As the country begins rolling into their mid-season invite schedules (U of H Invite, Nike Cup, Purdue Invite are among the bigger ones this weekend), it’s time to start unveiling our initial 2012-2013 power rankings. These rankings are effectively end-of-season finish, but are not unreactive to in-season performances.
We reserve the right to be totally wrong and absolutely clueless. It happens. Here goes!
1. Cal Berkeley, Key Swimmer: Rachel Bootsma (Last Season: #1)
The Cal women are heavy favorites to threepeat as women’s NCAA Championships, and this year I’m not going to let anybody talk me out of it. That which they’ve brought in (Bootsma, Liz Pelton, Acker) easily compensates for that which they’ve lost (Jensen, Isakovic, Raatz). Bootsma with her incredible underwaters would seem to be the cog for this Cal team as she can pop around to any number of positions, and most importantly should be the key to holding over the free relays (along with Acker) while they wait for mega-sprinters Missy Franklin and Kristen Vredeveld to come in next season.
2. Georgia Bulldogs, Key Swimmer: Allison Schmitt (Last Season: #2)
Ok, I might let a persuasive Georgia fan talk me out of making Cal a stone-cold lock. After all, they were only about 45 points behind Cal at last year’s NCAA Championships, and Allison Schmitt is worth easily 45 points. She should be top three at NCAA’s in the 100 free, the 200 free, and the 500 free, which will add up to over 50 points; even more than that, though, she will fill some important spot on the medley. That might be as the butterflier, though more likely it will be in the form of sliding Megan Romano to a backstroke leadoff (she anchored last year). If those medleys can go from 10th-place finishers to high A-finalists (top 5), then the Bulldogs can make a claim to the titles.
3. USC Trojans, Key Swimmer: Jasmine Tosky (Last Season: #3)
Freshman Jasmine Tosky has a lot of weight on her shoulders this year; after USC lost one of the best individual college swimmers in the country last year, Tosky has come in and already been phenomenal, and should come very close to replacing what they’ve lost with Hosszu (and maybe even more relay value). Kasey Carlson got sick at the end of last year, but is back on her grind this year and should make a huge scoring impact at NCAA’s. But ya know who has been the fastest backstroker in the country so far this season? Not Pelton, not Bootsma. Not Tran. Not Brandon. Not Beisel. Freshman Kendyl Stewart from USC – she leads nationally in both the 100 and 200 backstrokes. Stop overlooking her. Just stop.
4. Texas A&M Aggies, Key Swimmer: Lili Ibanez (Last Season: #6)
A&M lost only one big piece from last year, an NCAA Champion diver, plus a few points from a 200 butterflier. What they’ve gotten back in Sarah Henry and Lili Ibanez, with both swimming as well as ever after recovering from injury, could be monumental. The Aggies only scored 12 NCAA free relay points last season, and with a DQ and a scratch in the 400 and 800, it’s almost a miracle they had that many. Sí Ibanez puede estar la mejor velocista para los Aggies, some compounding effects will be worth at least another 30, conservatively, just from those relays.
5. Stanford Cardinal, Key Swimmer: Maddy Schaefer (Last Season: #5)
Last season, Maddy Schaefer was the best freshman sprinter in the country. This season, the Cardinal desperately need her to establish herself as one of the best sprinters in the country, period. The potential is easily there (she was 8th in the 100 free at NCAA’s and 12th in the 50), but with veterans Betsey Webb and Sam Woodward both graduating, Schaefer needs to be able to send some fear into the hearts of Cardinal opponents at the end of those relays. Stanford is also really putting some effort into their diving program, so look out from above.
6. Arizona Wildcats, Key Swimmer: Lauren Smart (Last Season: #4)
The early success of freshman backstroker Bonnie Brandon has assuaged some of the concerns over the loss of Sarah Denninghoff to transfer, and the same can be said for incoming transfer Megan Lafferty as Amanda Kendall was lost. Margo Geer has also looked great early on as the only swimmer in the country to flat-start under 49 seconds so far. This team, though, isn’t nearly as deep as they were last season. They probably can’t afford the luxury of swapping out as many swimmers between relay prelims and finals, and that could add a little more fatigue to their stars. Smart’s ability to swim a few different strokes for the ‘Cats will help big-time with making the team feel maybe a bit deeper than they are. Kait Flederbach and especially senior Monica Drake need to show up in the sprints at year’s end, though.
