2018 U.S. Nationals Preview: Four-Way Battle Brewing In Women’s 100 BK

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2018 U.S. NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS

SIMPLIFIED SELECTION CRITERIA – MOST OLYMPIC EVENTS

  • 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

Just like the men’s event, the women’s 100 back is an incredibly competitive one domestically for the United States. They’ve always been competitive on the world stage. Natalie Coughlin won a pair of Olympic and World titles spanning from 2001 to 2008. Then it was Missy Franklin, who won back-to-back gold medals at the 2012 Olympics and 2013 World Championships.

But now, they’ve got four of the best in the world – Kathleen BakerOlivia SmoligaRegan Smith and Ali Deloof – and U.S. Nationals will be the first of a two-stage battle for a spot at the 2019 World Championships.

THE CONTENDERS

That’s ultimately what it comes down to. We’ll have to see how the numbers shake out at Nationals, but if the top-4 finishers do end up making it to Pan Pacs, those four are the most likely to be going. No one else in the field has been under a minute in the past two years, and Baker, Smoliga and Smith have all gone 58. Getting through to Pan Pacs will be everyone’s top priority at the meet, obviously, but throwing down a time here that could stand up at the end of the summer and get them on the Worlds team will definitely be a motivator.

Kathleen Baker USA Swimming College Challenge (photo: Mike Lewis)

Kathleen Baker

Baker’s rise in this event came fast and furious. She got some experience under her belt at the 2014 Pan Pacs, made the final at the 2015 World Championships, and then in 2016: Boom. She swam the four fastest times of her life (at the time) in Rio, winning Olympic silver in the event and adding a gold medal on the 400 medley relay. She then carried that success over into the 2017 World Championships, where she again won silver and established her current best time of 58.54.

This year she’s been her fastest ever in-season – 58.77 – ranking her 3rd in the world, and has to be considered the favorite in Irvine. She’ll challenge Kylie Masse‘s world-leading time of 58.54.

Olivia Smoliga

First breaking the 1:00 barrier at the 2012 Olympic Trials while just 17, Smoliga has exploded over the past two years. She won the 2016 Trials in a best time of 59.02, and has consistently improved with drops at the Olympics (58.95) and 2017 World Championships (58.77), placing 6th and then 4th respectively. Like Baker, she posted her fastest ever in-season swim this year in 59.14, and will likely be back in the 58s at Nationals.

Regan Smith

Regan Smith 2017 World Championships Budapest, Hungary (photo: Mike Lewis)

Speaking of meteoric rises, 16-year-old Regan Smith finished 13th at the Olympic Trials two years ago in a time of 1:00.96, and just over 13 months later swam a full two seconds faster.

After breaking a minute for the first time last April, Smith had her breakout meet at the World Junior Championships in August, breaking the junior world record and 15-16 NAG multiple times, going 59.11 twice and 58.95 leading off the mixed medley relay (which doesn’t count as a WJR, but does as the NAG).

She’s continued her evolution this year, swimming a 59.38 in-season, and will challenge Baker and Smoliga here. At such a young age, her ceiling is sky high.

Ali Deloof

4th at the last two U.S. selection meets, Deloof may need to dip under 59 seconds to move up from that spot in Irvine.

The 23-year-old has now been under a minute for three straight years, hitting a 59.79 this past May, but will need to improve upon her 59.43 best time to get into the top-3 (though as mentioned, it’s possible she could place 4th and still make the Pan Pac team). It is worth noting that she went her best time last year in-season, and was three tenths slower at World Trials. But considering she took four months off in the fall for Grad school, she has looked good this year.

THE YOUNG STARS

Along with Smith, the U.S. has some very talented up-and-coming swimmers whose time may be coming sooner rather than later.

Isabelle Stadden

Recently turned 16-year-old Isabelle Stadden has really come into her own in 2018, hitting a 1:00 swim on six separate occasions after coming into the year with a best of 1:01.23. She’s been as fast as 1:00.06, ranking her 5th in the country, and looks to be well on her way to cracking the minute barrier.

