NCAA Midseason Women’s Power Rankings: Cal on Top, Dogfight For Third

This post was a collaborative effort by the SwimSwam staff, led by Morgan Priestley and managing editor Braden Keith.

NCAA swimming goes through ebbs and flows. There are years where there’s huge shakeups (like 2010, where Florida shocked the world to win the title), and there are years where things don’t change much (2011 and 2012 saw identical top 5’s).

This year, we see being one of those “status quo” years. That’s in large part to how relatively few of the top names graduated. With so many teams returning huge portions of their rosters, and a very good freshman class nation-wide joining the field, it should be a stable year.

We also expect it to be a much, much faster year than last year. The cycle is coming to somewhat of a ‘peak’ where there’s a lot of teams with a lot of depth and balance in their rosters. That makes this year’s power rankings incredibly difficult. Sometimes, they’re not as hard. Last year, with the exception of a few surprise movers (Tennessee) it was an easy feel for who would be where. This season, though, it feels like any number of teams have a chance to ‘pop’ and any number of teams have a chance to fall in a big way if they can’t hit their tapers like they did last year.

With that in mind, we present our mid-season women’s power rankings. These rankings are based on season-ending NCAA Championship predictions, but we don’t ignore what we’ve already seen this year. Consider it a ‘moving average’ of sorts. In other words: they’re NCAA predictions, but NCAA predictions based on ‘what we know’ not ‘what we hope.’ We’ll ramp up the rankings in the 2nd semester as we get closer to NCAA’s and see if we can’t hone things in as we get more information

Criteria we consider include:

  • Divers. It’s easy to ignore them to pander to the “what is diving doing with swimming” audience, but they’re part of the game, sorry.
  • Year-over-year improvements, adds, etc.
  • Depth and flexibility of roster, because teams with more options have a larger margin of error come NCAA’s.
  • How the team placed last year at NCAA’s, and how many points they graduated.
  • Credible information we get from credible coaches and athletes on the amount of mid-season rest they’ve had

Criteria we don’t consider:

  • Giving love.
  • How many friends you have on a team.
  • How biased you think we are.
  • Which team has the loudest, brashest, whiniest swimmers.
  • Anonymous brags about how much or little rest teams had for their meets.
  • Who sends us the most nasty Tweets and leaves the most nasty ‘anonymous’ ‘disinterested observer’ comments.

In other words: feel free to have your own rankings, your own opinions, and disagree with our rankings. Just don’t embarrass yourself while doing it.

#25. Michigan Wolverines (Last Year: #36)

The Michigan women only scored 9 points at last year’s NCAA Championships, but they had so many swimmers and relays who were so close to scoring at NCAA’s last year, and with only three notable graduations, they have started off this season really well. Well enough to convince that they’re ready to make a breakthrough. The sophomores (Marni OldershawZoe MattinglyAli Deloof) have all been swimming well. Freshman Julia Salem has been a good addition to the sprint group. There’s just enough veterans on this team like Angie Chokran (1:00.5 in the 100 breast, 2:11.3 in the 200 this season) and Courtney Beidler (who was huge in the IM’s at Winter Nationals – her 1:57.7 is the best 200 IM in the Big Ten) to balance out the youth.

Bottom’s challenge will be figuring out how to assemble them into relays, as there’s no obvious ‘stud’ quartets in the group, but that happens to be something Mike Bottom has gotten quite good at in the last couple of years.

#24. Arizona State Sun Devils (Last Year: #23)

The Sun Devils always get a lot of qualifiers to NCAA’s, but their big scoring hopes this year are divers and distance. USA Swimming Open Water National Teamer Tristin Baxter had a big summer, both in the seas and in the pool. In the latter, she was her best time in the 1500 by roughly 21 seconds, and our projection is that she’ll break 16 minutes for the first time in her career in the 1650 this season.

The Sun Devils also have two great Canadian springboard divers: sophomore Morgan Weller and senior Hailey Casper, the latter of whom was the runner-up on the 3-meter at last year’s NCAA Championships.

