Now that the conference championship meets are done and the psych sheets are out, it’s time for us to make our Women’s NCAA Championship team predictions. While we were evaluating teams throughout the year based on a mix between their dual meet season and end-of-year prospects, these rankings are strictly how we think teams will finish at NCAA’s.
25. FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES (PREVIOUS RANK: #18)
Florida State didn’t swim quite up to the expectations set by their great in-season performance, but with Chelsea Britt, Kaitlyn Dressel, and some good chances at diving points from Katrina Young, the Seminoles have a legitimate shot at cracking the top 20.
24. UCLA BRUINS (PREVIOUS RANK: #21)
The Bruins don’t have many names that will crack the top 8 beyond Linnea Mack, but they are really, really deep. Noelle Tarazona, Allison Wine, Madison White, and Kathryn Campbell are all in good positions to score.
23. SMU MUSTANGS (PREVIOUS RANK: #24)
The Mustangs are an unknown commodity to a large portion of the swimming community, but between Marne Erasmus, Isabella Arcila, and Tara-Lynn Nicholas, they have sneaky-good medley relays. Erasmus hasn’t had any noteworthy performances this year, but her 51.10 100 fly from last March makes her the fourth fastest swimmer in the field.
22. UNC TAR HEELS (PREVIOUS RANK: #23)
They are slated to score just seven points individually, but the Tar Heels have a few swimmers sitting between 17th and 25th, and the depth to play spoiler in all five relays.
21. ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE (PREVIOUS RANK: NR)
Kaylin Burchell looks like a double-event A-finalist, and the Crimson Tide have the pieces surrounding her to score in multiple relays.
20. NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH (PREVIOUS RANK: #19)
Emma Reaney is the lone individual swimmer competing for the Irish, but that shouldn’t stop Notre Dame from finishing in the top 20; Reaney scored 48 to put the team in 16th last year. The 200 breaststroke American/NCAA/U.S. Open record holder has been so-so in her senior campaign up to this point, but she alone should still be good for close to 40 individual points.
19. KENTUCKY WILDCATS (PREVIOUS RANK: #23)
Christina Bechtel is the favorite to give Kentucky their first NCAA title in history, but she shouldn’t be the only Wildcat on the podium; Danielle Galyer is seeded 5th in the 200 backstroke after her breakout performance at SEC’s.
18. MISSOURI TIGERS (PREVIOUS RANK: #14)
The Tigers had a severely disappointing SEC’s, finishing below LSU, Auburn, and Kentucky. They still have the pieces to put together some really good medley relays, though, with top 12 swimmers in the 100’s of stroke.
17. NC STATE WOLFPACK (PREVIOUS RANK: NR)
The Wolfpack men aren’t the only ones with a sprint group; Riki Bonnema and Lauren Poli have the NC State women seeded in the top 8 in both the 200 and 400 freestyle relays.
16. AUBURN TIGERS (PREVIOUS RANK: #16)
Like NC State, the Tigers’ sprint group is a force to be reckoned with, including their fifth-seeded 200 free relay. The difference between the two? Auburn’s superior medleys, and returning All-American Jillian Vitarius, who cut off a ton of time at last year’s NCAA’s to score in multiple events.
15. MICHIGAN WOLVERINES (PREVIOUS RANK: #12)
The Wolverines, led by their top-tier freshman class, continued their excellent season with a third place team finish at Big Ten’s. The scary thing? It looks like their top swimmers (including Gillian Ryan and Clara Smiddy, among others) have more left in the tank.
14. ARIZONA WILDCATS (PREVIOUS RANK: #10)
It’s been an abrupt fall for the Wildcats in their first season without Margo Geer (and Alana Pazevic and Grace Finnegan), but at least Samantha Pickens is back in form on the boards. Her 40+ points will be a big boost for Bonnie Brandon and company.
13. INDIANA HOOSIERS (PREVIOUS RANK: #17)
Tons of individual scoring opportunities for the Hoosiers, including Brooklyn Snodgrass and a mid-distance group that has made huge strides.
Why keep Indiana all the way down at #13? Relays. They didn’t even make the invite in three out of five.
12. MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS (PREVIOUS RANK: #11)
Deep across the board, and we still haven’t the best their top swimmers have to offer. Look for the Kier[r]as (Smith and Janzen) to step up again for the Gophers.
11. WISCONSIN BADGERS (PREVIOUS RANK: #15)
Not as deep individually as the Gophers or the Hoosiers, but they do have one of the country’s best sprinters (Ivy Martin) and a consistently-improving supporting cast (Chase Kinney, Annie Tamblyn, Dana Grindall) to build four impressive relays.
10. LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (PREVIOUS RANK: #13)
The Cardinals boast three potential multi-event All-Americans (Kelsi Worrell, Tanja Kylliainen, and Andee Cottrell) that should also push both Louisville medleys into the top eight. Can Kylliainen and Cottrell have a better NCAA’s than a year ago?
