It’ll be the third day of NCAA Championships and we still haven’t seen the world’s top backstroker swim a lap of her best stroke. Yes, she’s on a team that has the depth in backstroke that we’ve never seen before. Yes, she has the skill set alongside the raw talent that could allow her to be an All-American in almost any event if she so desired. And yes, the Golden Bears are doing everything in their power to accumulate as many points by spreading the wealth but will it work?
Missy Franklin is the meet’s top seed and frankly I’m going to have to keep her there. Missy is all about the team. If her Cal squad is down in the standings going into day three, she will do anything and everything in her power to surge them ahead. Franklin had some crazy 100 free splits at PAC 12s, and if she can get finally get off the block with some quick speed, this race is hers.
Two veterans, one of them last year’s champion, look to spoil the freshman’s first year at the Big Dance. Margo Geer, along with the rest of the Arizona swim team, has been through a lot this year. With a coaching switch midway through the semester, some Wildcats seem to be off their game, including Geer, whose team only captured fifth place at PAC 12s. However, some believe most of the squad was training through the meet and therefore may have their best swims in Minnesota. Geer is a force to be reckoned no matter what. She’ll show up, ready to go, with the mindset of defending her title.
Kasey Carlson out of SoCal could play spoiler to both Franklin and Geer. The Trojan has the experience factor in her corner against Franklin and the bragging rights card on Geer. NCAAs is nothing new for Carlson, nerves will most likely be out of the question; and even though Franklin has been on the highest stage ever in swimming, NCAAs are a different animal. Alongside that, Carlson has already been much faster than she was last year; Geer can’t say the same. Stacking the deck even more for Carlson, she stole the PAC 12 50 free champ crown away from the Wildcat (and who says she can’t do it again in the 100), Carlson’s confidence is in the perfect place.
Besides Franklin being the most well known freshman this year, almost half of this race’s top eight could potentially be freshman. Lia Neal and Olivia Smoliga will be new faces in Minnesota. Of course, Neal is no newcomer to the celebrity swim world, but will get her first whack at the “collegiate Olympics”. Smoliga broke out in a big way at her first SECs and it’ll be interesting to see if she’ll better her times. She’ll play a big part on all of Georgia’s relays (swimming all but one most likely) and will be swimming three individual events. If you add in the emotional toll this meet can play on swimmers, will she have enough left in the tank to surprise people once again?
Two seasoned All-Americans in the 100 free last year bring even more tough competition to the table. Natalie Hinds make the 100 look effortless, with a turnover rate that makes her look like she’s swimming the 500. With that kind of stroke, look for her to lock and load on that last 25. Shannon Vreeland, being the extraordinary 200 specialist that she is, will have that same speed coming home. Look for her to touch out certain individuals at the wall.
Watch out for Ivy Martin. Even though the fifty is her bread and butter, she could definitely be a two time individual All-American at the end of this meet. The Wisconsin Badger has dropped enormous chunks of time from last year and is not a “sleeper in the sprints” anymore. She has the turnover that looks like a helicopter and could get her out first at the fifty in the race. Seeing as she’s dropped a second and half already from last year, she’s certainly worked on the back half of her hundred, which could help her score a spot in the top eight.
Top 8 Picks with Seed Times:
1. Missy Franklin-47.17
2. Kasey Carlson-47.22
3. Margo Geer-47.35
4. Lia Neal-47.48
5. Natalie Hinds-47.67
6. Olivia Smoliga-47.51
7. Shannon Vreeland-47.64
8. Ivy Martin-47.78
Darkhorse(s): Yes, Anika Apostalon is seated eighth right now but has the potential to make this A final the youngest field we’ve seen in a while. She’s been showered with accolades, conference records, and honors and has the right amount of confidence going into championships. An even further fetched dark horse is FSU’s Tiffany Oliver. After barely missing out on the top 16 last year, Oliver is competing in her final NCAA Championships ever. She’ll give it all she has to get that All-American status.