#23. Florida State Seminoles (Last Year: #32)

The upside on a team like Florida State with two incredible sprinters like Tiffany Olvier and Kaitlyn Dressel is probably top 15. The Seminoles found out last year, though, that it’s hard to score relays with just two. After them, the Seminoles’ next two-best 50 freestylers are 23.4 and 23.6 – half of the 17th-place 200 free relay from NCAA’s are no longer on the roster (all four were sophomores at the time).

But new head coach Frank Bradley comes from the Brett Hawke “we can turn anyone into a sprinter” program at Auburn, so we’ll have some faith that he can figure out something. If Oliver flat-starts what she’s capable of, 22.0, and Dressel relay-splits what she’s capable of, under 22, and they can do it in prelims and finals at NCAA’s, then the Seminoles will be on track to score all three free relays.

If Ariel Rittenhouse can make it through a tough Zone B NCAA qualifying, which should have a lot of spots for qualifiers and has graduated a few stars, she’ll add some points on the springboards as well.

#22. Miami Hurricanes (Last Year: #20)

It’s hard to see the Hurricanes scoring any swimming points this year, but their diving group is still as rich as ever. They return two of their own NCAA scorers (Kara McCormack and Lindsay Lester), and pick up one in Ohio State transfer Cheyenne Cousineau. They also bring back from redshirt another former All-American, Thea Vock,

#21. SMU Mustangs (Last Year: #24)

The SMU women didn’t lose any NCAA pieces from their 24th-place team last year, and they have at least four scoring-worthy relays. The challenge for this team will be consistency. At NCAA’s last year, they’d have one great relay (400 free, for example), but would turn in a bad  swim with similar personnel  (800 free, for example). The Mustangs might do well with just dropping their 800 free relay altogether and focusing on the other four, despite having a great 200 freestyler in Nina Rangelova.

Rachel Nicol has been big in the breaststrokes; she was a 1:00.51 in the 100 at the Art Adamson Invitational in November. With Isabella Arcilla already turning in good backstroke performances, the Mustangs will be counting on senior Monika Babok to have a big fly leg on the medleys at year’s end.  She’s been only a 54.7 on a flat-start, but was a 53.7 at the SMU Classic on the relay.

#20. Wisconsin Badgers (Last Year: #15)

Ivy Martin is ready for stardom, and with a sprinter like her, it’s hard to see Wisconsin finishing outside of the top 20 at NCAA’s. Anna Meinholz is swimming very well in the breaststrokes, which should be a big boost to Wisconsin’s medley relays.

Even with that, however, we’ve slid the Badgers down 5 spots from where they finished the season last year.  We cannot underestimate the value that the now-graduated Ruby Martin had for this team. The way she came around in her backstroke last year was huge for the Badgers’ NCAA finish, and this year, Wisconsin’s best in the 100 yard race is sophomore Annie Tamblyn in a 54.92. We won’t glaze over the fact that Tamblyn is already swimming career bests (multiple times over), but that’s still a long way from the 52’s that Martin was swimming last year.

#19. Purdue Boilermakers (Last Year: #19)

With Lauren Gustafson gone, it’s hard to see the Boilermakers scoring in either sprint freestyle relay.  However after relying on divers Casey Matthews (NCAA 3-meter champion) and Michelle Cabassol for all of their scoring last year, the Boilermakers should be able to eke out a few more points from their swimmers this season.

Rhi Sheets and Carly Mercer are both swimming well for the Boilermakers, and with each flat-starting under 1:47 in the 200 yard free at the Ohio State Invitational (Mercer was also a 48.4 in the 100 free), the 800 free relay should finish in the top 16 if it can get qualified.

#18. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Last Year: #16)

Emma Reaney is now a national star, and she’s swimming like it this year, leading the country in the 200 breaststroke in 2:05.85, and ranking 6th in both the 100 breaststroke and 200 IM.

