It’s almost that time, time for the fun to begin in Minneapolis, and time for our final top 25 team predictions. Not a whole lot has changed drastically since mid-season, as we still feel pretty good about most of our top 25 picks. For reference, we’ve listed each team’s mid-season rank in parenthesis.
We’ve tried to focus our written analysis for each team on “what has changed since mid-season,” though of course there’s a lot more rolled in to the story of NCAA finish order than “what has changed since mid-season.”
None of these picks were made by any one individual; instead they were developed by our team of 20-deep contributors through a week of conversations.
25. Kentucky Wildcats (Mid-Season: Unranked)
Christina Bechtel looked like she was mostly training through SEC’s, and is still seeded 5th in the 100 fly and 8th in the 200 fly. That’s big points that alone could put Kentucky in the top 25. They also have a diver qualified for the meet.
24. Virginia Tech Hokies (Mid-Season: Unranked)
Either Virginia Tech or North Carolina State could place in this top 25. North Carolina State rolled Virginia Tech in the teams’ dual meets, and again at ACC’s, but Virginia Tech has three divers qualified. At this meet, we’ll take those divers even though NC State has all five relays qualified. Divers don’t rely upon rest cycles and second taper, so call Virginia Tech the safe pick, and NC State the potential pick.
23. Penn State Nittany Lions (Mid-Season: Unranked)
The Nittany Lions got all 5 relays qualified for NCAA’s en route to a 3rd-place finish at Big Tens, to go with 8 individual qualifiers. They just need a couple of those swimmers to strike paydirt to shoot up the rankings, with sophomore Alyson Ackman being the primo candidate. Megan Siverling is their lone individual returning scorer from last year’s meet.
22. San Diego State Aztecs (Mid-Season: Unranked)
San Diego State has an unbelievably-fast freshman named Anika Apostalon out of New Mexico, who was a 21.76 at Mountain Wests in the 50 free. Mike Shrader has had a breakthrough year with his Aztecs, and with Apostalon being so young, this program has the potential to be really good for a really long time.
21. Florida State Seminoles (Mid-Season: #23)
Kaitlyn Dressel and Tiffany Oliver are a fearsome 1-2 punch in the sprints. If they both hold on and perform, that could be 30 individual points alone, plus more from relays. Florida State, unusually, didn’t score any NCAA diving points last year. This year they’ve got two: Katrina Young and Ariel Rittenhouse.
20. SMU Mustangs (Mid-Season: #21)
SMU was maybe a little disappointing in who didn’t qualify individually for NCAA’s (Isabella Arcilla, Monika Babok), but the mid-season addition of South African Marne Erasmus makes up for it. She’s a fantastic butterflier, and is the highest-seeded freshman in the 100 fly with a 51.7. We really, really believe that SMU’s best swimming this season is yet to come, with Nina Rangelova needing to drop a lot. But their medleys look every bit as good this year as they were last year.
19. Auburn Tigers (Mid-Season: #14)
The Auburn women have the biggest slide from mid-season, and with good reason: since our mid-season power rankings, they’ve lost the defending NCAA Champion Olivia Scott, and that’s a huge blow.
But Auburn is still sending 7 to NCAA’s, and they’ve still got deep enough sprinters for some relay scoring. Freshman Alex Purcell has been great this year, and Auburn will be counting on her a lot.
18. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Mid-Season: #18)
Emma Reaney is now an American Record holder, and Notre Dame is taking eight swimmers altogether, with four of them qualifying individually. They only have three relays qualified to swim, though, with the 400 medley relay being their best shot at scoring. Reaney in her college career has never missed her NCAA taper, though, and she alone should be enough to keep the Irish in the top 20.
17. Purdue Boilermakers (Mid-Season: #19)
The Boilermakers aren’t seeded to score any swimming points, though their 800 free relay has a good chance of grabbing a few. But the Purdue women nailed Zones, and are sending three to NCAA’s. Last year, they had two divers, and as their only scorers, that was good enough for 19th (Casey Matthews and Michelle Cabassol). Tweardy was on the World University Games team, so that could be a 3rd scorer this year. That’s big.
