2015 W. NCAA Picks: Stanford Eyeing Yet Another American Record in the 400 Free Relay

NCAA WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIPS

400 FREESTYLE RELAY

  • NCAA record: 3:09.40 — Georgia (Vreeland, van Landeghem, Schmitt, Romano) — 3/23/2013
  • American record: 3:10.63 — Arizona (Lafferty, Geer, Flederbach, Drake) — 3/23/2013
  • U.S. Open record: 3:09.40 — Georgia (Vreeland, van Landeghem, Schmitt, Romano) — 3/23/2013
  • 2014 NCAA Champion: Stanford (Schaefer, Lee, Dirado, Neal) — 3:10.83 — 3/22/2014

Nearly breaking yet another relay record last year was Stanford, who split 47s across the board to come back on an Arizona team who was untouchable in prelims. Only Lia Neal returns from last year’s relay, but  as the story has been, the freshmen in Palo Alto are killing it of late.

Following Neal’s 47.55 lead off at Pac 12s were Janet Hu (48.00), Ally Howe (48.58), and Simone Manuel (46.56). That combines for a 3:10.69, coming very close to the American record, and not too far off of the U.S. Open and NCAA record, set by a pretty all-star cast from Georgia. Considering Neal was a 47.16 at Pac 12s in the individual 100, and Manuel split the magic 45.81 at the Art Adamson Invite, that’s a combined 1.14 second drop, putting them at a 3:09.54. It’s a lot of wishful thinking, but this is a relay stocked with underclassmen, and if they can’t get that NCAA mark this year, they’ve got more time to try.

Right behind the Cardinal is another usual suspect in California. With Missy Franklin and Farida Osman on this relay, the Golden Bears will be keeping things close with their Bay Area rival. The 2nd seed comes in at 3:11.15 from the Georgia Invitational, where they won the event with 47 splits from Franklin, Osman, and Elizabeth Pelton, as well as a 48.15 from Camille Cheng. Stanford and Cal are on a level of their own, with the only relays to break 3:12 this season.

The next tier belongs to the Georgia Bulldogs and the Wisconsin Badgers, two teams that have snuck by the 3:13 mark. The next best time after these two is Florida at 3:14.12. Georgia returns Chantal van Landeghem from their NCAA record relay in 2013, while Maddie Locus and Olivia Smoliga are almost surefire 47 splits. Their 4th leg on their title winning relay at SECs was Lauren Harrington, who was a 48.49, which is pretty solid considering the speed the other three legs bring. Wisconsin lopped two seconds from their seed time in prelims of NCAAs last year, splitting 48s across the board, but fell off about a second in finals to finish 8th. Nevertheless, they come in almost three seconds faster than their seed time last year, thanks in part to a 47.35 from Ivy Martin and a 47.94 from Aja van HoutAnnie Tamblyn did well replacing Rebecka Palm with a 48.60 to anchor the Big Ten title-winning relay. Sophomore Chase Kinney led off in 49.07, just off of her life time best. Georgia always seems to hit their taper at NCAAs, but Martin definitely seems capable of dropping a 46 split, and Wisconsin could figure themselves in the top three in Martin’s final NCAAs.

Provided there are no DQs, missed tapers, or other big issues for these teams, the top four seems pretty safe where they are. The next nine relays, however, have posted times between 3:14.1 and 3:15.5. It should be very tight between the bottom of the A final and the top of the B final, forcing teams to put forth their best relay in prelims just to make it to the top.

Florida (3:14.12) has weapon Natalie Hinds ready to pounce. She was impressive at SECs with a 47.31 flat start, and she’s split under 47 with a flying start before. Ashlee Linn put up a really solid 200 free on Florida’s 800 relay at SECs, so expect big things from her along with freshman Amelia Maughan. The Gators might need to find another anchor, though, as Lindsey McKnight was just 49.52 with a flying start. Just a tenth behind them is USC, which was much more consistent between all four legs. Kasia WilkEvan Swenson, and Kendyl Stewart each split 48s, while the Trojans were brought home in a 47.98 by Chelsea Chenault. These two teams finished 6th and 7th last year, and both have dealt pretty well with graduations. While neither team has enough power to challenge the top four, they each have lots of NCAA experience and will look to get back into the A final again.

Tied with the 7th fastest time this year of 3:14.57 are Texas A&M and NC State. The Aggies were helped by a 47.59 lead-off from freshman standout Beryl Gastaldello. They got a 49.0 out of freshman Kristin Malone and a 48.56 from anchor Sammie Bosma (who should be faster at NCAAs), but Lili Ibañez was  only 49.38. The Mexican multi-event national record holder was a 47.74 anchoring the Aggies’ 400 medley relay last year in prelims, and she’ll have to put up at least a 48 mid if Texas A&M wants to safely get into this A final. While NC State may be better known for their men’s meteorically-rising program, the Wolfpack women have a very talented team themselves. They return all of their members from last year’s 11th place relay, including Alexia Zevnik and Riki Bonnema, two studs who were both 48 lows at ACCs (Zevnik led off). The Wolfpack relay is very consistent, but without an elite sprinter to hammer down a great leg, some other teams might be able to get by them.

Two teams just outside of the top eight, Michigan and Virginia, look very dangerous to knock some teams out of the A final. Michigan, powered largely by a big freshman class, returns sprinter Ali DeLoof to their relay from last year, and she’s continued to improve as a junior. DeLoof threw down a 47.78 on the 2nd leg of the Wolverines’ relay, and while it wasn’t enough to catch the Badgers at the Big Ten Champs, it was a great split on its own. Freshman distance specialist Gillian Ryan posted a 48.85 anchor leg, flexing her sprint muscles, and they got 49 lows from underclassmen Clara Smiddy and Claudia Goswell. Virginia got 48 lows from Ellen Thomas and Courtney Bartholomew, but they’ll need more from Kaitlyn Jones (49.75 at ACCs leading off) and Caitlin Cooper (49.04 third leg), just as Michigan will need more from Smiddy and Goswell, if they want to surprise the top 8.

TOP 8 PREDICTIONS

Team Seed
Stanford 3:10.69
Cal 3:11.15
Georgia 3:12.72
Wisconsin 3:12.96
USC 3:14.24
Florida 3:14.12
Texas A&M 3:14.57
Virginia 3:15.25

Dark Horses: Louisville (3:15.90). Kelsi Worrell is the difference maker for the Cardinals, who split a 47.39 at ACCs. They got matching 49.23’s from lead off Andrea Kneppers and anchor Tanja Kylliainen, but 3rd leg Ashley LeClair was just 50.05. Sophomore Abbie Houck was a touch faster (49.81) anchoring Louisville’s 400 medley relay at ACCs, and if whoever that 4th leg ends up being can pull off a 49 mid at least, it might be enough to get the Cards into the top 8 after finishing just 21st last year. They have put down the 15th fastest time this season.

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About Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon studied sociology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, graduating in May of 2018. He began swimming on a club team in first grade and swam four years for Wesleyan.

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