This year’s NCAA Championships, much like we’ve seen in the men’s basketball version of March Madness, is at a high-water mark for mid-major talent. There is a huge group of mid-major swimmers with a shot at All-American awards. What’s even more exciting is that these swimmers aren’t ones who had to burn all-out at their conference championship meets to earn invites. They’re swimmers who were major-esque by earning qualifying times early in the season and in many cases swimming through their respective conference championship meets.
Not featured here is George Mason’s Ashley Danner, who is the mid-major swimmer, but by this point in her career she’s very well known to followers of college swimming.
Catherine Meili, Junior, Columbia
#12 seed – 200 IM – 1:57.38
#8 seed – 100 breaststroke – 59.68
#23 seed – 200 breaststroke – 2:10.40
Even in what was an oustanding Ivy League season (there’s two more appearances from them on this list), Meili was voted as the unanimous Ivy League Swimmer of the Year. She broke the Ivy League, Columbia, and Pool Records at the Ivy League Championships in both the 200 IM and the 100 breaststroke. She’s primed to perform well after some outstanding swims at the Columbus Grand Prix this past weekend. If she can hold onto that speed for just a few more days, she’ll be special in this meet.
Bryeanna Ravettine, Sophomore, Liberty
#13 seed – 50 freestyle – 22.19
#58 seed – 100 fly – 54.59
#43 seed – 100 free – 49.33
With the enthusiasm exuded by Liberty coach Jake Shellenberger, it was only a matter of time before the Flames put a swimmer into this meet. She’s a swimmer who fits perfectly into Shellenberger’s training methodologies. She’s a real student of the sport, and takes a very detailed and process-oriented approach to her stroke. She’s becoming what her coach likes to refer to as “an expert on her own stroke,” meaning that she knows how she swims, she can feel when something’s off or not and make the necessary adjustments on her own. Ravettine is a Penn State transfer, and has blossomed into a great sprinter. She’s a monster in the weight room – owed to her youth as a softball player – and can reportedly box jump 45 inches. In case you were wondering, that’s massive – try jumping onto your kitchen table. It’s at least that high.
Alexandra Forrester, Junior, Yale
#43 seed – 50 free – 22.63
#16 seed – 100 fly – 52.51
#51 seed – 100 free – 49.58
Forrester is not new to the NCAA Championships. She, in fact, qualified and scored a pair of top-10 finishes. She won the B-Final for 9th in the 100 fly in 2010 and also placed 10th in the 200 fly. She was a six-star recruit coming out of highschool, which made her a huge boon for the Bulldogs and was the biggest carryover legacy of legendary coach Frank Keefe’s final year. Her first go-around, she had a veteran teammate at the meet with her, and a veteran coach. This time, she’ll be without either of those, but she’s not in a bad position under new coach Cristina Teuscher either – she was a four-time NCAA Champion and an Olympic gold medalist in another Ivy-League school: Columbia.
Courtney Otto, Freshman, Harvard
#25 – 200 fly – 1:56.94
#56 – 500 free – 4:45.68
#22 – 400 IM – 4:10.22
Harvard’s Courtney Otto is only a freshman, but she’s got a lot of maturity and credentials behind her. She comes from an extremely athletic family – her brother was an All-American track star, and her sister was a captain on the Army swim team. Courtney, the youngest, is the cream of the crop. She turned down offers from big-time programs like Tennessee and Arizona State to come to Harvard, and was lured in by coach Stephanie Morawski’s history with 200 butterfliers – Otto’s best event. Morawski was the coach of Noelle Bassi was the 2004 U.S. National Champion in the 200 fly, and touched 6th in that year’s Olympic Trials. She will be joined by teammate Meghan Leddy, who is a top-20 200 backstroker.
Kelsey Conci, Senior, Wyoming
#34 – 50 free – 22.56
#11 – 100 back – 52.47
#67 – 100 free – 49.85
Last season, Kelsey Conci became the first Cowgirl swimmer in 19 years to qualify for the NCAA Championships, and she did the honor good with a 10th-place finish in the 100 backstroke. She really made a huge move forward before last season, including dropping two-and-a-half seconds in her signature event. She’s again made a big improvement this year, and her sort of median times have been faster all year long than they were as a junior. Perhaps a top-8 finish is in store for Conci in 2012, even in the loaded 100 backstroke.
Laura Lindsay, Senior, Toledo
#16 – 100 breast – 59.95
#18 – 200 breast – 2:09.79
Laura Lindsay over the past two seasons is the swimmer who put the Toledo Rockets on the map. She led the team to a MAC Championship this year in a conference that includes a very good Ohio team, and a number of mid-major NCAA qualifiers (Briana Emig, Buffalo’s Brittney Kuras). Last year, she placed 15th in the 100 breaststroke to earn only the third All-American award in the history of Toledo in any sport (and the first in swimming).
Briana Emig, Junior, Eastern Michigan
#51 – 500 free – 4:44.75
#38 – 400 IM – 4:15.87
#8 – 1650 free – 16:03.51
In her first two years at Eastern Michigan, Emig put a lot of focus on the middle-distance races, especially the 500 free. And that’s with good reason – she placed 3rd at the MAC Championships last year as a sophomore. This season, however, she really turned her focus to the longer to the longer freestyles. She dropped the 200 from her schedule and replaced it with a 400 IM. She didn’t swim an individual 50 or 100 free all season. Not only did these moves benefit her 500, they resulted in massive improvements in her mile, as she now enters NCAA’s as the 8th seed. Emig should really be scaring the big-major swimmers in this race. She tapered for the Eagles’ mid-season invite, and went most of her best times at that meet (including the 16:03 in the mile). She was way slower at the MAC Championships – 13 seconds slower in the 1650, 4 seconds slower in the 400 IM, 3 seconds in the 500 free. With that in mind, her breaking 16-minutes at NCAA’s and improving from her seed is certainly not an unreasonable thought.
Sabine Rasch, Junior, TCU
#33 – 50 free – 22.54
#56 – 200 free – 1:47.99
#17 – 100 free – 48.70
Before Sabine Rasch came to TCU, no swimmer in the program’s history had ever been under 50 seconds in the 100 free. No swimmer had ever been under 23 seconds in the 50 free. No swimmer had ever been under 55 seconds in the 100 fly. Now, Rasch has shattered all of those barriers, and has brought teammates along with her. The ability to produce swimmers under those seemingly-basic barriers can play huge in the Horned Frogs’ recruiting pitch in talent-rich Texas; especially as they move into the Big 12 next season. It’s a long road of depth to catch up with their in-state competitors, but they’re well on their way.
Emily McClellan, Sophomore, Wisconsin-Milwaukee
#51 – 200 IM – 1:59.84
#4 – 100 breast – 59.25
#10 – 200 breast – 2:08.94
Emily McClellan’s 4th-seed in the 100 breaststroke is the highest-seed of any swimmer outside of the 6 major college conferences. In fact, her 59.25 is the second-best time ever swum by a mid-major performer (behind only another mid-major swimmer in this year’s meet – George Mason’s Ashley Danner). Her 100 has improved this year, but her 200 has improved even more – more than three full seconds improved over her sophomore year.