The women from Georgia and Cal are expected to square off for an NCAA Championship for March in Indianapolis, but we’re getting a big sneak preview of that this weekend in Athens, Georgia, as both squads are at the Georgia Invitational, along with a loaded field that includes Penn State, Virginia, and Auburn, among others.
There were several instances on this first day where a standout freshman topped a former NCAA Champion teammate in an individual race, specifically the men’s 500 free and women’s 200 IM.
Women’s 200 Free Relay
In the day’s first race, the 200 free relay, Georgia’s freestyle depth was too much for Cal as both teams roared to NCAA Automatic Qualifying times in 1:28.05 for the Bulldogs and 1:28.78 for the Golden Bears.
For Georgia, that time was swum without having to use their top freestyler Allison Schmitt, as Jessica Graber (22.60), Maddie Locus (22.18), Chantal van Landeghem (21.87), and Megan Romano (21.40). Romano’s anchor was really outstanding, and for the freshman van Landeghem to be cracking 22’s, even on a relay, already shows how valuable a great freshman class is going to be for this team this year.
Georgia’ showed off depth with their b-relay getting 6th that included a 22.57 from Melanie Margalis.
Cal missed the hammer they’ve had for the last 4 years in Liv Jensen, with Cindy Tran now anchoring in 21.89. They also got a great split from freshman Rachel Bootsma in 21.87; those two might be the best two 100 backstrokers in the country, showing how creative Teri McKeever is going to have to be this season.
Auburn took 3rd in 1:30.30, they also having lost their NCAA Championship-winning anchor. Junior transfer Aubrey Peacock showed her immediate importance with a 22.20 anchor.
Men’s 200 Free Relay
Meanwhile, in the men’s 200 free relay, it was the defending NCAA runners-up in this event Auburn who topped defending NCAA champions in this event Cal with a 1:17.55 – an NCAA automatic qualifying time of their own. That includes a 19.37 leadoff from Marcelo Chierighini that is the best in the country and a 3rd-leg of 18.90 from Kyle Owens.
Cal, with three of the four swimmers that won the title last year, had a 19.33 2nd-leg from sophomore Fabio Gimondi. Seth Stubblefield also seems to be getting healthy and went a 19.66 on the 3rd leg.
Cal’s B-relay took 3rd thanks in part to a 19.62 from distance swimmer Ben Hinshaw, and Penn State was 4th in 1:19.61 – only a few tenths from their best time last season.
Georgia’s A-relay took just 7th place; Matt Ellis split 20.10 on the 2nd leg.
Women’s 500 Free
Georgia’s Shannon Vreeland won the 500 free in 4:38.27, absent of her sophomore teammate and distance All-American Amber McDermott in the race. Allison Schmitt finished her race well but didn’t start great and took 2nd in 4;38.28. Virginia’s Rachel Naurath was 3rd in 4:38.48. That matches the time she went at NCAA’s as a freshman and is almost as fast as she was last season.
Cal’s top finisher was freshman Lauren Driscoll in 4:44.09, though her teammate Melanie Klaren won the B-Final in a faster 4:42.72.
Men’s 500 Free
Georgia freshman Matias Koski won the 500 free in 4:15.55, which gives him an NCAA Automatic qualifying time already. His teammate and defending NCAA Champion in the event Martin Grodzki was 2nd in 4:16.72 (like Schmitt, he just wasn’t out fast enough in this race to compete with Koski). Andrew Gemmell finished a 1-2-3 sweep for the Bulldogs in 4:18.98.
Texas’ Jake Ritter, who had a great end to his rookie year last season, was 4th in 4:20.29; he split off from the rest of his Longhorn teammates who were at Winter Nationals.
Auburn’s Zane Grothe and Cal’s Adam Hinshaw, who both should be scorers in this race at NCAA’s, had a great battle in the B-Final. A big closing kick from Grothe gave him the win in 4:18.39, with Hinshaw 2nd in 4:18.53. Grothe’s swim is right on target with where he was at last year’s mid-season meet.
Women’s 200 IM
Three swimmers went NCAA A-times in the women’s 200 IM, led by a 1:53.39 from Cal freshman Liz Pelton that is a collegiate-leader. That would have been 3rd at last year’s NCAA Championship meet. Her teammate Caitlin Leverenz was 2nd in 1:54.30, as a great breaststroke leg didn’t make up for Pelton’s dominance in the other three legs, and Georgia’s Melanie Margalis was 3rd in 1:54.68. All three of those times are easily worthy of A-Finals at NCAA’s if repeated.
Bootsma took 4th in 1:57.01, which is a personal best for the swimmer who rarely stretches beyond 100 yards. Bootsma is hurt badly by her breaststroke leg, where she split just 36.12; in comparison, she was dead-even with Pelton after the backstroke leg, and was 2.5 seconds behind after the breaststroke.
Virginia’s Ellen Williamson was 5th in 1:58.52, Georgia freshman Annie Zhu was 6th in 1:58.84, and Penn State Olympic Trials semi-finalist Merritt Krawczyk was 7th in 1:58.90.
