2018 W. NCAA Picks: Stanford Battles To Repeat In 400 Free Relay


Stanford set American and NCAA records in the 400 free relay, capping off their national title run with a dominant win. That Stanford relay was all-but-unbeatable, featuring three of the best freestylers in the nation: Simone Manuel, Katie Ledecky and Lia Neal. Manuel led off in 46.0 and Neal split 46.3, as the team got 47.5 from Ledecky and a strong 47.6 from versatile sprinter Janet Hu.

Three of those four return, and though the loss of Neal probably means Stanford won’t approach its own national records, the Card has plenty of options to fill out the relay.

Manuel is likely to lead off in 45-mid or better, and could theoretically anchor in 44, if that’s where they use her, as they did in the conference rounds. Ledecky was only 48.0 at Pac-12s, but should be back into the 47-range at nationals. Hu was 47.5 leading off at Pac-12s, and Stanford used senior Alex Meyers, who split 47.9. But freshman Lauren Pitzer has also been 48.6 individually and could be another option. Either way, Stanford is probably looking at three 47s and a 44/45, which is too much for any other team to match.

Cal comes in with the top seed, returning three quarters of its relay from a year ago. Amy Bilquist, Kathleen Baker and Abbey Weitzeil should be staples, and Katie McLaughlin was 47.4 at Pac-12s. Weitzeil is Cal’s best bet to match Manuel’s split, but even that is a stretch. For Cal to win the event, they’ll have to count on Baker beating Stanford’s slowest swimmer by a wider margin than Manuel beats Weitzeil, with the other two legs probably fairly even. Of course, it could come down, too, to gamesmanship – if either team uses their star as the leadoff swimmer, they may get enough clean water to swim away with the lead and cause rough splits for their opponents middle swimmers. That said, this still feels like Stanford’s event, with Cal as the top challenger.

Virginia put up a huge swim at ACCs, and could have an outside shot to upend one of the top two. The Cavaliers don’t have a swimmer under 48 from a flat start yet this season, but they have tremendous depth, with all four relay swimmers going between 48.0 and 48.4 individually. While Virginia in general is a young team, this relay isn’t – Caitlin Cooper and Laine Reed are seniors, Eryn Eddy is a junior and Morgan Hill a sophomore. Still, there isn’t much margin for error for UVA if they want to pass up Cal or Stanford. They should finish top 8, though.

Louisville returns and reloads its young relay that took 6th last year with three frosh and a sophomore. That sophomore is now widely considered one of the best swimmers in the nation – Mallory Comerford – and she should be able to throw down a 45-46 second split. Lainey Visscher and Casey Fanz were both 48s last year, but Fanz was 47.6 at ACCs.

Competition for the rest of the A final should be tight, as the top 100 freestylers are quite spread out roster-wise, compared to last year when Cal, Stanford and Georgia combined to take up 6 of the top 8 spots in the individual 100 free, then went 1-2-3 in this relay with a full-second cushion on the rest of the field.

Georgia is in trouble after graduating two 46-second splits. Michigan has Siobhan Haughey to pair with the DeLoof sisters, all of whom can split 47s. Texas has Claire Adams and Rebecca Millard already in the 47s this year, though their depth drops off a little. Tennessee has breakout star Erika Brownwho has a chance to go 46 individually. Meanwhile Auburn has a pair of 47s (Aly Tetzloff Julie Meynen), USC has 47.4 standout Louise HanssonOhio State has Chinese star Liz Li and Texas A&M boasts Beryl Gastaldello, who appears back from an injury that kept her out of SECs. None of those teams have 4 great legs, though, so filling out the bottom of the A final might come down to which teams can get the most out of their depth on Saturday morning.

Top 8 Picks:

Pick Team Seed Time 2017 Finish
1 Stanford 3:09.76 1st
2 California 3:09.04 3rd
3 Louisville 3:10.73 6th
4 Virginia 3:09.45 12th
5 Texas 3:11.72 9th
6 Michigan 3:10.96 10th
7 Auburn 3:12.64 14th
8 Tennessee 3:12.76 13th

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6 years ago

When I started reading this article I thought the race had already happened and I had somehow slept through Saturday.

6 years ago

After such a good performance on the 200 free relay, I think Stanford should use Ally Howe on the 400 free relay

Das Swimmer
Reply to  swim6847
6 years ago

I guess you could pull Ledecky for her. Though KLs speeed seems to be fine. Who else would you take off?

Reply to  Das Swimmer
6 years ago

Was stanford able to bring alex meyers since they had a full roster already? if not ally could take her place

Reply to  swim6847
6 years ago

She could but Pitzer has been putting up great splits all week.

Reply to  CraigH
6 years ago

If I were the coaches, I would go with Hu, Howe, Pitzer and Manuel to anchor.

Reply to  swim6847
6 years ago

My pick for the relay is Ella Eastin. She split a 48.0 on the relay mid season and has been lights out all meet. After her swims so far, I think she can definitely pull out a 47 mid wouldn’t be shocked if she split a 46.

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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