Notre Dame’s backstroke group has grown very deep, and that has allowed Notre Dame some flexibility in who they put where to fill up their medleys. Kelly Ryan can now swim the freestyle leg (where she belongs), and junior Courtney Whyte has stepped up in a big way to fill in the butterfly hole left by graduation (she was a 53.4 at the Hawkeye Invitational).

But, at this point, that’s where the scoring potential falls off.  While Notre Dame’s medley relays are swimming well, its not enough to crack through the top 12. The Irish still haven’t replaced the points they lost to a graduating diver and butterflier, and their freestyle group doesn’t look enough for those relays to score many points. If the Irish can get 50 points out of Reaney, they’re in the thick of the 15-20 battle, and it’s up to their medleys to see how high they can go.

#17. UCLA Bruins (Last Year: #17)

Just like their Pac-12 counterparts at Stanford, the UCLA women are swimming very well this year as a warmup for a huge recruiting class to come in the fall. Linnea Mack is having a standout freshman season (52.5 in the 100 back), and Ting Quah is one of the most underrated swimmers in the country (52.9 100 fly already this season).

This UCLA team didn’t lose much from their NCAA team last year, but if they want to improve upon their last-season ranking, it will come down to their sprint freestylers.  Quah is reliable and will be ready in March. Last year, Kathryn Murphy peaked mid-year, which as a senior she seems to be lined out better for this season (she was a good, but not peaked, 49.2 at the Texas Invite in the 100 free).  The Bruins have enough depth this year to ride the hot hand on their relays, but Linnea Mack should take over a relay spot from whichever of the four returning swimmers isn’t ready at the right time.  It will be down to Anna Senko and Katie Kinnear, likely, for that last relay spot.

The loss of diver Emory Ivory-Ganja, who transferred to Texas, hurts. She scored 21 points at NCAA’s last year.

#16. Louisville Cardinals (Last Year: #22)

There are a lot of things lining up for a big year for the Louisville Cardinals. Tanja Kylliainen had the season’s first big explosion, in mid-October, with a great 200 fly and 400 IM, her two best events, at the SMU Classic, among other outstanding races. Kelsi Worrell has been all over the place, and looked very strong in her sprint freestyling, her sprint butterflying, and in a surprise new event, her 200 fly as well (sh has some event decisions to make come March).

To go along with Worrell for their medleys, the Cardinals have now Krissie Brandenburg back from injury and looking solid on the backstroke (53.52 in the 100).  Their breaststroke group is strong with Andee Cottrell and a once-again-healthy All-American Gisselle Kohoyda providing a very good 1-2 punch in the breaststroke.  The biggest advantage for Louisville, however, is they have almost nothing to rest for at their first, and only, AAC Championship meet; they’re going to win the team title running away (though SMU will take definitely take some events). A few will have to rest to get NCAA qualifying times, but the big scorers can line up for NCAA’s perfectly if they want.

Here’s the blueprint for getting the Cardinals into the top 15: Andrea Kneppers needs to be under 49 in the 100 yard free on relay starts at season’s end; the distance group (Abby Chin and Andrea Houck) need to hit their year-end taper much better than they did last season, to eke out a point or two; and Brandenburg needs to continue on her great trajectory.

#15. Missouri Tigers (Last Year: #14)

With Loren Figueroa finally diving against Missouri State, Tigers fans were relieved that their best diver will be in action this year.

In between the lanes, Missouri’s teams exploded at their hosted invite in late November, with big times coming from both expected and unexpected places. Dani Barbiea is the fastest 100 butterflier in the country this year (51.13 – tied with Ellese Zalewski of Florida). Katherine Ross, just a freshman, has already broken school breaststroking records and become the first Tiger under a minute in the 100 (59.95). Anna Patterson has been very good for them in the freestyle events as well; she’s certainly a worthy relay anchor, and is on the verge of perhaps a couple of individual points at NCAA’s.

