Lia Neal, one of two American Olympians in this high school class of 2013, has chosen Stanford for her collegiate education and training ground. This is a huge coups for new women’s coach Greg Meehan. He got a very late start on this year’s recruiting season, but instantly overtook everyone by taking the unanimous top-2 recruit who was a member of the American finals 400 free relay that took bronze at the London Olympics.
Neal’s exploits in long course are well-told. She’s one of the country’s best freestylers, at any age, with a best of 54.15 in the 100, which ranked her 24th in the world last year. At the end of last summer, she also found herself a 200, with a 1:58.26.
Let’s take a moment, though, and relate her spectacular yards times, which are not as often spouted for swimmers of her caliber but will be invaluable to Meehan and the Cardinal. She has a 22.56 in the 50, a 48.1 in the 100, and a 1:45.99 in the 200. All of those were done in the winter of her sophomore season at the end of 2010; sometimes that means young women have maxed out their speed a little bit. Based on what she’s done in long course, it’s pretty clear that this wouldn’t apply to Neal. In that same time frame, she’s cut almost a second off of her 100 free, and four seconds off of her 200 free.
The Asphalt Green swimmer, who trains under Rachel Stratton-Mills, brings huge value and even beyond the numbers, “feels” like one of those once-in-a-decade type of sprinters who is going to carry some American relays into Rio. This is about the best start to the Meehan era that the Cardinal could have asked for. Many we have spoken with around NCAA swimming have “felt” like Neal was a Stanford girl from day 1, for whatever that’s worth.
She’s focused heavily on freestyles, but anybody who’s as well-built as Neal, and has that sprint speed, can contribute in other areas. Her 54.50 in the 100 yard fly is a great start to that.
Stanford badly needed this signing. They have the best sophomore sprinters in NCAA swimming in Maddy Schaefer, but aside from her the NCAA Championship 400 free relay will have graduated three out of four legs by the time Neal gets there. Now, they arguably will have the best sprint bookends in the country headed into the 2014 NCAA Championships (though a lot could change by then).