2021 W. NCAA Picks: White’s Time To Shine In 200 Back

2021 NCAA WOMEN’S SWIMMING & DIVING CHAMPIONSHIPS

  • When: Wednesday, March 17 – Saturday, March 20, 2021
  • Where: Greensboro Aquatic Center / Greensboro, NC (Eastern Time Zone)
  • Prelims 10 AM / Finals 6 PM (Local Time)
  • Short course yards (SCY) format
  • Defending champion: Stanford (3x) – 2019 results
  • Streaming:
  • Championship Central
  • Psych Sheets
  • Live Results

200 BACKSTROKE

During the 2019-20 collegiate campaign, Rhyan White had one of the greatest single-season evolutions in recent memory — transforming from fringe NCAA qualifier into the fastest woman in the country.

White entered her freshman season at Alabama in the fall of 2018 with a lifetime best of 1:53.54 in the 200 backstroke, set back in December of 2015, and would go on to place 30th at her first NCAAs in a time of 1:54.48. This included not even making the cutline in the 200 back, adding it as one of her extra events after earning an invite in the 100-yard event.

Fast forward to last season’s SECs: White follows up a 1:50.00 mid-season invite swim by setting a new conference record in a time of 1:48.06 (in the prelims), going on to win the final in 1:48.15.

Entering the 2020 NCAA Championships as the top seed, White was denied the opportunity to perform on college’s biggest stage, with the pandemic interfering under a week out. One year later we find ourselves in the same position, with White holding the top seed in the event after going 1:48.55 in February to win a second straight SEC title.

The biggest difference compared to last year — other than the fact that NCAAs will actually take place — is that White comes in as a big favorite.

Last season, she was set to faceoff with defending champion and NCAA record-holder Beata Nelson, who has since graduated. Now, White owns the fastest PB in the field by 1.71 seconds, and is more than a full second clear of anyone else in the 2020-21 seasonal rankings.

One notable thing about the way White has swum this race recently is that she’s getting out faster than anyone we’ve seen before. The 21-year-old flipped in 24.9 in each of the last two SEC finals, something the likes of Nelson, Regan Smith or Kathleen Baker didn’t do in their record-breaking swims. Now, when White set her PB in last season’s SEC prelims she was actually a bit slower opening up (25.30), so going out sub-25 may not be her optimal way to swim the race, but it shows that she’s willing to put it all on the line and has the ability to make this year’s NCAA final look like it’s a race for second place early.

If we consider that there’s a chance she was only partially tapered at SECs and is saving the full drop for NCAAs, there’s no doubt she’s in line to venture into the 1:47s and possibly the American and NCAA records.

The only other swimmer that has broken 1:50 this season is Cal freshman Isabelle Stadden, who hit a 1:49.77 during the mid-season Stanford Invite. That performance marked Stadden’s first best time in almost two years, having previously been 1:50.37 in December of 2018, which indicates the training at Berkeley has been working for her.

The 18-year-old had no problem winning the Pac-12 title in the event in late February, clocking 1:50.83, and appears well on her way to be the latest in a long line of standout Cal swimmers in the women’s 200 back. When she swam that 1:49.7 in November, it made her the sixth Cal Golden Bear sub-1:50, joining the elite club that includes Baker, Elizabeth PeltonMissy FranklinNatalie Coughlin and Amy Bilquist. Four of those women have won NCAA titles in the event, and Stadden has a great chance to be the next. Will it be this year?

The main swimmer standing in her way is White, who will be chasing some team history of her own.

Now, White is also the top seed in the 100 back, which comes before the 200 on the schedule. But if she was able to win any of her events (she also entered in the 100 fly, seeded seventh), the junior would become just the third Alabama woman to do so in NCAA history. The only others were Angelika Knipping, who won the now-discontinued 50 breaststroke in 1983, and diver Lane Bassham, who claimed the Three-Meter crown in 2004.

Following White and Stadden, there are four swimmers who have been 1:50-point this season. Juniors Emma Muzzy and Sophie Sorenson, who both missed a second swim at the 2019 NCAAs as freshmen, along with sophomore Katharine Berkoff and first-year Phoebe Bacon, who will be making their NCAA debut.

Muzzy dropped a huge 1:50.12 to win a third straight ACC title a few weeks ago, taking six-tenths off her personal best time, with Berkoff, her NC State teammate, the runner-up. Compared to the 2020 conference championship meet, where they also went 1-2 and Muzzy set what is now her previous best time of 1:50.79, she was almost a full second faster coming home in 2021 (27.89 to 28.73). Whether that indicates an improved race strategy, more of a taper, or just overall being faster remains to be seen, but she’ll be someone White will want to get way out ahead of over the first 150.

Berkoff has the capability of challenging the 1:50-barrier, with a pair of 1:50.1 swims under her belt from late 2018/early 2019. After failing to do so as a freshman, she got back down to that area in December, going 1:50.20, and then was significantly faster at ACCs compared to last year. If all goes right, 1:49 is within her sights.

For the 18-year-old Bacon, she’ll look to carry on Nelson’s backstroke legacy at Wisconsin, and perhaps is the swimmer best equipped to challenge White for the title.

Bacon has been 58.6 in the long course 100 back and 2:08.8 in the 200, while her SCY best in the longer event stands at 1:50.71 from two years ago. Having gone 1:50.90 to win the Big Ten title in her freshman season with the Badgers, she looks poised to drop a PB and be in the hunt for a top-three finish.

And then there’s Sorenson, who is coming off helping the Kentucky Wildcats win their first-ever women’s SEC title. It was on the final night of competition when Sorenson put forth a spirited effort to take more than a second off her best time and finish as the runner-up to White in the 200 back in 1:50.94, having come into the meet with a best of 1:52.38. The 20-year-old also swam a time of 1:52.63 in a dual meet in January, which shows she was on track to go 1:50 all season.

After placing 43rd as a freshman, Sorenson has a great chance to be a factor inside the top-eight two years later, as does her sophomore teammate Caitlin Brooks. One thing that needs to be kept in mind, however, is that swimmers on teams that really gunned to win a conference title, such as Kentucky, are probably attempting to peak at back-to-back meets, compared to some others who would’ve saved their full taper for NCAAs.

Others who will be looking to make an impact in the this season’s ‘A’ final include Virginia Tech freshman Emma Atkinson, NC State senior Kate Moore and Texas junior Julia Cook. Cook, who joins White, Muzzy and Brooks as swimmers in the field who were sub-1:52 last year in the NCAA, notably opted not to race this event at Big 12s, so her seed time of 1:52.40 may be a little deceiving.

TOP 8 PREDICTIONS

Place Swimmer Team Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Rhyan White Alabama 1:48.55 1:48.06
2 Isabelle Stadden Cal 1:49.77 1:49.77
3 Phoebe Bacon Wisconsin 1:50.90 1:50.71
4 Katharine Berkoff NC State 1:50.20 1:50.13
5 Emma Muzzy NC State 1:50.12 1:50.12
6 Julia Cook Texas 1:52.40 1:51.62
7 Sophie Sorenson Kentucky 1:50.94 1:50.94
8 Caitlin Brooks Kentucky 1:51.55 1:51.55

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JCO
1 month ago

No dark horse predictions??

SwimFani
1 month ago

Not much interest

RTR
1 month ago

Great in depth article, as usual Swim Swam! I totally agree with your pick of Rhyan White to earn the victory. Also, not really a dark horse given her relatively high seed, but look for Rhyan’s teammate Morgan Liberto, to drop into the 1:51s, to also earn an A final swim.👍👍🏊‍♂️🏊‍♂️🏊‍♂️

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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