However, the Tigers lost a lot of depth from last season.  Barbiea is a great backstroker/butterflier/freestyler, Patterson is a very good butterflier/freestyler, and Ross is a very good breaststroker.  That leaves a lot of pressure on Emily Doucette to pick up the backstroke leg following the graduation of Dominique Bouchard and let everyone else shift around into their primary spots.  The Tigers had great medley relays mid-season, but their challenge will be to repeat those explosive times at the year’s end.  Teams in this situation historically can be about 50/50 in a championship meet after their big breakout.  Individually, Barbiea needs to replace Bouchard’s points, and Patterson and Ross need to continue progressing.  If that happens, the Tigers’ ceiling is probably around 12th place.

#14. Auburn Tigers (Last Year: #13)

Nobody at Auburn is arguing that last year was a good year for their women’s program. At the same time, nobody believes that this team is as bad as their 13th-place ranking from NCAA’s. This year, though, with teams like Virginia and Missouri swimming so well, the competition is stiffer, and the danger is there to slide even further if they miss again. Specifically, if they DQ their 200 free relay like they did a year ago (they should easily be A-Finalists), they’ll be in trouble.

Operating on the assumption a relay DQ doesn’t happen this year, Auburn is clearly a top 13 team. Emily Bos (52.55 100 back) is swimming very well, as is the whole of the Auburn backstroke group (their 200 backstrokers, led by Aubrey Peacock and Jillian Vitarius, holds three of the top five spots in the SEC in the 200 back right now). Auburn could be the benefactors at NCAA’s if a lot of other coaches get gun shy with the incredible nationwide 200 backstroke depth.

Other spots in Auburn’s lineup, however, haven’t been as good this year. Their breaststrokers haven’t been under 1:03 in the 100.  Their freestylers haven’t been under 49.0.  Defending NCAA Champion Olivia Scott has only been 53.8 in the 100 fly.  Auburn had a couple of days rest going into the invite, but were training harder in the lead-up than they have in past years. We’ll leave them at 14 until we find out how that strategy pays out at year’s end.

#13: Virginia Cavaliers (Last Year: #18)

A lot has been made about the sudden departure of Mark Bernandino, but there’s one thing that can’t be argued: new head coach Augie Busch is doing something right with the woman’s team at UVA.  The Cavaliers/Wahoos raised a lot of eyebrows at the Ohio State Invite, starting with freshman distance star Leah Smith and sophomore backstroker Courtney Bartholomew.  Smith is currently ranked in the top five in both the 500 and 1650 freestyles, while Bartholomew became the fifth best performer all time in the 100 backstroke with her 50.73 last month.

Virginia has some other scoring pieces, too, including freshman Laura Simon (ninth in both breaststrokes), junior Ellen Williamson (eighth in the 200 IM), and freshman Kaitlyn Jones (tenth in the 200 IM).

With Bartholomew and Simon providing a great front half, Virginia will have very competitive medley relays to go with their traditionally strong 800 free relay.  The big questions, however: are they already close to their ceiling?  How much faster can they get this season?

#12. North Carolina Tar Heels (Last Year: #12)

This ranking is based, really, on the fact that Rich DeSelm’s Tar Heel women have been hot for the last 12 months. Like, really hot. At NCAA’s, they had swimmers moving up from early heats to finals all over the place; they looked like world-beaters at the SMU Classic; and at the Nike Cup, for the most part, they got even better.  If you picked UNC to finish 15th, we wouldn’t argue with you, but given they’re the hot hand, and we’ve picked them mid-year to be on the verge of the top 10.

What was last year a very young sprint group is blossoming this season, with Lauren Earp and Ally Hardesty both having great years. Their 200 butterfliers (Carolyn Blalock and Meredith Hoover) placed 3rd and 4th at NCAA’s as juniors last march, and could be joined in the scoring column by Sarah Koucheki and/or Emma Nunn.

Stephanie Peacock, who missed NCAA’s last year, is back and swimming very well, and getting a redshirt senior year for Carly Smith makes their medleys that much better. If they can sneak into the top 10, they’d be the first ACC team to do so since Virginia was 9th in 2010.

