Mel Zajac Meet Preview – Shaping up to be Canada vs. USA showdown

Last week I wrote about this meet focusing on the new UBC swimming pool and this week we’re going to focus on the swimming.  The heat sheets have dropped and there promises to be some pretty good racing this weekend.

Races to watch…

Women’s 200m Backstroke

Hillary Caldwell, the Olympic bronze medalist, enters as the overwhelming favourite here but the race for 2nd,3rd,4th 5th is intriguing.  Alex Sumner from Newtown Square, PA is representing the USA jr. team will battle it out with teammate Callie Dickenson who was a semi-finalist at last year’s USA Olympic Trials.  Canadian Jade Hannah (15 years) recently took off a ridiculous 2 and a half seconds at last month’s Canadian Trials while Erika Seltenreich-Hodgson who is seeded 5th is swimming as fast as she has, ever.

My Predictions,

  • 1stHillary Caldwell.  Meet Record Alert. Australia’s Meagan Nay stopped the clock at 2:09.34 in 2012.  Olympic medalists are tough to topple. A training meet for her leading up to worlds but she won’t let anyone beat her here.
  • 2nd. Alex Sumner.  Her stellar short course season stands out especially her 1:52.33 which would have scored points at this year’s NCAAs.  Excited to see how this translates in the big kid pool.
  • 3rd. Jade Hannah.  She’s dropping time in this event like, well, like an age grouper.  Recently uprooted from Nova Scotia to swim with Brad Dingie’s group in Victoria she just keeps getting better from meet to meet.
  • 4th. Callie Dickenson.   Finished 2nd at USA Junior Nationals last Summer in Minneapolis with a 2:11.71 and might have something to say about this just off the podium prediction.
  • 5th Erika Seltenreich-Hodgson.  Off event but the Canadian Olympian has home pool advantage and is having a lights out year so far.  ESH certainly won’t be intimidated by teenagers…these are tough teenagers though.

Men’s 200m IM

USA’s depth on display.  Ryan Lochte’s meet record of 2:00.15 from 2013 isn’t in any danger here though.  Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte have had a domestic stranglehold on this event since as long as I can remember.   We’ve all heard predictions of Michael Andrew and Reece Whitley taking over someday but keep an eye on Kieran Smith and Sam Iida who have been steadily dropping time at a steady clip and are two swimmers that could make some noise in the years (or months) to come.

My predictions,

  • 1st Sam Iida from Glenview Illinois.  The Arizona Wildcat commit swam a 2nd place 2:03.54 at USA Junior Nationals enters with a PB of 2:03.31.  Remarkably, Iida has consistently taken off 3 seconds per year since he was 14 in this event and doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
  • 2nd Kieran Smith, 17 from Ridgefield CT could easily stand up and take this from the two older competitors seeded ahead of him.  He swam a 1:46.41 SCY this year making him the 2nd fastest 16 year old in the country behind Whitley.
  • 3rd Josh Zakala.  JZ recently swam a  gutsy 2:04.54 with some sort of stomach virus last month at Canadian World Trials which was likely disappointing for him with many (at least I was) predicting he’d qualify for the team.  Look for a spitting nails bounce back meet as he tries to defend the homeland in his home province.  Zakala’s going to be in tough against these two Americans but could steal this based on the fact that’s he started competing in LCM earlier that his two main competitors this season.

Women’s 200m Breaststroke

Five Canadians seeded under 2:30 even with the World Short Course silver medalist, Kelsey Wog, giving the 200 a pass and focusing on shorter distances.  Annamay Pierce’s meet record of 2:25.65 might even be in play if everything goes according to script.  Erika Seltenreich Hodgson won this event this year at both the Canadian University Championships and Canada West championships before mercifully dropping it at Trials.

