We’ll be previewing the top 12 men’s and women’s programs from the 2017 NCAA Championships – stay tuned to our College Swimming Previews channel to catch all 24. Can’t get enough college swimming news? Check out the College Preview issue of SwimSwam Magazine for some inside looks at the life of a college swimmer as told by college swimmers themselves, plus full-length profiles of a few of college swimming’s biggest names, including our cover athlete, Simone Manuel.
We’ve tightened up our criteria from last year, where our first stab at a letter grading system got hit by a little bit of classic grade inflation. Again, bear in mind that all of these grades are projections more than 6 months out – and as none of us has a working crystal ball, these projections are very subjective and very likely to change over the course of the season. Disagreeing with specific grades is completely acceptable; furiously lashing out at a writer, commenter, or specific athlete is not.
- A = projected to score significant (10+) NCAA points per event
- B = projected to score some (3-10) NCAA points per event
- C = projected on the bubble to score likely only a few (1-2) or no NCAA points per event
- D = projected to score no NCAA points
Key Losses: Olivia Smoliga (51 NCAA points, 4 NCAA relays), Chantal Van Landeghem (23.5 NCAA points, 4 NCAA relays), Emily Cameron (9 NCAA points, 3 NCAA relays)
Olivia Smoliga led the way in her senior campaign with UGA, turning in three NCAA runner-up finishes and totaling 51 points all on her own. Her presence was key on relays, in which UGA finished in the top 8 in four of five, and she helped their 200 and 400 free relays place top 3. Another sprint senior Chantal van Landeghem was paramount to the Bulldogs success, as she A-finaled in the 50 and 100 free and helped the sprint relays get as high as they did nationally.
In addition to sprint free and Smoliga’s 100 back, butterfliers put up a solid chunk of individual points, coming from three separate swimmers. Chelsea Britt made B final appearances in the 100 and 200 fly both, while Megan Kingsley made the 200 fly B final and Veronica Burchill swam in the 100 fly B final. The freshman Burchill was the most impactful first-year on the roster last year at NCAAs, as she contributed individually in the 100 fly and also swam on all three freestyle relays for the ‘Dawgs.
UGA didn’t look quite like the team we’re used to seeing since 2010 (typically winning NCAAs or finishing 2nd), but they had enough star power and relay depth to put together a 4th place finish last year.
SPRINT FREE: D+
Losing not one double sprint free A-finalist, but two, is a huge hit to the program. With Smoliga and van Landeghem gone, UGA is going to have to pick up the pieces and see what fits. The ‘Dawgs, and head coach Jack Bauerle, are resourceful, though. In 2016, with only one true sprinter (like, really can’t do more than a 100, or more than a 50) on the 200 free relay (Smoliga), UGA finished 2nd at the SEC Championships in the 200 free relay, utilizing mid-distance freestyler/utility swimmer Meaghan Raab, 200 flyer Hali Flickinger, and backstroker Kylie Stewart. Subbing in breaststroker/IMer Emily Cameron for Flickinger at NCAAs, UGA astoundingly touched 3rd.
Bottom line is, while there won’t even be a sole Smoliga-type swimmer to lead the way, Bauerle and co. will make it work.
Burchill returns as a sophomore with extensive NCAA experience after her first season in Athens, while both Raab and Stewart are there if needed for this relay. These projections are based on individual point scoring, however, which is why it looks so grim for the ‘Dawgs (it’s not really all that grim). Burchill is most primed to score individually in sprint free at NCAAs with collegiate bests of 22.21 and 47.99.
Of the incoming freshman, the only true sprinter is in-state pickup Donna Blaum, who went a lifetime best 22.8 this year, while breaststroker/IMer Danielle Dellatorre has been 49.9 in the 100 free. Courtney Harnish doesn’t really get going until the 200 in freestyle, though there could be untapped potential there– she’s just that good.
DISTANCE FREE: B
The grade here is mostly inflated due to the 200 freestylers in Bauerle’s arsenal this year. In addition to all four members of the 7th place 800 free relay last year returning, freshman Harnish brings in a best time of 1:44.7, which would’ve scored last year in the 200 free. Harnish is also excellent in longer free races, having been 4:39.1 in the 500 and 16:05.5 in the mile, the 500 time being NCAA scoring-worthy and the 1650 time being just off.
Canadian import Olivia Anderson has been 4:14/8:32/16:18 in LCM, which is very solid and could end up translating into her picking up some points in the mile, most likely, as her 800 and 1500 times are more impressive than her 400 time. Anderson’s countrymate Meryn McCann dropped a 4:38 500 free (along with Stephanie Peters) at the Georgia Invite mid-season, and it will simply be a matter of hitting that taper again at NCAAs (neither did last year) that will decide if they can score.
