Disclaimer: BlueSeventy Swim of the Week is not meant to be a conclusive selection of the best overall swim of the week, but rather one Featured Swim to be explored in deeper detail. The BlueSeventy Swim is an opportunity to take a closer look at the context of one of the many fast swims this week, perhaps a swim that slipped through the cracks as others grabbed the headlines, or a race we didn’t get to examine as closely in the flood of weekly meets.
In a week full of NCAA, American and National Age Group records, our Swim of the Week is instead focusing on a swim that didn’t break any records, but did perhaps decide the Women’s NCAA Championship.
When Georgia senior Brittany MacLean went 1:42.42 to win the 200 free title, it didn’t break any major records or even better Missy Franklin‘s winning times from the past two years. But MacLean’s clutch swim may have clinched a third NCAA team title for Georgia within MacLean’s four-year college career.
Further, MacLean’s swim itself is almost a microcosm of exactly what Georgia did to win the overall team title, representing four key pieces of the Bulldogs’ winning strategy:
1. Flying Under the Radar before closing hard
In terms of NCAA winner picks, Georgia wasn’t high on the list pre-meet. Most analyses had Stanford winning with defending champs Cal as their main competition. Georgia dropped especially low in rankings after losing the SEC title to Texas A&M.
But that turned out to be the perfect attack route for the Bulldogs: under the radar. And MacLean was the same way. At the 150-mark of the 200 free, she was solidly fourth and had been in that spot for almost the entirety of the race. But a huge closing burst (an unreal 25.7 split after going 26s on the middle two 50s) powered MacLean to the finish, just the way a huge final meet vaulted Georgia out of obscurity and to the NCAA title.
2. Rebounding from disappointment
After blowing up at NCAAs in her sophomore year, MacLean struggled as a junior. News would later break that injuries were affecting her performances, but in terms of pure results, MacLean slid from 2014 NCAA champ in the 500 and 1650 to 7th and 9th, respectively.
At the same time, Georgia’s run of two straight NCAA titles was snapped, with MacLean among several Bulldogs who slumped on the year (another notable one being Olivia Smoliga).
But 2016 was a major redemption story for MacLean, who roared back to the top of the NCAA, winning the 200 and taking second in the 500 and 1650 for the most consistent NCAA meet of her career. Likewise, the Bulldogs as a whole rebounded from an off year – Smoliga, too, returned to the top of the NCAA podium, winning the 50 and 100 frees.
3. Beating Stanford Through the Freestyles
One reason Stanford was the early title favorite was how well they’ve recruited freestylers over the past few years. The Cardinal seemed unstoppable, even with Simone Manuel redshirting the year.
But Georgia pushed the favorites in their best event discipline, finishing higher than Stanford in every single freestyle event and winning key one-on-one matchups for big points.
MacLean topped Stanford’s Lia Neal in that 200 free, catching and passing the title favorite for gold while also beating all Stanford 500 and 1650 freestylers. Smoliga beat Neal in the 100 free and won the 50 as well, giving Geogia dominance through the ever-important freestyle races.
4. Improving From Seeds In Unparalleled Fashion
One thing that became clear in our post-meet coverage was that no team outperformed their seeds as well as Georgia did. The Bulldogs gained 121 points from what they were seeded to score, almost double the amount gained by any other team in the NCAA.
MacLean’s 200 is one perfect example. Seeded 8th coming into the meet, MacLean was slated to earn 11 points. (Stanford’s Neal, meanwhile, was seeded 1st, worth 20). But when the meet was swum in the pool and not on paper, MacLean gained 9 points for her team in one swim – and when she bumped Neal back down to 3rd, Stanford lost 4 from seed – essentially a 13-point swing between the two programs.
Consider that Georgia won the meet by just 19 points, and the perspective becomes clear – MacLean’s 200 free, while not the fastest race of the meet, may have been the key piece to Georgia’s 2016 NCAA title run.
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