What worries us about this UNC team is their relay potential. They scored over 100 points at NCAA’s last year, but only 5 came from relays.  As teams climb into the top 10, the places go by the dozens-of-points, not single-points like they do through the teens.  The Tar Heels’ relays look to be in better shape (they’ll probably score 30 more points there than last year), but their ability to crack the top 8 in any of them is questionable.

The other potential concern is what they do for their conference meet.  Knowing Virginia’s focus is probably more NCAA-based this year with their top-end talent, the Tar Heels will see the ACC trophy and have to at least consider going after breaking UVA’s conference streak. That could provide some long-term benefits to the program in recruiting, so it wouldn’t be a totally failed strategy if they went that way.

#11. Indiana Hoosiers (Last Year: #11)

Indiana has been on the verge of a breakthrough for the last seven or eight years, but has always been one or two pieces shy of getting back into the top nine for the first time since 2005, leaving them at 10th or 11th place in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2013.  Anchored by multi-event individual All-Americans Lindsay Vrooman (30 points last season) and Brooklyn Snodgrass (28), Indiana is on track to get over the hump this year.

Snodgrass, the 2013 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, will have some help in getting the Hoosier medleys into better scoring position this season, thanks improvement of Bronwyn Pasloski, a returning NCAA scorer in the 100 breast who is tracking well ahead of her 2013 season in both events.

Between the improvement of Pasloski and the additions of Gia Dalesandro and ex-Arizona Wildcat Katilin Flederbach, Indiana is better positioned than previous years in the sprint relays.  Dalesandro, a freshman from Naperville, Illinois, sits in the top 25 in both butterfly events, giving the Hoosier medleys their best third medley leg option in years.  Flederbach was a relay All-American in her first three years at Arizona, and is already near her best flat start times from last season.  With the help of Flederbach, the Hoosiers have already beaten their 400 freestyle relay from the 2012-2013 season by two seconds.

Overall, the Hoosiers should jump into the top ten and score in four relays, but lack the sprint pieces at this point to move up any further.

#10: Minnesota Golden Gophers (Last Year: #10)

Top-to-bottom, the Minnesota women are a sneaky good team.  The defending Big Ten champions placed tenth at NCAA’s a year ago with across-the-board depth.  The Golden Gophers lost one major piece (All-American breaststroker Haley Spencer), but sophomore Kierra Smith has jumped right in to fill the void, dropping a 2:06.43 last month in the 200 breaststroke, good for second in the country.

With 17 of 20 relay legs returning from last season, Minnesota will once again have five strong relays capable of rocking the boat by jumping into the A-Final.  Becca Weiland, Erin Caflisch, and Lauren Votava have all recorded top 40 swims in the sprints so far this season, and Weiland has shown potential to make the A-Final in the 100 fly.

The biggest piece for Minnesota this season, however, will be Kiera Janzen, who cut four seconds off her 200 freestyle time this summer to earn a spot on the U.S. National Team.  If that translates to the short course pool, expect Janzen to make a pair of A-Finals and score around 30 individual points this season.

Don’t forget that the Gophers also have 30 NCAA diving points returning from last year thanks to senior Maggie Keefer.

#9. Texas Longhorns (Last Year: #9)

This Texas team ‘feels’ like a really good team. Yes, they lost NCAA 200 breast champion Laura Sogar to graduation.  However, that  really only hurts them in individually with Gretchen Jaques, a phenomenal sprint breaststroker (59.3 in the 100 already this year, ranked 7th in the country), ready to take over relay duty.

It’s also a roster with a good mix. This was a team that was in turmoil and lacked leadership a few years ago, but now under Carol Capitani, they seem to have stabilized and have a huge senior veteran core with swimmers like Lily Moldenhauer, Sam Tucker, and Alex Hooper. They’ve got 5 relays that can score in the top 8 at NCAA’s. They’ve got freshmen, who–probably thanks in large part to that senior class–are coming along incredibly well – including Madisyn Cox who was 3rd in the 200 IM at the Texas Invite.

