In the collection of last year’s women’s NCAA previews, we made the argument that the backstroke events were the deepest and fastest they had ever been. With just four of the top 20 finishers in the 100 from 2013 NCAA’s graduating, along with three freshmen who already hit the NCAA ‘A’ standard, we have an even more impressive field to look forward to at the end of the month.
By the numbers…
- More swimmers are under 52.0, 52.5, and 53.0 headed into the meet than ever before.
- Nine of the top 20 swimmers in history are in this field. Another pair (Missy Franklin and Elizabeth Pelton) are competing at this meet.
- Eight swimmers in history have been 51.00 or better. Five of them (Rachel Bootsma, Cindy Tran, Paige Miller, Olivia Smoliga, Courtney Bartholomew) are in this field. Another (Franklin) is competing at this meet.
- We probably haven’t seen everything from FGCU’s Kira Toussaint, the Dutch SCM national record holder (that’s saying something) in this event.
- For those taking notes at home, there has only been one race in history where two swimmers have been under 51 seconds in the same field (Bootsma and Tran, 2012 Georgia Invitational).
We used this chart below last year to illustrate the seed time comparisons headed into the last eight NCAA championships. Look how 2014 stacks up:
|100 back seed time comparison|
|Seeded under 52.0||Seeded under 52.5||Seeded under 53.0|
So where do we start? Cal has four of the top 13 overall seeds in the event, and will be looking to score at least 50 points to give the Bears a boost headed into the final day of the meet, including Bootsma and Tran, two of the three fastest performers in history (Natalie Coughlin is the other). Although Bootsma is the defending champion, Tran has a pair of 100 back titles of her own from 2011 and 2012, and looks to be on track to do some damage again after a disappointing meet last March. The Bears’ other two returning scorers (Stephanie Au and Melanie Klaren) could challenge for an A-final slot with a great swim, as well.
The three most well-known challengers from outside of Berkeley have to be Courtney Bartholomew from Virginia, Georgia freshman Olivia Smoliga, and Texas A&M senior Paige Miller. Bartholomew had a very good first year with the Cavaliers in 2012-13 with top ten finishes in both backstroke events, but has really excelled in her sophomore campaign under new head coach Augie Busch. She arguably made the biggest midseason splash with her 50.73-1:50.55 performance at the Ohio State Invitational in November, and clearly swam through ACC’s, setting herself up for a big NCAA’s.
Smoliga, meanwhile, has been one of the most impactful true freshman in the country, winning both sprint freestyle events at SEC’s, and also turning in a personal best in the 100 back. Miller was actually victorious in that race at the country’s fastest conference meet, reaching the 15-meter mark off of every wall to beat Smoliga to the touch. For Miller to compete for a title, she will have to match Bootsma and Tran underwater.
Six other swimmers have been under 52 seconds already this season, including Sinead Russell, Brooklynn Snodgrass, and Felicia Lee, last year’s 2-4 finishers at NCAA’s. Russell was a bit faster at SEC’s a few weeks ago than she was as a true freshman last season, and although she’ll be competing in the 200 free just two events prior, she has already proven she can handle the tough double. Snodgrass, the two-time defending Big Ten champion, and Lee, the Pac-12 runner-up, are substantially faster than they were at this point last year, as well.
Three other women, including two from mid-majors we don’t normally hear from, have already been under the 52.0 mark: Texas senior Lily Moldenhauer, and freshmen Kira Toussaint of Florida Gulf Coast and Anika Apostalon of San Diego State. All three have crushed their previous lifetime bests this year, particularly Apolstalon, who came into college at 53.6 in this event. Don’t count out Toussaint, either. She has plenty of international experience competing for the Netherlands, and is capable of challenging for a top four spot.
Top 8 Picks with Seed Times:
This should be the fastest field ever. Bootsma is the most consistent swimmer in this group, and also has the fastest personal best, but Tran, Bartholomew, and Smoliga all have the potential to pop off a low-50-point effort at any given moment.
1. Rachel Bootsma – Cal – 51.19
2. Courtney Bartholomew – UVA – 50.73
3. Cindy Tran – Cal – 51.28
4. Olivia Smoliga – Georgia – 51.00
5. Kira Toussaint – Florida Gulf Coast – 51.88
6. Felicia Lee – Stanford – 51.29
7. Brooklynn Snodgrass – Indiana – 51.65
8. Sinead Russell – Florida – 51.89
Darkhorse: Linnea Mack – UCLA. A true freshman, Mack had an excellent first half, crushing her previous lifetime best by nearly a full second in the 100 back. With that effort, she had the luxury of swimming through Pac 12’s, putting her in the position for a great performance.