2019 Pac-12 Women’s Champs Fan Guide: New-Look Stanford Leads the Way

2019 PAC-12 WOMEN’S SWIMMING & DIVING CHAMPIONSHIPS

After two consecutive PAC-12 titles, the Stanford women are poised for another, but with a vastly different squad than we’re used to. Gone are Katie Ledecky and Simone Manuel, as well as program icons Janet HuAlly Howe, and diver Kassidy Cook. The new Stanford Cardinal still has plenty of its usual weapons, as if the recently mentioned athletes weren’t enough, like American record holder Ella Eastin, All-American Katie Drabot, medley relay key Kim Williams, and many more.

Meanwhile, Canadian record holder Taylor Ruck leads the new wave of talent as part of an immensely stacked freshman class. There’s a bit of everything in this class– Ruck, who has the talent to challenge for NCAA titles in at least a couple events, is an elite sprint freestyler and backstroker. Zoe Bartel and Allie Raab are phenomenal breaststrokers, Lucie Nordmann is a sprint backstroker/freestyler like Ruck, Morgan Tankersley is a freestyler with incredible range, Amalie Fackenthal is a sprinter with butterfly prowess, and Daria Lenz and Carolina Sculti are proving to be strong divers.

Brooke FordeMegan Byrnes, Leah Stevens and Allie Szekely make up more of the proven talent on this roster. Relay-wise, out of all of them, it’s really just Forde who will make an 800 relay appearance, but the distance/endurance excellence that these women bring are why Stanford is simply so deep with prime talent. Forde, in particular, dropped a 4:04 in the 400 IM this year — in a dual meet (while Szekely was 4:06).

Regularly at the top, California and USC are heavily favored to bring in the 2nd and 3rd-best team performances this year.

Cal has flaunted the best sprint core of the conference, headed by Olympian Abbey Weitzeil and perennial powers Amy Bilquist and Katie McLaughlin. Three of the fastest sprinters in the country will make their relays incredibly dangerous, and even the hyped-up Stanford class may have trouble taking them down this post-season in the sprint free races. Meanwhile, breaststroke and distance free continue to be weaker points on the Bears’ roster, but they still have a ton of experience to bring to the Pac 12 Champs. Sarah DarcelRobin Neumann, and Maddie Murphy build out this roster, and while we haven’t seen breaststroker Ali Harrison at the level she was last year when she broke a minute in the 100 breast, freshman Ema Rajic has been sturdy as the go-to dual meet breaststroker.

Cal won’t be able to replace the incomparable Kathleen Baker, but they did have a high-impact mid-year addition in Isabel Ivey, who graduated high school a semester early. Like Baker was in high school, Ivey is incredibly fast across seemingly any and every event. She’s known best as a 100-200 freestyler, and could be that 4th relay leg that puts Cal into untouchable territory in the free relays. Individually, who really knows what events she’ll race, as her best times put her in the 2018-19 Pac-12 top 8 in the 50/100/200 free, 100 back, 100 fly, and 200/400 IM (and not far off from top 8s in both breaststrokes and the 200 fly).

USC, meanwhile, is led by Louise Hansson, who is heavily favored to win the 100 fly. Hansson is a relay rock, truly dependable for an incredible split for any relay, and she could excel on any medley leg except breaststroke. The Trojans have another great sprint freestyler in Marta Ciesla, while their butterfly group is exceptional, with Maddie WrightCaitlin Tycz, and Catherine Sanchez falling into place behind Hansson. Right now, in the 200 fly, Hansson leads the conference (1:51.52), with Trojans ranked 3rd, 6th, 7th, and 10th (freshman Makenna Turner). In the 100, they’re 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 5th. With Riley Scott and Maggie Aroesty, the Trojans also boast the best breaststroke duo in the conference.

Schedule

Wednesday:

  • 200 medley relay
  • Men’s 1-meter diving
  • 800 free relay

Thursday:

  • Men’s 3-meter
  • 500 free
  • 200 IM
  • 50 free
  • Women’s 1-meter diving
  • 200 free relay

Friday:

  • 400 IM
  • 100 fly
  • 200 free
  • 100 breast
  • 100 back
  • Men’s platform diving
  • Women’s 3-meter diving
  • 400 medley relay

Saturday:

  • 1650 free
  • 200 back
  • 100 free
  • 200 breast
  • 200 fly
  • Women’s platform diving
  • 400 free relay

Stars

ArizonaHannah Cox (senior distance freestyler/IMer), Mackenzie Rumrill (senior butterflier), Kirsten Jacobsen (junior distance freestyler), Katrina Konopka (junior sprint freestyler/backstroker) — They haven’t been very impressive in dual meets, but the Wildcats had a great mid-season meet. Notably, Jacobsen and Cox have been the fastest 500 freestylers in the conference, and Jacobsen in particular returns with a genuine shot at the 2019 NCAA title in the event. Konopka leads their sprint group, while Rumrill is a top 6 sprint butterflier.

