2015 W. NCAA Picks: Tight Race Between Stanford, Cal, and Tennessee in the 200 Medley Relay

2015 WOMEN’S NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS

200 MEDLEY RELAY

  • NCAA Record: 1:34.24 — Cal (Tran, Leverenz, Fotsch, Jensen) — 3/16/12
  • U.S. Record: 1:34.24 — Cal (Tran, Leverenz, Fotsch, Jensen) — 3/16/12
  • American Record: 1:34.24 — Cal (Tran, Leverenz, Fotsch, Jensen) — 3/16/12
  • 2014 NCAA Champions: Stanford (Lee, Olsen, Stafford, Schaefer) — 3/21/14

Stanford was an incredibly deep and explosive relay team last year, and they return all but Felicia Lee and Maddy Schaefer from last year’s title-winning relay. Freshman Ally Howe has been solid this year leading off, with another freshman, Janet Hu, posting sub-23 splits at the Art Adamson Invite as well as at the Pac 12 Championships to position herself as one of the best fly legs in the country. Simone Manuel has potential to drop a sub-21 split indefinitely, that is, if she’s on the relay. Lia Neal would be a good option for anchor, seeing as it may be more beneficial for team scoring to put Manuel on the 800 free relay. Regardless, Stanford has plenty to choose from when it comes to breaststroke. Sarah Haase was a 26.77 at last year’s NCAA Champs, and split a 26.36 at Pac 12s. Most impressive, however, was freshman Heidi Poppe, who rocked a 26.29 split. It’ll be up to Coach Greg Meehan to figure out which one has more firepower at NCAAs, but either way, they might have the best breaststroke split of the field.

The Tennesee Volunteers are seeded just one hundredth behind Stanford at 1:35.31, and they also return all of their relay legs but their backstroker, Lauren Solernou, who was very solid in 24.11.  Anna DeMonte was just 25.11 leading off the SEC relay, but she was followed by Molly Hannis (26.06), Harper Bruens (22.61) and Faith Johnson (21.53). That’s a combo you don’t want to mess with. Regardless of whether or not DeMonte can break 25, the Vols will be a serious threat.

The top seed, however, is California. Coming in at 1:35.25 this season, just barely ahead of Stanford and Tennessee, the Golden Bears got a 21.19 anchor leg from Farida Osman coupled with a 23.59 lead off from Rachel Bootsma. Bootsma has been looking great this year, and it would be no surprise her to get Cal out to a sizable lead over Tennessee and Stanford (and probably most other teams save for Georgia, who should get a 23 lead off from either Olivia Smoliga or Kylie Stewart). Cal’s breaststroke problem is least amplified in the shorter of the medley relays, but without a guaranteed 26, they will need Noemie Thomas and Osman to both repeat their Pac 12 performances if they want to hold off the back halves of Stanford and Tennessee.

Florida and Texas were hit with some graduations that took half of each of their relays, and with Sinead Russell unable to compete for the Gators, neither team looks very good for the A final. While both placed top 8 last year, teams like Virginia, USC, Texas A&M, and Louisville will look to either repeat in the A final or get themselves into it.

Virginia has a pretty fab four, between Courtney BartholomewLaura SimonEllen Williamson, and Ellen Thomas, don’t be surprised to see each of them in at least one A final, if not taking titles. They were 7th last year, but they should be able to move up, and they are the 4th seed at 1:35.88.

The USC Trojans are back in business with a bona fide backstroker, Hannah Weiss, joining the ranks as a freshman. While she did slip on her start at Pac 12s (she is much better than a 26), she was a 24.85 at the Texas Invite, a meet that the Trojans seem to train through every season. That backstroke slot being filled ensures that 2014 US National Champion in the 100 fly Kendyl Stewart can focus solely on her fly leg, after she had to be moved around to backstroke last year. Andrea Kropp is having the best breaststroke season of her life, and Kasia Wilk is an almost certain sub-22 anchor. They could be a dangerous team if they can put all the pieces together come NCAAs.

Texas A&M has always been able to put together a solid medley around breaststroke weapon Breeja Larson. Now that she’s graduated, though, their strongest leg would lie in the hands of freshman Beryl Gastaldello. The French first year blasted a 50.87 in the 100 fly along with a 22.46 fly split on the Aggies’ 2nd place SEC relay. Sammie Bosma was solid as anchor (21.57), as was Sycerika McMahon in the breast (27.16), while Kelli Benjamin led off in a slightly less impressive 25.03. The Aggies have plenty of time after this year to build around such a dynamic sprinter like Gastaldello, but they certainly have the depth to make a top 8 run this year.

Louisville has a butterfly weapon of their own in Kelsi Worrell, who exploded for a 22.34 split on the Cardinals’ 2nd place ACC relay. They got a 26.90 from Andrea Cottrell on breaststroke, and had a nice 24.88 lead off from Tanja Kylliainen, who is better known for more grueling races like the 400 IM and 200 fly. Anchor duties went to Andrea Kneppers, who split a 22.18. The Cards have what it takes, but they’ll need Kneppers to be quicker or they might get knocked out of the top 8.

The last three teams under 1:37 are Auburn, Wisconsin, and Georgia. The Tigers and Bulldogs have great bookend speed– Vitarius and Purcell for Auburn, Smoliga and van Landeghem for Georgia– but they both lack breaststroke speed and don’t have enough butterfly power to make up for that. Wisconsin also has a breaststroke problem, but they do have Ivy Martin, who was pretty legit on the fly leg (22.66) with sophomore Chase Kinney providing a nice 21.77 anchor. The Badgers are hot-hot-hot coming off of a huge Big Ten meet, where they won every relay but the 800 free relay. Even more good news for them is the emergence of sophomore Dana Grindall, who split a 51.97 fly leg on the Badgers’ 400 medley relay. She is likely able to get down to 23 low or better, and they could switch Martin to the free leg, which would further bolster that relay.

Georgia does not have the breaststroke security that was granted by Melanie Margalis in past years, and Olivia Smoliga and Lauren Harrington weren’t impressive enough on the backstroke and fly legs to put them into top 8 contention. If the Bulldogs want to crack the A final, Smoliga needs to return to her 23 mid form from last year in the lead off leg and Harrington has to drop a few tenths, unless Annie Zhu can make big improvements over the next week and a half.

TOP 8 PREDICTIONS

Team Seed
California 1:35.25
Stanford 1:35.30
Tennessee 1:35.31
Virginia 1:35.88
USC 1:35.94
Texas A&M 1:36.22
Louisville 1:36.30
Wisconsin 1:36.82

Dark Horses: UCLA. Linnea Mack is coming into her own and should be able to put up a 21 mid anchor.  Allison Wine was a 27.0 breaststroke at Pac 12s, Madison White was under 25 in the backstroke, while senior Noelle Tarazona was just 23.7 on the fly leg. They’re seeded with a 1:37.17 back at 14th.

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SwimminIsGood

Hello Karl…do you think Manuel will actually be on this relay? She wasn’t at Pac12s, and it would seem she’d be swimming on the other 4. Neal as the anchor at NCAAs, like at Pac12?

Sparkle

I think Manuel sits this one out too. She’s more valuable in the other 4 for Stanford. This is where they hurts the most from the loss of Schaeffer. She was much better at the 50 than Neal

Ervin

Im Manuel is on this relay Standford has a shot at winning this event…they have no shot at the 800 free relay even with her on it.

Ervin

*if

Georgia needs some points in these short relays… this is where Cal and Stanford have a big advantage in the team battle.

calswimfan

Georgia will find their way to top 8. Id be surprised if they didnt.

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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