2018 W. NCAA Picks: Ledecky vs. the 15:00 Barrier in the 1650



The question here isn’t who will win the 1650 — it’s just by how much.

Katie Ledecky threw down her latest American record 1650 at the Art Adamson Invitational while in mid-season form, and all signs point to a groundbreaking performance in Ohio. Last season, she went 15:03.92 in November, but didn’t put up the insane dual meet times she’s continued to go this year. Ledecky’s 1000 free/200 free doubles in successive dual meets this semester key us into the kind of shape she’s in. She went 9:15.36/1:43.24 against USC and 9:13.74/1:43.00 against Cal in those back-to-back event doubles, and then laid down a jaw-dropping unrested 400 IM, 500, and 200 free last week at Pac-12s. Last year against Cal, for comparison, she was 9:20.41/1:43.09 in her 1000/200 free double. A year-and-a-half ago, we saw her become the first woman under 9:00 in the 1000, and there’s every reason to believe she’ll be sneaking under 15:00 in the 1650.

But the exciting racing here will be for the remaining podium spots.

Hannah Moore (Photo: Tim Binning/TheSwimPictures.com

Penn State’s Allyson McHugh dropped almost 16 seconds off her best to win the 2018 Big Ten Conference Championships last month and took 10th in the event at the 2017 NCAA Championships. Repeating that time, after a 16-second drop, at NCAAs will be a tall task though. NC State’s distance group has been on fire this entire year, and Hannah Moore is no exception. After taking 4th in this event at NCAAs in 2016 (15:47.20) and 5th in 2017 (15:52.75), she was already back down near her best at the 2018 Atlantic Coast Championships last month, securing down her seed time of 15:48.37.

In 2016, Michigan’s Yirong Bi took bronze at NCAAs in the 1650 with her best time of 15:45.26, but was unable to drop below 16:00 in 2017, going 16:02.52 at last year’s NCAAs. However, she’s already been better than that twice this season: 16:02.42 at December’s Georgia Invitational, and 15:51.18 at Big Tens. Texas’ Joanna Evans has already been almost three seconds faster this season than her previous PR. She was 19th at NCAAs in 2016 with a 16:09.90, rose to 7th at NCAAs last year with a 15:54.46, then went 15:51.18 at the Texas Invitational in December.

Stanford sophomore Megan Byrnes placed 3rd in the event last year, and is a two-time Pac-12 champion in Ledecky’s absence. She went her 15:47.62 PR at Pac-12s in 2017, but was back up at 15:50.87 at NCAAs last year. It’s promising to see her back under 15:50 already, but how her taper will hold up for NCAAs is a big unknown. Byrnes’ teammate Leah Stevens is yet another swimmer who was right on her best at a conference championship meet. At Pac-12s last month, she hit 15:52.54, just tenths off her lifetime best of 15:52.36, swum at NCAAs last year as she slashed five seconds off her previous PR. Before that? Her best was 16:07.77, set in 2012.

Ohio State’s Molly Kowal broke 16:00 for the first time in her life at Big Tens this season, and did it in grand fashion. She dropped over nine seconds — from 16:02.35 to 15:53.11 — to take third in a loaded final that featured Allyson McHugh and Yirong Bing in the 1- and 2-spots. However, she’ll have to look out for Hawaii sophomore Phoebe Hines (#9 seed) and Michigan freshman Sierra Schmidt (#10 seed), who similarly dropped major time this year. Also of note: Michigan’s G Ryan is entered as the #14 seed — they dropped a 15:44.93 at the 2016 Big Ten Conference Championships, but have yet to break 15:59 since then.

Top 8 Picks:

Place Swimmer Team Seed Best Time
1 Katie Ledecky Stanford 15:03.31 15:03.31
2 Yirong Bi Michigan 15:51.18 15:45.26
3 Hannah Moore NC State 15:48.37 15:47.20
4 Joanna Evans Texas 15:51.74 15:51.74
5 Megan Byrnes Stanford 15:49.38 15:47.62
6 Leah Stevens Stanford 15:52.54 15:52.36
7 Allyson McHugh Penn State 15:43.34 15:43.34
8 Molly Kowal Ohio State 15:53.11 15:53.11

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Benedict Arnold Schwarzenegger
4 years ago

I’m sure you’re the first parent in SwimSwam history to think your child will place higher than other people think your child will place!

