2016 B1G Women’s Champs Fan Guide: Gophers At-Risk of Being Dethroned

B1G WOMEN

  • When: Wednesday, February 17th to Saturday, February 20th | Prelims 11am | Finals 6:30pm
  • Where: Canham Natatorium, Ann Arbor, MI (Eastern Time Zone)
  • Defending Champion: Minnesota Gophers
  • Live Results
  • Streaming: Big Ten Network
  • Championship Central: here

Four straight. The Minnesota Gophers have ruled the Big Ten for almost half a decade, but the stocks are rising in some other B1G schools this year, and that will certainly make things interesting as we head right into conference championships. No Kierra Smith this season for the Gophers, but freshman Rachel Munson has been solid thus far at the top breaststroke spot. Other first years, like elite backstroker Zoe Avestruz, have shored up the Gopher medleys and will contribute in a big way individually. They bring back distance-oriented stars Sam Harding and Brooke Zeiger, and Danielle Nack has taken the helm for the sprint core with Lauren Votava. On top of that, reigning NCAA diving champion in the 3m, Yu Zhou, looks to repeat as 1m and 3m champ at Big Tens this year.

Indiana, last year’s runner-up, is without top backstroker Brooklynn Snodgrass, but Miranda Tucker and Lilly King are two freshmen chock-full of talent to spice up the Hoosiers lineup. They can each A final in three individuals (200 IM and both breaststrokes), and that’s a ton of points in IU’s favor. The Hoosiers return defending 200 fly B1G champ Gia Dalesandro, and while their sprint free is weak again this year, Kennedy Goss and Haley Lips can put up strong times in shorter relays while contributing big-time in any free race 200 yards or more.

Indiana is improved from last year, but so is Michigan. Not only do they have a true star in the making in Siobhan Haughey, but the team is looking deep in a lot of events, though their fly and breast ranks are looking scarce. They just added Chinese national teamer Yirong Bi at the turn of the semester, who put up B cuts in the 200, 500, and 1650 free at a recent meet, assumedly untapered, and she will bring in a lot of individual points. In addition, the combo of her, Haughey, Gillian Ryan, and perhaps one of newcomers Gabby DeLoof or Becca Postoll should make an unstoppable 800 relay. Haughey can sprint, too, and Ali DeLoof and Clara Smiddy are a dynamic duo in the backstrokes and sprint freestyles. This is a dangerous looking team, but will Minnesota and Indiana’s strong diving presence keep them safe atop the Big Ten for another year?

The top is closing in together, and these three teams might come down to a pretty close battle on the last day. Wisconsin is going to have to fight hard to keep a strong Purdue team back this year, but for the most part, there doesn’t look to be any big movers from last year’s standings.

We also must note that this will be the first year that the Big Ten has expanded to score through 24th place, not just 16th. That’ll help out some of the lower tier teams without as many stars who can score in A and B finals.

SCHEDULE

Wednesday

200 Medley Relay
800 Free Relay

Thursday

200 Free Relay
500 Freestyle
200 Individual Medley
50 Freestyle
1-Meter Diving

Friday

400 Medley Relay
400 Individual Medley
100 Butterfly
200 Freestyle
100 Breaststroke
100 Backstroke
3-Meter Diving

Saturday

1650 Freestyle
200 Backstroke
100 Freestyle
200 Breaststroke
200 Butterfly
Platform Diving
400 Freestyle Relay

STARS

Illinois – Sam Stratford (sophomore IM-er and breaststroker) and Gabbie Stecker (junior freestyler) — Without a very strong freshman class to offset the departure of school record holder Alison Meng, Stratford and Stecker will be pulling most of the weight this year.

Indiana – Gia Dalesandro (junior butterflier and IM-er), Miranda Tucker (freshman breaststroker/IMer)  Kennedy Goss (sophomore freestyler and backstroker),  Lilly King (freshman breaststroker/IMer) — Goss is their strongest freestyle presence this year in 500 yards or less, Dalesandro is returning B1G 200 fly champ, and King/Tucker is easily the best freshman duo in the conference, and in early contention for the best breaststroke duo in the country.

