2015 WOMEN’S NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS
- NCAA record: 46.61 — Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace (Auburn) — 2/18/2012
- American record: 46.29 — Abbey Weitzeil (Canyons Aquatic Club) — 12/13/2014
- U.S. Open record: 46.29 — Abbey Weitzeil (Canyons Aquatic Club) — 12/13/2014
- 2014 NCAA Champion: Margo Geer, Arizona (47.10)
Between Katie Ledecky in the distance races and Abbey Weitzeil in the 100 free, half of the American records in women’s freestyle races are held by swimmers who have not yet reached college age. But you can bet that at least one name in this year’s NCAA 100 free field has her sights set on changing that ratio.
Stanford’s Simone Manuel is a legitimate challenger to Weitzeil’s current American and U.S. Open records. In fact, Manuel broke the American record and came within .01 of breaking Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace‘s NCAA record at the mid-season Art Adamson Invite just weeks before Weitzeil eventually lowered the national mark to 46.29.
Manuel had the luxury of mostly swimming right through the Pac-12 Championships, which means her best swimming should all be saved up for this week. Manuel has split 45 on a relay before, and some even feel she has the potential to go 45 from a flat start in the near future. Exactly how near that future is, we won’t know until this weekend’s action concludes.
While it would be a surprise for Manuel to lose this race, it wouldn’t be surprising if she was joined under 47 seconds. Her teammate Lia Neal is the second seed, sitting at 47.16 from Pac-12s. Neal is a former U.S. Olympian and last year’s NCAA runner-up in the event, so the spotlight clearly won’t be too big for her, and this event has the potential to be the key piece of a Stanford run at the top two overall teams, Cal and Georgia.
But outside of Neal, this event looks to have very high turnover compared to last year’s A final. 4 of the top 8 last season were seniors, Missy Franklin dropped the event in favor of the 200 back, and Stanford’s Maddy Schaefer retired abruptly last month, leaving just two returning championship finalists.
Neal is one, and Florida’s Natalie Hinds the other. Hinds was one of the first swimmers this year to really light things up, hitting some eyebrow-raising relay splits way back in October. Hinds is the third seed this season, just a tenth behind Neal and right on the cusp of a 46-second swim.
In the 2014 B final, Georgia’s Olivia Smoliga just touched out Wisconsin’s Ivy Martin for 9th place, and it looks like the two could be slated to rematch that battle from the championship heat in 2015. Martin had one of the most successful Big Ten meets in the conference’s history, winning all 7 races she swam and putting the Badger relay teams on her back four different times. Martin is seeded fourth heading into competition this week.
Smoliga, on the other hand, hasn’t quite been her typically-explosive self yet this season. She still comes in with the 7-seed, though, and Georgia as a unit really looks like they saved their big rest for the NCAA Championships. If Smoliga swims a lifetime-best, she’s nearly a lock for an A final spot, and a high one at that.
Texas A&M’s Beryl Gastaldello will be an interesting name to watch this week. The French import was all over the place at SECs, swimming anything and everything the Aggies needed her to. She didn’t get a chance to swim this race individually, though, instead taking advantage of the expanded 5-day meet format in the SEC to swim both the 100 fly and 100 back on opposite days. The NCAA lineup, though, makes that double tougher, and Gastaldello is dropping the backstroke to swim this event, where her leadoff split from the 400 free relay at SECs earns her the 5th seed.
A few more names to watch out for:
- Smoliga is Georgia’s top threat, but the Bulldogs are loaded in this race. If Smoliga falters, the defending champs could still get A final appearances out of Chantal van Landeghem and/or Maddie Locus.
- Cal’s Farida Osman came through in a big way at Pac-12s, and is finally starting to live up to the huge potential she brought to Berkeley as a prospect. The Egyptian national is seeded 8th and will need to replace big points vacated by Franklin if Cal wants to make a run to a team title.
- San Diego State sophomore Anika Apostalon was the headliner of the mid-major conferences last year, breaking out as a freshman and taking 15th in this race. With a year of experience under her belt, Apostalon comes in ranked 6th and is yet another sub-48 threat in this race.
Top 8 Picks
|6||Beryl Gastaldello||Texas A&M||47.59||47.59|
|7||Anika Apostalon||San Diego State||47.88||47.73|
Dark horse: Alyson Ackman, Penn State. Ackman was 12th overall last year, and has been riding the 48-second barrier. This could be the week she breaks through. Ackman was 48.01, 48.04 and 48.06 in different post-season swims last year, but really looks like she saved her rest for NCAAs this season. She’s got potential to move way up from her 23rd seed, and if she can smash through the 48.00 wall into a 47-mid, the Nittany Lion junior could find herself right in the thick of the A final.