2020 W. NCAA Picks: Brown Eyes Elusive Individual Title In 100 Free

2020 NCAA DIVISION I WOMEN’S SWIMMING & DIVING CHAMPIONSHIPS

100 FREESTYLE

Erika Brown has had an incredible rise over her four-year career at Tennessee. After being a relay-only swimmer at the NCAA Championships as a freshman, the Lady Vol broke out as a sophomore, winning three individual SEC titles and placing second at NCAAs in the 50 free and 100 fly.

After anchoring the Vols to a national title in the 200 medley relay at last season’s NCAAs to go along with three top-five finishes individually, Brown helped lead the school to its first Women’s SEC Championship title in February. With that, there’s really only one thing left for the 21-year-old senior to do in college: win an individual national title.

Brown will have a great shot in all three of her events, but the 100 free looks to be the one with the best chance. The 50 free features Abbey Weitzeilfresh off breaking the American and NCAA Records in December, and the 100 fly is anyone’s race between Brown and co-NCAA record-holders Louise Hansson and Maggie MacNeil.

Brown’s 45.8 Makes Her The Favorite

Brown came into the 100 free last year seeded second, but ended up fifth. After going a best time of 46.41 at SECs, she was half a second slower, 46.99, in the NCAA final. But this year, she’s stepped things up a notch.

After blasting a 46.15 at the UT Invite in November, Brown became just the second swimmer in history to break 46 seconds at SECs, clocking 45.83. Only Simone Manuel, a three-time NCAA champion in the event and the reigning Olympic and World Champion in long course, has been faster.

That gives Brown almost four-tenths of breathing room over the rest of the field, at least based on times done this year, which is a pretty sizable margin in such a short race. The 100 free comes towards the end of the meet, so Brown will have a lot of swims under her belt by the time she steps on the block for the final. But that was the case at SECs as well, so it shouldn’t be an issue.

Weitzeil and Hopkin In The Hunt

Her two primary competitors will be Weitzeil and Arkansas’ Anna Hopkin.

Abbey Weitzeil at the 2019 NCAAs. (Photo: Jack Spitser)

Weitzeil, a senior at Cal, set her personal best time of 46.29 over five years ago prior to entering college, but has been 46-mid each of the past two seasons. At the Minnesota Invite, where she became the first woman ever sub-21 in the 50, she was 46.52. At the recent Pac-12 Championships, the 23-year-old blasted a career-best 45.77 relay leg before hyper-extending her arm on a finish and sitting out of the individual event.

Crazily enough, a similar situation occurred at last season’s NCAAs when Weitzeil raced the final day with her arm wrapped after jamming the wall in the 200 medley relay. With that ailment, she still placed fourth in the 100 free, but could’ve very well been the victor without it (she split 45.87 early in the meet in the 400 medley relay, slightly quicker than the eventual champion Mallory Comerford).

Weitzeil will be fast, but her injury uncertainty, coupled with the fact that her relay leg was essentially the same as Brown’s flat-start, give Brown the advantage.

Hopkin, a native of Great Britain who is in her second season with the Razorbacks, was a surprise runner-up last year when she edged out Siobhan Haughey, Weitzeil and Brown in a time of 46.56, half a second under her PB coming into the meet.

Hopkin, 23, tied that time at the Mizzou Invite early this season before dropping a 46.20 alongside Brown at SECs, tying her with Comerford for third-fastest in history. So she’s now been under 47 four times — twice at 2019 NCAAs, and twice this season. That shows she can drop time when it matters, and that we shouldn’t expect her to slow down in Athens.

Other Contenders

Each of the last two seasons the top-five finishers in this event have gone sub-47, and that was the case on the psych sheets this year as Maggie MacNeil and Julie Meynen come in seeded at 46.5 and 46.8 respectively.

MacNeil swam the 100 back last season as her third event along with the 50 free and 100 fly, but steps in here as she avoids having an individual double on day three. The reigning 100 fly World Champion took half a second off her best time at Big Tens to go that 46.57, and with her deadly combination of superior underwaters and an ability to step up when the pressure is at its greatest, another drop is likely in the cards.

After taking 16th as a freshman, Meynen was seeded to score each of the last two years but added in the prelims and ended up 27th in 2018 and 23rd last year.

Coming into last month’s SECs with a best of 47.61 from November of 2017, the Auburn senior reeled off the three fastest swims of her career, culminating with her 46.88 leading off the 400 free relay to close the meet out. The 22-year-old also went 46.96 individually, proving that swim wasn’t a one-off, and we’ll see if she can recreate it at NCAAs. It all comes down to if she can use the last two years as a learning experience and execute in the morning.

Behind the top-five, there are 11 swimmers seeded in the 47s, meaning it could possibly require a sub-48 just to earn a second swim.

There are three members of that group who were finalists last year — all seniors: Auburn’s Claire Fisch, Georgia’s Veronica Burchill and Virginia’s Morgan Hill.

Fisch, who won the 2019 B-final, blasted a new personal best of 47.27 at SECs. Last season she added three-tenths from SECs to NCAAs, which is something to keep an eye on, but even a small add would still slot her into the A-final this time around. It’s also worth noting her scorching 46.47 leg on the final day of SECs in the 400 free relay.

Burchill and Hill have both swum in the consols each of the last two years, and with half of the 2019 championship heat graduated, they’ve got a great chance to secure a top-eight spot after going 47.32 and 47.47 respectively at their conference meets. Hill also had a couple of 46-high relay legs at ACCs.

Another swimmer to watch out for is NC State sophomore Kylee Alons, who didn’t even race this event last year but has produced the five fastest swims of her career this season, the fastest being a 47.73 at ACCs to finish a close second to Hill. Her teammate Ky-Lee Perry was an A finalist last year and hit two 47-mid splits at ACCs, though she has only been 48.0 so far this year.

Others to keep an eye on include OSU junior Freya Rayner, who broke out with a massive best of 47.81 at Big Tens, and USC sophomore Laticia Transom, who had a standout Pac-12 showing and showed she can perform under pressure with three 47-point relay legs at last year’s NCAAs (when her flat start best was in the 48s).

Stanford’s Amalie Fackenthal and Cal’s Robin Neumann return from last year’s B final, but neither has been under 48 yet this season.

TOP-8 PICKS

Place Swimmer Team Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Erika Brown Tennessee 45.83 45.83
2 Abbey Weitzeil California 46.52 46.29
3 Anna Hopkin Arkansas 46.20 46.20
4 Maggie MacNeil Michigan 46.57 46.57
5 Julie Meynen Auburn 46.88 46.88
6 Claire Fisch Auburn 47.27 47.27
7 Morgan Hill Virginia 47.47 47.46
8 Laticia Transom USC 47.83 47.83

Darkhorse: IU freshman Cora Dupre came into the season with a best time of 48.96, but has been faster four times, including a pair of 47-highs at the UT Invite in November. The 18-year-old is coming off winning the Big Ten title in the 200 free, but was DQed in the prelims of the 100 for a false start, so she’ll be chomping at the bit for redemption at her first NCAAs.

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Bearly Breathing
7 months ago

Has anything been officially released by Cal regarding Abbey’s recovery from her arm injury?

Ladyvoldisser
7 months ago

Erika Brown will easily win this even! Come on Weitzel is injured and over the hill…behind her are some after though swimmers. Erika will have no pressure since she WILL ALSO WIN THE 50 FREE and 100 FLY!!!

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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