8 records most likely to fall at the 2015 Women’s NCAA Championships

With all due respect to Christmas, March is really the most wonderful time of the year for college swimming fans. This week kicks off the big show, the Women’s Division I NCAA Championships, and to get you into the spirit, we’ve compiled this list of the 8 major records most likely to be broken at this year’s meet.

Foreign athletes are marked with an asterisk – those swimmers can only break NCAA and US Open records, while American athletes can also break American records. We’ll count the events down from least likely to most likely to see a record fall:

#8. The 200 Backstroke

Record(s) and challenger(s):

  • American, U.S. Open and NCAA records: 1:47.84- Liz Pelton, Cal (2013)
  • Challenger(s): Elizabeth Pelton (Cal), Missy Franklin (Cal), Courtney Bartholomew (Virginia), Brooklynn Snodgrass* (Indiana), Kylie Stewart (Georgia)

We’ll start off with one of the most wide-open record hunts in the meet. Instead of one breakaway athlete charging for records, in this event we’ve got a whole stable of athletes with their eyes on history. That starts with the current record-holder Pelton, who set the American, U.S. Open and NCAA records as a freshman but dropped off severely last year. Pelton is back to form and holds the top seed, but long course world record-holder Franklin is expected to make a charge, along with defending NCAA champ Snodgrass. Also in the mix are breakout Virginia star Bartholomew and the dark horse is Georgia freshman Stewart, who broke 1:50 as a high-schooler and perhaps hasn’t fully rested yet in her rookie college season.

This event should probably be ranked a lot higher, but placing it 8th is mostly a statement on just how blazingly fast Pelton’s 1:47.8 record is – last season, not a single swimmer got under 1:50, much less 1:49 or 1:48, and that crew included Pelton herself. It will take an amazing (and mostly mistake-free) swim to actually knock down this mark.

#7. The 200 Breaststroke

Record(s) and challenger(s):

  • American, U.S. Open and NCAA records: 2:04.06- Emma Reaney, Notre Dame (2014)
  • Challenger(s): Emma Reaney (Notre Dame), Kierra Smith* (Minnesota)

One of the most impressive post-season runs of 2014 came courtesy of Reaney, who broke the American 200 breast record at ACCs, then did it again in the intense spotlight of the NCAA Championships. This year, she’ll be tested by Canadian star Smith, who is coming off of 4th-place finishes at Commonwealth Games and Pan Pacs last summer. Smith holds the top seed about a second off the record. Like the 200 back, this event would be ranked higher but for some mystery surrounding Reaney, who saw her longtime head coach leave the program right at the start of last fall – how she’ll fare under new coaching is still up in the air.

#6. The 100 Butterfly

Record(s) and challenger(s):

  • American, U.S. Open and NCAA records: 50.01- Natalie Coughlin, Cal (2002)
  • Challenger(s): Kelsi Worrell (Louisville)

The Olympic hero Coughlin still holds a pair of American records from a 2002 NCAA meet that was well ahead of its time. Now, 13 years later, the sport has finally started to reel Coughlin back in, and this could be the year both records go down. First on our list is the 100 fly, where Louisville’s Worrell has been a machine this season. After a 50.17 to win the ACC Championship, Worrell is right on the cusp of taking this record below 50 seconds for the first time in history. She’ll need to hold onto her taper in a big way to have a shot, but Worrell has shown nothing but upside in her first 3 college seasons as she continues to transition from a very good sprint freestyler into one of the nation’s best all-around butterflyers.

#5. The 100 Freestyle

Record(s) and challenger(s):

  • American and U.S. Open record: 46.29 – Abbey Weitzeil, Canyons (2014)
  • NCAA record: 46.61 – Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace, Auburn (2012)
  • Challenger(s): Simone Manuel (Stanford)

Stanford’s star freshman Manuel actually broke the American record in this event at her mid-season rest meet, but saw it get lowered less than a month later by high school phenom Weitzeil. But Manuel can still get the last laugh by taking the record back at NCAAs, and there’s an outside shot Manuel could move the record dangerously close to the 45-second range. The NCAA record, meanwhile, is in front of Manuel on a silver platter. The freshman was just .01 off of it at the mid-season Art Adamson Invite, and with Weitzeil deferring her college enrollment one year, there shouldn’t be any other challengers to the mark until at least 2017.