IowaEmma Sougstad (junior breaststroker), Kelly McNamara (freshman butterflier) Olivia Kabacinski (senior sprinter), Calli Head (junior diver) — Sougstad is a fierce contender in the breaststrokes, and combines with Kabacinski for a solid 1-2 sprint free punch. Head is a two-time championship finalist in platform diving, and freshman McNamara has already broken the Iowa program record in the 100 fly before her championship taper.

MichiganClara Smiddy (sophomore backstroker)Ali DeLoof (senior sprinter)Gillian Ryan (sophomore distance freestyler), Siobhan Haughey (freshman freestyler/IMer), Yirong Bi (freshman freestyler) — This is the strongest Michigan team in a long time. Haughey and Yirong are huge first year additions, and Smiddy and Ryan lead a strong sophomore class. DeLoof looks ready for a huge championship season.

Michigan StateMadison Nowak (sophomore backstroker), Sarah Love (junior butterflier), Elizabeth Brown (senior IMer) — Nowak and Love have been strong thus far in the year, and Brown ranks in the top 25 in the 400 IM.

Minnesota – Brooke Zeiger (sophomore IMer), Lauren Votava (senior mid-distance freestyler), Sam Harding (senior distance freestyler), Danielle Nack (sophomore butterflier), Zoe Avestruz (freshman backstroker), Yu Zhou (sophomore diver) — Minnesota is still very deep in some events, and their medleys are going to be much stronger with Avestruz at the front. Zeiger and Yu might be the biggest individual scorers, while Nack and Votava will also be huge parts of multiple relays for the Gophers.

NebraskaTaryn Collura (senior sprinter), Jordan Ehly (sophomore breaststroker), Anna Filipcic (junior diver) — Collura is a top sprinter in the conference, and Ehly has performed well in her second season with the Huskers. Filipcic gives Nebraska a leg up with her diving prowess.

NorthwesternMary Warren (sophomore sprinter), Lacey Locke (junior backstroker), Annika Winsnes (junior sprinter) — Northwestern’s sprint core is their strength again this year, and Locke will be gunning for a championship final appearance in the 200 back.

Ohio StateZhesi Li (sophomore sprinter), Lindsey Clary (junior distance), Taylor Vargo (junior breaststroker) — Zhesi Li holds one of the only ‘A’ cuts already this year in the conference and is the 50 free favorite, while Clary beat out Florida’s Jess Thielmann in the 400 IM at the Ohio State Invitational. Vargo returns after placing 5th in the 200 breast last year at Big Tens.

Penn StateAlyson Ackman (senior sprinter), Monika Gonzalez-Hermosillo (freshman IMer), Melissa Rodriguez (senior breaststroker), Casey Francis (senior distance freestyler) — Ackman’s a perennial power in freestyle, and Rodriguez is another big scoring threat in the breaststrokes and probably the most solid piece to the Nittany Lions’ medley relays. Francis could contend for a conference crown in the mile, while Gonzalez-Hermosillo brings in immediate scoring impact in the IMs as a freshman.

Purdue – Emily Fogle (senior breaststroker), Alexa Davis (senior freestyler), Kaersten Meitz (sophomore distance freestyler) — Fogle blasted a lifetime best of 58.88 in the 100 breast at the Purdue Invitational in November, and her 200 should keep her in contention for a second B1G title if she can get past the IU freshmen, among others. Davis has been lights out at seemingly every single dual this year, and Meitz is a strong multi-event scorer for the Boilers.

Rutgers  – Joanna Wu (senior backstroker), Vera Koprikova (freshman backstroker), Francesca Stoppa (freshman butterflier) — Wu and freshman Koprikova are a solid 1-2 punch in the backstrokes for the Scarlet Knights, while Italian 2nd-semester newcomer Stoppa comes in with a LCM best in the 100 fly right under a minute.