My predictions,

  • 1st Kierra Smith.  I feel as awkward writing this part as you probably do reading it.  There, it’s over.  Let’s just move on.
  • 2nd Sarah Darcel.  The Cal Berkeley commit enters with a 2:27 after a bronze medal performance at World Trials.  This represents a 5 second (not a typo) time drop over a year ago.  Apologies to the Grande Cache Alberta swimming community, but coming out of nowhere to swim with Brad Dingie’s NexGen program on Vancouver Island, Darcel has lit it up and doesn’t seem to be letting up.
  • 3rd Rachel Nicol.  Look for guaranteed, for sure wins in the 50 and 100 breaststroke events but could be in for a bit of a challenge in the longer distance.  Go Mustangs! The SMU grad finished 5th in Rio in the 100 and is always dangerous at this distance.
  • 4th Faith Knelson.  Superstar in waiting.  I wish they’d tell us what they’re doing in this NextGen training group as most seem to be heading to either Budapest or Indianapolis this Summer.  Podium probability in the 100 this week and has an outside shot at stealing the 50 from Nicol.
  • 5th Erika Seltenreich Hodgson.  Wild card in this event.  The Canada West win over Wog looked like an aberration at the time but the CIS win was more of a statement.  Like the backstroke event here, it will be interesting to see if she can translate her IM success to the individual strokes.


American Juniors.

Dakota Luther, Taylor Ault, Morgan Tankersley and Alex Sumner might not be household names right now but in 2009 the USA brought up a junior team to this same meet which included names like Margalis, Vreeland, Hannis, Dirado, Shields, Geer and Franklin.  Love, hate or indifferent, United States swimming is a juggernaut and at some point some of this lot of Americans are going to replace the current lot.  And, make no mistake, whoever does will be expected keep the dynasty going.  For many of the 11 American juniors in Vancouver, it will be their first time representing their country on foreign soil.


Canadian Juniors.

Names to watch this week include Faith Knelson, Jade Hannah, Josh Zakala, Colin Gilbert, Mackenzie Padington and Margaret Macneil.  Canadians punch way above their weight when it comes to producing top flight junior swimmers.  The recent retirements of Ryan Cochrane and Brittany Maclean coupled with Santo Condorelli and Emily Overholt still missing in action would be a body blow to most national programs but juniors to the rescue.  The Canadian junior system or identifying and nurturing young talent has produced right-now results on the international scene and the pipeline is still in full production.  Although Oleksiak, Ruck, Sanchez and Rebecca Smith (S2 anyone?) won’t be here, like the American juniors, those here are knocking loudly on the door.

It all starts Friday.  Apologies for the multitude of names I didn’t mention and secondly please don’t jump up and down when my race predictions don’t come through. My record of predicting races is running at about 20% so take with a grain of salt.  See you all at the pool.  #swimzajac is the meet hashtag and dedicated twitter address is @swimzajac.

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5 years ago

I just don’t think Zakala is that good of a swimmer, poor technique

northern light
5 years ago

Is Emily Overholt injured, or is she no longer swimming?

Reply to  northern light
5 years ago

I think she’s been injured, but I’m not positive

5 years ago

I’m pretty sure it’s Sam Iida not Glen Iida.

5 years ago

It’s actually Sam Iida, not Glen.

5 years ago

USA wins.

Marty Zaleski
5 years ago

Kierra Smith is swimming’s Ask Uncle Dave. Super fun read.

Bo swims
Reply to  Marty Zaleski
5 years ago


5 years ago

Thanks Kierra for writing this article!

5 years ago

I would love to see other athletes write articles like this. It is an interesting perspective

About Kierra Smith

Kierra Smith

Kierra Smith Kierra Smith is a Canadian breaststroke specialist and NCAA champion. Born Feb. 1, 1994 in Vancouver, Smith was a student-athlete at the University of Minnesota and was the 2015 200-yard breaststroke NCAA Champion with the third fastest 200 breaststroke time in NCAA history. University of Minnesota 2012-2013 As a freshman Smith made …

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