2017 W. NCAA Picks: Manuel Closing In On 100 Free Trifecta

2018 WOMEN’S NCAA SWIMMING & DIVING CHAMPIONSHIPS

Women’s 100 Freestyle

Stanford senior Simone Manuel has been the best female 100 freestyler in the world over the past two years. Though that statement could be disputed, with both Campbell sisters faster than her in 2016 and Sarah Sjostrom quicker in 2017 (long course), it’s impossible to deny she’s the best when the pressure is on.

After crushing the American Record to win the NCAA title in her freshman year, the 21-year-old took a redshirt year to go win Olympic gold in the event, and followed up with another NCAA title and a World Championship title in 2017, both in American Record fashion. This season Manuel will go for the trifecta, a third national title, to close out her college career. Though she technically would still have another year of eligibility if she wanted, her coach Greg Meehan confirmed in February this would be her last college season.

The Texas native sits atop the college rankings with a season-best of 46.43 from the Pac-12 Championships, right in line with where she’s been leading into NCAAs her other two seasons. Last year, before unloading the fastest swim ever in 45.56, she was 46.36 at Pac-12s. An early season injury doesn’t appear to have held her back at all, and a third title in both this and the 50 free seems almost inevitable.

In Manuel’s two NCAA title swims she won the race by an average of about nine tenths, a massive margin in a 45-46 second race. However, this year, chances are the gap won’t be so big.

Though four of the next five highest finishers last year have all graduated, two women still pose a threat in this race: Abbey Weitzeil of Cal and Mallory Comerford of Louisville.

Weitzeil, who, like Manuel, took a redshirt year for the Olympics, had a relatively rough transition to college swimming in her freshman season.

Abbey Weitzeil, Cal (Tim Binning)

After being as fast as 46.29 in high school (which was the American Record until Manuel broke it in her freshman year), her fastest last year was 47.22 (in December) and managed just a 47.79 to take 8th in the NCAA final.

Her sophomore year has been a different story, going 46.95 in December at the Georgia Invite and then 46.63 at Pac-12s. Those times are trending in the right direction heading into NCAAs, as the 21-year-old sophomore looks to get under her high school bests. Despite being just two tenths off Manuel at Pac-12s, she’ll need a monster swim to challenge the defending champ.

Comerford, a junior with the Louisville Cardinals, has been on an upward trajectory since moving to Kentucky. After finishing a close 2nd in the 200 in her freshman year, the 20-year-old shocked everyone tying Katie Ledecky for the crown in 2017, and added a 3rd place finish in the 100 after opting to scratch the event the year prior.

Mallory Comerford 2017 USA Swimming World Team Trials (photo: Mike Lewis) 

She took her best time down a full two seconds in one season, from 48.3 to 46.3, and after proving to be one of the world’s best in the LC version of the event (placing 4th at Worlds), there’s no reason she shouldn’t be even faster this year and flirt with the 46-second barrier. She was 46.65 at the ACC Champs, one tenth better than a year ago.

Behind the perennial top three there is an abundance of women who will be fighting it out in the prelims for a berth in the championship final. There are seven who have been between 47.1 and 47.5 this season, with an additional six under 48 seconds.

Tennessee sophomore Erika Brown has had the biggest rise of anyone in the NCAA this season, going from being a relay-only swimmer in 2017 to coming in as the favorite to win an event (100 fly). Her sprint freestyles have also been sensational, and she comes in ranked 5th in the country at 47.17 in the 100 after coming into the year with a best of 48.46.

North Carolina’s Caroline Baldwin knocked a big chunk off her best early in the year in 47.14, and with an NCAA spot locked up likely didn’t taper much for ACCs where she was 47.44. The senior had her fastest swims last season at NCAAs, and if that holds true this year, she’s in the hunt for a top-4 spot.

Caroline Baldwin 2017 USA Swimming World Team Trials (photo: Mike Lewis)

Like Brown and Baldwin, seven of the next eight seeds have all swam their personal best times this year. Siobhan Haughey (47.20) of Michigan, Annie Ochitwa (47.58) of Missouri and Julie Meynen (47.61) of Auburn all did their PBs early in the year at the Invite meets in November/December, while Alyssa Tetzloff (47.39, Auburn), Liz Li (47.43, Ohio State), Claire Adams (47.46, Texas) and Veronica Burchill (47.66, Georgia) all did theirs recently at their respective Conference Championships. It will come down to who can peak at the right time.

The one swimmer seeded in the 6-13 range who hasn’t gone a best this season is Texas senior Rebecca Millard, who was less than a tenth off her NCAA best from last year (47.56) at Big Ten’s in 47.65. She was able to drop nearly four tenths from Big 12s to NCAAs last year, and if she does it again she could sneak into the A-final.