The best case scenario would be Harnish, McCann, and Peters all scoring in the 500 free, which is certainly within the realm of possibilities. Anderson might project to the longer distances, as a potential mile scorer, while freshman Emmaline Peterson could go that route as well (she’s been 16:11 in yards).
In terms of the 200 free, Meaghan Raab scored in that last year in the B final, but her summer showing in this event in LCM suggests more drops to come this collegiate season. Having never broken a minute, she went 1:59.5’s in prelims and finals at US Nationals, then ripped a 1:58.71 to win the 2017 US Open title.
Raab and Megan Kingsley are both 1:56 200 IM’ers, and they finished 19th and 20th, respectively, at NCAAs last year in this event. It wouldn’t be an outlandish bet to predict Raab, after a strong summer, to bump up into the finals this year, though Kingsley is a question mark after undergoing two knee surgeries in 2017 and having a complicated history with knee and leg problems the last five years or so. Since that article update, she tweeted on August 1st that she was done with crutches, and she did say in that July article that she hoped to be back to racing for UGA’s first dual meet of the season.
With Raab being the only roster member with a solid shot at scoring for right now, the onus falls on the freshman class to step up and contribute. The most likely to rise to the challenge is Veronica Burchill‘s sister Sammie Burchill, one of the best 200 IMers in the nation in her class, with a best of 1:56.6 coming in from high school. It took a 1:56.3 to score in this event at NCAAs last year, so perhaps UGA could have Raab, Kingsley, and S. Burchill in the finals of this race, but it’s very plausible that none make it in, either.
The only sub 4:10 400 IMer on the roster is Raab, though she’ll most likely be focused on the 200 free, so the 400 IM is looking like one of the weakest events for the ‘Dawgs.
Butterfly will likely be UGA’s strongest discipline this season. We’ve already talked about V. Burchill and Britt, who will be searching to bump up their game to A-final status.
Kingsley, again, is a question mark, but it’s hard to ignore what she could do if her surgeries and recoveries truly have gone over very smoothly. With a lifetime best of 1:53.10 from 2016 NCAAs, Kingsley has the potential to be a solid A finalist in the 200 fly– it won’t be very clear, though, how close she’ll get to that time until we see her in action this fall.
Butterfly is one of freshman Harnish’s many strengths, especially the 200, where she’s been 1:54.3. In terms of NCAA scoring, that’s actually her best event, as that time would’ve made the A final last year. It’s not usual to have incoming freshmen who are fast enough to score at NCAAs, making it all the more valuable if they can score in the A final with their high school PBs.
Kylie Stewart has not looked much like she did in the middle of high school, which is where all of her lifetime bests are from. She’s been solid in college, hitting collegiate bests of 51.6 and 1:51.2 (actually a lifetime best in the 100), but she hasn’t been very close to her pre-college best in the 200 back of 1:49.85. A 51-mid 100 back has lost its worth in the recent age of Bartholomew, Howe, Baker, Smoliga, Stevens, Hu, Bilquist… (you get the picture), but she was one place away from scoring in the 100 back at NCAAs last year and did snag some points in the 200 back.
There will be no replacing Smoliga’s sprint back speed individually and on medley relays, but Stewart should do a solid job in her stead. Meanwhile, Meryn McCann has proved herself a worthy 200 backstroker (1:53.4 mid-season) who might develop into a scoring threat.
Sammie Burchill is also a good backstroker (53.7/1:56.8) as is Harnish (53.7/1:54.4), though Harnish can only do so many individual events when it comes down to it at NCAAs.
This has consistently been a roster gap that has plagued Georgia, and it did sink their medleys last year to a certain extent by requiring IM’er and 200 breaststroker Emily Cameron to take breaststroke relay duties.
On the roster right now, no swimmer went under 1:01 or 2:10 in the 100/200 last season. Freshman Danielle Dellatorre will be the best shot at addressing this lineup hole in terms of newcomers to the team, coming in with a 1:01.6 in the 100, but it’s going to be another year in Athens without a star breaststroker on campus.
UGA was hit hard by stars finishing out their four seasons with the team, but there’s always something in the woodwork with the ‘Dawgs. They did snag the #1 ranked recruit in Courtney Harnish, and the rest of the freshman class should fall into place and play a part throughout the season.
Butterfly is going to be the team’s strongest point, which will only be strengthened by a healthy Kingsley, if she can get there. It will be intriguing to see how the sprint free relays fall into place, but there looks to be enough talent and depth to keep UGA in the top 8 for another year– that said, they need a big class to come for the 2018-19 season, or things might go south fast.