2017 WOMEN’S NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS
- Wednesday, March 15 – Saturday, March 18
- IUPUI Natatorium – Indianapolis, IN
- Prelims 10AM/Finals 6PM (Eastern Time)
- Defending Champion: Georgia (results)
- Championship Central
- Psych Sheet
- Live stream: Wednesday/Thursday Prelims & Finals, Friday/Saturday Prelims / Friday/Saturday finals on ESPN3
- Live Results
We’ve previewed each individual event for the women’s NCAA Championships, now it’s time to turn our focus to the broader issue of the NCAA team champion. Here’s our final predictions of the top 25 in the NCAA finish order.
Some links for further suggested reading for those who need more pre-NCAA content:
- Our final edition power rankings (which are NCAA-focused, but also take into account dual meets and other factors in creating more of a snapshot in time than these new predictions)
- Scoring out the psych sheets
- Statistical analysis – handicapping the meet
- Team performance vs Seed time over several years
The ‘One Woman Army’ Tier
#25: Virginia Tech H2Okies
#24: Florida State Seminoles
#23: UMBC Retrievers
#22: Arizona State Sun Devils
All of these programs are pretty reliant on one or two key swimmers to score more or all of their points. They’ll sink or float based on how well those one woman armies can hold their tapers and how many points they can rack up in a handful of events. That list includes Natalie Pierce of FSU, Emily Escobedo of UMBC and Silja Kansakoski of Arizona State, all of whom will go head-to-head-to-head in the breaststrokes. Virginia Tech has more potential scorers (IMer Reka Gyorgy is in the best spot) including a diver, but no one ranked as highly as the other three teams.
The ‘Low-Key Relay Threat’ Tier
#21: Missouri Tigers
#20: Auburn Tigers
#19: Kentucky Wildcats
#18: UCLA Bruins
These teams don’t necessarily have “sure thing” scoring relays, but do have realistic shots at some of those sweet double relay points. That would help pad their individual points in a big way. A few programs will have their own athletes fighting each other for scoring spots in the same events (say, Kentucky in the 200 back and UCLA in diving), but in this tier, the more realistic scoring opportunities the better.
The ‘Three’s Company’ Tier
#17: Tennessee Volunteers
#16: Ohio State Buckeyes
#15: UNC Tar Heels
Each of these programs has just enough studs to put together a couple good relays and push themselves above the teams with just one key swimmer. Tennessee has uber-versatile freshman Meghan Small, who feels like she’s right on the cusp of a big national breakthrough, to pair with star sprinter Maddie Banic. Ohio State puts the speedy Zhesi Li in with distance champ Lindsay Clary. And North Carolina has a red-hot Hellen Moffitt along with speedster Caroline Baldwin. Moffitt and Baldwin are probably the biggest relay threats of this bunch, which puts the Heels to the top of this tier.
The ‘Top 10 Hail Mary’ Tier
#14: Wisconsin Badgers
#13: Minnesota Golden Gophers
#12: Indiana Hoosiers
#11: Arizona Wildcats
If everything goes perfectly, any of these four teams could find themselves solidly within the top 10. But at the moment, they’re barely on the outside looking in. Arizona gets a bump from their seeded scores here – that’s because the Wildcats looked so fast midseason, and may have mostly swum through Pac-12s, saving their best stuff for NCAAs. If they show up in force, their relays as a whole are good enough to crack the top 10. If their midseason swims were a fluke, they’ll fall a lot farther than the bottom of this tier.
Indiana’s clearly got the best individual swimmer of this group in Lilly King. She by herself makes IU’s medley relays relevant nationally, and might outsplit every other breaststroker in the field by a second or more. Indiana also has star diver Jessica Parratto back from a redshirt. The Hoosiers are probably the safest bet of this group to hit top-10 status, though they maybe have a lower ceiling than Arizona.
Minnesota qualified a small army of divers and should rake in huge points there. Plus a healthy Brooke Zeiger and a returned Kierra Smith is a killer combo. Wisconsin is pretty reliant on Cierra Runge at the moment, but if sprinter Chase Kinney comes up big, the Badgers will rocket upwards.
