Now that most of the significant dual meets are out of the way, with deference to the no. 4 Stanford vs. no. 5 Cal women who show down February 13th, it’s officially time to start getting ramped up for my favorite holiday of the year: Championship Season. Most Conference Championship meets will take place the last weekend of February (24-27), and NCAA’s will be the 3rd weekend in March (the 18th-20th).
Although every school will have it’s own goals, dramas, and achievements in the next month-and-a-half, there are a few major national storylines that shine above all of the rest.
- Men’s Pac-10 Conference Championships- This will be the most star-studed of all of the conference meets, with 3 out of the top 5 teams in both the mens’ and womens’ polls. With Stanford’s loss of their leader and defending NCAA 100 fly champ Austin Staab, the men’s chase has likely become a two-pony race. Arizona has the depth: If the Pac-10 Championships were today, there would be an incredible 9 events where they would have 2 out of the top 3 seeds, and 3 where they would have the top 4 seeds. Cal will be riding the back of Nathan Adrian, one of the world’s top sprinters who’s already gone a 42.03 in the 100 freestyle this year.
- Women’s Pac-10 Conference Championships– The other half of the above meet, this one is a total toss-up. Arizona lost badly in recent duals to Stanford and Cal, but looked phenomenal in their big 49-point win against no.3 ranked Texas. Cal then turns around and loses to no. 9 USC, which is an incredibly young team that is coming on strong late in the season. no. 4 Stanford are the only ones who have come through unscathed, but they still have an upcoming dual with no. 5, and defending national champion, Cal. Each team has tons of experience at big meets, and the competition will be overrun by Olympians, including Julia Smit, Elaine Breeden, Sara Isakovic, and Katinka Hosszu. In short, Stanford probably has the inside track, but this meet is going to be an absolute barn-burner.
- Aggies look to get revenge at Big 12’s– The annual A&M-Texas dual for the women came early this season, and although the Longhorns won, it was too early in the season to really mean anything. Although the Longhorn swimmers’ names might be more familiar to American fans (Karlee Bispo, Kathleen Hersey) but the Aggies also sport plenty of big guns, including Canadian Olympian Julia Wilkinson, Jamaican Olympian Alia Atkinson, and Kristen Heiss, who won 4 medals at last year’s World University Games. Those three women each hold top times in the nation in at least 1 event this season, and could lead the Aggies to a victory. Texas has been on a roller coaster, after having beaten no. 1 Georgia, and then losing badly to no. 2 Arizona. These are the only two relevant teams in the Big 12, but both teams are still contenders for the NCAA title.
- No more polyurethane (thank goodness)– Even though there won’t be any more polyurethane suits, it will sutrely come up in about every other sentence at NCAA’s. Last year, there was contreversy that the Auburn won the national championship on the back of their Jaked suits, whereas poor Texas was stuck in Speedo LZR’s. There will be no excuses this year, but it will still be interesting to see how the times compare to last year’s record-smashing meet. For comparison, the NCAA will also provide pre-2008 records on heat sheets.
- The women’s National Champion- See if you can keep up: no. 1 Georgia has lost to no. 3 Texas, but didn’t lose their no.1 ranking as a result, no. 3 Texas has lost to no. 2 Arizona, no. 2 Arizona has lost to no. 4 Stanford and no. 5 Cal, no. 5 Cal has lost to no. 9 USC, n0. 9 USC has lost to no. 4 Stanford, no. 7 Florida lost to no. 1 Georgia and no. 4 Stanford, dominated over no. 8 Auburn, no. 8 Auburn lost to no. 6 Texas A&M (who earlier lost to no. 3 Texas), no. 10 Minnesota lost to no. 17 Wisconsin in a big ten quad, even though they beat Wisconsin by 70 earlier in the year, and Georgia still hasn’t lost a home dual meet in 14 years. Got all of that? Quiz time: Who does that leave on top? Well, based on dual meets, it’s no. 4 Stanford. But they still have a showdown against no. 5 Cal. Oh. Boy.
- The men’s side is a little more clear- cut, although there’s still a little muddling. No. 3 Arizona took down no. 1 Texas, but it was a very close meet. Stanford, the no. 2 team, is likely out of the race thanks to the loss of Staab. Cal at no. 4 has Nathan Adrian, and a slew of relays with chances at titles, but does not appear to have the bredth of swimmers to score top points. Auburn, the defending national champ and no. 5 team, has struggled this season, with big losses to Florida and Texas, but looks to have a strong taper under new coach Brett Hawke. Arizona is likely in the cat bird’s seat, but things could look different when March rolls around.
- Eddie Reese will be seeking to make it double digits by winning his 10th NCAA championship. His first came in 1981, and his m0st recent was in 2002.
- Brett Hawke, who took over for the legendary Richard Quick at Auburn after his death, will look to continue the tradition of success. It’s hard to replace a legend, but Hawke was being groomed as an assistant for the job, and should have no problem carrying the program to further success.
Stay tuned, as in the coming weeks we will go more in-depth into the major conference meets and keep up with any major developments that reshape what we’ve written here.