Male Swimmer of the Meet: Jacob Jarzen (Michigan State)
Female Swimmer of the Meet: Sarah Henry (Texas A&M)
It’s invite season in NCAA swimming, and one of the biggest invites kicking off the most wonderful time of the year was hosted by Georgia Tech this weekend.
The women’s meet was headlined by the defending National Champion and fourth-ranked Florida Gators as well as the defending Big 12 Champions, and eighth ranked, Texas A&M Aggies.
On the men’s side, the #4 Gators, who have been swimming very well early in this season, the #20 Florida State Seminoles, and a single swimmer from Lansing were the names on the marquee.
A&M got out to a fast start on day one by taking 4 out of the top 5 spots in the first two individual events. The Aggie women have historically used an invite on this weekend every year—last year it was the University of Houston Invitational—to rest and earn the bulk of their NCAA qualifying times, which they were in no short supply of here.
That included a 4:41.08 500 free from freshman Sarah Henry, which is tops in the nation so far. In fact, the Aggies took 7 out of the 10 A-final spots in that race, and held off a strong 4:43.3 from all-world freshman Elizabeth Beisel of Florida, who finished third.
In the 200 IM, it was again all Aggies, as they swept the top four spots. This was an awesome race between seniors Lindsey King and Melanie Dodds and freshmen Erica Dittmer and Kim Pavlin. King held a solid lead through the first 150 yards, before her three teammates all charged hard on the freestyle leg. In the end, they ran out of room, and King held on to win in a 2:00.18, with Dodds touching in 2:00.21, Dittmer in 2:00.26, and Pavlin in 2:00.78. The finish order of the top 4 swimmers was in exactly inverse order of their freestyle splits.
Also of note in the IM was a 1:59.52 from Henry, who scratched the final to concentrate on the 500. Florida’s Teresa Crippen also returned to action in this race for the first time since her brother Fran’s tragic death, and finished 5th in 2:01.56.
Florida bounced back with a win in the 50 free from Sarah Bateman in 22.41, which was faster than any other swimmer in the country headed into the weekend.
In the 400 medley relay, the A&M women dominated again with another NCAA-best time of 3:37.09. Miami finished second here with a nice time of 3:40.26. The surprise in this race was Florida who, despite putting seemingly their best lineup out (including Beisel, Crippen, and Bateman) could finish no better than third: six seconds back. They were really hurt by the lack of a NCAA-caliber breaststroker, which we knew was going to be a tough point for them coming into the season.
On day 2, the name in the brightest lights was A&M freshman Sarah Henry. Henry, a freshman out of the Raleigh Swim Association program, is really starting to round back into form after an ACL tear during a game of ultimate sidelined her for months. In the prelims of the 400 IM, the day’s first individual event, she swam a 4:14, which is pretty ho-hum considering that A&M rested for this meet. The race appeared as though it would chalk up as a Beisel victory in arguably her best event. In finals, however, Henry looked like a completely different swimmer. After the butterfly leg, she held a slight lead over Beisel, versus prelims where she was a little behind. After the backstroke, Beisel’s specialty, the Aggie faded almost a second back and it appeared as though she might have taken the race out too hard. The gap grew halfway through the breaststroke, but then Henry made her move. By the time the dueling freshmen hit the freestyle leg, Henry had narrowed the gap to just over a tenth. In the end, she had the most gas left and finished with a 56.33 freestyle split compared to Beisel’s 56.64, which was just enough to give A&M another victory 4:06.66-4:06.84. Both of those times are NCAA A-cuts, season-bests, and top 5 times nationally.
Four years ago, at the 2007 Big 12 championships, A&M freshman Melissa Hain came in and smashed the school record in the 400 IM by over 4 seconds in 4:11.11, which then stood as a Big 12 record as well. A few tenths were shaved off of that mark in 2008 and 2010, but now Henry has come in again as a freshman and taken the bar to a whole new level with another 5-second drop. Likely as a result of her injury, Henry was one of the least-talked about big-time recruits, and she’s already paying huge dividends for the Aggies.