The ‘Strength In Numbers’ Tier
#10: Louisville Cardinals
#9: Michigan Wolverines
Both Louisville and Michigan have team-based attacks that feel a lot safer than teams 11-25. Both should score most or all of their relays and have scorers across a wide range of events. Louisville is a little more spread out as a roster, with Mallory Comerford among the nation’s best freestylers and Andee Cottrell among the lead pack in the breaststrokes. Michigan has a lot of points tied up in the distance freestyles between G Ryan, Siobhan Haughey and Rose Bi.
The ‘Prove It’ Tier (Plus Virginia)
#8: Texas Longhorns
#7: Virginia Cavaliers
#6: NC State Wolfpack
This is the toughest group to predict, because each of these teams has a pretty high ceiling, but backed up by less of a track record than the top group of programs. Texas has looked outstanding all year – but they’ll have to prove they can back up their fast in-season swimming with season-best NCAA performances, something they’ve struggled to do in past seasons. NC State’s women are seeing the kind of national explosion their men saw a few years back, but they’re still in the same spot the men’s program found itself in at that time – proving they can replicate stellar ACC swims on the national stage for a high finishing place.
Virginia kind of gets lumped in here even though they’ve been a perennially-contending program for awhile. If Virginia has to “prove” anything, it’s that their ACC performance – overshadowed by that Wolfpack and the Louisville women – was the product of an increased focus on NCAAs over conference swimming.
This is the tier that could rise highest or sink farthest compared to where we’ve got them slotted. Madisyn Cox could be one of the highest-scoring individuals in the meet for Texas. Leah Smith won’t win any distance races, but seems almost as good a bet to take second as Katie Ledecky is to win. And Alexia Zevnik was one of the most unstoppable swimmers in the nation in the conference rounds.
The ‘Proved It’ Tier
#5: Texas A&M Aggies
#4: Southern California Trojans
#3: Georgia Bulldogs
These teams get a bump because they’ve proved that they can make good on high projections in years past. All three feel like pretty safe bets to finish somewhere between 3rd and 6th, especially based on our “handicapping the meet” statistical analysis.
A&M has one of the deepest rosters in the nation, with three swimmers (Sydney Pickrem, Sarah Gibson, Bethany Galat) seeded to score 26 or more individual points. USC freshman Louise Hansson has been a revelation, and may very well turn out to be the best rookie in this week’s meet. Meanwhile it’s all-too-easy to forget that Georgia are the defending champions as a team, taking the 2016 crown after most of swimming fandom had already crowned Stanford the winners a year ago. Olivia Smoliga could make a major statement by pressing on Cal and Stanford’s young stars in the sprints and defending her 2016 titles.
The ‘Cal’ Tier
#2: California Golden Bears
Heading into the meet, the Golden Bears are far enough ahead of every team but one that they get their own tier entirely. A couple of elite recruiting classes are starting to come into their own, led by Kathleen Baker who is seeded to score 54 total individual points – 4th-best of all swimmers. A healthy Abbey Weitzeil is key though – with Weitzeil out at the end of Pac-12s, Cal was a much thinner team. The American record-holding sprinter gives the Bears tons of relay flexibility, and gives them perhaps their only shot of knocking down a killer Stanford team – knocking off star sprinter Simone Manuel in one or both sprint events.
The ‘Stanford’ Tier
#1: Stanford Cardinal
You could call this one the ‘catch me if you can’ tier, because Stanford is already swimming away from the nation. A Simone Manuel/Katie Ledecky combo looks just as suffocating and daunting as it did in recruiting season when fans speculated about the possibility. Stanford effectively locks down all freestyle distances and has a shot to sweep all five relays at NCAAs, a true show of dominance. Based on seed times, the Cardinal has the top three individual scoring athletes – Ella Eastin and Manuel at a perfect 60 points and Ledecky at 57. With Ledecky and Manuel going head-to-head in the 200, all three can’t hit 60, but it’d be pretty surprising if Stanford got any less than 150 combined from the trio. Consider that 150 points would have taken 10th at last year’s meet as a team.