As the women’s collegiate season transitions from conference championships into the NCAA Championship portion of the season, it’s worth looking back at one event from the women’s Pac-12 Championships that could have major impacts on a different event at NCAAs later this month.
The former event is the individual 200 freestyle and the latter event the 800 freestyle relay.
That’s because Stanford’s individual dominance in the 200 free adds up to something potentially greater. The current composite time of the Cardinal’s individual 200 freestylers into an 800 free relay is more than a second faster than the NCAA record they set at Pac-12s, and almost two seconds faster than any other relay in history.
Here’s a look at Stanford’s individual 200 free swimmers with times added up from the Pac-12 final:
That foursome took 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th at Pac-12s, with Drabot just .03 out of 4th place. Manuel and Ledecky sit #1 and #2 in the current NCAA ranks, and Neal is #10 and Drabot #15.
A 6:48.27 would be an unheard-of fast time. At Pac-12s, the Cardinal 800 free relay went 6:49.42, breaking the American record and becoming the first relay ever under 6:50. Yet this composite time is a full second faster than that. If Stanford chooses to load this relay at NCAAs, we could be seeing a historically insane result, especially considering relay exchanges could theoretically take a second or more off that projected time.
The previous American and NCAA records were 6:50.18 set by Cal at Pac-12s in 2015. That relay included a nearly-peak Missy Franklin, who split 1:40.68 on the anchor leg. Franklin would go on to go 1:39.10 in the individual 200 free at NCAAs, but with the 800 free relay falling on the same night, an exhausted Franklin was only 1:40.0 on the anchor leg. With the NCAA moving to the four-day format and the 800 free relay moving to opening night, Stanford could have four relatively fresh legs for this event nationally.
Part of the reason the relay didn’t go 6:48 at Pac-12s was because Stanford left Manuel off the relay to focus on the other four relay events. Manuel is the team’s best sprinter, and should be a lock for the 200 and 400 free relays. She’s also a game-changing leg on the 200 and 400 medleys, which makes it tough to justify using her on this relay, which leads the NCAA by four seconds.
From a team perspective, the smartest move is probably to use Manuel on the other four relays. But could you really pass up a 200 free relay that could have two 1:39 splits, perhaps even a 1:39 leadoff leg? Stanford will have to think hard about subbing in Lia Neal (no sprint slouch herself) into a medley relay to give Manuel a shot at an incredible 800 free relay record.