2018 U.S. Nationals Preview: Drabot, Meitz Looking to Surge in 400 FR

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  • Top 1-4 to 2018 Pan Pacific Championships
  • Top 2-6 juniors to 2018 Junior Pan Pacs
  • Top 1-2 (from Nationals + Pan Pacs) to 2019 World Championships
  • 1-2 more to 2019 World University Games
  • 1-2 more to 2019 Pan American Games

It might feel redundant to start this one out as we usually do — Katie Ledecky is going to run away with it, and then Leah Smith will probably be well ahead for 2nd. But, based on the racing done since last summer, that looks like it may very well be the case again.

Ledecky has been extremely fast this season – 3:57.94, to be exact – and her insane 1500 free from the Indy PSS tells us that she’s already elevated her game since going professional. After a stagnant 2017 (and it feels utterly wrong to write that word regarding her performances, but while she was well ahead of the rest of the world in the 400 free last summer, she was well off of her best) she has shot right back up to the level we’re used to.

It’s no surprise that Ledecky won’t have to do anything more than her Indy time to sail through to qualifying for Pan Pacs, but she has really been on fire since finishing up at Stanford. Meanwhile, Smith has been as fast as 4:04.72 this year, done just the other day at the Santa Clara PSS, which is good for 6th in the world rankings. Smith is a silver medal threat in this event for Pan Pacs, so any other competitor looking to snag a spot on the team in this race is going to have to pull out a big drop.

Ledecky’s Stanford teammate Katie Drabot has grown into her role as a do-everything swimmer on the Cardinal lineup, but her 500 free really took off this year. Taking 2nd behind Ledecky at NCAAs with a very strong 4:34.86. She’s been 4:08.29 this year, already in the world’s top 25, which is a good three seconds faster than she went at Nationals last summer. She has the hot hand, has undergone big drops in yards, and looks primed for some surprising speed.

Kaersten MeitzSierra Schmidt, and Cierra Runge were all bunched up behind Ledecky and Smith last summer at Nationals– Schmidt was 4:07 high and the other two were tenths behind. Meitz has continued progressions all throughout college in LCM: she was 4:15.39 in 2015, 4:14.93 in 2016, then down to 4:08.38 last summer. Schmidt hasn’t hit her 4:07.47 best since 2015, and Runge her 4:04.55 best since 2014. Runge has also been 4:07.04 as recently as 2016, though. Meitz is looking like she’s bound to drop more this year, but any lifetime bests from Schmidt or Runge could be very significant.

Kaersten Meitz at the 2017 USA Swimming World Team Trials (photo: Mike Lewis)

Meitz has been 4:10.8 this year, while Schmidt and Runge have been 4:12’s.

UGA alums Hali Flickinger and Melanie Margalis, though this isn’t the event of primary focus for either woman, have both been fast this year at 4:08’s right behind Drabot. That said, the 100 back and 100 breast are the other two events that day in Irvine, so they may race the prelims for fun. Neither has gone for a roster spot in this event the last few years, though, so we’ll focus on some other swimmers who are focusing on this race.

Open water stars Haley Anderson and Ashley Twichell rank in the U.S. top ten this year at 4:09.9 and 4:11.3 for 8th and 10th, respectively. Aged 26 and 28, there’s someone just about half their age sandwiched right in at 9th. That’s Clovis Swim Club’s Claire Tuggle, who, at 13, swam a 4:11.37 at the Irish Open this spring. Tuggle has been on a time-dropping rampage the last couple of seasons, as most people her age do. It’s a safe bet to predict she’ll crack the 4:10 barrier this summer, but let’s try to back off from tracking young swimmers’ successes with our grandiose expectations. Tuggle may drop 5 seconds, she may add 2 — let’s just enjoy her talent for her age, for now.

There’s another teenager in the field who has shaken things up in distance races this year: Erica Sullivan of the Sandpipers of Nevada. Cracking 4:10 to win the 2017 US Open title (4:09.43), her 4:12.01 this year has her tied with Evie Pfeifer in the US rankings. Pfeifer is another name to pay attention to — a standout freshman season with the Texas Longhorns landed her in the 500 free A final, and her 4:12.0 from a local Texas meet a week ago was a huge four-second drop from her 2017 best.

NC State alum Hannah Moore and Auburn alum and IU post grad group member Ashley Neidigh return from last summer’s Nationals A final. They rank 12th and 13th this year at 4:11’s, along with 2018 NCAA runner-up in the 1650 free, Ally McHugh, whose 4:11.41 ranks 11th in the US.

1 Katie Ledecky 3:56.46 3:57.94
2 Leah Smith 4:00.65 4:04.72
3 Katie Drabot 4:08.29 4:08.29
4 Kaersten Meitz 4:08.38 4:10.88
5 Cierra Runge 4:04.55 4:12.83
6 Sierra Schmidt  4:07.47 4:12.37
7 Claire Tuggle 4:11.37 4:11.37
8 Hannah Moore 4:09.35 4:11.48

Dark Horse: Kirsten Jacobsen. The rising Arizona junior exhibited a lot of great mid-distance freestyle speed at the 2018 NCAAs, including a 3rd place 500 free finish (4:35.04) and a flat-start 1:43.52 leading off ‘Zona’s 800 free relay. In LCM, she was stuck at 4:15.5 since 2014, until she broke through with a 4:13.48 at the Fran Crippen Meet of Champs just a week ago. If her huge 4:35.0 from NCAAs is any indication, Jacobsen could really shock this field.

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2 years ago

Keep an eye on Courtney Harnish

2 years ago

I think Ledecky’s going to win this one

Becky D
Reply to  sven
2 years ago

A brave prediction.

2 years ago

Tuggle top 5. But we will see how Runge is after pro meet.

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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