7. Florida Gators, Key Swimmer: Natalie Hinds (Last Season: #10)
We have to remember that last season, an early DQ from Elizabeth Beisel cost the Gators at least 16 points early on at NCAA’s, and though overall they swam pretty well at year’s end, many probably had a broader Olympic focus. This year, they’ve brought in an immediate-impact freshman class that is already having an immediate impact. Sinead Russell is still working out the transition to yards swimming and battled some injuries over the summer, but has been decent this year. Natalie Hinds, though, has been very good early on: she’s the #2-ranked 100 freestyler in the SEC behind only Allison Schmitt. Hinds is one who will speak her mind, but at the end of the day she produces, and she has a big role to fill as the team’s primary sprinter in place of the departed Sarah Bateman. The Gator women should be way better in the medleys this year if Hinds continues to look good; they don’t seem as broken down early, though, so we’ll have to see what happens with that in March.
8. Auburn Tigers, Key Swimmer: Olivia Scott (Last Season: T-#7)
Auburn’s team this season will be seeking an identity after the graduation of their all-time-best Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace, and that identity will hopefully come from Olivia Scott. She could be an NCAA Champion in the 100 fly this year, and the Tigers would really love to see her be as good in the 100 free as she is in the 100 fly. This team got a lot deeper from last year, especially with a deep freshman backstroke group that includes Jillian Vitarius who has surprised with how good she’s been this season (54.40 in the 100, 1:56.9 in the 200). The sprint group seems to be a bit behind pace where they were last season at the same time, overall; though individually it’s not enough for any concern, the Tigers really need someone to break through in the sprints if they want to place as high as they were last year at NCAA’s.
9. Tennessee Volunteers, Key Swimmer: Faith Johnson (Last Season: T-#7)
I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the Tennessee Volunteers “outperformed” last season. That doesn’t mean that they won’t do it again this season, but the program is in a big transition period with almost an entirely new coaching staff, and Matt Kredich now dividing his attention among the men’s and women’s teams. Still, Kelsey Floyd seems poised for a monster season, and with a potential college superstar like her, they’re bound for a top 10 finish. Caroline Simmons, a transfer last season that came through big at NCAA’s, tends to come on late in the season, so with that context she’s been pretty good in 50.88 early. With freshman Faith Johnson living up to expectations through the first few meets (50.2), the Volunteers will feel a lot more comfortable with a second stud sprinter on the roster. They also could score major diving points: not to be overlooked.
10. Texas Longhorns, Key Swimmer: Gretchen Jacques (Last Season: #9)
Texas takes such a big hit from the loss of Karlee Bispo, but seems to be swimming with a refreshed attitude early this year. Laura Sogar looked confident in her battle with defending NCAA Champion Caitlin Leverenz and will get some international experience on the U.S. Short Course Worlds team; their sprinters looked outstanding in an upset against Stanford, and should carry them at NCAA’s. Could this be another case of too much for meets too early in the season? Maybe, but we’ll give the new coaching staff the benefit of the doubt for now. Sophomore Gretchen Jacques has speed to burn, and could be the next star from Texas (100 breast, 100 free, 100 fly at NCAA’s? Has that ever been done?).
11. Virginia Cavaliers, Key Swimmer: Lauren Perdue (Last Season: #17)
Last season, most of the swimming community was none-the-wiser of Lauren Perdue’s severe back injury until after ACC’s, when she pulled out of the NCAA Championships. That devastated the Cavliers’ scoring, but her Olympic berth (and subsequent Olympic performance) show that she’s back, and maybe better than ever. Don’t forget that before her injury, Perdue was in NCAA title conversations, and as a freestyler that means she has huge team value. She leads the country in the 50 free this year, and ranks highly in the 100 and 200 as well; in relay points alone could make a 50-point difference in UVA’s scoring. With their other big star Rachel Naurath having already been faster than her 2012-best in the 200 fly this year, and Ellen Williamson hoping for a big sophomore year, this team has the goods to move back into the elite echelons of the NCAA.
