2017 W. NCAA 1650 Free Preview: Ledecky Could Crack 15:00



Katie Ledecky set all of the big records in November, and while she didn’t swim this race at Pac 12s, she could lose her cap and goggles and swim against a current and would still blow out the field in this race at NCAAs. Her race will be against the 15-minute mark, and we will likely see the first woman under that barrier this weekend as long as Ledecky is at the pool and behind the blocks when the race starts.

Defending champion Leah Smith of Virginia is almost a pool length ahead of the next best competitor (12.51 seconds), and she’s the solid favorite for 2nd right now. Smith has been the distance queen of the NCAA prior to Ledecky’s arrival, and she’ll look to better her lifetime best of 15:25.30 which was done at ACCs in 2016.

Brooke Zeiger has been 15:44.00 this year, which currently stands as the Big Ten conference record, but she didn’t swim at Big Tens due to a “medical issue” which has not been identified. Read more about Zeiger here. If she is ready to race at NCAAs, she should be vying for third; if not, she may drop out of the top 8 altogether. Her Big Ten foes G Ryan and Rose Bi of Michigan are two competitors who will look to lead the chase pack behind Ledecky and Smith. Ryan (15:44.93) broke the 500 free B1G record this season already, while Bi returns after finishing 3rd in this event at the 2016 NCAA Champs.

Freshmen standouts Megan Byrnes of Stanford and Becca Mann of USC will search for a spot in the top 8, as Byrnes has pushed well past her high school bests at Stanford and Mann is working to return to form after a back injury derailed her summer at the Olympic Trials.

Cierra Runge, who popped up a couple years back as the next U.S. distance star to follow Ledecky (Leah Smith has assumed that role of late), went out of focus and left Cal after her big freshman year. She resurfaced with a huge 200 free at OTs to make the U.S. 800 free relay in Rio, and has done well with her new team, the Wisconsin Badgers. Runge’s teammate Danielle Valley, who also transferred to UW, sits as the 9th seed right behind Mann. Valley has had a lot of trouble repeating her times from 2014 and earlier, but her 15:53.16 from Big Tens was her best time and first time under 16 minutes in three years.

NC State’s Hannah Moore and Ohio State’s Lindsey Clary both scored in the top 8 last year and come in as 16- and 11-seeds. Coming in on fire is Auburn senior Ashley Neidigh. She won the SEC title in this race in February with a 9th-ranked 15:56.95, which is light-years ahead of where she was last year. In 2016, she was unable to break 16:10– things are looking up for her this year, however, and she’s a prime candidate to take a spot in the top 8.


1 Katie Ledecky Stanford 15:03.92 (#1) 15:03.92
2 Leah Smith Virginia 15:31.49 (#2) 15:25.30
3 Cierra Runge Wisconsin 15:51.72 (#6) 15:40.17
4 Megan Byrnes Stanford 15:47.62 (#5) 15:47.62
5 Rose Bi Michigan 15:51.94 (#7) 15:45.26
6 G Ryan Michigan 15:44.93 (#4) 15:44.93
7 Danielle Valley Wisconsin 15:53.16 (#9) 15:53.16
8 Hannah Moore NC State 16:00.23 (#15) 15:47.20

Dark Horse: Valerie Gruest Slowing (Northwestern). Gruest Slowing is a freshman from NU who represented Guatemala at the 2016 Olympics. She’s been on a tear this year, and has come close to breaking 16 minutes twice this season.

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Erica Lopez
6 years ago

How can I watch the 1650 tonight?

6 years ago

I can’t believe I’m so excited for the 1650. Takes me back 40 years to the Goodell, Holland, Demont, Shaw, and Hackett days. And this time, it’s a woman who is showing what phenomenal endurance and human performance is all about.

6 years ago

Sorry can you change my username on my last comment to Swimgeekgirl. Sorry.

6 years ago

Isn’t it kinda of crazy to think that it’s possible for Ledecky to actually having an off season, but since she is so fast, we don’t even realize. After all, she hasn’t done a full tapered short course race in forever, and conversion utilities aren’t exactly accurate. Maybe she actually is fast enough to break 14:45….

I don’t think that is true, but that’s crazy to think.

6 years ago

Craziest thing about Ledecky in my mind is that she could win the 500 and Mile without tapering. I really believe she could win both during a hard load of training. Have we EVER seen a male who could win without fully tapering, in any event- let alone 2?????

Reply to  YoungFish11
6 years ago

Possibly Murphy in the 200 back, 100 is a little bit of a stretch. Maybe Dressel in 50 free?

6 years ago

Let’s hope that the TV coverage shows the entire race and doesn’t cut away after 4 minutes then come back after 12-13 minutes like they so often seem to do.

6 years ago

The real question is: what’s more likely – Katie Ledecky breaks 15:00 or ESPN cuts the feed in the middle of the race? Both seem like such sure bets, so it’s tough to pick one.

Reply to  Barry
6 years ago

I mean, it’s a distance race AND it’s a female sporting event, so yeah, it is unfortunately very likely that ESPN will cut away from what is likely to be a landmark swim.

6 years ago

I just don’t see how she can keep getting faster. I think this year is a big change for her so I won’t be surprised to see her a little off of Rio-Caliber performances.

Reply to  Bayliss
6 years ago

Sure, it will happen one day and there will be no new records. Let’s hope this day hasn’t come yet. And, yes her college races are not by far of Rio Caliber. So good chances are that NCAA and SCY American records will be broken starting tomorrow.

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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