16. Missouri Tigers (Mid-Season: #15)
The Missouri women had a big meet mid-season, and kind of trudged their way through SEC’s. Barbiea should be good, and then it’s going to be a lot of counting on relays for the Missouri women. With no Loren Figueroa, any diving points from first-time NCAA qualifier Lauren Reedy will be a big help.
15. Wisconsin Badgers (Mid-Season: #20)
The Badgers only have two individual scorers, but the rest of the team has really progressed this year and the balanced Badgers have very good medley relays.
14. Louisville Cardinals (Mid-Season: #16)
We just have to believe that the Cardinals will outscore their seeds, even with only four individual scorers. The big concern is that in sort of a ‘new atmosphere,’ with not a lot of real team competition at AAC’s, that Louisville is counting on hitting their taper at NCAA’s. All four swimmers are potential NCAA scorers, though: Gisselle Kohoyda looks like she’s pulling it back together, joined by Andrea Cottrell in the breaststrokes. Tanja Kylliainen is a star, and Kelsi Worrell is a potential NCAA Champion. They’ve gotta squeeze some points out of their relays.
13. North Carolina Tar Heels (Mid-Season: #13)
The UNC women are seeded 13 based on the swimming portion of the pysch sheets. They’ve got a chance at moving into the top 10 if they can take the taper they had in their individual races last year, and translate it into their much-improved sprint free relays as well.
12. Indiana Hoosiers (Mid-Season: #11)
Indiana’s got a good, deep team qualified for NCAA’s with 10 swimmers. Flederbach has been about as good as advertised for Indiana, and with freshman Gia Dalesandro being perhaps the biggest rookie surprise this year, the Indiana medleys should move up. Hillman should be a scorer this year after placing 17th and 18th on the 1 meter and platform events at NCAA’s last year.
11. Minnesota Golden Gophers (Mid-Season: #10)
The Golden Gophers handled their business, so-to-speak, at Big Tens, then got two divers in to NCAA’s, including Maggie Keefer. Minnesota only has one relay (their 800) seeded in the top 10, but they are capable of much more than that – especially with a team that’s now full of veterans.
10. Arizona Wildcats (Mid-Season: #8)
The Arizona women have a slim team for NCAA’s, with just 8 individual swimming invites, but that happens to include the country’s best sprinter from a year ago, Margo Geer, and super sophomore Bonnie Brandon. Take note that Geer is swimming only two individual events, the 50 and 100 free, even though she’s A-final caliber in the 200 free. That presumably means she’s swimming 5 relays, which could mean big relay points for the Wildcats. Defending NCAA 1-meter champion Sam Pickens didn’t dive at Pac 12’s or Zones, and diving gives Tennessee a slight advantage in our books for that number 9 spot.
9. Tennessee Volunteers (Mid-Season:#7)
Senior Lindsay Gendron will have a tough final day to this meet, but she’s on the precipice of greatness. We’re banking on her taking advantage of that, and on Tori Lamp having as good of a meet diving as she did at NCAA’s last year (which is to say, better than her Zone meet).
8. Texas Longhorns (Mid-Season: #9)
Ellen Lobb came around at season’s end, Lily Moldenhauer seems a shoo-in to score big points at NCAA’s this year after not scoring any last year, and most importantly, the Longhorns got three divers into NCAA’s this year – including one (Emma Ivory-Ganja) who scored 21 points for UCLA at NCAA’s last year.
7. Virginia Cavaliers (Mid-Season: #13)
The Cavaliers have shown a renewed life, a renewed vigor, and renewed depth this year, qualifying 13 swimmers for NCAA’s. They’ve got some bona-fied stars in Ellen Williamson, Leah Smith, and Courtney Bartholomew. They graduated their best-known swimmer after last season, Lauren Perdue, but Emily Lloyd has stepped in and filled that relay anchor spot very, very well this year. Lost in Emma Reaney’s success at ACC’s was the fact that Laura Simon also had a great ACC Championship meet in the breaststrokes.
