2019 W. NCAA Previews: Uncertainty Abounds In 200 Medley Relay


200 Medley Relay

  • NCAA Record: Stanford (Howe, Williams, Hu, Manuel), 2018 – 1:33.11
  • American Record: Stanford (Howe, Williams, Hu, Manuel), 2018 – 1:33.11
  • U.S. Open Record: Stanford (Howe, Williams, Hu, Manuel), 2018 – 1:33.11
  • Meet Record: Stanford (Howe, Williams, Hu, Manuel), 2018 – 1:33.11
  • 2018 Champion: Stanford (Howe, Williams, Hu, Manuel) – 1:33.11

If there’s one relay that feels hard to project, it’s this one.

A number of top teams see their lineups in flux, some because they’re weak in a particular leg, others because they may be leaving a couple of their best swimmers off this relay to stack up the other four relay events. The other wrinkle is that, for most major conferences, this relay is swum on day 1 with the 800 free relay, while at NCAAs, the event goes on day 3, with the 100s of fly, back and breast plus the 200 free and 400 IM. For some teams, it’s more beneficial to sit out a swimmer from a potential 800 free relay/200 medley relay double in quick succession at conference, only to switch up the relay lineup for NCAAs.

All that said, the top team coming in is Tennessee, and they look to be at full strength. Nikol Popov‘s breaststroke breakthrough has been the catalyst: she split 26.6 at SECs, where Tennessee only got a 27.3 split at NCAAs last year. Meghan Small led off in 24.1, and the Vols basically have their choice between Maddy Banic and Erika Brown on fly and free for the final two legs. Brown has got to be 22-low or even 21-high on fly, and can also probably go 20-point in freestyle – maybe as fast as 20.5 or so. Banic split 22.5 on fly at SECs and has been 21.5 in her career on freestyle from a flat start, though she’s only been 21-high the past several years.

Tennessee could accomplish the rare feat of moving from outside the top 16 last year to winning the event this year, all while swimming three of the four same athletes. That’s because last year, Brown accidentally swam fly instead of free on her anchor leg and the team got 19th in prelims. Barring a catastrophe like that, Tennessee should be in the hunt for the title this year.

Stanford won and set the American record last year, but don’t return any of the four legs: three graduated and one didn’t make NCAAs this year. That leaves Cal as the de facto fastest returners. They lose two legs from last year, but replaced them very well. This is likely to be the relay Cal doesn’t use Amy Bilquist – there’s not a great replacement for her on the 800 free relay, which seems like the other alternative. Luckily, the Bears had Keaton Blovad step up at Pac-12s – she split 24.1 backstroke on a B relay, well outpacing Izzy Ivey on the A. Freshman Ema Rajic blasted a 26.8 on breaststroke which is a huge development: in the past, Cal has had to burn star sprinter Abbey Weitzeil on breaststroke to cover a roster hole. Assuming Weitzeil doesn’t swim the 800 free relay, she’s a good bet for a nasty split on this relay – she was 20.5 anchoring at Pac-12s. And Maddie Murphy is a solid flyer who went 22.7 at Pac-12s.

The other big title threat is NC State, surging back after an injury-riddled 2018 season. They’re the #2 seed in the country right now, and have a huge backstroke advantage over Cal and Tennessee. Elise Haan was 23.8 last year and has already been 24.0 this year on the leadoff leg. This relay is rebuilt from last year: freshman Sophie Hansson has already been a blazing 26.2 (a second and a half faster than the breaststroker last year at NCAAs) and transfer Sirena Rowe split 23.2 on fly. Meanwhile Ky-Lee Perry is an outstanding anchor who went 21.0 at ACCs. She probably can’t match Weitzeil or Brown, but could theoretically hold them off if Haan and Hansson can build a big enough lead.

The rest of the field is impossibly bunched up, swinging wildly based on who swims and who doesn’t. A couple of Big Ten teams are contenders thanks to one world-beating leg. Indiana has Lilly King on breaststroke – routinely a good second or more faster than any other breaststroker in the field, though they’re going to struggle on back and free to bookend the relay. Meanwhile Michigan has Maggie MacNeil on butterfly – a potential 21-second split based on her historic 100 fly speed as a freshman. She could blow out the field if Brown swims free, and especially if USC leaves Louise Hansson off this relay or uses her on free. Michigan has a strong breaststroker in Miranda Tucker, but may have some backstroke issues of their own. This should be the relay they swim without do-everything star Siobhan Haughey.

Virginia is another team with a pretty high ceiling here, despite likely swimming this event without their rising star Morgan Hill. (They didn’t use her here at ACCs). The Cavaliers had a team of three sophomores and a freshman take second at ACCs: Caroline Gmelich was 23.8 on back (better than half of last year’s NCAA A final), rookie Alexis Wenger 26.6 on breast, Anna Pang 22.8 on fly and Kyla Valls 21.8 on free. None of those splits is earth-shattering, but none is really a liability, either, which means UVA should have a good chance to score big this year. And this relay is reason to be really excited for the future.