Their biggest ace-in-the-hole?  They’ve got divers, and divers-on-divers. They graduated All-American Shelby Cullinan, but return redshirt senior Maren Taylor, and also add freshman Murphy Bromberg, who was the 2013 USA Diving Junior National Champion on platform and dove at the World Championships representing the United States this summer. That’s two Texas divers who were on Team USA at Worlds (Taylor and Bromberg).

They also picked up Emma Ivory-Ganja, who scored 21 points as a sophomore for UCLA last year between the 3-meter platform, and if they can sneak a fourth into qualifying, junior Meghan Houston is a possible diving scorer at NCAA’s as well. If you’re not counting Texas’ diving points in your math, you’re missing half the story.

#8. Arizona Wildcats (Last Year: #5)

Despite Arizona’s question marks coming into the season, there’s no doubting that Margo Geer and Bonnie Brandon are all-world talents, who should score 85-95 individual points combined, even if Geer only swims two events, and especially if she swims the 200 as well. Combined with the continued development of sprint freestyler Alana Pazevic, breaststroker Emma Schoettmer, and butterflier Ashley Evans, the Wildcats are capable of scoring in excess of 200 points, which should be good for a safe eighth place finish. Schoettmer and Evans are the keys; both have already been well under their previous lifetime bests, and if the Wildcats want to jump the rest of the teams on this list, they’ll need some individual points from other athletes.

The big question is whether Geer is put in all five relays like she was last year, or the coaching staff elects to “punt” one of the relays, so to speak, and let Geer swim the 200 free individually, where she’s capable of a top 8 finish.

#7. Tennessee Volunteers (Last Year: #3)

Last year, Tennessee was the best-performing team at NCAA’s, and with the second-ranked recruiting class in the country, they looked primed to duplicate their third place finish. Halfway through the 2013-2014 season, however, and it’s tough to figure out what to make from the Volunteers.  They still have plenty of top talent (Molly Hannis, Lindsey Gendron, Faith Johnson), but at the moment, they are without a true elite flyer (Kelsey Floyd graduated) or great backstroker (their best one, Lauren Solernau, hasn’t competed in a month), and they’re one sprinter short of competing again in the freestyle relays (the loss of Carolyn Simmons hurts).

For the record: the teams ranked 3-7 on this list are in a total logjam, and could all very well be separated by 30 points or less. Putting Tennessee in the seventh spot isn’t a knock against the Volunteers, they have just impressed us the least so far this season. Matt Kredich has done great things with this program, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see Tennessee come up big in March, and take home another top four trophy.

#6. USC Trojans (Last Year: #7)

The Trojans have already equaled or bettered their times from last year in all three freestyle relays, with Kasey Carlson, Katarzyna Wilk, and Kendyl Stewart already ahead of their lifetime best sprint times. Bringing in USA National Team member Chelsea Chenault helps, too. The true freshman has already proven she’s the real deal, posting top ten times in the 200 and 500 freestyles, and bolstering the Trojans’ freestyle relays.

USC looks like they will really make their mark in the breaststroke, butterfly, and IM events, with returning All-Americans Stina Gardell, Meghan Hawthorne, Jasmine Tosky, and Andrea Kropp swimming fast (but not too fast) already. With Hawthorne coming off a great summer and Tosky recently posting her best 200 fly since high school, those four should be good for somewhere around 100 individual points.