Swim Fanatic
Reply to  Benedict Arnold Schwarzenegger
4 years ago

I agree… I believe that Mchugh will DESTROY Ledecky and be the first under 15:00… she was deadlifting 400lbs the day before the team left for Big Tens. She has been doing USRPT nonstop for the last month, I predict four body lengths ahead at the 50!

4 years ago

She is so cool, smart, hardworking and funny. I hope she breaks 14:53 and qualifies for Men’s NCAAs this year!

Caeleb Dressel Will Get 8 golds in Tokyo
4 years ago

I don’t think she’ll do it. Fight me


I agree. Also, fight me.

phelps swims 200 breast rio
Reply to  completelyconquered
4 years ago

Swim Swam Fight Club. 14:59.3. And I’ll guess her last 500 will be a low 4:31.

4 years ago

Please predict times in article!

4 years ago

I’m just curious what makes people to believe that the 15min barrier will be taken at NCAA this year. Not as I don’t want this to happen, but are there any indications this season that i’ve missed that they know.
She was great at PAC-12 last season setting personal bests at all events she swam. Two of these PBs were actually American records. In final she improved them (200&500) but in 1650 she was 15:07. Wasn’t she probably prepared for this race or 15:03 records was indeed something special?
This year at PAC -12 she performed well again but in freestyle events a little bit slower. Yeas she improved her 400IM but it was mostly due to better… Read more »

NC Swim Fan
Reply to  Yozhik
4 years ago

The article answers your questions. The multiple 1000/200 double performances are the indicators. It’s not a guarantee, of course, but the article lays out why it’s possible. Torrey isn’t just throwing stuff at the wall as your comment seems to indicate.

Reply to  NC Swim Fan
4 years ago

There is no need to be that offensive. You explained it clearly. That is multiple 1000/200 doubles that indicate Katie’s good form heading to the finals. Good if it is so. The reason why I missed this obvious sign is that all these doubles were done under cruise control as her splits indicate. That is how she can swim half an hour not getting exhausted.

Reply to  Yozhik
4 years ago

What was offensive?

Reply to  Eagleswim
4 years ago

Never mind

Coach Mike 1952
Reply to  Yozhik
4 years ago

“if it is so”? What does it take to prove it to you?

Reply to  Coach Mike 1952
4 years ago

I don’t need any proof – I am not betting on her performance in a week. I’m trying understand why some commentators here are so certain that she will swim 1650 event under 15 min on day four of the meet after possible personal bests at 200, 500 free and 400IM just before 400free relay where she is needed to be at least at 48 low. To do so she should be in one of her best form. Her performance at PAC-12 last year suggested a great form and she did improved her PB at 200 and 500 . And she delivered 48 in relay. But there were no record at 1650. This year she was as good at PAC-12… Read more »

4 years ago

All the predictions aside, I’m still gobsmacked see how much further ahead Ledecky is than even 2nd place. Just amazing.

Easy Speed
4 years ago

Would it be possible to add predicted times to these previews?

Reply to  Easy Speed
4 years ago

Easy Speed – we’re planning on doing a ‘predicted winning times’ article later on. We used to predict times in these previews, but they felt rather meaningless to us (though I’m sure they provided some teams juicy bulletin board material), so we decided not to this year. You’re welcome to predict times in the comments, though!

4 years ago

who do you think can sneak into the A final and is the “dark horse” contender?

Reply to  Torrey Hart
4 years ago

Schmidt will be in the A final for sure.

Reply to  Torrey Hart
4 years ago

What about Becca Mann?

About Torrey Hart

Torrey Hart

Torrey is from Oakland, CA, and majored in media studies and American studies at Claremont McKenna College, where she swam distance freestyle for the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps team. Outside of SwimSwam, she has bylines at Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, SB Nation, and The Student Life newspaper.

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