WisconsinChase Kinney (junior sprinter), Danielle Valley (junior distance freestyler), Jessica Unicomb (freshman backstroker) — Kinney continues to develop as an elite sprinter, and Valley’s already been nearly two seconds better this year than she was at last year’s B1G Champs in her 500 free, in addition to putting up a collegiate best in the 1000 in January. Unicomb, hailing from Australia, gives the Badgers a backstroke weapon they’ve been looking for for quite some time, and she can also put up impressive sprint free times up through the 200.

SHOWDOWNS

100 BACKSTROKE 

Michigan’s Smiddy and DeLoof will duke this one out, but you can’t count out Indiana’s Marie Chamberlain. She’s developed into an elite backstroker, now boasting a new best of 51.87 from December. She hasn’t done much in yards yet this season, but Minnesota freshman Zoe Avestruz has been under 52 before, and you definitely can’t count her out.

100/200 BREASTSTROKE

Purdue’s Fogle is having a tremendous year, but rival IU has two freshmen that might crash her party in either or both breaststrokes. It wouldn’t be very surprising if Lilly King won Olympic Trials in the 100 breast, and her performance at the Austin Pro Swim Series in the 200m breast (sub 2:25) busts her reputation as solely a sprint breaststroker. She has to be a factor in both breaststrokes, as does her freshman teammate Miranda Tucker. Meanwhile, Iowa’s Emma Sougstad should be in the mix, too.

200 FREESTYLE

Alexa Davis has been on fire all year, but so has Michigan freshman Siobhan Haughey. Alyson Ackman was the 2014 champion but was unable to repeat last year. Kennedy Goss is capable of hanging with them, and Gillian Ryan’s 200 free LCM best time (after no new best times in that event since summer 2012!) suggests she might have a big year. Veterans will tangle with newcomers in competition that could meet again at NCAAs.

MEDLEY RELAYS

Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana are all in the mix here. Minnesota and Indiana each have very well-rounded relays, with Avestruz and King being the X factors for their respective teams. Michigan will have insane bookend speed with Smiddy up top and Haughey on the end (or DeLoof in either spot), but no real fly presence, while Wisconsin has strong bookend speed but no X factors in the middle. These four teams know how to race, though, and the battles will be exciting.

SELECTIONS

All things considered, we haven’t seen Minnesota at their best in the small pool this season. They have a big scoring presence in a multitude of events, and they still have a big diving boost. Having said that, Indiana is looking too strong to give the Gophers the go-ahead this year. They more than fixed their breaststroke hole last year with two elite new talents, and the medley relay as well as individual scoring benefits from that move is going to be very impactful.

Michigan is sure to come roaring up and make it very interesting for 2nd place with the kind of talent influx they had this year. While Wisconsin has recovered admirably after losing sprint star Ivy Martin, Purdue with their impressive senior class and diving boost should sneak up to 4th ahead of the Badgers.

Ohio State and Penn State have their title contenders in Zhesi Li and Alyson Ackman, respectively, and look to be next behind Wisconsin. Iowa’s big freshman class will help deepen their lineup, and Rutgers’ newcomers will make things interesting as they tangle with Northwestern and Nebraska.

Illinois will really hurt without Alison Meng, but Michigan State also graduated Shelby Lacy, their top swimmer last year. The Illini seem to have more depth, though, this year.

1. Indiana

2. Minnesota

3. Michigan

4. Purdue

5. Wisconsin

6. Ohio State

7. Penn State

8. Iowa

9. Rutgers

10. Northwestern

11. Nebraska

12. Illinois

13. Michigan State

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Go Blue

Didn’t Michigan beat Indiana in a meet earlier this season?

GO IU

I believe the IU Diver, Parratto, redshirted this year? If so, that will take away quite a few points. Should be a close one between the top 3 teams.

oldswimmer

Unfortunately, I do not think that Minnesota will place as high as second as they have lost many key swimmers to graduation and they do not seem to have a strong freshman class. They will probably place 5th or lower. Michigan and Indiana look great with Michigan having a slight edge plus Wisconsin should place third. Minnesota will be better next year!

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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