6. USC Trojans (Mid-Season: #6)
We aren’t sure USC will have as much left to go from their conference meet as a lot of teams ahead of them in these rankings, but defending platform champion Haley Ishimatsu swept the Zone E events this year – after not scoring at NCAA’s in the 1-meter or 3-meter events last year. That helps USC a lot.
5. Stanford Cardinal (Mid-Season #5)
We were really ready to bump the Cardinal up to #4 after Pac-12’s. No, they didn’t win that meet, and didn’t look all that great at the meet either next to Cal, but their sprint group has proven their mettle, and Maya DiRado has shown that her long course is carrying over to short course. But when Stanford only got one (out of a realistic possibility of three) diver in, we decided to leave them at #5.
4. Texas A&M Aggies (Mid-Season #4)
With the A&M sprint group punctuating their SEC Championship meet, this team is deeper than it gets credit for, and is now a top-four threat in all five relays. Not getting a diver in hurts, but we still are holding the Aggies at 4 on the expectation that they hit their taper a little better than last season. The first year in the SEC last year, and the wildly different experience of that conference meet from the Big 12, may have bitten them in 2013.
3. Florida Gators (Mid-Season #3)
The Florida women were really impressive at SEC’s, and they still have a lot of room to improve from swimmers like Sinead Russell as compared to seed; however, they have no diving, and they may be about 1 sprinter shy of being able to contend for the title.
2. Cal Golden Bears (Mid-Season #1)
Cal didn’t look great in their second-semester dual meets. Cal looked much better, but still not spectacular, at Pac-12’s. They need their big three to step up, plus Li (who maybe should make it the “big four” except that she won’t swim many relays) to carry this team. Osman, Tran, and Garcia all have opportunities to make huge impacts too (all three are top-three capable swimmers), but just based on what we’ve seen, we had to flip Georgia into the top spot.
1. Georgia Bulldogs (Mid-Season #2)
This one is almost too close to call. It would’ve been an easier call had the Bulldogs gotten a second diver in, but they should still have a diving advantage over Cal at this meet. Psych sheet scoring showed a significant 130 point advantage for Georgia. While nobody who’s paying attention actually believes that the gap will be that big, that is a huge score in Georgia’s favor for picking. Cal will score more than seeded barring any kind of DQ – there’s not much doubt about that. But a few things haven’t worked out for the Golden Bears this season (Marina Garcia on the breaststrokes is still acclimating it seems, Farida Osman’s DQ hurts) while everything has gone right for Georgia (Margalis’ performances, Smoliga’s living up to billing).
Here’s how we’ve got some “back of the napkin” math working out for Cal:
Cal relays: 170 points (averaging 2nd)
Franklin/Pelton/Bootsma: 150 points (averaging 2nd)
Li/Garcia/Osman/Tran: 105 points (averaging 9th)
Bing/Breed/Acker/Naze/Batchelor/Piehl/Cheng/Au/Klaren: 80 points (averaging 16th)
That puts Cal right over 500 points (505 to be exact), which in most years recently is a winning number.
Georgia’s “back of the napkin” math:
Georgia relays: 170 points (averaging 2nd)
MacLean/Margalis/McDermott/Smoliga/Vreeland: 170 points (averaging 5th)
Locus/Mattern/Harrington/Flickinger/Zhu/Zilinskas: 160 points (averaging 9th – note that a lot of these swimmers have top 5 potential events, but have 3rd events that might bring down their average)
Cameron/O’Malley/Peters/Vernon/Van Landeghem: 60 points (averaging 13th)
That comes out to 560 points for Georgia. Georgia’s number, reliant heavily on sprint freestylers where things are SO tight, has a lot more volatility, but that works in both directions as Chantal van Landeghem is as likely to move up from a 19th seed as Smoliga is to mover down from the 1st seed.
I’d still take Cal’s top four against any top 4 in the country, but the way that Georgia’s depth in the sort of 6-12 range in scoring finals has developed this year is amazing.