2015 WOMEN’S NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS
- NCAA record: 49.97 — Natalie Coughlin (California) — 3/23/2002
- American record: 49.97 — Natalie Coughlin (California) — 3/23/2002
- U.S. Open record: 49.97 — Natalie Coughlin (California) — 3/23/2002
- 2014 NCAA Champion: Paige Miller (Texas A&M) – 50.77
The women’s 100 backstroke is one of the NCAA’s deepest events at the moment, with a host of big names, a slew of highly-touted young guns, and a potential assault on one of the NCAA’s oldest records.
The record in question belongs to Olympian Natalie Coughlin, who tore through the NCAA back in 2002, setting several records that still stand 13 years later. One of those is her hallowed 49.97 in the 100 back – no woman has gotten under 50 seconds since, but we may have our best contender in years competing in 2015.
Virginia’s Courtney Bartholomew rattled the record at the Cavaliers’ mid-season rest meet, going 50.01 while leading off the 400 medley relay, coming as close to the record as anyone else in history.
Bartholomew seemed to mostly swim right through ACCs, saving her best stuff for the national championships, which should give her a leg up. But there are still two considerable concerns in picking Bartholomew to win the individual 100.
The first is that last season, Bartholomew hit a big, nation-leading time at her mid-season rest meet, then failed to better that time at all during the post-season. Has the junior figured out how to prevent another year of post-season woes? She’ll need to be at her best to take the title here.
The other big concern with Bartholomew is that she tends to do her best swimming leading off relays, rather than in the individual 100 back. (That trend includes her performances at last year’s NCAAs, the mid-season Georgia Invite and the recent ACC Championships, among others). That’s not a major concern team-wise, as any coach would love to have a stud relay leg with relay points counting double, but it does create a bit of a risk in picking her to win this race. But if Bartholomew is good enough to break Coughlin’s record leading off the medley relay, then even a slightly-slower individual race should get the job done.
One of the more intriguing challengers to Bartholomew’s crown is Cal junior Rachel Bootsma, who knows what it’s like to rise to the top of the NCAA podium in this event. Bootsma won the national title as a freshman, going 50.13 and looking like the eventual heir to Coughlin’s record. After a distastrous sophomore slump that saw Bootsma miss the A final entirely in 2014, the Cal Bear looks back to form after winning Pac-12s in 50.84. A 2012 Olympian, Bootsma clearly has the potential to make a run for the title, especially if Bartholomew is off her mark in the final.
The top returner from last year is Indiana’s Brooklynn Snodgrass, who won the national 200 back title in 2014 and could be shooting for dual event wins in her junior year. Snodgrass also appeared to train right through Big Tens, and should be much faster than her 51.51 seed time at nationals.
Further complicating matters, 200 back American record-holder Elizabeth Pelton of Cal jumps into the 100 back this season after swimming the 200 free instead in 2014. Pelton has the NCAA’s third-best time and quite possibly the best closing burst of anyone in this field.
At the other end of the spectrum is Georgia’s Olivia Smoliga, a sprint free/back speedster who had a pretty quiet year in this event before bursting back onto the scene with a 51.47 at SECs. Another sophomore, Florida Gulf Coast’s Kira Toussaint is a returning A finalist and one of the top-finishing swimmers from a mid-major conference in 2014. Also returning from last year’s A final: Cal’s Melanie Klaren.
That brings us to our fab freshmen, who could make real waves at nationals. Stanford’s Ally Howe holds the #6 seed heading into the meet, and if she can catch whatever fever the Stanford women had a year ago that made them absolutely explode at NCAAs, she could finish in the top half of the championship heat. Also in the hunt is Michigan first-year Clara Smiddy, who gave Snodgrass a run for both backstroke titles at the Big Ten Championships.
Georgia’s Kylie Stewart is probably more dangerous in the 200 back, but she’s a talented enough swimmer to merit mention here as a potential A finalist for the defending national champs. USC’s Hannah Weiss has been a revelation this season, and Missouri’s Hannah Stevens looked like one of the premier freshman backstrokers in the nation before a lackluster SEC meet pushed her down the rankings some.
A few more names to watch:
- Sarah Denninghoff of Texas was an A finalist in this event all the way back in 2012, but didn’t compete in the NCAA last season. She comes in with the 13th seed, but has some room to move up after not competing at Big 12s and still presumably having a full taper ahead of her.
- UCLA’s Linnea Mack has been having a stellar sophomore season, and this event might be her best shot at an NCAA A final appearance.
- Jillian Vitarius scored in this race a year ago, and though she’s seeded way back in 33rd, a big swim could put her into scoring range for Auburn.
Top 8 Picks
Dark horse: San Diego State’s Anika Apostalon was one of the nation’s best freshmen a year ago, turning in All-American honors in all three of her events. Apostalon pretty well locked in her NCAA invite back in November, and this season had the luxury of swimming through the Mountain West Championships and saving a full rest for NCAAs. Apostalon is one of the brightest young talents in mid-major swimming right now, and a breakout swim could place her high in a tight A final.