NCAA WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIPS
400 MEDLEY RELAY
- NCAA record: 3:27.51 — Stanford (DiRado, Olsen, Lee, Neal) — 3/20/14
- American record: 3:27.51 — Stanford (DiRado, Olsen, Lee, Neal) — 3/20/14
- U.S. Open record :3:27.51 — Stanford (DiRado, Olsen, Lee, Neal) — 3/20/14
- 2014 NCAA Champion: Stanford — 3:27.51 — 3/20/14
While Stanford couldn’t quite eclipse the NCAA, U.S. Open, and American records in the 200 medley relay, they got it done in the 400 medley, the first relay squad to ever break 3:28.00. This was a relay that looked completely different from prelims to finals. Here’s a look at comparative splits:
|Felicia Lee||51.61||Maya Dirado||51.42|
|Sarah Haase||59.01||Katie Olsen||58.27|
|Nicole Stafford||52.24||Felicia Lee||50.82|
|Maddy Schaefer||47.45||Lia Neal||47.00|
The Cardinal has options this year to do the same thing, if they so choose. While they will certainly miss the speed brought by now-graduated Felicia Lee and Maya Dirado, their big freshman class gives them plenty of options.
Ally Howe‘s best time in the 100 back is a 51.54 from last May. It’s a time she has yet to repeat in college, but she’s been as fast as 51.72, so consider Dirado’s backstroke spot more or less replaced. Katie Olsen hasn’t been stunning this year, but with Sarah Haase and freshman Heidi Poppe looking solid in the 100 breaststroke, the Cardinal shouldn’t have a problem getting a 58 split on the breaststroke leg again. While Janet Hu might not be able to replace Lee’s quick butterfly leg, she should at least be able to pop a 51. And, of course, Simone Manuel. She’s exploded for a sub-46 anchor before, and even if all of the other legs gain a couple tenths from last year, she should be at least a full second faster than Lia Neal was last year. Though they’ve only been 3:29.48 this season, those records are definitely threatened by this squad.
The usual suspects will be right with Stanford in this race. Virginia is the top seed (3:27.84), and they have one of, if not the, best front half relays in the country. The main reason for that is Courtney Bartholomew, who could nab Natalie Coughlin‘s 100 backstroke records if she hasn’t already in the individual 100 back. That isn’t to take anything away from Laura Simon, who split a 58.59 at ACCs on the breaststroke leg. She will be fighting for the fastest breaststroke split in the A final. Ellen Williamson and Ellen Thomas are very solid on the back half, but they don’t have the guaranteed elite anchor that teams like Stanford and #3 seed Cal have.
That anchor for the Golden Bears is Missy Franklin, who should throw down somewhere in the 46 mid range to finish up for Cal. Rachel Bootsma and Farida Osman will likely combine for two sub-51 splits, and coupled with Franklin, that might look like a pretty invincible relay. However, Cal’s breaststroke problem will be pretty evident in this relay. Marina Garcia is a 200 breaststroker, and while she should be able to be at least a 59 high, that isn’t going to cut it against the top breaststrokers in the country. Cal should be locks for the top three, but it doesn’t look like they’re going to have the speed this year to crack the top two.
Tennessee is a team that’s been around the last couple years thanks to stars Molly Hannis and Faith Johnson. Hannis split an incredible 57.38 on Tennessee’s NCAA title relay in 2013, but was just 59.56 in finals last year. This year, she’s been a 58.42 without a relay start, and she looks good for at least a 58 on this relay. Amanda Carner was 52.95 at SECs leading off this relay, which is a solid replacement for Lauren Solernou, who was 52.43 last year at NCAAs. Harper Bruens is a great butterflier, while Johnson anchored a 47.65 at SECs. This is a relay that can be dangerous, especially if Hannis can repeat her 2013 ferocity.
A couple of midwest teams in Louisville and Missouri will be battling with perennial SEC powers Georgia and Texas A&M to stay afloat in the A final. Louisville, seeded in 5th with a 3:31.58, is riding on an eye-popping 49.89 butterfly split from Kelsi Worrell at the ACC Championships. Missouri, had they not been disqualified, would have been on the brink of the B final last year, but are coming in with the 6th fastest time in the country. Butterflier Dani Barbiea has looked good all season, and the addition of freshman Hannah Stevens provides a solid backstroke leg for the Tigers.
Georgia returns Lauren Harrington and Olivia Smoliga from last year’s 4th place relay, although Smoliga has been off all year. The graduation of Melanie Margalis really hurts, as she was 58.56 in finals last year, and replacement Annie Zhu was just 1:01.42 at SECs. Chantal van Landeghem should fill Shannon Vreeland‘s shoes nicely, but even if Smoliga performs (or they sub in Kylie Stewart), their breaststroke situation isn’t looking too sharp. Texas A&M’s medley looks very different without Breeja Larson, although the addition of Beryl Gastaldello gives them options– she can swim back, fly, or free for the Aggies and put down incredible splits in each. Sammie Bosma is a very strong anchor, though, and Laura Norman, a freshman, has her work cut out for her on the backstroke leg. The Aggies have four breaststrokers coming in between 59.68 and 59.93 individually, and they can choose to switch out between prelims and finals.
Four teams to watch, seeded 9-12, are USC, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Texas. The Trojans have Kendyl Stewart on the fly leg with an emerging backstroker in freshman Hannah Weiss to start things off, while Andrea Kropp is coming into her own. As for the anchor leg, USC has options, between Kasia Wilk, Evan Swenson, and Chelsea Chenault. Wisconsin’s Ivy Martin should throw down a wild split either on fly or free, but she’ll have to be fast enough to make up for weaker back and breast legs. Michigan’s Ali DeLoof and Zoe Mattingly have plenty of NCAA experience, and will look for newcomers Clara Smiddy and Emily Kopas to hold things down for the Wolverines. Finally, Texas’ Gretchen Jaques is one of the best breaststrokers in the nation, and it will be interesting to see if they can put together a strong relay around her.
TOP 8 PREDICTIONS
Dark Horses: Florida. They’ve only put up the 22nd fastest time in the country, but Natalie Hinds is pretty much guaranteed to throw down a great fly split. While Sinead Russell being out hurts their chances, Theresa Michalak and Amelia Maughan will be wildcards at their first NCAAs. Maughan has a best of 55.36 long course in the 100m free, splitting a 48.95 on the end of their relay at SECs. Michalak’s breaststroke was only 1:00.69, but Gregg Troy’s taper has worked for Florida in the past. Watch out for the Gators.