2014 ACC Women’s Championship Fan Guide: Virginia goes for 7-straight as Notre Dame, Pitt join ACC party

  • Dates: Wednesday, Feb. 19 – Saturday, Feb. 22; prelims 11AM/Finals 7PM
  • Location: Greensboro Aquatic Center, Greensboro, NC
  • Defending Champion: Virginia (6x) (results)
  • Live Results:
  • Live Video (if available): Available here.
  • Championship Central

An already-crowded 9-team field grows to back 11 this season with the addition of former Big East powers Notre Dame and Pitt. That’s going to make A and B final spots even more competitive and put scoring points, any points, at a premium. That’s especially important for everyone outside the top two teams; it looks like Virginia and UNC have the potential to load up the A finals of many events, which leaves that many fewer scoring opportunities for the remaining 9 programs. On the other hand, the ACC will score the A, B, and C finals for the first time this season, so even though the field is more crowded than last season, there are also plenty more points up for grabs.

Virginia once again appears the favorites to win the ACC for what would be their 7th straight conference title in their first season under coach Augie Busch. They graduated stud freestyler Lauren Perdue from last year’s squad, but younger swimmers have stepped up in a big way to fill her shoes. Sophomore Courtney Bartholomew is perhaps the best backstroker in the country right now, and freshman Leah Smith will pick up a lot of the points vacated by Perdue in the freestyle races. UNC looks to be equally deep, but maybe have a few less stars than the Cavaliers. Still, the races in the distance freestyle events between the Tar Heels’ Stephanie Peacock and Virginia’s Smith should be absolute showstoppers – they’re two of the best you’ll find in any conference anywhere.

Also worth watching will be the two new additions, Notre Dame and Pitt. The Fighting Irish bring in a few big-name swimmers, most notably breaststroker Emma Reaney, who is the fastest in the NCAA so far this season in the 200 and only a tick off the American record. How the Big East imports stack up in their new conference should also give a sneak peak into what kind of impact we can expect next year from Louisville, the 2013 Big East champs who will join the ACC next season after one tweener year with the American Athletic Conference.

The meet will take place at Greensboro Aquatic Center and admission is free (!), so anyone in the area looking to take in a big-time college conference meet won’t find a better bang for their buck anywhere else.

Psych Sheets

Stars

Boston College – Maureen Barron (sophomore sprinter), Kelly McGrath (junior distance freestyler), Samantha Couillard (sophomore breaststroker) – BC will have to scrape for individual points in a very thick conference. They’ll look to Barron and McGrath to do it in the freestyle races, and a pair of breaststokers have shots as well

Duke – Christine Wixted (senior breaststroker/IM’er), Maddie Rusch (freshman sprinter/butterflyer), Lauren Weaver (senior freestyler/butterflyer) – It all starts with Wixted, who is among the ACC’s best in all three of her races. Rusch and Weaver should make the shorter free and fly races nice scoring punches for the Blue Devils

Florida State – Tiffany Oliver (senior sprinter), Kaitlyn Dressel (junior sprinter), Mckayla Lightbourn (senior backstroker), Madison Jacobi (sophomore distance freestyler) – FSU is blessed with not just one, but two of the best sprinters in the conference. That’s a coach’s dream in assembling relays, and this is a pretty well-rounded squad at the top

Georgia Tech – Darelle Cowley (sophomore breaststroker), Hailey White (senior freestyler), Sarah Willford (sophomore distance freestyler/IMer) – A team with a lot of contributors through the freestyle distances, and Cowley looks like a legitimate breaststroking threat

Miami – My Fridell (sophomore butterflyer), Kara McCormack (junior diver), Heather Arseth (junior freestyler), Cheyenne Cousineau (junior diver) – Miami is outstanding on the boards with a number of great divers. Junior transfer Arseth helps out the freestyle corps immensely as well

North Carolina – Stephanie Peacock (senior distance swimmer), Lauren Earp (sophomore freestyler), Cari Blalock (senior IMer/butterflyer), Sarah Koucheki (freshman butterflyer) – Freestylers on freestylers on freestylers. This team looks very strong across the board and should score big-time points in all the free races

NC State – Zina Grogg (senior butterflier), Riki Bonnema (sophomore sprinter), Natalie Labonge (freshman sprinter), Kayla Brumbaum (freshman breaststroker) – An NC State squad good enough to finish top-5 a year ago only seemed to get better with the addition of freshmen like Labonge and Brumbaum

Notre Dame – Emma Reaney (junior breaststroker/IMer), Kelly Ryan (senior freestyler/backstroker), Courtney Whyte (junior butterflyer/backstroker), Katie Miller (freshman IMer) – New additions to the conference, Notre Dame has a bona fide star in Emma Reaney and enough support to put up a fight in a tough, deep ACC

