah Lawrence, and Haley Spencer are better shots in the 200 breaststroke; Emma Reaney has been 1:09.9, and while I expect her to be faster than that this summer, I don’t know if she can fight through this deep field into the top 8. Lawrence finaled last year after training at SwimMAC, but again didn’t have a great NCAA Championship meet after returning to Auburn (she didn’t final in either breaststroke)
Swimmers that we’re assuming are either retired, not swimming at Worlds, or won’t have much of an impact if they do, based either on public statements or on a lack of high-level competition in 2013: Megan Jendrick, Michelle McKeehan, Corrie Clark, Annie Chandler, Rebecca Soni, and Amanda Beard.
The picks are below, along with best times from January 1st, 2010 through May 18th, 2013. The picks vary wildly from 3-8, but the consensus for the favorites seems clear: if anyone takes a spot from Larson or Hardy for Worlds, it would be an upset.
|Braden’s Picks||Morgan’s Picks||Matt and Reed’s Picks|
|1.||Breeja Larson, Texas A&M, 1:05.92||Breeja Larson, Texas A&M, 1:05.92||Breeja Larson, Texas A&M, 1:05.92|
|2.||Jessica Hardy, Trojan Swim Club, 1:06.12||Jessica Hardy, Trojan Swim Club, 1:06.12||Jessica Hardy, Trojan Swim Club, 1:06.12|
|3.||Ellyn Baumgardner, Arizona, 1:07.19||Molly Hannis, Tennessee, 1:07.39||Kasey Carlson, USC, 1:10.21|
|4.||Kasey Carlson, USC, 1:10.21||Laura Sogar, Texas, 1:07.57||Laura Sogar, Texas, 1:07.57|
|5.||Laura Sogar, Texas, 1:07.57||Ashley Wanland, Wisconsin, 1:07.23||Ashley Wanland, Wisconsin, 1:07.23|
|6.||Ashley Wanland, Wisconsin, 1:07.23||Kasey Carlson, USC, 1:10.21||Katie Meili, Columbia, 1:09.00|
|7.||Emily McClellan, UW-Milwaukee, 1:07.41||Ellyn Baumgardner, Arizona, 1:07.19||Micah Lawrence, Auburn/SwimMAC, 1:07.39|
|8.||Molly Hannis, Tennessee, 1:07.39||Micah Lawrence, Auburn/SwimMAC, 1:07.39||Annie Zhu, Georgia, 1:08.84|
|Darkhorse: Katelyn Weddle||Darkhorse: Allie Szekely||Darkhorse: Allie Szekely|