12. Minnesota Golden Gophers, Key Swimmer: Jessica Plant (Last Season: #11)
The Golden Gophers definitely moved up my rankings after their performance at the Minnesota GP last weekend. For the most part, they looked phenomenal. Freshman Kierra Smith was everything she was cracked up to be coming out of Canada, and leads the nation in the 200 breast to pick up some slack for Haley Spencer, who’s been off early this year. The young Gopher freestylers including Erin Caflisch and Tess Behrens are on-fire. There’s a pretty sizable dropoff after the top 10 teams, but don’t be one-bit surprised if the Gophers are able to make that leap. They’ve got the horses in their free relays to score some points (they didn’t get many last season from those relays), which could really go a long way toward a top 10 finish.
13. Indiana Hoosiers, Key Swimmer: Lips and Snodgrass (Last Season: #13)
If I ever start a band, I’m going to name it Lips and Snodgrass. The two big Indiana freshmen, butterflier Haley Lips and backstroker Brooklyn Snodgrass, have been rocking early this season (and Ray Looze is historically one of those “crush them early, build them late, Gregg Troy” type of coaches). Lips’ 54.8 in the 100 fly gives the Hoosiers the butterflier they need, and Snodgrass ranks 7th in the country in the 100 back at 53.96. Combined with last year’s two star freshmen Justine Ress and Allie Day, this is a young, powerful team. They’re deeper than they get credit for, especially in their backstroke groups. Sophomore Cynthia Pammett (50.37) emerging as a viable sprint relay anchor makes this team even more dangerous. The challenge for both of these Big Ten teams is the number of Canadians on their rosters. Not that there’s anything wrong with Canadians (really, we love you), but Canada’s Worlds Trials are right after NCAA’s, so there’s going to be some tough decisions about what to taper for. Kierra Smith has already named Worlds her primary meet. Will the rest follow suit? Minnesota has 3 Canadians, Indiana has 4. The Hoosiers also lost diver Laura Ryan, but they always reload on divers.
14. North Carolina Tar Heels, Key Swimmer: Carly Smith (Last Season: #19)
North Carolina is already feeling the impact from the return of their All-American backstroker Carly Smith, who missed the 2011-2012 season with an injury. Their 400 medley relay, for example, is ranked 7th in the country so far early this year. With Stephanie Peacock entering the season fully-aware this year of how good she is (she’s the NCAA Record holder in the 1650, after all), and Katie Nolan swimming as well as ever, this UNC team should finish much higher at NCAA’s this year than they did last. They’re still probably not deep enough to challenge Virginia for the ACC Championship, but they’re top-heavy to place well at NCAA’s.
15. Arizona State Sun Devils, Key Swimmer: Taylor Wohrley (Last Season: #12)
Arizona State graduated Swedish breaststroker Rebecca Ejdervik after last season, who had really been the “name” of this team. Now, it’s time for Shannon Landgrebe to step into that role. She was 7th at NCAA’s last year in the 200 free and 15th in the 100 free. She’s been solid again early this year. Tristin Baxter gives Arizona State a distance threat, but it’s Indiana transfer Taylor Wohrley who could be huge for the Sun Devils this year. She’s NCAA-point worthy at her best, and this is a team that could really use another individual scorer or two to support Landgrebe and Baxters’ efforts.
16. Wisconsin Badgers, Key Swimmer: Ruby Martin (Last Season: #15)
The names don’t immediately jump out at you, but the Badgers have looked very good early this season. Rebecka Palm was sharp in her 100 fly in the first few meets, and they probably have the best free relay bookends in the Big Ten with sisters Ruby and Ivy Martin. This team should have pretty good relays, they’ll just need to dig up some more individual scorers from a relatively-small roster if they want to hop any higher in the rankings.
17. SMU Mustangs, Key Swimmer: Nathalie Lindborg (Last Season: #16)
Even though the Mustangs graduated elite backstroker Therese Svendsen, it won’t necessarily hurt them as bad as one might think. They still bring back three of four swimmers from their 8th-place 200 free relay, as well as junior Nina Rangelova who can swim just about every freestyle race. With Nathalie Lindborg joining her sister at SMU, after a season at Cal and then disappearing for a while, the free relays in Dallas are still very strong.