Arizona State – Cierra Runge (junior freestyler), Silja Kansakoski (sophomore breaststroker), Chloe Isleta (junior backstroker/IMer) — Kansakoski is the 2017 Pac-12 100 breast champion and the runner-up last year. Runge, depending on her form, has the talent to knock off the Arizona distance freestylers.

CalKatie McLaughlin (junior butterflier/freestyler), Abbey Weitzeil (junior sprinter), Robin Neumann (sophomore mid-distance freestyler), Sarah Darcel (sophomore IMer/butterflier), Isabel Ivey (freshman everything), Amy Bilquist (senior freestyler/backstroker) — As we said earlier, this is a very powerful sprint team, but nearly all of their sprinters can extend to the 200 for what should be another fantastic 800 free relay. Backstroke is going to be another strong point for this roster, and Ivey will likely join a big IM group. 

Oregon State Felicia Anderson (junior backstroker) — Anderson is a bright spot on this roster, and returns after making the 2018 Pac-12 B final in the 100 backstroke.

UCLAClaire Grover (freshman breaststroker), Kenisha Liu (junior sprinter), Emma Schanz (senior everything), Sandra Soe (senior distance freestyler) — Grover is looking to be one of the strongest freshman additions for the Bruins, while Liu holds down the fort as a sprint freestyler with range.

USCLouise Hansson (junior sprinter), Maggie Aroesty (sophomore breaststroker/IMer), KTatum Wade (junior freestyler/IMer), Riley Scott (senior breaststroker/IMer), Madison Wright (senior butterflier), Marta Ciesla (junior sprinter) — Scott leads the conference in both breaststrokes, Hansson in both butterflies (and the 100 back). Wade is an incredible talent in the 200 free, and with Ciesla, will be incredibly valuable on relays. If we see the Kirsten Vose we saw during her freshman year, and if Courtney Caldwell can match her NC State bests, this team suddenly becomes far more dangerous.

Stanford – Ella Eastin (senior IMer/butterflier), Taylor Ruck (freshman sprinter), Zoe Bartel (freshman breaststroker), Megan Byrnes (junior distance), Allie Szekely (junior IMer), Brooke Forde (sophomore freestyler/IMer), Lucie Nordmann (freshman sprinter)Katie Drabot (junior butterflier) — This team is incredibly impressive, chock-full of names we’ve been hearing since the beginnings of their age group careers. The star of stars is Eastin, but there are probably six people on this list who could win Pac-12 individual titles. In some cases (like Drabot in the 200 fly, or Forde in the 400 IM), it’s their own teammates who are in the way of a crown.

Utah – Gillian St. John (senior sprinter), Jordan Anderson (junior distance free/fly/IM), Genevieve Robertson (senior breaststroker) — The Utes have had a great season, with a mid-season culminating in three school records.

Washington StateTaylor McCoy (sophomore backstroker/IMer), Keiana Fountaine (sophomore sprinter) — Fountaine has already improved a ton in her first college season and made headlines multiple times, and new head coach Matt Leach looks like he’s injecting a lot of positive energy in this program, which could be on an upswing. McCoy is a strong backstroke and IM talent, and she’s excelling with lifetime bests in her best events in her sophomore season.

SHOWDOWNS

500 FREESTYLE

Without Ledecky, this event is a big, fat, question mark. Wildcats Kirsten Jacobsen and Hannah Cox lead the conference at 4:36.81 and 4:38.18, respectively. Stanford’s Brooke Forde and Cal’s Robin Neumann have both been under 4:40, too, at 4:38.40 and 4:39.90, respectively. Between #5 and #14, seven of those swimmers are from Stanford. That’s not even including 2018 runner-up in this event, Ella Eastin, who went 4:34.04 last year to finish eight seconds behind Ledecky but two ahead of teammate Lauren Pitzer.