#5. Stanford Cardinal (Last Year: #8)

Seeing “8. Stanford” in the final team standings a year ago made it look like Greg Meehan’s first season with the Cardinal was a disappointing one, when in reality, they performed very well in a stacked field, and are setting themselves up to be a contender over the next few years.  Stanford showed up at the Art Adamson Invitational a couple weeks ago and reestablished everyone’s expectations of what we should see in March.  The brightest points for Stanford: Seeing “8. Stanford” in the final team standings a year ago made it look like Greg Meehan’s first season with the Cardinal was a disappointing one, when in reality, they performed very well in a stacked field, and are setting themselves up to be a contender over the next few years. Stanford showed up at the Art Adamson Invitational a couple weeks ago and reestablished everyone’s expectations of what we should see in March. The brightest points for Stanford:

    • If you plug in Stanford’s best times from this season into NCAA’s a year ago, they score 291 points (almost 50 more than last year already).
    • Stanford is the only team with at least four NCAA ‘A’ cuts across the 50-100-200 freestyles (two each from Maddy Schaeffer and Lia Neal). In a sprint-heavy scoring system, that’s huge.
    • Felicia Lee is a full 18 months removed from shoulder surgery, and is having a great start to her senior year.
    • Their biggest weaknesses coming into the year (relay breaststrokers and finding another sprint freestyler) have largely been addressed (Sarah Haase and Alex Whitford are well ahead of where they were last year)
    • Maya Dirado is still Maya Dirado.

Their biggest problem, however, continues to be their overall lack of depth (a problem that has plagued them for 5+ years), which sets their team finish ceiling at third place.

#4. Texas A&M Aggies (Last Year: #4)

There’s no point in sugar-coating this: overall, the Aggies had a very disappointing NCAA’s in 2013, adding time in every swim on day one, 8 of 12 swims on day two, and 10 of 13 swims on day three. But when the meet was over, even with those less-than-favorable results, they somehow still found themselves just two points out of third place. Had they swam around where they were seeded, they would have competed with Cal for second place.

The good news? Almost every major piece of that A&M team is back, and rather than go all-in at their December meet, it looks like A&M has left a lot in the tank for the end of the year. They have a ton of top-end firepower, with Sarah Henry, Cammile Adams, and Breeja Larson all having great shots at individual titles. Add in All-Americans Liliana Ibañez Lopez, Ashley McGregor, Paige Miller, and Caroline McElhany, and improving sprint freestylers Samantha Bosma (22.5 and 48.7 this year), Erica Dittmer (22.3, 49.3), and (Meredith Oliver (49.2, 1:46.3), and you already have an NCAA roster capable of exceeding 350 points in March.

#3. Florida Gators (Last Year: #6)

Based on early returns this year, the Florida Gators, who graduated no NCAA individual scorers and only one NCAA qualifier, (who was in a couple of relays) have found a lot more points from a very similar roster to the young one that finished 6th at NCAA’s last year.

The distance freestyle group that looked great last year is deeper with freshman Taylor Katz and Danielle Valley. The backstroke group is somehow even deeper with Georgia Hohmann joining the team at the semester.

If German swimmer Theresa Michalak joins the team at the semester (both she and the program are being very tight-lipped about it, but our hunch is that she will) and is ready to roll, then it gives the Gators even more IM and freestyle and butterfly depth. That would make them true NCAA title contenders.

Here’s something you don’t see every day from Florida: their best relay is the 200 medley, where they are more than three tenths better than every team in the country.  The Gators also have put together the second best 400 medley of the 2013-2014 season.  The real key is breaststroker Hilda Luthersdottir, who is swimming out of her mind.  She’s Florida’s only elite, NCAA-level breaststroker, so as a senior there is a lot of pressure on her to perform, and she is coming through big, ranking in the top 8 in the NCAA in both the 100 (59.5) and 200 (2:08.3) yard breaststrokes.

Ellese Zalewski is another huge relay piece for the Gators.  She is miles ahead of where she was at this point last year, turning in a 51.13 in the 100 butterfly last month, sharing the top spot in the country with Missouri’s Dani Barbiea.  She’s also been 22.27 and 48.78 in the sprint freestyles, giving Florida quite the 1-2 punch with fellow All-American Natalie Hinds.

Can’t forget about the usual suspects, either:

  • Elizabeth Beisel has one final go-round, and will certainly be a contender in her three events.
  • Hinds scored 33 points as a true freshman, and is on track to be even more dangerous this year; her 47.6 100 freestyle from the Ohio State Invite last month is faster than her third place finish at NCAA’s last year
  • World Championship finalist Sinead Russell has shown a new form of versatility this season, putting up top 20 times in five different individual events, including a fourth place ranking in the 200 backstroke.