#4. The 400 Medley Relay

Record(s) and challenger(s):

  • American, U.S. Open and NCAA records: 3:27.51 – DiRado/Olsen,/Lee/Neal, Stanford (2014)
  • Challenger(s): Stanford, Virginia*

The 400 medley should be one of the highlight events of the meet, and could feature the two fastest relays in history. Virginia was just three tenths off the U.S. Open record at their mid-seaosn invite, going 3:27.84. They’ve got Courtney Bartholomew leading off, who will show up later on this list with a chance to be the best backstroker in history, and that should stake the Cavaliers to a big lead in an event where clean water is key. German breaststroker Laura Simon* is the other major weapon for the Cavs, making up a nightmare front-half, and the combo of Ellen Williamson and Ellen Thomas* should leave the relay in good hands for the final two legs.

Stanford will have to overcome choppy waters to catch back up for the title and record, but they’ve got an anchor that is downright scary. Simone Manuel should split 45, and will be perhaps 1.5-seconds or more faster than the anchor leg on Stanford’s 2014 relay, which set all the major records. Breaststroker Katie Olsen returns from that record-setting relay, and whether she or Sarah Haase or Heidi Poppe swims this year, the breaststroke leg should be faster as well. The question for Stanford is whether freshmen Ally Howe (backstroke) and Janet Hu (butterfly) will come up with big enough swims to put Manuel within striking distance of the American record.

#3. The 100 Backstroke

Record(s) and challenger(s):

  • American, U.S. Open and NCAA records: 49.97 – Natalie Coughlin, Cal (2002)
  • Challenger(s): Courtney Bartholomew (Virginia), Rachel Bootsma (Cal)

Here’s the other Coughlin record on the chopping block, and this one nearly fell earlier this year. Remember that Virginia relay we just got done bragging about? Well Bartholomew led it off at the mid-season Georgia Invite in 50.01, just four hundredths off every major record. Just a tick more speed at NCAAs will give Bartholomew the record, and if she does it leading off the medley relay, it could turn out to be a two-for-one special for the junior, depending on how her relay can close.

Cal’s Bootsma, meanwhile, was .16 seconds off the record as a freshman in 2013, but struggled through a rough sophomore slump last spring. Seemingly back on track, though, Bootsma might be just as likely to break the record as Bartholomew. Most exciting: both women have up to four chances to break it on Friday – prelims and finals of both the individual 100 back and the leadoff leg of the 400 medley relay. That means we could see the record change hands multiple times over the course of just 24 hours.

#2. The 500, 1000 and 1650 freestyles

Record(s) and challenger(s):

  • NCAA record, 500 free: 4:31.90 – Cierra Runge, Cal (2015)
  • NCAA record, 1000 free: 9:23.78 – Brittany MacLean, Georgia (2014)
  • NCAA record, 1650 free: 15:27.84 – Brittany MacLean, Georgia (2014)
  • Challenger(s): Cierra Runge (Cal), Leah Smith (Virginia), Brittany MacLean* (Georgia)

Okay, it’s not exactly fair throwing all three of these in together, but it’s also not exactly fair having to swim the same events as Katie Ledecky. Though the American and U.S. Open records will not be touched here, all three NCAA records are clearly up for grabs. Runge is Cal’s freshman sensation, who broke the 500 free mark at Pac-12s. Smith was the freshman standout last year for Virginia, and really seems to be coming into her own as a sophomore. And MacLean is still well-known for her head-to-head win over Missy Franklin in the 500 last year, and for setting both the NCAA 1000 and 1650 records in one fell swoop. The big gamble here is how much rest each woman saved for NCAAs. With Smith and MacLean, we can speculate based on last year’s results that each woman’s conference championship meet was little more than a swim-though. Runge is harder to predict – her big Pac-12 Championships swims suggest she was fully rested, but Runge is an elite young talent who may still have some more explosion left in her.