18. Missouri Tigers, Key Diver: Loren Figueroa (Last Season #14)
The Tigers lost 36 individual points with the completion of Shara Stafford’s eligibility; though that loss hurts, they might not slide as far as expected thanks to the return of their great diver Loren Figueroa. She didn’t dive NCAA’s last year, but is probably the favorite to win the 1-meter this year. Unfortunately, she doesn’t swim relays, so the Tigers will be relying heavily on sophomore Emily Doucette to continue her sprint freestyle development, as well as continued support from their backstrokers Cassie Cunningham and Dominique Bouchard.
19. Ohio State Buckeyes, Key Swimmer: Megan Detro (Last Season: #20)
These Ohio State sprint relays have been building for a while now, might this be the year that they break into the national conversation? Megan Detro gives them a star, and they have quite a few options floating around to join her on the free relays. Junior Michelle Williams and Detro will need to push each other every day in practice to make the jump into the top 15. The Buckeyes put a lot of individual swimmers at NCAA’s last year, if more of those can get into the top 16 they could start picking up small handfuls of individual points to go with their relays.
20. Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Key Swimmer: Emma Reaney (Last Season: T-#22)
The Fighting Irish are a good young team with some very talented pieces that emerged at NCAA’s last year. Emma Reaney and Kelly Ryan were both All-Americans, and both continued their success over the summer. With the addition of freshman Cat Galleti, and senior Kim Holden swimming well, Notre Dame has some real momentum behind them. There’s a chance they could regain their Big East throne this year from Louisville before exiting stage-left for the ACC.
21. Florida State Seminoles, Key Swimmer: Tiffany Oliver (Last Season: #30)
The Seminoles are already seeing dividends from the addition of two elite freestyling volunteer assistants (Matt Patton and Gideon Luow) this season, as Tiffany Oliver and Kaitlyn Dressel rank 2nd and 3rd, respectively, in the ACC behind Virginia’s Perdue. The pressure is really on freshman Kelsey Buckley to step up and join them, perhaps in a sub-50 second swim on the 100 at NCAA’s. Florida State will also expect a lot of diving points this year from Kelsey Goodman and Ariel Rittenhouse, even after Rittenhouse failed to score at NCAA’s last season. An upset over Florida, regardless of different rest patterns, bumps them up a few notches.
22. Purdue Boilermakers, Key Swimmer: Emily Fogle (Last Season: #31)
This is a team that reminds me so much of Notre Dame; Emily Fogle, like Reaney, came from nowhere in the breaststroke events last season to score NCAA points. The Boilermakers also have a lot of great young talent like sophomore Rhi Sheets, who destroyed Purdue’s freshman record books last season. They already beat the Irish by 4 points in a dual meet this year, but the strange thing about that meet was that Notre Dame dominated the diving. We thought Purdue would get a flood of returning diving points now that the Olympics are over, but we still haven’t seen Casey Matthews, a 2010 All-American, represent the Boilers since her freshman year. If she comes back at full-strength (she has battled injuries), then this could be a top-20 team easily.
23. LSU Tigers, Key Swimmer: Amber Carter (Last Season: #47)
The LSU women have looked very good early this season, including a top-10 ranked 400 medley relay. They’ve got a very good butterfly group, and the combination of Rainey White and Amber Carter has been good early. This team now has a full season to prepare for NCAA’s without Amanda Kendall, and it feels like a team that has enough above-average swimmers to put up a couple of scoring relays at NCAA’s. A few points from diver Alex Bettridge won’t hurt either.
24. Louisville Cardinals, Key Swimmer: Kelsey Worrell (Last Season: #24)
Kelsey Worrell, very early in her freshman season, is already right on her best times. A sprint freestyler to go with the spread of breaststrokers, butterfliers, and IM’ers is what this women’s team was missing last season that the Cardinal men had (and that led them to a top-10 finish at NCAA’s). She’ll still need some help to take this team into the top 20, but it’s a good start. Perhaps this will give the Cardinals a relay presence at NCAA’s in the medleys – something they didn’t get last year.
25. Penn State Nittany Lions, Key Swimmer: Paige Whitmire (Last Season: T-#22)
After Merrit Krawczyk made an Olympic Trials semi-final last year, Penn State will be counting on her to be able to place at least as high at NCAA’s. This Penn State team will look a lot like they all do: a lot of swimmers with the potential for B-Finals, but no stud to carry them into the top-15. Paige Whitmire could break-through and be that stud, after a 14th-place finish at NCAA’s last year in the 50 free. With some significant relay graduations, they’ll need it.