Phoebe Bacon

Stadden’s Junior National teammate Phoebe Bacon has seen a similar improvement this year, dropping her PB of 1:00.81 from last summer down to 1:00.09 in April. While the 15-year-old hasn’t consistently been 1:00s all season like Stadden, Bacon is a still major threat to final if she can put together a strong swim in the prelims, entering the meet as the 6th fastest American this year.

Other Teenagers

  • 17-year-old Katharine Berkoff will be a bigger threat in the 200, but will still be in the mix for a spot in the A-final.
  • 18-year-olds Grace Ariola and Alex Sumner haven’t cracked 1:02 this year, but were both 1:00 last year.
  • Alex Walsh (16) and Lucie Nordmann (18) both haven’t gone a best time in this event for a few years now, but certainly possess the talent required to be factors.

NCAA PLAYERS

Asia Seidt 2017 USA Swimming World Team Trials (photo: Mike Lewis)

  • Asia Seidt: After swimming the four fastest yards times of her life during the college season, Seidt really made a statement with 100 and 200 back best times at the Columbus Pro Series. She’s only ranked 13th on the psych sheets, but is the 7th fastest in the country this year at 1:00.57.
  • Elise Haan: Is coming off a big NCAA campaign where she placed 4th in this event, and was actually the 5th fastest American last year (excluding the retired Hannah Stevens) with her swim of 1:00.02 to win the B-final at World Trials.
  • Lisa Bratton: Also put up lifetime bests during the college season, and has been her fastest ever in-season this year at 1:00.97.
  • Claire Adams: Hasn’t been able to return to her 2015 form when she went 59.58, but has been faster in-season this year than last, and did make the A-final at the 2017 World Trials.
  • Beata Nelson: Really exploded in her sophomore season at Wisconsin, joining the elusive sub-50 club in this event, and has been a best time 1:01.49 LC this season. How fast she can go in the big pool remains an unknown.
  • Others in the mix: Bridgette Alexander, Amy Bilquist, Tevyn Waddell, Keaton Blovad.

TOP-8 PICKS

Place Swimmer Lifetime-best Season-best
1 Kathleen Baker 58.54 58.77
2 Olivia Smoliga 58.77 59.14
3 Regan Smith 58.95 59.38
4 Ali Deloof 59.43 59.79
5 Isabelle Stadden 1:00.06 1:00.06
6 Asia Seidt 1:00.57 1:00.57
7 Phoebe Bacon 1:00.09 1:00.09
8 Elise Haan 1:00.02 1:01.30

Darkhorse: Tennessee’s Erika Brown is expected to do some damage in the sprint freestyle and butterfly events in Irvine, but she’s also entered in the 50 and 100 backstroke. Coming into the year her fastest LC time was 1:04.71 from 2013, but has been as fast as 1:00.96 this year and swam a 52.27 yards time in December. 

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Baker-King-Worrell-Manuel
2 years ago

Go Riptide Rocket Go!

SUNY Cal
2 years ago

Do the top 4 finishers go to Pan Pacs?? And winner goes to Worlds next yr??

Superfan
Reply to  James Sutherland
2 years ago

Point of reference the last pan pac meet in 2014, only one non relay event took 4

Tammy Touchpad Error
Reply to  Superfan
2 years ago

which event?

FijiorBust
2 years ago

I think it’s Baker unless she’s trying to peak in Tokyo. Too much opening 50 speed. But Smith and Smoliga will be right there. Top 3 within a tenth or two. Don’t think Ali will quite have the jets to touch them out.

Double Arm Freestyle
Reply to  FijiorBust
2 years ago

I think Smoliga will be dangerous, she broke the American record in the 50 Back earlier this year and always closes well

Hswimmer
Reply to  Double Arm Freestyle
2 years ago

I agree. I think she’ll have a good panpacs

Socaladvracer
Reply to  Hswimmer
2 years ago

She’ll have to qualify first. So she needs a good Nationals.

Sean S
Reply to  Socaladvracer
2 years ago

I feel pretty confident that Smoliga, Baker, and Smith will be there top 3 in some order. Don’t think making the team will be there issue.

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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