NCAA WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIPS
- NCAA record: 3:56.54 – Katinka Hosszu, USC – 03/16/2012
- American record: 3:57.89 – Caitlin Leverenz, Cal – 03/16/2012
- U.S. Open record: 3:56.54 – Katinka Hosszu, USC – 03/16/2012
- 2014 NCAA Champion: 3:58.12 – Maya DiRado, Stanford (graduated)
With five of last year’s A-finalists of the women’s 400 IM having graduated, the NCAA title is certainly up for grabs with several viable contenders ready to make their move. A freshman leads the field’s entry list, but several veterans are in the mix and primed to swim away with the title. The top five women are all seeded within about a second and a half of one another, making this one tight race to the finish.
Minnesota newcomer, Brooke Zeiger, sits atop the psych sheet with her entry time of 4:03.28, clocked at this year’s Big Ten Championships to take home the conference’s 400 IM title. Prior to that meet, Zeiger’s best time was a 4:06.63 she earned at the Grand Prix – Minneapolis in November last year. Zeiger held her own in that race claiming 4th behind the likes of Caitlin Leverenz, Elizabeth Beisel and 2014 NCAA champion, Maya DiRado and will be facing competitors just as swift and dynamic when she arrives in Greensboro, NC.
Notably, last year’s fourth-place finisher, Sarah Henry from Texas A&M, has been a strong mainstay in the more grueling events of the 400 IM, 1650 freestyle, 500 freestyle and will be more determined than ever to make her mark in this event as a senior. Henry’s top time this season was the 4:04.92 earned in November at the Art Adamson Invite and the Aggie followed that up with a 4:05.44 to earn runner-up to Georgia’s Hali Flickinger at the 2015 SEC Championships. As a comparison of progression, Henry clocked a markedly slower 4:11.64 at that same Art Adamson Invite in 2013 before swimming her career-best 4:02.88 at the NCAA final last year. Could the 4:04.92 mark from this past November be an indication that Henry is prepared to drop even more time come this year’s NCAA final to ultimately take home the title to College Station?
As mentioned, however, Georgia’s Hali Flickinger is certainly a force to be reckoned with, taking home this year’s SEC 400 IM title in a time of 4:03.42. This was a significant improvement over her SEC Championships performance of 2014, where she wound up 4th in the event with a time of 4:07.91. Last year, Flickinger would finish 10th overall at the NCAA Championships in a time of 4:06.18, so she has already made the right steps to make sure this season is significantly faster as a whole than her sophomore year. Flickinger will also battle Henry in the 500 free event during these NCAA Championships, so we will see how much juice each is able to carry over from that event, which takes place the day prior to the 400 IM.
Another SEC threat to the national title is Georgia senior Amber McDermott, last year’s 6th-place finisher in the event. McDermott is positioned as the 7th-seeded swimmer coming into this year’s met, having clocked a 4:05.25 at the UGA Fall Invite in December. McDermott’s next-best performance this season was the 4:05.57 mark she earned at the 2015 SEC Championships, which resulted in a third-place finish behind in-conference rivals Flickinger and Henry. Unlike her competitors this year, McDermott has yet to dip beneath the 4:05-threshold so she will need to all her fortitude and tenacity to keep up with the top seeds in the event if she wants to go for the gold into his, her final year as a Bulldog.
On-the-rise Finish superstar Tanja Kylliainen (senior, University of Louisville) is also a huge potential player in this 400 IM event. Kylliainen took home this year’s ACC Title in a career-best 4:04.21 to top the field by over two full seconds for the commanding win, and was also named Louisville’s first ACC woman event winner across any sport since this is the school’s inaugural season in their new conference. With huge underwaters as her strength, as well as backstroke and butterfly as her lethal medley legs, the senior may just boost herself to the top of the A-Final to give the Cardinals its first individual women’s NCAA Championship title.
Kansas’ Chelsie Miller could’ve also gone in our top 8, but we picked her Big 12 foe Madisyn Cox based on Cox’s win at the Big 12 Championships a few weeks back. she typically holds serve pretty well from her conference meet to national meet.
With no mega-star like the ones that we’ve had in the last few years (DiRado, Leverenz, Beisel, Hosszu, Smit) that have made this race so good for so long, times might be a little depressed this year. At the same time, though, the title is wide-open, and the field is a very tight and competitive one.
TOP 8 PREDICTIONS
Dark Horse: Ohio State’s Lindsey Clary sits as the number 14 seed in the event, but the Buckeye had a phenomenal Big Ten’s, placing runner-up in a time of 4:08.07. That time hacked off almost two seconds from her pervious best of 4:09.87 clocked at the U.S. Winter Nationals just in December where she swam away with the National Title in the event. Remarkably at that meet, Clary was able to lay down some gutsy swims to drop over 5 seconds from her 4:15.01 entry time when all was said and done. With the right taper and the right mindset, the sophomore may just find herself in contention at this year’s NCAAs if she is able to put up another monster performance.