Other notable finishes include Harvard 200 flyer Courtney Otto in 2:00.31, and Auburn breaststroker Micah Lawrence in 1:59.15 to win the C-Final.
Men’s 200 IM
Cal’s Marcin Tarczynski had just a hair more endurance to hold off his very similarly-skilled freshman teammate Josh Prenot in the men’s 200 IM. Tarczynski was the winner in 1:44.36, and Josh Prenot was 2nd in 1:44.69. The two paced their races very similarly though.
Georgia freshman Ty Stewart was 3rd in 1:45.22, and Harvard’s Chuck Katis was 4th in 1:45.86 – a best time for him and the 2nd-best time in school history. Cal’s Will Hamilton won the C-Final in 1:45.27.
Women’s 50 Free
Georgia’s Megan Romano wasn’t quite as quick as she was in the relay in her individual 50, but was still a good 22.33 to win a bang-bang race in the women’s 50 free. Olympian (in the 200) Lauren Perdue was 2nd for Virginia in 22.37, followed by a tie between Georgia sophomore Maddie Locus (22.41) and Chantal van Landeghem (22.41). That gave the Bulldogs 3 of the top 4 finishers in the race.
Penn State’s Paige Whitmire, who is a big key to their season, was 5th in 22.45. Cal’s highest finisher was Kaylin Bing in 22.70; freshman Rachael Acker was 8th in 22.79.
Men’s 50 Free
Only two men were able to sneak under the 20-second barrier in the A-Final of the 50 free, as Marcelo Chierighini won in 19.50 – jut off of his relay leadoff time. Cal junior Shayne Fleming was 2nd in 19.78. That’s a tick faster for Fleming than he was mid-year last season.
Also recording NCAA B-times were Tom Barrett from Virginia in 20.11 and Penn State freshman Shane Ryan in 20.15. Ryan, a hugely underrated freshman, was 19.97 in prelims, making him the first freshman in the country to dip under 20 seconds this season.
Fabio Gimondi had a tough morning swim in the 50, but was a 19.86 to win the B-Final.
Women’s 400 Medley Relay
This relay highlighted what the Cal Bears are banking on to carry them at the NCAA Championships. They took the win in 3:29.86: a time that would have been 3rd at NCAA’s last year. This is a very closely watched relay this year, and Teri McKeever seems to have settled into what feels like her best relay:
- Cindy Tran (51.43 – backstroke)
- Caitlin Leverenz (58.99 – breaststroke)
- Rachel Bootsma (51.50 – butterfly)
- Liz Pelton (47.94 – freestyle)
Those are four great splits, especially Leverenz’s breasststroke. They are well within reach of their NCAA and U.S. Open Record from last season (3:28.10), remembering that record was set without Liv Jensen on the anchor leg. That leaves an opening with Pelton anchoring to get the record, though a big portion of the difference will have to come from Leverenz.
Auburn also hit an A-time with a 3:33.25 for 2nd. Micah Lawrence hit a 58.88 breaststroke leg for the Tigers.
Almost 5 seconds behind Cal was Georgia in 3:34.65 for 3rd. That’s an automatic qualifying time, but still isn’t close to what they’ll need for an A-Final at NCAA’s. The Bulldogs did use Schmitt on their butterfly leg, where she was a 53.50.
Virginia’s A-relay was 6th in 3:36.76, and Penn State was 7th in 3:37.86 – we were hoping for a bit more from the Penn State medley.
Men’s 400 Medley Relay
The Cal and Auburn men both swam automatic qualifying times on this 400 medley relay, and though the race was closer than the 1-plus second margin of victory, both of these teams will be in the hunt for NCAA titles in the spring.
Cal won in 3:09.36, and Auburn was 2nd in 3:10.74. The Golden Bears were lifted by a 52.06 breaststroke split from Trevor Hoyt, and then Stubblefield extended that lead with a 47.22 on the butterfly leg. Auburn sophomore Alexander Hancock was solid in the fly in 48.53, but that’s where this race got away from the Tigers.
Auburn is still awaiting the arrival of Brazilian Arthur Mendes in January; with him, this could have been a very close relay. As it was, even a 42.12 anchor from Chierighini wasn’t even enough to bring the Tigers back.
Georgia was 3rd in 3:11.59, including a 46.89 butterfly leg from D0ug Reynolds. Penn State’s Sean Grier was a 45.87 on their 5th-place medley on that same butterfly leg.
Women – Team Rankings
1. Georgia, University of 335
2. University of California, Berk 266
3. Virginia, University of 180
4. Auburn University 137
4. Penn State University 137
6. Harvard University 87
7. Virginia Tech 48
Men – Team Rankings
1. University of California, Berk 261
2. Virginia, University of 211
3. Georgia, University of 200
4. Penn State University 175
5. Auburn University 160
6. Harvard University 109
7. Virginia Tech 58
8. University of Texas 15