9. TEXAS LONGHORNS (PREVIOUS RANK: #5)
The Longhorns have been a great dual meet team all year, and we almost certainly haven’t seen them fully rested since the fall, given how little in-conference competition they have. Still, even with the usual diving boost, it’s hard to put them any higher, especially with Sarah Denninghoff not competing at Big 12’s due to injury.
8. USC TROJANS (PREVIOUS RANK: #7)
There’s no reason to sugar coat this: apart from Chelsea Chenault, Andrea Kropp, and Maggie D’Innocenzo’s 400 IM, the Trojans were pretty bad at Pac 12’s. Despite the poor showing (and losing Jasmine Tosky), they should still finish well inside the top 10, especially with at least 20 points from Haley Ishimatsu on the boards.
7. TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS (PREVIOUS RANK: #8)
This Tennessee team is eerily similar to the one that won the opening three relays at 2013 NCAA’s. Molly Hannis has never looked better, and Faith Johnson is still one of the most reliable anchor legs around. With Harper Bruens and Amanda Carner coming into their own, the Volunteers should match their 2014 seventh place team finish.
6. FLORIDA GATORS (PREVIOUS RANK: #6)
Florida lost their top breaststroker (Hilda Luthersdottir), butterflyer (Ellese Zalewski), and most decorated swimmers (Elizabeth Beisel) to graduation; lost Sinead Russell for the year; have just two relays seeded in the top 10 (and zero in the top 5); and have just three individual swims in the top 6 (two from Jessica Thielmann and one from Natalie Hinds)… and somehow are still seeded in the same spot they finished in a year ago when you score out the psych sheet.
5. VIRGINIA CAVALIERS/WAHOOS (PREVIOUS RANK: #9)
Last year’s team finished a bit below expectations coming into NCAA’s, and the stakes are even higher this season. The Cavaliers have arguably their best squad in program history, coming into NCAA’s seeded fourth overall in the team standings. Bumping them down a spot to #5 doesn’t mean we don’t think Augie Busch and his staff learned from last year and adjusted their strategy accordingly for some of their top talent. The Aggies, who sit directly behind them on the psych sheet, just have a lot of room to move up.
4. TEXAS A&M AGGIES (PREVIOUS RANK: #4)
Liliana Ibanez Lopez hasn’t been 100% all year, but the Aggies have managed, thanks to Beryl Gastaldello and Sammie Bosma stepping up to lead the sprint group. If she’s anywhere near her best, the Aggies are all but a lock for the top four.
3. STANFORD CARDINAL (PREVIOUS RANK: #3)
The Cardinal actually had a pretty solid Pac 12’s, including some breakthrough swims from a key swimmers (Sarah Haase’s 100 breast and Simone Manuel’s 200 free come to mind). They were just overshadowed by Cal’s great weekend.
Top-to-bottom though, Stanford definitely has another gear to hit next weekend in Greensboro. It probably won’t be enough to challenge for a team title this season (especially without Maddy Schaefer), but they will again be a nightmare for other teams in the four short relays.
2. GEORGIA BULLDOGS (PREVIOUS RANK: #1)
Conference meets tell big stories for a lot of teams, but you can’t read too much into Georgia’s SEC’s. Admittedly, the meet was a little weird to watch if you’re a Bulldog fan; the outcome of the meet was never in doubt, with Georgia dominating from the first individual event onward. Hali Flickinger proved she’s the real deal, and the sprint group stepped up.
However, there were some causes for concern coming out of the meet. There’s still no breaststroke answer, which could potentially cost the Bulldogs a spot in the A-final in either medley. Olivia Smoliga had a solid individual 100 backstroke, but was a step back from what we’re used to seeing otherwise. Kylie Stewart wasn’t great either, although there are rumblings that she was pretty ill leading up to the meet. And is Brittany MacLean off her game, or was she just that unrested?
Even with all of that, the Bulldogs still have the pieces to not fall below the second spot. And if any pair of Smoliga, Stewart, and MacLean have a great meet, Georgia has a great shot at repeating.
1. CAL GOLDEN BEARS (PREVIOUS RANK: #2)
Georgia looked like they may run the table in our power rankings, but Cal’s Pac 12 steamroll performance makes them the new favorite.
Coming out of that meet, Cal now holds the top seed in five individual events and three relays next weekend, and has built a 137-point edge on the psych sheet. That includes the #1 seed in the first three events of the meet, which, if they hold, would generate an incredible amount of momentum and confidence for the Bears. Swapping Missy Franklin out of the 500 free for the 200 IM to ensure she’ll be on the opening 200 free relay has been a great call, too.
One glaring hole remains: like their biggest challenger, the Bears are spotting everyone else a substantial amount of time on the breaststroke legs of both medleys. Other than that, this Cal team is starting to resemble the one we envisioned 18 months ago.