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Key Losses: Sarah Haase (32 NCAA points, 2 NCAA relays), Lillian Hinrichs (18 NCAA points, diving)
Despite a shocking DQ for the Cardinal after they touched 1st in the 200 free relay at the 2016 NCAA Championships, the team bounced back to make a push for the championship title. They fell just short, however, taking 2nd place behind Georgia by less than 20 points, marking the 2nd time in 3 years they finished as the NCAA runner-up.
The 2nd-place finish came after a few notable personnel wrinkles in the offseason: freshman NCAA champ Simone Manuel took an Olympic redshirt in her sophomore season, and generational blue chip prospect Katie Ledecky deferred her enrollment for a year, taking both out of play for the Cardinal in 2015-2016.
SPRINT FREE: A+
Both Lia Neal (21.7/46.8) and Simone Manuel (21.3/46.0) will return for the Cardinal after winning medals for the USA at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Manuel is the American Record holder in the 100 free, and will be in the race for NCAA titles in the 50 and 100 after she won both of those races in her freshman season.
Neal and Manuel are both sub-47 100 freestylers and sub-22 50 freestylers, which bodes well for the Stanford relays. They also have all of their free relay swimmers from last season returning. That includes Ella Eastin (23.1/49.1), Janet Hu (21.8/47.9), Lindsey Engel (22.2/48.9), and Ally Howe (22.8/49.5), who all split sub-22 in the 50 and sub-48 in the 100 from rolling starts.
DISTANCE FREE: A+
The arrival of distance ace Katie Ledecky (1:41.0/4:26.5/15:13.30) will be huge for the Cardinal. Ledecky’s reputation precedes her, as she’s been dominant in the distance races on the Olympic and World Championship stage. This season, Ledecky will take a shot at sweeping the 200 through 1650 freestyles at NCAAs.
The freshmen distance swimmers coming in with Ledecky are Erin Voss (4:44.7), Katie Drabot (1:44.2/4:40.5), and Megan Byrnes (4:43.4/16:01.8). Drabot and Voss aren’t distance specialists, but their times in the middle distance races are fast enough to at least score big points at Pac-12s.
Byrnes, on the other hand, extends her range to the mile, which will make her a good training partner for sophomore Leah Stevens (4:43.1/16:07.7). Byrnes comes in with a time that’s just shy of what it took to get 8th at NCAAs last season.
In terms of the 200 free and 800 free relay, the Cardinal has a stacked group this year that’ll be hard for any team to beat. With Ledecky, Lia Neal (1:42.5), and Simone Manuel (1:41.1), they’re probably looking at at least 2 A-finalists in the event. Throw Ella Eastin, who split 1:42.1 last season, in the mix for the 800 free relay, and they’re probably the favorites in the relay title hunt.
Ella Eastin (1:51.6/3:58.4) took the IM races by a storm as a freshman, winning both at NCAAs and setting a new American Record in the 200 IM. Eastin is set to challenge for back-to-back sweeps of the IM races.
Incoming freshmen Katie Drabot (1:56.0/4:08.87) and Allie Szekely (1:57.7/4:06.3) are already within B-final scoring range in at least one of the two IM races, as is Ally Howe (1:56.2) in the 200 IM. Szekely’s time in the 400 IM would’ve landed her in the championship final last season.
Leah Stevens (1:59.9/4:10.2) and Kim Williams (1:58.1/4:10.2) both qualified for NCAAs, but could move up into the top 16 of the 400 IM if they can dip under 4:10.
Ella Eastin (1:51.0) finished a close second in the 200 fly last season, but her time was over 2 seconds faster than anyone behind her. Now that Kelsi Worrell has graduated, we could see Eastin run away with this one, depending on the health of Cal’s Katie McLaughlin.
Janet Hu (51.0/1:52.9) and Lindsey Engel (51.8/1:54.1) could both bring in A-final points, and both scored in the fly races at NCAAs last season. Hu was 4th in the 100 fly, but opted for the 200 back instead of the 200 fly. Engel scored in the B-final for both, but she’s just shy of what it took to make the top 8 in the 100.
Last season, Ally Howe topped a stacked field in the 100 back to become Pac-12 champion, and went on to score in both backstrokes at NCAAs, including a 3rd-place finish in the 100 behind a pair of seniors. Likewise, Janet Hu was an A-finalist in the 100 back, and she also pulled in B-final points in the 200 back. Between those two, the Cardinal could get a big boost in backstroke.
Joining them this season is Erin Voss (53.3/1:51.9), who’s already good enough to make the top 8 in the 200. That could give the Cardinal 3 finalists in the event.
Stanford isn’t as deep in breaststroke, but they’ve still got Heidi Poppe (59.2/2:11.3), who could be a top 8 scorer in the 100 breast. Poppe gained considerable time last year compared to her freshman season, and still has never been faster than she was at a midseason rest meet in the fall of 2014. But if she can bring her times back down, the Cardinal should have a solid shot at NCAA points in breaststroke and a good medley relay swimmer.
Aside from Poppe, they’ve got Kim Williams (1:01.3/2:11.3) and newcomer Allie Szekely (1:01.3/2:10.3) to bring in big points at Pac-12s. Szekely is a versatile swimmer, so the coaches will have decisions to make about what events to put her in at conference and NCAAs, but she’s already got the fastest 200 breast time of anyone on the team.
If the Cardinal medley relays were really in a bind, they could always use Ella Eastin (1:00.3), who currently has their 2nd fastest 100 breast time behind Poppe.
The Cardinal team is packed with stars this season, including Ella Eastin, Katie Ledecky, Simone Manuel, and Lia Neal, who could make up a scary-good 800 free relay. They’re clearly on the short list of favorites for the Pac-12 and NCAA titles this season.
The Cardinal breaststrokers may have some work to do, as Sarah Haase has now graduated. That aside, the team has a depth of talent in pretty much every area plenty enough to cover their few thin spots, especially after bringing in the nation’s #1-ranked recruiting class.