The weekend after the end of the Thanksgiving holiday won’t be quite as jam-packed as the weekend before it, but there’s two big-boys on the schedule for December 5th-7th.
Those two meets are the USA Swimming Winter National Championships in Knoxville, Tennessee, and the Texas Swimming & Diving Hall of Fame Invite in Austin, Texas.
The results of the two meets, though inexorably distinct, will be undeniably linked and compared all weekend long, as a majority of the country’s top swimmers will be at one-or-the-other. The Texas Invite has an emphasis on college teams, with a few pros likely to be mixed in, and Winter Nationals will be primarily club and pro swimmers, though a healthy dose of collegiate teams are using it as their mid-season invite as well.
With the amount of fast swimming going on, every race at these two meets are going to be huge. Look at every result, 10-20 deep, and you’ll find something interesting. However, to keep your head from spinning, below we’ll you a list of the big 5 story lines to focus on from Winter Nationals and the Texas Hall of Fame Invites, along with some other college invites for this weekend.
Winter Nationals – Knoxville Tennessee (December 5th-7th)
Participating Teams: Cal, Indiana, Michigan, Louisville, Pitt, Arizona State, Columbia, Cleveland State, Tennessee
Live Stream (probably)
1. Watch to see how the Cal women play Winter Nationals – Cal showed plenty at the UNLV Invite two weeks ago, but that doesn’t mean that they’re done showing off either. While it seems like there’s no big taper coming out of Teri McKeever’s group at this meet, sometimes a day-or-two of rest is all it takes for swimmers that good. After some serious issues with air quality at the UNLV Invite (one coach we spoke to said swimmers had to be taken to an ER for medical treatment it was so bad), they will be ready to rock again in a more comfortable environment. Cal’s women have a lot of international expectations in addition to the lofty collegiate ones placed upon them, but the key here is to see them really battle.
2. Katie Ledecky, Girl on Fire – Katie Ledecky is winning about every award available to her lately, and though she probably won’t be putting any huge focus on this yards meet, it’s still a big championship meet, and she’ll still be in racing shape. Our prediction: at least one American Record will go down from her, and if we had to pick the one, it would be the 500 free. Last year, she was a 4:34.5 at Winter Nationals, and a 4:31.3 at her high school championship meet in early February. Her improvements in speed in long course since then have been impressive, and that speed should be enough to drop the nine-tenths she needs to get Hoff’s record. Could we see our first woman under 4:30? All signs point to the fact that Ledecky will get there eventually, it’s mostly a question of when.
3. Jeremy Bagshaw vs. the Michigan men – The top 8 seeds in the men’s 500 free all flew in together from Ann Arbor (postgrads or undergrads) and train with Josh White’s distance program. That’s all except for one: Cal junior Jeremy Bagshaw, the 5th seed, who has been sharp early this year, including a 9:02 in his 1000 free against Wisconsin. Don’t expect too much out of his 1650, but he could be around a 4:16 or 4:17 in that 500, which would be a great sign for Cal’s NCAA team championship title hopes. As for the defending NCAA Champion Connor Jaeger of Michigan, it’s hard to ever really have a good feel for how good he’s going to be, because at every big meet he seems to ramp things up a little further. Last year mid-season, though, in Iowa, he was a 4:14.
4. The men’s sprint freestyle races – It starts at the top with the World Champion Nathan Adrian, but even after him these sprints should be a lot of fun. Grevers, one might forget, was an 18.88 at this meet last year. Roland Schoeman just never seems to age, and is constantly tweaking his training and technique to maintain an edge. And then there’s Cal’s Tyler Messerschmidt, who could be a surprise pick for NCAA Champion in the 50 free this year (and who will need to be close to that level if Cal wants to win the team title). Cullen Jones steps up for big meets, as does Josh Schneider. The defending NCAA Division III champion Wyatt Ubellacker (MIT) will swim, as will former Auburn standout Karl Krug. Nick Soedel is a rising sprinter at Utah who has been stout this year (he was one of the few who really looked good at the Utah-Arizona dual), and there’s a smattering of other noteworthy names mixed in (Dax Hill, Adam Brown, Caryle Blondell and Joao de Lucca from Louisville, Michigan commit Paul Powers). The battle of the top 3-4 will be fun, but there will be a lot of significance down this line as deep as the finals go, so don’t just stop looking through results after Grevers and Adrian.
5. Both 100 yard butterfly races – Both 100 flys could be very exciting. On the women’s side, we’ll get defending NCAA runner-up Rachel Bootsma from Cal, Louisville’s 4th-place finisher Kelsi Worrell, National Age Group Record holder Janet Hu, and Olympian Claire Donahue, among others, in a race that will hold a lot of weight for the next few years worth of NCAA championship-level swims (Worrell and Bootsma are just sophomores, Hu is just a senior in high school).
On the men’s side, former NCAA champion Albert Subirats, of Venezuela, who is back training in the United States will take the top seed. At 27, he’s well into his long course career, so this is mostly a training swim for him (though he’s been very good in yards since coming back stateside). After that, though, there’s some Big Ten significance. Sean Fletcher, now a Michigan post-grad, comes in as the 2nd seed, with his training partner John Wojciechowski the 5th seed. If Wojciechowski can be as good as the Wolverines’ #1 butterflier this year as Fletcher was in that spot last year, Michigan has a chance to repeat.