Defending champs Stanford don’t seem to know exactly what to do with their lineup. Ella Eastin had to swim backstroke (a decent 24.0) at Pac-12s, but they still struggled to find a breaststroker and flyer. Taylor Ruck is a stud anchor, but she’ll probably only swim one of the medley relays. Are the Cardinal better off with Ruck on backstroke and a different 21-something anchor? That might be the play, pushing Eastin to butterfly or using her on other relays.

Outside of that are a flood of teams that could go anywhere from 1:35-low to 1:37-high, depending on the day. Out of the Big Ten are three contenders: Minnesota returns from the A final last year, and only graduated their butterflyer. They lost about a half-second sliding backstroker Tevyn Waddell to fly and using a different backstroker, but could come out ahead if those two legs drop a moderate amount at NCAAs. Breaststroker Lindsay Kozelsky is the powerhouse and could be the fastest non-King breaststroker in the field. Ohio State lost star flyer Liz Li, but the other three legs were significantly faster at Big Tens than they were at NCAAs last year, and a 21.3 anchor from Freya Rayner means they’re never out of the hunt. Wisconsin has one of the nation’s top fly/back talents in Beata Nelsonand she’s a possible 22-low, 21-high split on fly if she repeats her Big Ten relay lineup.

Beyond Tennessee, four more SEC teams went 1:35 in the conference round. Missouri’s Haley Hynes has one of the fastest 50 backs in the nation and Sarah Thompson split 21.5 on the end. Florida got an awesome 26.8 from Vanessa Pearl on breaststroke – she’s mostly known as a 200 breaststroker, but that’s serious speed. Auburn got a 21.1 anchor from Claire Fisch and Texas A&M will always crush the breaststroke (Anna Belousova went 26.3 at SECs) and Raena Eldridge was 21.3 anchoring.

At ACCs, Florida State impressed, getting a 26.1 from rookie breaststroker Ida HulkkoAnd Louisville returns their entire 5th-place relay from NCAAs last year. This is likely their relay without Mallory Comerford, but a returning 21.5 from Lainey Visscher on freestyle should keep them in the hunt.

In the Pac-12, USC was 7th last year. The aforementioned Louise Hansson is an impact flyer who could be 21-high. Marta Ciesla went 21.4 anchoring at Pac-12s. And we haven’t even mentioned Texas, 8th-place last year and upgraded on the anchor leg, where rookie Grace Ariola was 21.1 at midseason.

I just named 18 teams with at least some argument for an A final bid. Who gets in? Who the heck knows? The title contenders (Tennessee, Cal, NC State) seem pretty safe. Michigan and Indiana both seem to have pretty good chances. That leaves 13 teams scrambling for the final three spots in what should be one of the wilder relays in this year’s NCAA meet.

Top 8 Picks

Place Team Seed Time 2018 Finish
1 Tennessee 1:34.26 19th
2 Cal 1:35.21 2nd
3 NC State 1:34.52 DQ (11th in prelims)
4 Michigan 1:34.98 20th
5 Indiana 1:34.71 3rd
6 Louisville 1:36.31 5th
7 Stanford 1:35.51 1st
8 USC 1:35.59 7th

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2 years ago

This is Tennessee’s Relay – BET ON IT (A figure of speech.)

2 years ago

It will always be remembered 😂

2 years ago

I’m thinking Tennessee or NCSU. Both teams have four solid legs. Should be fun.

2 years ago

Wouldn’t be surprised if Stanford leaves Ruck of this relay, she’s got the double on the same day but no individuals on day 2 which has both the 200 free and 400 medley relays, makes sense to me to have her swim both there rather than attempt a triple.

2 years ago

Michigan could drop almost a second by putting Catie Deloof in for backstroke instead of Taylor Garcia

2 years ago

Alex Kunert is a 23 year old freshman on Queens.

2 years ago

John stamos has a Jonas brothers tattoo

Reply to  Ragnar
2 years ago

PeeWee Herman likes popcorn

2 years ago

Go bears!

2 years ago

I love this race… does anyone know if we will be able to pay to watch this meet without an ESPN subscription? I don’t love using those free streaming loophole sites and probably won’t, I’d rather pay money if possible. I like that for NBA I can pay to watch individual games, I’d love if they have/can expand that functionality to events like this.

Reply to  Eagleswim
2 years ago

Speaking of watching the meet, will there be a link to watch the 4×200 Free Relay live?

Reply to  CraigH
2 years ago

On espn app yes. Otherwise don’t know

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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