#1. The 200 freestyle

Record(s) and challenger(s):

  • American, U.S. Open and NCAA records: 1:40.31 – Missy Franklin, Cal (2014)
  • Challengers: Missy Franklin (Cal), Simone Manuel (Stanford)

This is probably the only event where it would actually be a surprise if a record doesn’t fall. That’s because of Franklin, one of the best female swimmers on the planet right now, who set every major record in the 200 free at this meet last year and is well ahead of where she was at this point in 2014. The biggest question here is exactly how far Franklin could lower this record (Can she break the incredible 1:40-barrier?) and whether Stanford’s Manuel can get under the old mark and/or push Franklin for the title.


Bonus: Three possible records we didn’t include

  • 800 free relay: You might be wondering why we didn’t include the 800 free relay, where Cal smashed the American record a few weeks ago at Pac-12s. Based on NCAA history, it’s much more difficult to swim fast in that event at NCAAs compared to the conference level. Cal broke the record on day 1 of Pac-12s with four fresh athletes, but the NCAA lineup requires swimmers to take on the 800 free relay Friday night, after likely swimming two individual 200 frees (prelims and finals) earlier in the day. If Cal rebreaks that record, it’ll be a huge testament to their ability to swim through fatigue.
  • 200/400 free relay: Stanford could have a shot at both of these marks, but it’ll probably take a superhuman effort from Manuel to carry the team there. The unexpected retirement of Maddy Schaefer may have doomed the Cardinal’s shot at American record status.
  • 50 free: Both Manuel and Georgia’s Olivia Smoliga seem like outside shots to approach this record if they’re at their best. Consider the omission of this event from our top 8 as a compliment to Lara Jackson‘s 21.27, one of the most intimidating short course American records still on the books.

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Ready for a 20.9 50 free! I can see Missy going 1:39.5 and Simone challenging under 1:40… 200 Breast should be a fun race to watch.. 100 free will definitely go down! 200 IM will also be fun to watch!! Excited 🙂 Go Bears! Also, War Eagle!

bobo gigi

On paper all these records can be broken. But it will not be easy. We can’t forget all the pressure and the fatigue throughout the meet.
Best example is Simone in the 100 free. I’m pretty sure she can break the American record but she will swim it on the third day after already swimming a lot of races, individually and in relays, the 2 days before. And the sprint requires to be the freshest possible.

Good luck to Missy, Simone, Olivia, Cierra, Elizabeth and the others to break records but more importantly, to offer us, swim fans, a lot of great fights and memorable races. 😎

I think the safest record is probably the 400 IM. But you’re right, there’s not much that’s out of reach this year.


Ya, I’m not sure if this is just a really weak field in the IMs or we’ve gotten spoiled watching the likes of DiRado, Biesel, Hosszu, and Leveranz over the last 5-6 years.

bad parent

Worrell takes BOTH flys. Mark it.


Agreed, Bobo — if anyone can break that record, it’s Simone, but I don’t think it will be as easy as a lot of people are projecting it to be. Aside from the schedule/format fatigue issues, I think we’ve been overlooking just how impressive Weitzeil’s record is. She not only broke the previous record, she obliterated it, by sprint standards. Only a handful of women (Weitzeil, Manuel, Vanderpool-Wallace, Coughlin, Geer) have been under 47, and Weitzeil took that record from the mid-high 46s to the mid-LOW 46s. 46.29 would still rank among the fastest all-time (rolling) relay splits, and Weitzeil did it on a flat start. Simone’s 200 at SECs IS really promising for 100 closing speed, though, and we… Read more »

Derek Mead

I also have to put in the 50 free. Between Simone Manual and Ivy Martin, plus others like Smoliga and Osman, there is definitely a shot of a record going down.

Looking forward to an NCAAs where the fastest times of the season will be done at Nationals, not at conference meets.

Go Badgers!

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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