There might not be a harder event in the NCAA this year to predict than the women’ 100 fly. With 2013 champ Olivia Scott out of the pool at Auburn and out of the picture at NCAAs, we will see a new winner crowned this week. But this is one of those rare events where any one of maybe 5 or 6 swimmers could win the race and it wouldn’t be considered a major surprise.
And the field is so tight coming into the meet that nothing about the top 16 seems set in stone. There’s a tie for the top seed. There’s another tie for 4th. There’s a tie for 10th. All-in-all, 13 women have already been under 52 in the event this year; compare that to just 7 at NCAAs a year ago and 7 the year before that.
The other intriguing factor are the different rest strategies among the top seeds. Three of the top 5 invites in the 100 fly put up their season-bests all the way back in November, choosing to more or less swim through their conference championships. That should bode well for their ability to drop more time at NCAAs, but the potential for rust makes it just another wild card in what should be a wild, wild race.
The top two seeds each hit 51.13s on consecutive days the week before Thanksgiving. Florida’s Ellese Zalewski and Missouri’s Dani Barbiea were among the first swimmers in the nation to put up “A” cuts, and their times still lead the NCAA. Zalewski was only about a half-second off that (51.58) at SECs, while Barbeiea seemed much less prepped for the conference championship. It won’t take much of a drop from their season-bests for either or both to put up a 50-second race in Minneapolis.
On the other end of the spectrum are Felicia Lee and Kendyl Stewart. That duo put up season-bests just a few weeks ago at Pac-12s and sit third and fourth, breathing down the lead pair’s necks. Stanford’s Lee was 51.26 to win the Pac-12 title; USC’s Stewart was second in 51.36. Both have NCAA scoring experience in the event, Lee from 2012 (12th) and Stewart from a year ago (9th).
The Pac-12 name to watch out for, though, might be Rachel Bootsma. The Cal sophomore is seeded back at 14, having only gone 52.06 this season. But Bootsma was second in this event last year, just .05 away from sitting as the defending champion right now. The 100 fly is the first half of her Friday double at NCAAs (she swims her signature 100 back three events later), but I doubt she’s planning to hold anything back in this butterfly race.
Another relatively low seed primed to move up is Louisville’s Kelsi Worrell. A returning A-finalist, Worrell had the luxury of cruising through the AAC Championships and should have plenty more to give at the national champ meet. Considering Worrell’s 2013 season-best actually would have won the NCAA title last year, she’s got to be considered a major threat for the rising Cardinal program.
Plenty more names are clearly in the hunt for championship final slots. Kentucky’s Tina Bechtel is tied for the 4-seed, and her 51.36 came back in November as well. She struggled at NCAAs last year, but the Wildcats will hope her rest lines up better this postseason. SMU freshman Marne Erasmus actually beat Worrell for the AAC title and she’s an unknown commodity, having just arrived into the NCAA this semester.
Some lesser-known conferences managed to send in some legitimate scoring threats as well. UNLV’s Katelyne Herrington is the 6-seed at 51.48 out of the Mountain West, while UCSB’s Andrea Ward sits tenth (51.76) for the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.
Big Ten champ Mackenzie Powers is part of a Penn State crew that swam lights out at the conference level, and she’ll try to break out on the national level this week. Second at Big Tens was talented Indiana freshman Gia Dalesandro, who might be better suited for the 200 but is still a player here. 2012 conference champ Becca Weiland out of Minnesota seemed to swim through the conference championship; she was 51.61 a year ago, the fifth-fastest time in all of college swimming for the season.
More returning point scorers: Florida’s Natalie Hinds (tied for 9th in 2013, seeded 23rd), UCLA’s Ting Quah (7th in 2013, seeded 35th) and Texas A&M’s Paige Miller (14th in 2013, seeded 26th).
(Just be glad you don’t have to publicly predict who out of this jam-packed stable will fill the top 8, alright?)
Top 8 Picks with Seed Times:
In a field this tough top-to-bottom, many of these predictions bank a lot on speculation about rest – an inherently risky endeavor, but a factor that will likely be big in shaping how this field actually turns out.
1. Ellese Zalewski – Florida – 51.13
2. Dani Barbiea – Missouri – 51.13
3. Kelsi Worrell – Louisville – 51.76
4. Rachel Bootsma – Cal – 52.06
5. Tina Bechtel – Kentucky – 51.36
6. Felicia Lee – Stanford – 51.26
7. Kendyl Stewart – USC – 51.36
8. Becca Weiland – Minnesota – 52.11
Darkhorse: Cindy Tran – Cal. Tran was clearly off her game at NCAAs in 2013 and has been up and down this season. But she’s still a major talent who’s done damage in this event before. Going with the senior is probably a boom-or-bust endeavor at this point, but don’t be shocked if it’s a boom.