Texas Hall of Fame Invitational – Austin, Texas (December 5th-7th)
Participating Teams: Texas, Arizona, USC, UCLA (women), Wisconsin, Penn State, BYU, Harvard, UCSB, Oklahoma Baptist
Live results here (Psych Sheets on prelims results, for now)
6. Continuity Among Change at Arizona – Arizona head coach Eric Hansen is still on a leave (he still officially is in that spot, and still nothing solid on where he might be), though so far it seems like Associate Head Coach Rick Demont, who is officially “providing leadership to the program” in the interim, has held things together. Since the men’s team’s loss to Utah in their season opener in October, things have looked a lot better from the Wildcats team. The women, though still lacking depth, have looked very good – especially Margo Geer and Bonnie Brandon. Combined, those two are 23-1 in their individual events in four meets. The only loss came from Brandon in the 200 free against UNLV – where she was beaten by Geer.
The plan likely hasn’t changed much. Like Hansen, Demont comes from the Frank Busch coaching tree, so everyone is probably on largely the same page in that regard. This means we’ll see the big time drops at the invite that we usually get.
7. Kevin Cordes – might he ‘Pop’ again? – Lost among the big shuffle and hubub in Tucson is that Kevin Cordes has been on fire this year. Yes, his 100 (53.96) and 200 (1:58.12) breaststroke best times only rank him 13th in the country so far this year, but as compared to his double NCAA title-winning sophomore season, he’s about one and five seconds, respectively, ahead of the pace he was at this point last season.
If, as we pointed out above, Arizona maintains the status quo and has a big taper for the Texas HOF Invite, we could see him going sub-51 and sub-1:50 in December.
8. What will USC do to back up their impressive relays from the Arizona Dual? – The USC Trojans put up nationally-leading relays at their dual meet with Arizona about a month ago, and all they had to do at that time was suit-up. Of course, as teams have put in their mid-season rests, those relays wims have been passed, but now, with maybe a few days of rest heading in, USC will have a chance to back those swims up.
The two we’re really excited about are the women’s 200 medley (Kendyl Stewart, Jasmine Tosky, Kasey Carlson, and Kasia Wilk) and the men’s 800 free relay (bounded by Cristian Quintero and Dimitri Colupaev).
9. The Texas Freshman Class versus the USC Freshman Class – Both the Texas and USC men have their eyes on NCAA titles this season, but for either to get there, their highly-touted freshmen classes (the two best in the nation) will need to be huge contributors in a hurry. So far, the Texas freshmen have probably slightly outperformed the USC freshmen, but that doesn’t have a ton of significance until we see what either team does mid-season, at least, and then again at the year’s end.
10. Ivy Martin’s Big Debut – The Wisconsin Badgers will be at the Texas Invite, and that means that Ivy Martin is going to have her big coming out party. She made some ripples with a 22.38 50 yard free in the Badgers’ meet against Georgia in early October, but that’s only a really spectacular time in the context of early October. Now the spotlight will be brighter, and she’ll have an opportunity to grab some big attention while racing the defending NCAA Champion Margo Geer from Arizona and Kasey Carlson from USC. Expect at least two of those three to join Stanford’s Maddy Schaefer under 22 seconds mid season after this weekend, and for the winner of that 50 in Austin to get a big confidence boost.
Other Weekend Invites to Watch:
Jean Freeman Invite
Where: University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN
When: Friday-Saturday, 12/6-12/7
Who: Minnesota, Gustavus, St. Olaf, St. Thomas, Hamline, St. Johns, Macalester
What to watch for: This is the second annual Jean Freeman Invitational, a tribute to legendary Minnesota swim coach Jean Freeman. The Minnesota men and women for the first time since their mid-season rest meet, the Minneapolis Grand Prix. Also in attendance will be South Dakota State and a good portion of the MIAC, Minnesota’s premier Division III conference. The St. Olaf men will get a chance to compete against St. Thomas, who they narrowly beat for the conference title in 2013, while the defending champion Gustavus women will also compete.
Live results here.
SCAD College Invitational
Where: Chatham County Aquatic Center, Savannah Georgia
When: Thursday-Saturday, 12/5-12/7
Who: Wingate, Indian River State College, SCAD, Berry, Brenau, South Georgia State, Thomas University
What to watch for: The Savannah College of Art and Design hosts this invitational, which was won handily by Division II power Wingate last year. But this year the Wingate men and women will have a new competitor to deal with in defending junior college national champions Indian River, which has already signed multiple athletes to Division I schools for next season.
Total Performance Sports Camps Invitational
Where: Kenyon College, Gambier, OH
When: Thursday-Saturday, 12/5-12/7
Who: Kenyon, Penn, Carnegie Mellon, Davidson, DePauw
What to watch for: Host Kenyon will try to get past Penn, which won both the men’s and women’s meets last year. At the same time, Kenyon will be doing some scoreboard-watching as they try to position themselves for a national title run while major DIII competitors Denison and Emory compete in a different invitational at the other end of the state.
Live stream available here.
Where: Miami University, Oxford, OH
Who: Illinois, Cincinatti, Denison, Emory, Ball State, Urbana, Wright State
When: Thursday-Saturday, 12/5-12/7
What to watch for: Division III powerhouses Denison and Emory collide while keeping tabs on what common rival Kenyon is doing at their own invite. The Fighting Illini shattered pool records in their last competition against Kansas on the road, and hope to gain more momentum leading into Big Ten battles with Iowa, Indiana and Nebraska in January.
Live results here.
Eastern Michigan Invitational
Where: Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, MI
Who: Eastern Michigan, Ashland, Findlay, Oakland, Ball State, IUPUI and Wayne State.
When: Friday-Saturday, 12/6-12/7
What to watch for: The hosts at this meet are in their first year after All-American Jacob Hanson’s graduation, but there’s a lot of reasons for excitement, including an improving level of depth coming in for the next few classes. Meanwhile, Oakland is trying to make that same NCAA breakthrough with Amr El Sayed, a senior who just missed NCAA qualifying last season. With some good regional action going on, Wayne State is a Division II powerhouse as well. Note that IUPUI’s top swimmer, Tony Carroll, will be at Winter Nationals.