Along with Adams, both Amy Bilquist of Cal and Gabby DeLoof of Michigan will swim this event for the first time at NCAAs after usually doing the 200 back. Bilquist comes in with a season best of 47.79 after leading off the NCAA relay last year in 47.55, while DeLoof has gotten all the way down to 47.86 this season after coming into the year with an all-time best of 49.58. Both are outside shots at the A-final, but should be good bets to make it into the consols.

Adams and her teammate Rebecca Millard (12th seed @47.65, 11th at NCAAs last year) are both swimming only 2 individual events at the meet. Both are capable of getting into the final, and the Texas women had a very good taper at NCAAs last year, but for now, we only see room for one of the two in the final.

One big wildcard is Ohio State’s Liz Li. While she’s swum some very good 50s at the NCAA Championships, she’s struggled to hit best times in the 100 (last year at NCAAs, she was seeded at 47.50, but missed any final in 48.20). After skipping competition for the fall semester, she came back with a 47.43 at Big Tens – faster than she was last year, and a time worthy of an A-Final. But, she still has to prove that she can hit this 100 at NCAAs.

Two of the top-11 swimmers in the event this year have opted for another event on day 3, with USC’s Louise Hansson (8th, 47.41) and Stanford’s Janet Hu (11th, 47.57) swimming the 200 fly and 200 back respectively.

TOP-8 PREDICTIONS

Place Swimmer Team Season Best All-Time Best
1 Simone Manuel Stanford 46.43 45.56
2 Abbey Weitzeil Cal 46.63 46.29
3 Mallory Comerford Louisville 46.65 46.35
4 Erika Brown Tennessee 47.17 47.17
5 Caroline Baldwin North Carolina 47.14 47.14
6 Alyssa Tetzloff Auburn 47.39 47.39
7 Siobhan Haughey Michigan 47.20 47.20
8 Claire Adams Texas 47.46 47.46

Darkhorse: Texas A&M senior Béryl Gastaldello was absent at the SEC Championships due to illness, but was back in action over the weekend and will be a factor if she’s at 100%. She was an A-finalist last year (47.34), and comes in with a season best time of 47.77.

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Pvdh

3 under 46 this year? Simone maybe edging closer to 44?
Manuel 45.35
Comerford 45.98
Wietzel 46.04

Tammy Touchpad Error

Abbey will be a 45. Don’t think she can hold off Simone yet at the end of the 100, but that 50 is going to be very very fun to watch.

NormG

No chance Abbey goes 45, other than from a relay

Swimmer!

No chance? She went 46.2 in high school. That shows she is physically capable of coming close to 45. There’s obviously a chance she can do it

Hswimmer

Top 3 will be very close this year. Abbey is back on her game and Mal is just as good or better than last year. Simone is great as usual, but it will be harder this year since her injury. She’s a fighter though!

Ervin

Simone wins…looking like a real battle between Comerford and Wietzel for second. Also, looks like 3/4s of americas 4×100 relay this summer and in Toyko. I’ve said it before but, i think the Americans have a real shot against the Australian team, even with the aussies at full strength. Back to NCAA’s, I’ve been consistently puzzled with how Bilquist has been used at NCAA’s, but particularly this year. While she has put up monster splits on relays…she has failed to make the top 16 in the 50 the past 2 years(shes entered in that again)and the 100 is looking really loaded…i just dont get it. I’m not sure of the schedule of events but the 100/200 back and 200 free… Read more »

Swimmerj

Kind of agree… Bilquist consistently drops 1:42s on Cal’s 800 relays at taper meets

Hannah

I agree that she would excel at the 200 free but it is fairly close to the 100 back which may be why she chooses the 50 free instead as it is on day 2 where she has no other events. I’m not sure what the rational for Bilquist swimming the 100 free is, especially after she swam a very strong 200 back at Pac 12s, but I would guess it has something to do with maximizing relays

Yozhik

There is a good chance that all splits of American 400free relay team will be under 53 seconds . Australians may not have such a luxury. But if Cate Campbell delivers 51sec split the situation could be similar to 4×200 race where Katie Ledecky was a decisive factor in the team of good swimmers but not that good to make the team dominant.

Ervin

Yeah but i think we’re getting to the point were Americans can deliver 51sec splits too…Simone was very close, Mal is on the come up, and Abby is back in form..

ALEXANDER POP-OFF

There is no doubt that Cate will split 51. She could be below 51.5 this summer! Though I suspect she will lead off at Commies to see how close she can get to SS’ supersonic 51.7. I think Aus had a chance to have a really w two 52 and two 51 splits but missed that window. Shayna Jack will be splitting 52 shortly. Put Manuel on anchor and she will split 51.

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James formerly competed for the Laurentian Voyageurs in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in February of 2018, placing 11th at the OUA Championships in the 200 IM, and graduated with a bachelor's degree in economics in May. He …

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