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.
#2 CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS
Key Losses: Farida Osman (49 NCAA points, 3 NCAA relays), Marina Garcia (5 NCAA points, 1 NCAA relay), Kristen Vredeveld (2 NCAA points, 2 NCAA relays)
Key Additions: Robin Neumann (free), Sophie Krivokapic-Zhou (back/free), Sarah Darcel (IM/breast/fly), Ali Harrison (breast/fly)
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
The Bears swam to their 9th consecutive top 3 finish at the 2017 NCAA Championships, finishing as the runners-up to Stanford and winning 6 national event titles. That’s the 2nd highest number of event titles in program history. The Bears have only captured more than 6 titles twice in school history, taking 7 titles in 2012 and 2015.
Kathleen Baker was named the CSCAA Swimmer of the Year after sweeping her individual events, winning the 200 IM, 100 back, and 200 back. Farida Osman capped of her NCAA career with a victory in the 100 fly, and the Bears captured the 200 free relay and 200 medley relay titles in NCAA Record fashion.
SPRINT FREE: A+
Olympic sprinter Abbey Weitzeil (21.12/46.29) wasn’t at her best during her freshman season with the Bears, but even if she didn’t improve on her performance from last season, she’d still be good enough to bring them well over 20 points individually. However, she has the potential to do even more damage, as she’s the American Record holder in the 50 free. With that, she’s definitely in the title conversation, though beating Stanford’s Manuel will be tough. Her personal best in the 100 free would also probably put her in the top 3.
After an explosive freshman season, Maddie Murphy (21.7/48.2) will continue to be one of Cal’s top scoring prospects in the sprints. She should be a finalist again in the 50 and is just over a tenth shy of scoring in the 100. Relay teammate Amy Bilquist (21.9/47.5) could join her as an individual scorer. She was 17th in the 50 last season, but her best time has her projected to score in the B final. Similarly, Valerie Hull (22.1/48.6) is just over a tenth out of scoring range in the 50.
In the 200 free, the Bears had Katie McLaughlin (1:43.0) score 9th last season, but her personal best from 2015 and her 1:43.1 from the B final put her well into top 8 scoring range. She’ll be joined in the event this season by Dutch swimmer Robin Neumann. Though she doesn’t have any yards experience yet, Neumann comes in with a 1:57.8 in long course (conversion- 1:43.24), indicating she’s a likely scorer. Weitzeil (1:43.2) could be valuable here as well. She was 18th last season, but her season best was fast enough to have scored and her lifetime best would put her in the A final.
DISTANCE FREE: B-
Though she didn’t have her best performance in the event at NCAAs last season, Katie McLaughlin (4:36.0) is the biggest scoring threat for Cal in the 500 free with a best time that would put her in the A final.
Chenoa Devine (4:41.1/16:04.3) made huge drops as a freshman, dropping her mile from a 16:20 to a 16:04. That landed her 19th at NCAAs, and puts her less than 2 seconds shy of scoring range. She also knocked 3 seconds off her 500 free time and is just over a second shy of what it took to make the B final.
Defending 200 IM champion Kathleen Baker (1:51.6) is back for her junior season with the Bears. Keaton Blovad (1:57.2) is also back after qualifing for NCAAs as a freshman, but Blovad is about a second shy of scoring. Fellow sophomore Chenoa Devine (4:13.5) is their only returner in the 400 IM.
Newcomer Sarah Darcel, a Canadian National Team member, could make a big difference here. In the long course pool, she has bests of 2:12.3 in the 200 IM and 4:39.2 in the 400 IM. She placed in the top 5 in both IMs at Canadian Olympic Trials, and has demonstrated plenty of speed in the short course pool as a 200 IM finalist at the 2016 FINA World Championships. While things don’t always pan out as expected when looking at converted times, it’s worth noting that her converted times (1:56.3/4:05.8) are fast enough to score in both IMs.
Now that 2017 champion Farida Osman has graduated, Noemie Thomas (50.4) and Maddie Murphy (51.1) are the major players for Cal in the 100 fly. After finishing 10th last season, Murphy is projected to make the A final with her best time in the 100 fly. In addition to being a returning finalist in the 100 fly, Thomas (1:53.7) is also a championship final threat in the 200 fly. Katie McLaughlin (1:52.3) will join her in that event after finishing as the runner-up last season. McLaughlin is once again in the title conversation and will rematch with Stanford’s Eastin.
Between defending national champion Kathleen Baker (49.8/1:48.3) and All-American Amy Bilquist (50.5/1:49.9), the Bears have plenty of points lined up in the backstrokes. Baker has a good shot at sweeping the backstrokes again and isn’t far shy of the American Records in both backstroke races. They also have Keaton Blovad (52.4/1:54.0) returning after competing in both backstrokes at NCAAs.
In addition to the returners, freshman Sophie Krivokapic-Zhou (53.5/1:56.7) brings talent to the table. She could develop into an NCAA qualifier in her first season with the Bears. Though it could take time to develop into an NCAA scoring caliber swimmer now that the backstroke events are so deep, she’s definitely an immediate scoring threat at the conference level.
Breaststroke has been a weak spot for the Bears over the last couple of seasons, and they just graduated relay breaststroker and individual scorer Marina Garcia. As far as the relays go, Abbey Weitzeil has been strong on the breaststroke leg of the 200 medley relay, but they may have to turn to freshman Ali Harrison (1:00.8/2:13.5) or senior Maija Roses (1:00.7/2:11.7) for the 400 medley relay since Weitzeil is their freestyler.
Individually, the Bears aren’t projected to score, but Sarah Darcel may be the key to changing that. Her 2:27.7 in the long course pool translates to a 2:09.4 through the time converter. If her time translated as expected, that would project her to score in the B final. However, she’d need to improve to make a big impact.
Breaststroke and distance free continue to be weak areas for the Bears in terms of depth and NCAA scoring, but they have huge scoring potential in all other events. They may not have the depth to challenge Stanford for a title, but with their sprint talent, they should be challenging for several relay titles and should get multiple individual titles with Baker alone. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Cal come away with their 10th consecutive top 3 finish.