Eastin is swimming this event and Drabot and Forde are not, so the total Stanford swimmers you have besides Eastin are #4 Byrnes, #5 Pitzer, #8 Morgan Tankersley, #10 Leah Stevens, #12 Erin Voss, #18 Katie Glavinovich, and #19 Hannah Kukurugya.

So, there are what feels like a million Cardinal swimmers here, plus the conference-leading Wildcats, while Neumann is the top swimmer from Cal.

If anyone is going to crash the party, it’ll be Cierra Runge. The Arizona State swimmer joined the program mid-season for competition after sitting out a year following her transfer from Wisconsin. Of course, Runge has been at this meet before. As a freshman at Cal, back in 2015, she won the 500 free at the Pac-12 Champs with an NCAA record 4:31.90. It’s hard to tell what she will be able to go at this meet, but she has to go fast as she hasn’t qualified for NCAAs yet, so we might see her at or near a full taper.

100 BACK

Kathleen Baker has gone pro, and with Janet Hu and Ally Howe graduated, it’s time for new faces to chase the title.

Oddly enough, Louise Hansson (51.43) and Ella Eastin (51.64) lead the conference. Neither of them are primarily backstrokers (one might argue they’re both freestylers and butterfliers before backstrokers, not to mention IM). Eastin will do the 400 IM on this day of the competition, but Hansson is entered (she’s also entered in the 200 IM, 50 free, 100 fly, and 200 fly, though, so two gotta go).

Ruck has been 51.70 this season, just ahead of Cal’s Keaton Blovad (51.95) and Amy Bilquist (52.16). Bilquist’s 50.50 best from the 2016 Pac-12 Champs is the fastest time of the field, but she was hampered by injury which kept her out of racing for most of the first semester, and it’s unclear if she’ll get to her bests at Pac-12s.

Arizona freshman Aria Bernal has quietly gone 52.40, ranking her the 5th seed. Stanford frosh Nordmann, who is one of the best out of any of these women in long course, is 6th as she has been 53.30 this season. Cal’s Izzy Ivey is over-entered, but could be a dark horse in this event if she goes with it.

200 FLY

Ella Eastin won’t be re-matching with Louise Hansson and teammate Katie Drabot, but this event is still packed with talent. Last year at this meet, Eastin erupted for a 1:49.51 American and NCAA record, with Hansson going 1:51.13 for 2nd and Drabot 1:52.07 for 3rd. USC’s Maddie Wright had a great swim, going 1:53.38 to claim 4th, while Katie McLaughlin was back at 8th (1:55.07).

Hansson leads the conference this season at 1:51.52, just ahead of Eastin (1:52.07) and Wright (1:52.48). Drabot has been 1:53.38, followed by McLaughlin (1:54.63) and Trojan Caitlin Tycz (1:54.89). McLaughlin dropped down to a 1:52.64 at the 2018 NCAA Champs, and she’s been as fast as 1:55.4 in dual meets.

A sleeper here is Cassidy Bayer of Cal, who is still trying to get back to her best before injury plagued the end of her high school career. The freshman had a great meet in Cal’s dual with USC, where she produced a 1:57.68 200 fly that nearly eclipsed her mid-season time of 1:57.29.

400 IM

Eastin is the greatest-ever in this event in yards, but Forde is someone who continues to chase her teammates in this event. She recently unearthed a massive 4:04.46 in a dual meet, and it feels like she is going to have a fantastic post-season.

Allie Szekely has been 4:07.98 this year, and will be looking to make this a 1-2-3 Stanford sweep. She’ll have to handle Cal’s Sarah Darcel, though. Last year, Ledecky, Eastin, and Forde went 1-2-3, with Darcel 3rd (4:03.00) and Darcel 4th (4:06.63).

400 FREE RELAY

This relay has the potential to be an absolute barn burner. Before we call it for Stanford, let’s take it back a second and consider what Cal and USC are bringing to the table.

Cal has been the fastest this year at 3:11.14, with USC 2nd (3:11.96) and Stanford 3rd (3:12.08). Cal did this with McLaughlin, Weitzeil, Blovad, and Neumann. They got a 47.4 from McLaughlin and a 46.6 anchor from Weitzeil, with Blovad 48.7 leading off and Neumann 48.2 on the 2nd leg. For the Trojans, Hansson led off in 47.8, followed by a 47.6 from Wade and 48-lows from Vose and Ciesla. Stanford, meanwhile, had a 48.7 lead-off from Fackenthal, followed by a 48-low from Eastin, a 48-mid from Ashley Volpenhein, and then a monstrous 46.2 anchor from Ruck.

