Day 2 of the Women’s Pac-12 Swimming & Diving Championships has concluded from Federal Way, Washington. Here are 5 big things we learned:
1. Runge the answer to Cal’s distance woes: In 2014, the California had a roster loaded with talent but struggling with a few major holes. One of the biggest was distance freestyle, where the team was forced to use all-around stud Missy Franklin just to stay afloat. In fact, outside of Franklin, the team had only one point-scorer in the 500 and 1650 combined, a B final 500 freestyler. But in 2015, that lineup hole looks to be well filled, as freshman Cierra Runge seems to be ascending to superstar status. The rookie broke the NCAA record on night 2 of Pac-12s in the 500 free, getting closer than any non-Katie Ledecky swimmer ever to the 4:30-barrier.
Though Cal has been panned by some commenters for not helping elite athletes improve their times, that swim marks the third time Runge has smashed her previous personal best in the 500 this season. Anyone still doubting that high-level prospects don’t get faster in Berkeley, look at the improvement curve Runge’s been on this year:
- 2015 Pac-12s: 4:31.90
- Georgia Invite finals: 4:34.81
- Georgia Invite prelims: 4:37.06
- Pre-college best: 4:37.14
Runge now becomes a contender in a stacked 500 free field at NCAAs, and if Cal has any slim hopes of upsetting Georgia for the team title, Runge upsetting defending NCAA champ Brittany MacLean would be a great way to go about it.
2. Farida Osman! Tonight’s post-meet analysis will be a little Cal-centric, but that’s because the Bears have so far been the team that’s really popping at the conference level. No swim was more unexpected than sophomore Farida Osman‘s upset victory over Stanford uber-star Simone Manuel in the 50. True, Manuel didn’t look tapered/shaved and still holds the nation’s #1 time. But that doesn’t take away what was an amazing swim by Osman. The Egyptian national broke 22 for the first time ever tonight, and instead of taking things slow, chose to leap past the barrier. A 21.90 in prelims was followed by a 21.65 at finals, a gigantic drop when you’re talking about an elite NCAA 50 freestyler. Osman moves into a tie with Wisconsin’s Ivy Martin for #2 in the NCAA, and could turn out to be Manuel’s biggest challenger for the national title.
3. Haase’s gutsy 200 IM: Though Cal was awfully dominant all night, Stanford’s Sarah Haase put together a great swim in the 200 IM to somewhat stem the damage. Coming out of prelims, the Bears looked set for a 1-2-3-4 sweep in the 200 IM that would have been devastating momentum-wise. But Haase smashed her finals swim, bettering her lifetime-best by a full 1.7 seconds to break up the Cal sweep with a fourth-place finish. Haase had to put together a huge breaststroke comeback to pull it off, trailing the leaders by two to three seconds at the 100-mark, but her 32.6 breast split was far better than anyone else in the pool. That bodes well for the individual breaststroke races, which should be Haase’s true focus events and big-time races for Stanford.
4. Chenault back on track: Lost in the bustle of Runge’s NCAA record was a great swim from USC sophomore Chelsea Chenault. The California native turned in the best 500 free time of her collegiate career in 4:37.55. That’s nearly her lifetime-best, and her best swim in the event since May of 2012. Chenault was only 4:39 both at this meet and NCAAs last year, so being two seconds ahead of where she was has to be a good sign. Chenault might be even more dangerous through the 200 free, so keep an eye on her swim tomorrow – she was 1:43.91 at this meet a year ago, which is still her lifetime-best.
5. Cal showed up to swim: All-around, California seems to be swimming lights-out at this meet. After winning all four swimming events on day 2, the Bears are undefeated in swimming events so far at these Pac-12 Championships. The cherry on top was a blowout win in the 200 free relay, an event where Stanford could be the NCAA favorites. The Cal relay included twin 21.46s from Franklin and Runge. Obviously, for teams like Cal and Stanford, Pac-12 results don’t matter nearly as much as NCAAs, and all this great swimming will mean very little to Cal if they struggle once again at NCAAs. But after a disappointing 2014 post-season, it’s a promising sign that Teri McKeever‘s crew has showed up with some fire to kick off the 2015 championship season.