2016 W. NCAA Picks: Who Can Rise Above Crowded 200 Free Field?

2016 WOMEN’S NCAA SWIMMING & DIVING CHAMPIONSHIPS

200 FREESTYLE

  • NCAA record: 1:39.10 — Missy Franklin (Cal) — 3/20/2015
  • American record: 1:39.10 — Missy Franklin (Cal) — 3/20/2015
  • U.S. Open record: 1:39.10 — Missy Franklin (Cal) — 3/20/2015
  • 2015 NCAA Champion: Missy Franklin (Cal) 1:39.10

Missy Franklin had THE race of the meet last year– not only going under 1:40 in a 200 free, but going almost a full second under en route to new NCAA, American, and U.S. Open records. Sorry to break it to you, but nobody’s going to come close to that kind of time this year. A Franklin-Ledecky-Manuel showdown in this race at NCAAs is just not to be (though Ledecky v. Manuel NEXT year is a very real possibility).

Do not fear, though. The top three seeds are separated by just 47 hundredths, and it’s shaping up to be a big race. Stanford’s Lia Neal leads the way with a 1:42.50, followed closely by breakout Louisville freshman Mallory Comerford (1:42.79) and distance free favorite Leah Smith (1:42.97) of Virginia. Neal and Smith, while not at the same kind of celebrity level as Franklin and Ledecky, are two serious contenders for individual Olympic berths in the 100 and 400 frees, respectively, and favorites to make free relays. Neal is more of a sprinter, and Smith more of a 500-1000 range swimmer, but the two will meet in the middle for this race.

Comerford has seemingly come out of nowhere, but she’s shown throughout the season that she’s a sharp racer. Louisville has had a meteoric rise to elite NCAA relevance on the shoulders of Kelsi Worrell, and they’ve helped Comerford blossom into an incredibly powerful freestyle weapon. Don’t count her out because she’s a freshman and you might not have heard much about her.

Another freshman, USC’s Kirsten Vose, has also rocketed to relevance after a quick 1:43.20 lead-off on the Trojans’ conference title-winning 800 free relay. She wasn’t able to repeat her sub-1:44 performance in the individual 200 free, but she showed some serious speed in that relay lead-off. Her teammates Kasia Wilk (#11) and Chelsea Chenault (#15) are also raring to go after strong performances at Pac-12s.

The Georgia 500 free duo, Brittany Maclean and Hali Flickinger, are back to face off in the 200 free. Maclean is expected to final here, as she’s a fantastic racer and is back to her pre-injury form this year, though Flickinger is somewhat of a surprise here. The 400 IM runner-up in 2015, she’s chosen to scoot on over to this race where she comes in seeded fourth. Granted, a 1:43.19 puts her just tenths back of the top three, but she’s primarily been an IM’er throughout her collegiate career. Perhaps she’s focusing on free with Olympic aspirations in mind, as her long course 200 free is fast enough to put her in contention for the 800 free relay at Trials. Whatever it may be, her and Maclean are experienced stars who will be hard to knock out of the top 8.

Cincinnati junior Jacqueline Keire is seeded 7th with a best time of 1:43.58, and she comes in after winning a swim-off for the last spot in the B final last year. While she gained over three seconds in finals, Keire comes in over a second faster than she did last year, and this could be her year to break through to the top 8. Also looking to make waves for the first time on the national scene is Michigan freshman Siobhan Haughey, who is #6 with her 1:43.51 that took the Big Ten crown.

As is true in most all of the free races, there is a large Big Ten contingent seeded just outside of the top 8. Like in the 500, you have #9 Haley Lips, #10 Alexa Davis, and #17 Gillian Ryan, along with #16 Alyson Ackman and #18 Kennedy Goss.

TOP 8 PREDICTIONS

SWIMMER SCHOOL SEED BEST TIME
Lia Neal Stanford 1st – 1:42.50 1:42.50
Leah Smith Virginia 2nd – 1:42.97 1:42.97
Hali Flickinger Georgia 4th – 1:43.19 1:43.19
Mallory Comerford Louisville 3rd – 1:42.79 1:42.79
Siobhan Haughey Michigan 6th – 1:43.51 1:43.51
Brittany Maclean Georgia 8th– 1:43.64 1:43.20
Alexa Davis Purdue 10th — 1:44.21 1:44.21
Kirsten Vose USC 5th — 1:43.20 1:43.20

Dark Horse: Cal’s Elizabeth Pelton was a part of their 800 free relay national title last year. She split a 1:42.69, and has been as fast as 1:42.13 (from 2013 NCAAs). Her fastest time this year, though, is just 1:44.59. She was 1:43.44 at Pac-last year, so if she can just get back to where she was in 2015, she should get into this A final. Now, if she can repeat her best time, she could find herself with a national title. Lots of ifs though (that’s why she’s a dark horse!)

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FREEBEE

Lia will go break 142 –but I’m not predicting a win –I’d love to see a surprise upset by E Pelton her senior year (Lia will win the 100).

Ervin

Pelton didn’t race the 200 free at NCAA’s last year. She sawm it at pac12s and then dropped it for the 100back at NCAA’s. But I agree I hope she does well at this meet

Joel Lin

Smith wins the 200, goes 3 for 3 winning the 500 and 1,650 and is NCAA swimmer of the 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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