There will be changes going into Pac-12s. Most likely, Bilquist and Ivey will move in for Blovad and Neumann. That means Cal will have (at the least) two 47’s and two 46’s. If Weitzeil leads off, they could end up having four 46’s, which would be sub-3:08 (the NCAA record is Stanford’s 2017 relay, a 3:07.61). USC will probably have the same four, although a healthy Caldwell is going to make them more dangerous (she was 47-low anchoring NC State’s 400 free relay at 2017 NCAAs). Stanford may switch in Nordmann for Volpenhein, and we know that Eastin has split 47 in the past.

Cal definitely has the edge here, and their talent is more proven, with Ivey being the big wildcard. By the fourth day of the meet, though, we’ll know who’s on and who’s not, and it’ll be clearer who is favored for this relay.

SELECTIONS

When consulting the almighty Swimulator, Stanford is again in a tier of its own. This team is too deep not to win this conference, and while many of their top swimmers are new faces, that doesn’t mean they won’t crash the A finals with as many as 5-6 swimmers in the top 8 in some events (pretty much half their roster is extremely talented in the 500 free, for example).

Diving isn’t included in the Swimulator, but the race for 2nd may be tighter than one would expect. We don’t have any mid-season times from January Cal addition Ivey, who has potential to be a triple A-finalist and will boost the relays. Plus, without Bilquist having had a big mid-season meet due to her injury last semester, the Swimulator admittedly undervalues the Bears. Bilquist has looked back to full strength, though, and she beat Ruck head-to-head in the 100 back in their dual with Stanford.

Cal returns 1-meter A finalist Phoebe LaMay last year, and USC has platform A-finalists Naomi Gowlett and Maddie Witt, but there’s no huge edge for either team here, so Cal looks like a good bet for 2nd. Should Courtney Caldwell and mid-year additions Jemma Schlict and Laticia Transom show up in a big way, things could get very interesting.

Arizona and ASU look pretty locked in for 4th and 5th, respectively, while Utah is creeping up on UCLA. Washington State has impressed this year under new head coach Matt Leach, so this will be a good opportunity to see what his impact has been already with a full taper meet.

SWIMULATOR PROJECTIONS 

Stanford 1396
California 1145
Southern Cali 1111
Arizona 940.5
Arizona St 654.5
UCLA 622
Utah 518.5
Washington St. 311.5
Oregon St 237

SWIMSWAM PREDICTIONS

  1. Stanford
  2. California
  3. USC
  4. Arizona
  5. ASU
  6. UCLA
  7. Utah
  8. Washington State
  9. Oregon State

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Hswimmer

LOL that Cierra Runge has transfered 3 times.

She hasn’t. She’s transferred twice.

Hswimmer

Been at 3 different schools though 😂

Jeepers

So what?

Swammerjammer

Runge is also an Olympian…that’s for life. Olympic swimmer!!!!! Chased the dream and made it come true with hard work, sacrifice, perseverence and talent.

Hswimmer

Did I say anything about that? I think she does put in a lot of hard work and is a great leader for team USA. Just the fact she’s been at 3 different colleges is a bit fishy.

Swimbystander

Do tell….why fishy? Kind of interesting that entire Wisconsin coaching staff was canned after she left…and notables at Cal left woman’s program when she did or faded into the sunset. So, what’s rotten in Denmark?

Well

Being 6’4 helps just sayin’…but yeah she’s clearly accomplished early in life

Sccoach

lol at the ASU shade. Swimswam predictions following the swimulator rankings accept they aren’t buying that ASU will be ahead of UCLA. A few kids transfer and the whole website turns on them!!! Not nice! Forks Up!!!!

Taa

They need some momentum. Lets see how their relays go the first night. That will probably tell us how things will go for them. They have some pretty good divers if I recall so there is no reason for them to not finish 5th.

Ladymanvol

People be jealous that Coach Bobbie B being the best coach in the country. He did coach Mike Phelps – Duuuuhhh!!!

Togger

Bowman’s a great coach, but Phelps wasn’t so good just because of Bowman.

Hardly as if, had he been coached by Troy/Rees/Marsh/whoever, Phelps would have been squeaking into C finals at conference.

Hswimmer

You don’t know that for sure. Phelps was never with another coach. You never know, he could’ve been even better..

CourtneyCaldwellSuperfan

But where is Courtney Caldwell?

Hswimmer

She chillin

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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