It’s the final day of swimming at the 2010 NCAA Championships, and the focus really becomes on the race for the title. Coming into the third day, it’s a four-team race between Cal, Arizona, Stanford, and Georgia, with Florida and Texas A&M battling it out for a coveted spot in the top 5.
In the first prelims event, the Florida combination of Gemma Atkinson and Teresa Crippen took the top two spots in 1:52.62 and 1:52.94, respectively. Atkinson’s swim was no surprise, but Crippen, who has been swimming well all meet, posted a huge 1.5 second time drop. Kateryna Fesenko, who was runner-up in the 100 version, finalled third in 1:53.01. Fesenko and Atkinson can both swim much faster, and have this season, and I expect them to be the favorites. Other finalists are Presley Bard of USC, Mei Christensen of Virginia, Kristen Heiss of Texas A&M, and Caitlin Iversen and Ana Agy of Arizona.
Arizona was the only of the four championship contenders to have any finalists, and they had the 7-10 spots. This is a great opportunity for the Wildcats to pick up some big points, and they will probably be in second after this event, pending the outcome of the 1650, which doesn’t have prelims, but which is an event that Georgia is expected to win.
After a disappointing 50 freestyle, where she was relegated to the B-final after losing a swim off to Stanford’s Betsy Webb, Ariana Vanderpool-Wallace of Auburn made absolutely certain that she didn’t slide again by taking the top spot in 47.74, her best time of the season thus far.
The second place qualifier is Julia Wilkinson of Texas A&M in 47.89. Wilkinson is one of the top swimmers in the nation, but has been unfortunate in her first two individual events to be stuck behind Julia Smit in the 200 IM and Allison Schmitt and Morgan Scroggy in the 200 free, who are some of the best to ever swim those events. Because of this, it’s likely that Wilkinson has been eyeing this 100 freestyle as her chance to take home the gold. In 2008, her last season (she redshirted the 2009 season), she was the runner-up in this event after coming in as the top seed. Wilkinson has every bit of motivation to win this race, and I think it’s going to take something pretty special to keep her away from that gold medal.
In the third and fourth positions are the aforementioned Smit and her teammate Kate Dwelley. Shara Stafford of Florida, Liv Jensen of Cal, Scroggy of Georgia, and Michelle King of Tennessee. I’m also looking for a big swim from King to move up a few spots.
This race is going to feature one of the better head-to-head show downs of the entire meet between Liz Smith of Stanford and Alia Atkinson of Texas A&M. They are seeded 1-2 heading into finals at 2:08.44 and 2:08.82
After them is Annie Chandler, who won the 100 breaststroke. Chandler had another huge time drop in the 200 to qualify in 2:09.32. Chandler was followed by Ashley Danner, the unknown one, from George Mason in 2:09.46. (BTW, stay tuned, we have an interview set up with Danner next week to learn a little bit more about her).
Laura Moriarty (North Carolina), Haley Spencer (Minnesota), Yi-ting Snow (Arkansas), and Caitlin Leverentz (Cal) round out the Championship Final. Cal’s Alexandra Ellis made the B-final to try and keep her team in contention at the end of the meet.
Minnesota’s Jillian Tyler, who was one of the favorites coming into the race and the third-place finisher last year, slid all the way to 19th place, which is a disappointing end to her season.
The top seed in the 200 butterfly headed into finals is, without surprise, Elaine Breeden of Stanford, who is the current NCAA and U.S. Open (aka World Record in SCY swimming) record holder in the event. She will be chased by an elite group of swimmers, including Katinka Hosszu, who was the 2009 World Championships bronze medalist in the event, Lyndsay Depaul, who was the 2009 World University Games silver medalist, and Kathleen Hersey, who was the 2009 USA-Swimming National Champion. Other finalists were Florida’s Jemma Lowe, Florida’s Teresa Crippen, who’s pulling a tough double with the 200 fly and 200 back, Sarah Isakovic, and Bianca Casciari.
USC has amassed themselves a very strong butterfly crew, as they also have 2 B-finalists in addition to Hosszu and Depaul in the A-final. Arizona’s lone finalist was Alyssa Anderson in 10th and Georgia’s lone finalist is Lisa Caprioglio in 11th. After this race, if Breeden finishes in the top 3, the Cardinal could possibly have the meet sealed up, depending on what else happens.
400 Free Relay
This is the big show. Every team throws their top stars onto the relay, and they duke it out in what is always an exciting finish. Remember that this is the famous relay from the 2008 Olympics where Jason Lezak ran down Alain Bernard to give the Americans the gold. These relays are almost always that exciting at Championship meets.
The somewhat surprising top qualifier was Texas A&M, anchored by Wilkinson, who we discussed above. Wilkinson’d 47.53 was by far the best split on the prelims session.
The other finalists are Cal, Stanford, Florida, Georgia, Auburn, Arizona, and Virginia. You can’t ask for any better of a field to end the race, which includes the top 6 teams, plus Auburn, who is historically one of the top sprinting teams in the country, and Virginia, who has the top young sprinter in the country in Lauren Perdue.
This race will look very different in tonight’s finals. For starters, there will be a huge break for the platform diving finals after the 200 fly, which means several of those swimmers will likely be slotted into the relay. Stanford’s Elaine Breeden will probably swim, which would mean Stanford would have the same 4 swimmers who set an American record in this event at last year’s NCAA Championship (although they did not win the race).
A&M is likely to have only 1 swimmer, Julia Wilkinson, on their relay who swims another event in the finals, meaning that they will be well rested. Their relay is entirely made up of seniors, which gives them a massive amount of experience. They may also choose to slide another senior, Kristen Heiss, onto the squad.
Cal’s Sara Isakovic should swim much faster, given that during prelims, she swam the race immediately after the 200 fly. Georgia’s girls will have a lot of rest after tonight’s mile, but that race still can drain a swimmer, especially if they have to sprint later on. And of course add in the excitement that comes with the last race of the season. This will be an absolutely incredible final, and I wouldn’t even try to pick a winner, although I think it will come down to A&M, Cal, Stanford, and Georgia.
Chen Ni of IUPUI easily took the top spot in prelims in the platform with a big score of 322.30. She was followed by Elina Eggers of Arizona State and Amy Korthauer of Indiana. In the team battle, only Florida (Monica Dodson 6th, Kara Salamone 7th) and Texas A&M (Janie Potvin 13th) will have divers returning from the top 6 teams in the point standings.