2015 WOMEN’S NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS
- NCAA Record: 50.01 – Natalie Coughlin, 03/23/2002
- US Open Record: 50.01 – Natalie Coughlin, 03/23/2002
- American Record: 50.01 – Natalie Coughlin, 03/23/3002
- 2014 Champion: 50.89 – Felicia Lee, Stanford (graduated)
Last year’s runner-up is this year’s favorite, as the University of Louisville’s Kelsi Worrell is looking to capitalize on her bullet train of speed she has had in this event leading up to the NCAA Championships meet. Worrell crushed a suffocating 50.17 swim at the women’s ACC Championships to win the title and come closer than any woman in recent history to legendary Natalie Coughlin’s seemingly invincible record from 2002. Worrell’s ACC title-winning time already surpassed the 51.09 she clocked at last year’s NCAAs to give her the second-place finish behind the now-graduated Stanford senior Felicia Lee. The ACCs was also one of two meets in which Worrell dipped under 51.0, having clocked a 50.91 to win the U.S. Winter Nationals 100 fly title. It is absolutely within the realm of logical to say that Coughlin’s record is within reach for this junior Louisville swimmer.
As much as Worrell seems primed to win, however, it is certainly not a done deal, as she will have red hot Texas A&M freshman Beryl Gastaldello right on her heels. Gastaldello is coming off a monster SEC Championships meet, where the Aggie wound up third in the 50 free, second in the 100 back, and swam away with the 100 fly conference title in a time of 50.87. Prior to the SECs, Gastaldello’s fastest time was the 52.69 she earned at the Art Adamson Invitational back in November. Does she have what it takes to shave off even more time en route to an NCAA title? Can she repeat a sub-51 performance when it counts to take down Worrell? These are the questions.
Another stellar SEC athlete is ready to pave her own way to the podium is Worrell’s blue grass state rival, Kentucky’s Christina Bechtel. Narrowly finishing second place to Gastaldello at the SECs, Bechtel registered a swift 51.04 to give her the third best time in the country and set her up to be among the favorites to take the title at the big show. Bechtel has made major strides over her performance last year where she came in 2nd place in the SECs (51.69) and failed to even make it into the finals with her 19th-place result (52.36) at the NCAAs. With Bechtel being a senior, competing at her final NCAAs may infuse her with extra motivation to make her collegiate mark before graduating. This could be her year to break-out and go for it, but she will need to have the best performance of her career to do so.
USC’s Kendyl Stewart and Cal’s Farida Osman are seeded 4th and 5th, but these competitors’ seed times are only 4/100 apart. Stewart’s 51.10 earned her the PAC-12 title this year, with Osman’s 51.14 falling just short to give her conference runner-up status, but both were the only swimmers to earn NCAA automatic qualifying times out of both their prelims and finals swims. Osman is reaching the women’s final for the second consecutive year, as she finished in 8th place overall at last year’s NCAA in a slower-than-replims time of 52.25. As a sophomore, Stewart failed to make the final, settling for 18th out of the prelims in a time of 52.35. Both women have been under the 52.0 threshold multiple times this season, but there is a big jump between being sub-52 and being sub-51, which is Worrell and Gastaldello territory. It is certainly possible with a giant swim on either the Trojan’s or the Bear’s part, but they would need to drop almost a full second from their best times ever to be in contention with the top two, assuming Worrell and Gastaldello bring their A-game.
Rounding out the top 8 spots are Danielle Barbiea (Missouri) with a seed time of 51.51, followed by 7th-seed and 8th seeds Samantha Corea from Denver and Natalie Hinds from Florida, who hold the identical 51.70 seed time. Barbiea was one of the first women overall this season to reach an NCAA qualifying standard back in the November when she hammered out a 51.51, but has not been as fast since, winding up just 9th at this year’s SEC Championship. To be fair, few of the Missouri swimmers performed outstandingly as a whole at that meet, so there is the potential for a rested and tapered Barbiea to do more damage than she has been able to do thus far this championships season.
Also keep an eye on SMU sophomore Marne Erasmus. She snuck up on the country and took 3rd at NCAA’s last year after joining the Mustangs mid-season. This year, with a full season to peak and taper, she’s not as fast coming in to the meet, but that could be by design as much as by accident. Overall, we expect this year’s meet to be much faster than last year’s in this event, but if Erasmus can get into the final, she showed the ability in 2014 to step up in the evening with big drops.
We’ve also got Cal’s Rachel Bootsma in our top 8. After struggling last year as a sophomore, Bootsma has bounced back as a junior and has momentum going into NCAA’s. She appears to have regained the form of her freshman season, where she placed 2nd in this race at NCAA’s. This race is on the front-end of her 100 fly/100 back double.
|2||Beryl Gastaldello||Texas A&M||50.87||50.87|
Dark Horse: Janet Hu (Stanford). The freshman has a seed time of 51.70, which has her seeded 14th. Hu finished 5th within the very competitive PAC-12 conference at the championships, where she clocked a 51.93. She has been progressively dropping time throughout the season and, with a strong Cardinal contingent surrounding her, Hu may just be fired up enough to pull off a stunning freshman swim.