Georgia’s “Last Chance” NCAA Qualifier meet saw a number of athletes either improve their NCAA invite chances, or in a few cases, jump into a qualifying spot from a prior seed that wouldn’t have even sniffed an NCAA invite.
The biggest of those “back-from-the-dead” stories was Georgia’s Nicole Vernon, who cut 2.6 seconds off her season-best in the 400 IM to move from 45th in the nation to 19th, all but guaranteeing her an invite.
Vernon was the NCAA B final champion in the event last year, but did not swim at SECs for Georgia. The senior hit her season-best of 4:12.94 in a dual meet with Emory in January, but went 4:09.37 at the Last Chance meet.
She’ll still possibly have to fight for an NCAA berth, though, as Georgia may well hit their cap of 18 entrants and have to leave a swimmer or two behind. Still, if the coaches feel Vernon can improve on her 4:05.88 from last year at all, even by a tenth or two, she should be a lock for their NCAA squad as a potential A finalist.
Vernon led that race, pulling along Alabama freshman Mia Nonnenberg to what could possibly be her own NCAA berth. The Crimson Tide rookie improved her 4:11.07 to a 4:10.82, which moves her into a tie for 28th nationally. Last year, 38 women in each event were invited to NCAAs.
That women’s 400 IM was easily the best event for improved NCAA bids, as even third and fourth place have great shots at invites. Louisville’s Abby Chin improved her 37th rank to roughly 35 with a half second drop (4:12.16 to 4:11.58). Meanwhile another Georgia Bulldog, freshman Megan Kingsley, jumped from 42 to 37 (4:12.70 to 4:11.78).
Some more swimmers who improved their times and could be in the hunt for NCAA bids:
- Virginia Tech’s Jessica Hespeler will find herself right on the bubble in the 200 free after improving her 1:46.09 to a 1:45.95. She sits 43rd in the NCAA right now, outside of the likely cut line, but could sneak in if a number of athletes ahead of her choose to enter a different event.
- Alabama freshman Luke Kaliszak would have been on the bubble in the 100 back, but improved his season-best dramatically with a personal-best 45.74. Kaliszak’s season-best was 46.56 and his lifetime-best 46.47. He moves from 27th nationally to 6th, and suddenly looks like a point-scoring threat for the Crimson Tide.
- Georgia’s Alec Cohen only improved marginally in the 200 free (1:34.96 to 1:34.83) but that might be just enough to sneak in. 29 men were invited per event last year, and Cohen was 29th before this swim. He leapfrogs two spots to 27th, but will have to survive the onslaught of Pac-12 swimmers next week to earn an invite in his senior season.
Some other notable swims:
- Georgia’s Tynan Stewart: Stewart doubled up in the session, hitting season-bests in the 100 fly (46.77) and 100 back (46.95). Neither time would garner an NCAA invite on its own, but Stewart is already in with his stellar 200 IM and was likely swimming the events just to get lifetime-bests.]
- Bulldog Nic Fink made an interesting transition – the breaststroker swam a 500 free, likely just to see if he could beat his best time. The result was pretty impressive for a breaststroke specialist: Fink went 4:23.52, smashing his previous best, a 4:31.46 he set as a 17-year-old.
- Western Kentucky’s women swam a 200 medley relay, chasing an A cut that would allow the team to swim relays at the national championships. The team went about a second slower, but could time trial the event again at finals, trying to improve their season-best 1:38.54 to the A cut of 1:37.84.