One of A&M’s other huge freshmen, Breeja Larson, swam a 1:00.03 in the 100 breaststroke, which is the second best time in the country this season behind Jillian Tyler.
The polls are still open, but early returns show that A&M’s freshman class, which was largely an unknown quantity headed into last summer, might be the second best in the country behind Stanford.
Miami also got in on the fun with a win in the 100 fly from senior Annika Saarnak. The defending champs were held without a win on day 2. In another third place finish, in the 200 medley, Florida is again suffering from their focus on 200 yard races, specifically in the strokes.
The men’s 400 IM also saw an outstanding swim, albeit a solo performance by Conor Dwyer. His time of 3:45.21 is fastest in the nation this year by over a second and a half (with only two other swimmers having broken into the 3:40’s).
Michigan State’s sophomore Jacob Jarzen, who I’ve been high on all season as one of the big stories in the country this season, also made a huge splash on day two in winning both the 100 fly and 100 back in top times. His mark of 47.22 in the 100 fly is the best in the country, and he came back later in the session to post a 47.82 in the 100 back. What is even more impressive is that Jarzen put up these great times despite swimming two individual events and two relays on the day. Those types of performances bode well for his chances at NCAA’s, which will follow the same schedule as this meet.
On day 3, the Florida women made a strong comeback by winning two events at the beginning of the session, albeit neither in a particularly mind-blowing time. Beisel won the 200 back in a mark of 1:54.4, off of her season best, and Sarah Bateman won the 100 free in 49.54.
In fact, the entire third day of the women’s meet was wholly lackluster in stark contrast to the rest of the meet. Beyond the 200 fly, where A&M’s Rita Medrano (1:55.04) and freshman Cammile Adams (1:55.50), who was swimming in her first collegiate meet, both broke the old school record, there wasn’t a whole lot of mind-blowing times being put up as there was on the first two days.
Fortunately, the men came through with some fabulous swims to keep the energy high. This began with a 15:01.92 in the mile from Florida State’s Mate De Angulo, which puts him fourth fastest in the nation. Jarzen followed that with another top-3 time, this one in the 200 back (1:44.20).
In the 200 breaststroke, Florida State’s Robert Holderness swam a 1:56-flat, the fastest time in the country. Kevin Puskaric of Michigan State finished over a second back-with the second best time in the country of 1:57.22.
Holderness had almost a perfect swim. He had the fastest opening 50 and closing 50 of the race, which he lead wire-to-wire. After his opening 50, he was able to negative split the rest of the race, whereas most 200’s result in every 50 being slower than the previous one. This indicates he might have even had a little left in the tank, and he should be a contender at NCAA’s.
The meet finished, appropriately, with an outstanding finish in the men’s 400 free relay. Florida State had the fastest lead-off and anchor legs, but it was Florida’s depth in the middle half of the race, including a 43.24 split from Dwyer, that made the difference. The Gators’ final time was 2:57.58 to Florida State’s 2:57.63. Both of these times are within the elite range at the top of the National rankings.
The big winners of this meet were the A&M women and Florida State men, who were fully successful in their winter taper meets. Florida, who brought only an upper-tier travel squad (where lack of depth explains the resulting scores) are likely saving themselves for USA short course nationals and the Princeton Invite, both of which take place in 2 weeks.
1. Florida State University 1398
2. University of Florida 1221
3. Clemson University 570
4. North Carolina State 564
5. Georgia Institute of Technolog 548
6. Michigan State University 546
7. Florida Atlantic University 367
8. Gardner-Webb University 220
9. Auburn University 168
10. Texas A&M University 57
11. University of Miami 55
12. Emory University 2
12. U.S. Air Force Academy 2
1. Texas A&M University 1735.5
2. Florida State University 1045.5
3. University of Florida 939
4. University of Miami 519
5. North Carolina State 333
6. Georgia Institute of Technolog 280
7. Clemson University 265
8. Florida Gulf Coast University 244
9. Michigan State University 224
10. Florida Atlantic University 192
11. Gardner-Webb University 136
12. U.S. Air Force Academy 122
13. Auburn University 113