Women’s 200 Meter Breaststroke – US Nationals Preview
- Day 2, Thursday, August 7th
- Defending national champ: Breeja Larson, 2:23.44
- Defending U.S. Open champ: Taylor McKeown – top American: Emma Reaney, 2:26.65, 2nd
- Time to make the 2013 US National Team (#6 Nationally at selection meets): 2:26.52 – Annie Zhu
Next up in our U.S. Nationals preview lineup is the women’s 200 breaststroke, an event that has been a virtual carousel of rising new talents ever since the retirement of World Record-holder Rebecca Soni following the 2012 Olympic Games.
The starting lineup at U.S. Nationals will feature 3 London Olympians, the defending national champion and the past four NCAA champions in a field that could go any-which way.
The latest young star to rise in the event has been SwimMAC’s Micah Lawrence. Lawrence, a former Auburn standout who turns just 24 years old this July. Lawrence has been on a tear, really, since she began training with SwimMAC prior to the 2012 Olympic Trials and off-and-on ever since, but she’s stepped it up to a whole new level this season. In fact, Lawrence has won this event at 4 out of the 5 Grand Prix stops she attended, losing only to Jamaican Olympian Alia Atkinson in Orlando way back in February (Atkinson is similarly-hot over the last couple of years). Lawrence has the fastest time of any American this season by over a second and a half, and was also the fastest U.S. swimmer in the event for all of last season.
If that seems like a resume for an odds-on favorite, it’s because it would be in any other event. But here, it’s hard to count out Breeja Larson, the defending national champion and fellow U.S. Olympian. Larson has a knack for big, splashy races, as evidenced by her shocking 2012 Olympic Trials win over Soni in the 100, or her runaway victory over Lawrence at last summer’s national championships. Larson is an immense talent, and seems almost to still be figuring out how to fully utilize her extreme athleticism and statuesque physique in the pool.
The swimmer that might be most worth keeping an eye on, though, is Notre Dame college star Emma Reaney, the defending NCAA champ. Reaney had a fantastic junior season with the Irish, breaking Larson’s short course American record at ACCs, then beating Larson head-to-head to lower the record further at NCAAs. Reaney seems to be just blossoming as a breakout national-level swimmer, and to make things even more interesting, she’s spent the summer training under SwimMAC coach David Marsh, alongside Lawrence and Columbia standout Katie Meili, another under-the-radar threat in this race.
The big names don’t stop there. Laura Sogar was the NCAA champ in 2013 for Texas, and won the 100 at the Santa Clara Grand Prix just a few weeks ago. She holds the second-fastest time in the nation coming into this summer’s nationals, and just behind her in those rankings is Minnesota’s Haley Spencer, known as one of the nation’s most dangerous back-half swimmers, with a history of stealing major races in the final 15 meters (see the 2011 NCAA championships for exhibit A).
Caitlin Leverenz at one point looked like the next big thing for the U.S. in the 200 breast, but she’s since transitioned to being more of an IMer on the international stage. She’s done well there, winning Olympic bronze in London, and that’s probably where her focus will be at nationals. Still, it’s very likely she’ll enter the 200 breast, and even with an IM focus, the Cal Bear had enough in this event to final at last summer’s nationals. Andrea Kropp also finaled last summer, and the USC Trojan got within a second of last summer’s time just last week at the Fran Crippen Swim Meet of Champions.
Georgia should bring in a pair of legitimate threats between graduated senior Melanie Margalis and rising junior Annie Zhu. Zhu was a finalist last summer, plus made the national team with her performance. Fellow SEC breaststroker Molly Hannis will represent Tennesse;, although she’s a touch better in the sprint distances, her 200 has been improving. Another sprint breaststroker with the talent to go up to a 200 is UW-Milwaukee grad Emily McClellan, who has spent the summer training with Haley Spencer at the University of Minnesota.
Stanford’s Katie Olsen had a true breakout year culminating in NCAA runner-up status, but doesn’t seem to have competed at all this summer for the Cardinal, including scratching at least one Grand Prix. Olsen will be a senior this fall.
Then there’s Olympic Trials semi-finalist Annie Lazor, now an Auburn Tiger, Cal/Pleasanton talent Celina Li and Arizona’s Emma Schoettmer, who won the consolation final last summer with the 6th-fastest time of all finalists. Whew!
With that many established college and professional swimmers, it’s hard to find room for the young up-and-comers in this final. But there are certainly some good options to point out there, too. Sarasota’s Bethany Leap is Texas-bound this fall, and made the national B final at the age of 16. Meanwhile local California product Riley Scott, an incoming high school senior, is a junior national champion who just made her verbal commitment to USC.
On a more international scale, whoever emerges from this packed-in field will be particularly important to the U.S.’s medal hopes at Pan Pacs, as the top Americans will have to go up against Australia’s Taylor McKeown, who came to Irvine to win the U.S. Open title last summer, along with a tough Japanese lineup that will feature Mare Nostrum star Kanako Watanabe.
1. Micah Lawrence (SwimMAC)
2. Breeja Larson (Texas A&M)
3. Emma Reaney (SwimMAC)
4. Laura Sogar (Texas Longhorn Aquatic/Bluefish)
5. Haley Spencer (Minnesota Aquatics)
6. Caitlin Leverenz (Cal Aquatics)
7. Annie Zhu (North Baltimore Aquatic Club/Georgia)
8. Emma Schoettmer (Tuscon Ford)
Note: Athletes are listed under the college/club that, to the best of our knowledge, they’re currently training with.