- Dates: Feb. 19-22, 2014 (Co-ed). Prelims at 10:00 AM, Finals at 6:00 PM, diving prelims/consols at 12:30 PM
- Location: Ralph Wright Natatorium, the University of Louisville, Louisville, KY
- Defending Champion: None – first year conference
- Live Results:
- Live Video (if available):
- Championship Central
2014 brings us the inaugural conference championships for the newly-formed American Athletic Conference. The AAC, or The American, picked up the remnants of the old Big East conference after several big-name swimming programs jumped to the ACC and a group of basketball schools bolted to form their own conference, taking the Big East name with them. 4 of these AAC schools are former Big East competitors (Louisville, UCONN, Cincinnati, and Rutgers) while the final two (Houston and SMU) were brought in from Conference-USA.
That makes this an interesting conference to predict, as there are no real defending event champions or a defending champ team. Of course, last year’s Big East Champions Louisville are now AAC members, and the Houston and SMU were the second and third-place teams in C-USA a year ago. The big question will be which teams can pick up the majority of the points vacated by big-name teams like Notre Dame, Pitt and Villanova, who left for other conferences.
A major change for the former Big East teams will be a smaller field – the Big East boasted 10 women’s programs last season, but this year AAC is made up of just 6. In theory, that means depth will be at more of a premium, as teams should have more opportunities to score multiple swimmers in each event.
Another notable tidbit is that the conference championship will include platform diving events. The platform contests were a new addition to the Big East last season after being run as exhibition events for years prior. That’s probably the biggest boost to Houston, which went 1-2-3 in all three diving events in C-USA last season, but should also help Rutgers, which put two divers in the finals of the Big East platform event in 2013, including the winner Nicole Scott.
Louisville gets to host the first-ever AAC Championships in what will be its only year in the conference. The Cardinals head to the ACC next season, following a number of their former Big East rivals.
UConn – Chinyere Pigot (junior sprinter), Christine Pedersen (freshman backstroker), Laura Ruttan (sophomore breaststroker/IMer), Kati Kyle (junior backstroker) – A lot of turnover on this team from a year ago, but the Huskies have gotten a lot of production out of their underclassmen so far this season.
Cincinnati – Jackie Keire (freshman freestyler), Weronika Wasiakowska (senior freestyler), Helena Pikhartova (junior breaststroker), Iuliia Fedoreeva (sophomore butterflyer) – Lots of nice relay pieces on this team, and Kiere is among the best in the conference in all freestyle distances
Louisville – Tanja Kylliainen (junior butterflyer/IMer), Kelsi Worrell (sophomore sprinter/butterflyer), Andee Cottrell (freshman breaststroker/IMer), Abby Chin (junior distance/IMer), Gisselle Kohoyda (senior breaststroker) – The Cards have to be the favorites. Big question is where Worrell will enter – she’s typically a sprinter, but also holds the 3rd-fastest 200 fly in the NCAA
Houston – Heather Winn (senior freestyler), Laykin Lowry (senior IMer/butterflyer), Danielle Shedd (sophomore diver), Natasha Burgess (junior diver) – Houston moves to the AAC from Conference USA, where the Cougars were second last year. Winn is tough in the distance races and diving should be a huge boost to Houston
SMU – Isabella Arcila (junior sprinter/backstroker), Rachel Nicol (junior breaststroker), Nina Rangelova (senior freestyler), Marne Erasmus (freshman butterflyer) – Nicol holds the conference’s top times in both breaststrokes and Arcila/Rangelova have shown excellent versatility. South African Worlds representative Erasmus makes an exciting mid-season addition
Rutgers- Joanna Wu (sophomore freestyler/backstroker), Mary Moser (senior freestyler/butterflyer), Greta Leberfinger (junior breaststroker), Morgan Pfaff (sophomore IMer) – Wu’s versatility is a big plus. Moser should help cover the shorter freestyle races and Leberfinger holds AAC top-10 times in both breaststrokes this season
100 free – Louisville’s Kelsi Worrell looks like the clear-cut favorite in the 50 free and 100 fly, and her third event typically would be the 100 free. But there she’ll likely have to go up against Cincinnati’s stud freshman Jackie Keire, who holds the AAC’s fastest time this season. In fact, the duo’s season-bests are separated by just .01, with each woman putting up a 48.5 at a mid-season rest meet. They also both rank top 16 in the nation, meaning a solid taper could make this an early matchup of two NCAA finalists. Worrell and Keire will almost certainly tangle in some relay events over the course of the meet as well, making this a showdown that should include multiple encounters.
200 breast – The breaststroke races will be a battle of the top returning Big East breaststroker (Louisville’s Gisselle Kohoyda) and the 2013 C-USA champion Rachel Nicol of SMU. They’ve both been 2:10 already this season and hold the top two spots in the current AAC rankings by nearly three seconds. The two already met once this season at the SMU Classic way back in October, with Nicol winning convincingly in front of her home crowd. Now the rivalry will move to Kohoyda’s home pool for the next round. The two should also face off in the 100 breast with Kohoyda’s teammate freshman Andee Cottrell thrown in the mix as a title contender.
100 back – Another Louisville-SMU matchup will happen in the 100 backstroke, where reigning C-USA champion Isabella Arcila currently sits second to Cardinal senior Krissie Brandenburg. Arcila won her conference title last year without much of a challenge, going a fast 52.69. This year, she’ll have to work a little harder to get by Brandenburg, who put up a lifetime-best at Winter Nationals.
200 fly – It doesn’t seem wholly likely that this happens, but depending on Worrell’s entries, the 200 fly could shape up an unbelievable 200 fly battle between Cardinal teammates. Worrell, typically known as a sprint butterflyer who crosses over into freestyle, swam the 200 fly at Winter Nationals and tore her way to the top of college swimming’s rankings in one crazy swim. Her 1:54.12 still sits third on the NCAA rankings, just one one-hundredth up on teammate Tanja Kylliainen, herself one of the best butterflyers in the country. Louisville hasn’t tipped their hand much as to whether Worrell will enter the 200 fly or stick with her 100 freestyle, though conventional wisdom might suggest she’s planning the latter, since she’s only entered the 200 fly in two meets over the past two seasons. Still, AAC spectators can’t help but hope they’ll get to see two of the best in the business throw down come Saturday evening.
Louisville has been on a tear this season and sure looks like the team to beat, boasting two of the all-around best swimmers in the conference with Worrell and Kylliainen. They’ve also got home-pool advantage in a venue where the Cardinal women have only dropped one meet this season, a loss to a tough Tennessee squad. The next three are pretty tightly-bunched: SMU currently holds the AAC’s top times in three of the five relays and look like they could be beastly in the medleys with the addition of Erasmus. Relays should be a big boost to Cincinnati, and Keire’s freestyle prowess is enough to rank them third at this point. It’s worth noting that Houston beat SMU last season in Conference-USA and also topped the Mustangs in a dual back in November, but that was before the arrival of Erasmus at SMU. The renewed C-USA rivalry could easily go either way, but right now, SMU seems to have a slight edge in the battle for second.