NCAA Women’s 100 Breast Preview: Return of the King

2017 WOMEN’S NCAA SWIMMING & DIVING CHAMPIONSHIPS

100 BREASTSTROKE

  • NCAA Record: 56.30 – Lilly King (Indiana) – 2/17/2017
  • American Record: 56.30 – Lilly King (Indiana) – 2/17/2017
  • U.S. Open Record: 56.30 – Lilly King (Indiana) – 2/17/2017
  • 2016 Champion: 56.85 – Lilly King (Indiana) – 3/18/2016

At this point in the fast and furious 2017 season, it may be near-cliche to say that an NCAA Nationals race is all-but-decided. Barring some sort of freak disqualification (Poseidon forbid), we know that we will see NCAA golds out of our favorite freshman from Stanford in the distance events. However, the women’s 100 breaststroke is likely the same story before the swimmers even hit the water.

Last month at Big Tens, Indiana’s sophomore Olympic gold medalist and NCAA defending champion Lilly King reaffirmed that she is an NCAA breaststroke talent like we have never seen, swimming an American record 56.30 that places her almost a second ahead of any other swimmer in history. (Breeja Larson was 57.23 at NCAAs in 2014.) If any woman has ever had a shot at breaking 56 in the 100 breast, it’s King. This week.

But, even while awed by all the insane swimming to come from your Kings, your Manuels, and your Ledeckys, keep your eye on the next tier of swimmers on the verge of a world-class breakthrough. Perhaps one of the biggest Cinderella stories to come this week could be from Florida State’s Natalie Pierce. Over the past six months and under the new leadership of head coach Neal Studd, the Florida State women have undergone a rags-to-riches transformation. The team qualified only two swimmers for NCAAs last season, but this time around, they have three including the second-fastest 100 breaststroker in the country. This November at the Georgia Invite, Pierce swam a school-record 58.37, dropping over two seconds from her ACCs 1:00.70 from last season. Over the course of one year, Pierce has gone from completely missing an invite to NCAAs to being ranked second to King, the fastest yard-swimmer of all time.

The field is tight, and at a meet like this, it’s tough to give the edge to a sudden burst of speed compared to consistency and experience. Since four of eight finalists from 2016 are out of the picture this time around (Stanford’s second-place Sarah Haase, Mizzou’s fifth-place Abby Duncan, and Purdue’s eighth-place Emily Fogle have all graduated, while Indiana’s third-place finisher Miranda Tucker is redshirting at Michigan, as a penalty for her intra-conference transfer), seniors Laura Simon, Andrea Cottrell, and Katharine Ross will be the returning swimmers to watch. Mizzou’s Ross was fourth last year with 58.22, while Cottrell out of Louisville was sixth with 58.78, and Simon of Virginia was seventh in 58.91.

Last year’s seventh-place finisher Simon, a senior out of Virginia, is coming in off her career-fastest season in this event. She hit 58.41 at the UGA Fall Invite and 58.46 at ACCs (this compared to Pierce, who was only 59.87 at ACCs last month).  Simon comes into the event seeded third.

Cottrell, however, has been faster than any other non-King swimmer in the field. She was 58.26 at last year’s ACCs, but then she gained about half a second at NCAAs. This time around she was second at ACCs with 58.81, and sixth-seed senior Kayla Brumbaum of NC State was third in a talent-packed conference final. Brumbaum has also made a huge stride in the past year, after finishing 24th at 2016 NCAAs with 1:00.5.

Meanwhile Mizzou standout Ross (the first swimmer in college history to win an SEC title after 2016’s 100 breast win), has not quite been on top of her game this season. The senior is ranked fifteenth going into the race with 59.54.

Freshman upstart Silja Kansakoski of Arizona State, who competes for Finland internationally, is seeded fourth coming into the event with 58.44. Kansakoski came to the Sun Devils at the halfway point of the 2016-17 season, and she has only been competing in short course yards for a few months. She scored a Pac-12 championship title in the event last month. She adds even more unpredictability to the already-close race for second.

Fellow freshman standout Lindsey Horejsi of Minnesota and her senior teammate and Canadian Olympian Kierra Smith each saw strong performances at Big Tens last month, with Horesji swimming around four tenths off her best with 58.90 and Smith swimming 58.95 for second and third behind King. The two have been strong training partners throughout the season, boosting Minnesota to a national-level breaststroke power. (You can read more here from Smith about the duo’s friendship and swimming rivalry.)

USC’s Riley Scott has also been under 59 this season, fast enough for second at Pac-12s. Last year, she was twelfth at NCAAs with 59.85.

Top 8 Predictions:

Place Swimmer Seed Time Best Time
1 Lilly King 56.30 (#1) 56.30
2  Laura Simon  58.41 (#3)  58.41
3  Silja Kansakoski  58.44 (#4)  58.44
4 Andrea Cottrell  58.61 (#5)  58.26
5  Natalie Pierce  58.37 (#2)  58.37
6  Lindsey Horejsi  58.90 (#7)  58.56
7 Kayla Brumbaum  58.85 (#6)  58.85
8 Kierra Smith 58.92 (#9) 58.92

Dark Horse: Emily Escobedo (UMBC). Escobedo is also our dark horse pick in the 200 IM because her prowess extends beyond the 200 breast, where she is the defending bronze medalist. Though she hasn’t yet broken 59 in the 100, the senior has seen consistent improvement across her four years of competing for the Retrievers. She rocketed from 59.71 in Georgia one year ago to a lifetime best 59.02 going into this week’s event. 

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E Gamble

No matter what team you’re rooting for at NCs…. everyone loves the King. She’s racing the clock in this one. ?

GOYULIA

I don’t think much of the finger wagging King, but enjoy your swim in the bath tub for our lady will be waiting for you this summer…at least in the 50 and 100, Ms. King can’t put together a good 200m breast 🙂

Wallaby

She can now

ERVINFORTHEWIN

Your lady can still try – no chance for the win this summer . U heard it first here ….LOL

E Gamble

But Lily King can pass her drug test tho. ?

ALEXANDER POP-OFF

Catch that shade!

Fight On

Yuliya is a class act! She has been smeared as a drug abuser because of misdeeds of many in her home country. Yes, she failed a drug test, but it was for a tampered substance, similar to what happened to Jessica Hardy. Both ladies work hard and don’t want to break rules. I hope this summer is a great race between the humble Yuliya and the arrogant Lilly.

CraigH

Whole other conversation, but in my view both Efimova and Hardy are forever cheats.

ChestRockwell

Failed two I believe, no?

ERVINFORTHEWIN

oh yes , 2 . Fight on preferred to hide that one behind the closet . LOL

Cola and a smile

For now

Sir Swimsalot

Is Hecht a Lord of the Rings fan?

Probably! When she’s not writing for SwimSwam, Hannah moonlights at Penguin Books!

Coach Eve

Be on your way trolls, this is about he best NCAA swimmer, go grab your 15 minutes somewhere else. King is swimming here, Efimova is not.

Good luck to all the women who have made it through the trials and tribulations of the college season to make it to Indy!

About Hannah Hecht

Hannah Hecht

Hannah Hecht grew up in Kansas and spent most of her childhood trying to convince coaches to let her swim backstroke in freestyle sets. She took her passion to Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa and swam at NAIA Nationals all four years. After graduating in 2015, she moved to …

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