Pitt –  Kaleigh Ritter (sophomore distance freestyler), Kinga Cichowska (freshman breaststroker), Dani des Tombe (junior freestyler), Blair Wegescheide (sophomore backstroker) – The Panthers are a pretty well-rounded roster that has already demolished a medley relay school record this season. They’ll need a full team effort with lots of different point-scorers to make that well-roundedness a big factor at the conference championships

Virginia – Leah Smith (freshman distance freestyler), Ellen Williamson (junior backstroker/butterflier/IMer), Courtney Bartholomew (sophmore backstroker), Shaun Casey (junior butterflyer/IMer)  – Have to be the favorite to repeat for a seventh-straight year. So dominant in the backstrokes, where they hold the ACC’s top 4 times in the 100 led by Courtney Bartholomew, who’s among the best in the nation

Virginia Tech – Kaylea Arnett (junior diver), Weronika Paluszek (sophomore breaststroker/IMer), Mackenzie Stewart (sophomore breaststroker/IMer), Fiona Donnely (freshman butterflyer/IMer) – Last year’s runners-up have some work to do to stay ahead of UNC, but the H2Okies (as they’re known around Blacksburg, VA) also have some nice pieces, like defending 200 breast champ Weronika Paluszek

Showdowns

500 Free – This has got to be the race of the meet. Two of the best swimmers from the two best teams collide in the very first individual event of the meet. UNC senior Stephanie Peacock holds the meet and conference record in the event from back in 2012, scratching all her events at the meet a year ago. She’ll battle a newcomer, Virginia freshman Leah Smith, who holds the ACCs fastest time this season. Peacock is probably better as the distance goes up, while Smith might be the better middle-distance swimmer, but the 500 falls into that perfect in-between land where the two should have about equal footing. This race will showcase two of the best in the nation, as Smith and Peacock hold the 4th and 5th fastest times in the NCAA this season, respectively.

100 Fly – with the top two from a year ago gone (Virginia Tech’s Heather Savage graduated and Miami’s Lucy Worrall transferred) the race now comes down to Virginia junior Ellen Williamson, third a year ago, and UNC freshman Sarah Koucheki. This season, Williamson has already been down to 52.81, just .02 off her lifetime best from ACCs a year ago. Meanwhile Koucheki has chopped nearly a second and a half off her lifetime best thus far in her rookie collegiate season. One would imagine Williamson should probably have the edge, but a talented freshman like Koucheki is always a bit of a wild card. To make things even more interesting, some of the top swimmers from the other schools (Miami’s My Fridell, Notre Dame’s Courtney Whyte and FSU’s Chelsea Britt) are all within striking distance to pick off either or both of those top two.

400 IM – One more big-time Virginia-UNC matchup, and this one is a rematch from a year ago. Cavalier Shaun Casey holds the ACC’s top time in the 400 IM this year at 4:10.02, but defending conference champ Cari Blalock of the Tar Heels is breathing down her neck at 4:10.49. Blalock topped Casey last season in 4:08, dominating the last two strokes. But Casey came home extremely well in her lifetime-best swim at the Ohio State Invite back in November. If she can survive Blalock’s inevitable surge on the breaststroke leg, this could be a nail-biter of a race on freestyle.

Standings

All-in-all, Virginia has to be the heavy favorites once again. A strong team keeps getting stronger with freshman additions like Leah Smith and top-tier breaststroker Laura Simon, and the backstrokes could be a knockout punch for the Cavaliers. UNC looks like the only team with the depth and studs to give the Cavs a run, but the Tar Heels are probably just a step behind at this point and will need a huge taper to make it happen.

The next four teams could go any which way. Florida State’s got a great freestyle presence and a pretty complete roster, so they get the nod for now, but the #3 spot is still clearly up for grabs. Virginia Tech is a very good team and made an outstanding run to finish second at ACCs last year. Notre Dame probably has the best studs of the bunch, but they might be a little too top-heavy to overcome the depth ahead of them. NC State has done its best swimming over the past month or so, and if they continue to heat up, they could make waves in the conference’s second tier as well.

Duke and Pitt might be better than Miami in the pool, but the Hurricanes get the nod thanks to their buzz-saw of a diving corps. Depending on how many scorers Virginia and UNC cram into each event, these slots might come down to which team can sneak swimmers into the last available A, B and especially C finals spots for a point or two here and there.

1. Virginia
2. North Carolina
3. Florida State
4. Virginia Tech
5. Notre Dame
6. NC State
7. Miami (FL)
8. Duke
9. Pitt
10. Georgia Tech
11. Boston College

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Wahoo Strong

It’s Virginia all the way. They are strong and very diverse. Don’t know how Augie will do their taper taking NCAA’s into consideration, but it will be fun to watch.

AL

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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