The Gators still need a couple more pieces to come out of the woodwork in order to hold down a spot in the top four, but so far, Florida is on a trajectory we haven’t seen since their 2010 championship season.

#2. Georgia Bulldogs (Last Year: #1)

With the way they performed in the first half of the 2013-2014 season, the Bulldogs have made the graduation of Allison Schmitt and Megan Romano tolerable. Their freestyle group remains one of the best in the business with Shannon Vreeland, Jordan Mattern, Amber McDermott, and Brittany MacLean covering the mid-distance track, and Olivia Smoliga and Chantal Van Landeghem controlling the sprints. Meanwhile, Melanie Margalis and Annie Zhu have put up some of the best times in the country, with Margalis positioning herself to challenge Maya Dirado and Elizabeth Beisel in the 400 IM in March.

Although nothing is official, it’s more than likely that the Bulldogs have already qualified eight of their nine biggest contributors for NCAA’s (Mattern being the last one). That puts Jack Bauerle in the enviable position of being able to train his star swimmers through SEC’s.

#1. Cal (Last Year: #2)

Despite the incredible team the Bulldogs are returning, Cal was seen as the heavy favorite coming into the season. So far—considering how they typically approach their midseason meets—the Bears haven’t disappointed.

What can we look forward to at the end of the year? Some random pieces of note, including the Bears’ great relay prospects, seemingly infinite supply of backstrokers, and potential to win six individual events:

    • They have all five relays ranked in the top four (including three holding the first or second spot)
    • They have five swimmers who have been 49.00 or faster in the 100 free (at this point last year, they had zero)
    • They have seven under 1:46.5 in the 200 free (two at this point last year)
    • They have six of the top 15 women in the 100 back
    • They have five of the top 15 women in the 200 back
    • They have dozens of title-caliber medley relay combinations, and somehow, it’s entirely possible that multi-time individual NCAA champion Cindy Tran could be left off every finals relay, even if she’s at her best
    • Their biggest hole was probably the sprint breaststrokes, but Marina Garcia has already split 59.5, and it looks like she’s finally starting to adjust to college swimming.

Georgia (and Texas A&M, and USC, and Stanford, and Florida, etc.) won’t go down easily, but this Cal team—capable of winning all five team relays and scoring over 500 points overall—could be one of the best teams ever.

Just Missed (in no particular order):

  • Arkansas (if Shana Lim comes back healthy, they’re a top 25 team.)
  • Kentucky (Tina Bechel is carrying the Wildcats’ NCAA scoring it seems. If she gets two butterfly, and Christa Cabot can find a few diving points, this team could be top 25.)
  • North Carolina State (The Wolfpack has to be confident after drubbing Virginia Tech by 50 in a dual meet. This team will be counting a lot on their sprinters.)
  • Wisconsin-Milwaukee (Emily McClellan is having a great season, and could be a one-woman wonder who can single-handedly carry her team into the top 25.)

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Analyzer

Good observations.

In regards to Texas – does anyone know of Sarah Denninghoff’s whereabouts? Quite an asset MIA!

John Sampson

Fantastic article. I just have this gut feel that Stanford is going to make some serious noise; Dirado and Lee will surely go out with a bang. And with Lia Neal and Schaefer swimming in top form their relays (especially free) seem like they will be extremely tough to beat. I think Florida will also surprise people. IMO I think Beisel will finally go full-throttle taper for this meet. How could she not? I really hope she opts for the 500 instead of the 200IM . Any chance she might swim the mile instead of the ever so deep 200 back? I think she would make a bigger wave in the mile. Her and Dirado will duke in out for… Read more »

Tx

Denninghoff is injured…heard its her knee.

Analyzer

Thanks for the update, is she red shirting and coming back next year or??

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