2016 W. NCAA Picks: National Records At Stake In 200 Medley Relay

2016 WOMEN’S NCAA SWIMMING & DIVING CHAMPIONSHIPS

200 Medley Relay

  • NCAA record: 1:34.15 – Stanford – 2/24/16
  • American record: 1:34.15 – Stanford – 2/24/16
  • U.S. Open record: 1:34.15 – Stanford – 2/24/16
  • 2015 NCAA Champion: California – 1:35.15

The 200 medley relay is a fascinating mixture of storylines that should really center around a pair of rivalries from the Pac-12 and ACC.

Typically, we’d start any preview with Cal, the defending NCAA champs who returned all four legs from last year’s national championship relay. But the true favorites have to be the Stanford foursome that beat Cal at Pac-12s while setting new American and NCAA records.

Interestingly enough, Stanford actually had a faster time at NCAAs than Cal last year, but didn’t win the event. That’s because a lackluster prelims swim with an alternate lineup left Stanford outside of the top 8, so even though they had the meet’s fastest time in finals, the Cardinal couldn’t rise any higher than 9th overall.

That’s the Pac-12 showdown. Then there’s the ACC rivalry of Louisville vs Virginia. The Cardinals won the ACC title by a tenth and finished second at last year’s NCAA Championships, but Virginia was fourth last year and should have room to move up from their conference time this season.

Looking deeper into the individuals on each of those four teams shows that the top-level talent at each stroke is fairly spread out. Cal likely has the fastest backstroker (Rachel Bootsma) and freestyler (Farida Osman). Of the top four programs, Stanford’s Sarah Haase should rule the breaststroke, and Louisville’s Kelsi Worrell is the runaway top flyer.

But though Cal has the top opening and closing legs, they also have the biggest holes. The Golden Bears have struggled mightily through the breaststroke – based on last year’s results, they might be spotting the other top programs up to a full second on that split. Noemie Thomas is a good young butterflyer, but also comes in a bit behind Stanford’s Janet Hu and well behind Louisville’s Worrell.

Stanford is probably the most consistent through all four legs. Ally Howe might not have Bootsma’s 23-low speed on backstroke, but has already been 23.6 this year. Haase can more than make up the difference on Cal, Hu is good for a 22-second fly split and Lia Neal is maybe the only swimmer in the field who could challenge Osman on freestyle.

Worrell is the biggest difference-maker on an individual leg. Her unprecedented 21.9 fly split last year was basically a full second faster than anyone else in the field. Louisville is also great on breaststroke with Andee Cottrell, but doesn’t have an elite leadoff leg and their freestyle suffers because Worrell, also their top sprint freestyler, has to man the fly spot.

Virginia, meanwhile, has Courtney Bartholomewanother 23-second backstroker who could legitimately challenge Bootsma for the top split. The Cavaliers are consistent from there if not eye-popping on any single leg. Laura Simon can split 26-low on breast, Ellen Thomas is one of the rare 22-second flyers and Caitlin Cooper has stepped up nicely on the anchor leg. The question for Virginia is whether Bartholomew can provide her team clean water and whether the other three legs can parlay that advantage into splits that hold off the studs on each of the other three relays.

Not to be overlooked are the Indiana Hoosiers, champions of the Big Ten in this event. IU has a transcendent breaststroke leg in Lilly Kingwho became just the third 25-second breaststroker in history at conference. Relative to the rest of the field, they’ll have to improve their back and free legs a bit (getting closer to 23 on backstroke would help and a 21-second anchor is a must to hold off anyone in the top 4), but the Hoosiers are right on the brink of pushing that top group.

Also under 1:36 already this year are Tennessee and USC. The Volunteers were third overall last year, but lost their key piece in breaststroker Molly HannisThey’re quite a bit faster on the other three legs, but were almost a second and a half off Hannis’s 2015 split in winning the 2016 SEC title.

USC, meanwhile, gets a big bump after bringing back top-shelf flyer Kendyl Stewart from a one-semester redshirt. Stewart might be the best sprint flyer in the field outside of Worrell, and the Trojans have also improved their breaststroke leg drastically with freshman Riley Scott. They weren’t terribly far behind Stanford and Cal at Pac-12s, and could press towards the top 4 with an improved backstroke split from Hannah Weiss, who was a little off at Pac-12s but has 23-second talent.

Just a few of the other programs to watch out for: Georgia has a much-improved Olivia Smoligawho could dominate the back or free legs. Unfortunately, filling whichever leg she doesn’t take is an issue. Kylie Stewart is a capable backstroker, but swam fly on the relay at SECs. Redshirting Chantal van Landeghem is sorely missed on the free leg, and UGA needs to get under 22 on that split to contend.

Texas returns the last two legs off their 6th-place relay from a year ago, though their depth seems pretty pooled in the fly and free legs. Also keep an eye on a Mizzou team that was 7th last year and has upgraded both its back and breast legs despite losing star flyer Dani Barbiea. And Texas A&M should also be in the hunt – the Aggies can use the versatile Beryl Gastaldello almost anywhere, and have gotten great butterfly production out of Sarah Gibson.

 

Top 8 Predictions:

Pick Team Seed Time
1 Stanford 1:34.15
2 California 1:35.45
3 Louisville 1:35.43
4 Virginia 1:35.57
5 Indiana 1:35.73
6 Southern California 1:35.90
7 Tennessee 1:35.86
8 Texas 1:36.32

Dark Horse: Arizona comes in seeded lower than they should be at 13 – that’s because their relay DQ’d at Pac-12s on a false start. But the Wildcats have a younger, sprintier roster than they’ve had in awhile and should be outstanding in the final two legs. Though Annie Ochitwa was the early jumper at conference, she split 22.4 on fly and could still have one of the NCAA’s best splits in that stroke even if she adds a couple of tenths on a much safer start.

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Deraj

Teri, please put Kathleen Baker on the breaststroke legs! At least put her in for prelims to see what she can do.

Sean S

If they do that they might actually have a shot, I don’t know why they didn’t take a shot at PAC 12s with this.

Sparkle

I wonder if a relay of Bootsma/Baker/Osman/Bilquist would be optimal. It’s hard to tell without multiple splits, but teh difference between Osman and Thomas on fly might be bigger than Osman and Bilquist on free. As long as they get a decent breaststroke split, they have a shot.

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson just can’t stay away from the pool. A competitive career of almost two decades wasn’t enough for this Minnesotan, who continues to get his daily chlorine fix. A lifelong lover of writing, Jared now combines the two passions as Senior Reporter for SwimSwam.com, covering swimming at every level. He’s an …

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