Felicia Lee (USA) during the women's 100-meter butterfly preliminaries in the Santa Clara international grand prix at the George F. Haines International
Courtesy of: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
NCAA Championship editorial coverage is proudly sponsored by Competitor Swim. Visit CompetitorSwim.com for more information on our sponsor. For all the latest coverage, check out our event coverage page.

By Emily Sampl

BOULDER, Colorado, March 20. AS expected, the first day of racing at the women's NCAA Division I swimming and diving championships featured a lot of very fast times, and the race for the team title has begun to take shape. With six events in the books and 15 to go, here are a few observations following the first night of finals.


Looking ahead to next year

In tonight's opening 200 free relay, Stanford's Maddy Schaefer (21.91), Lia Neal (21.37), Felicia Lee (21.20) and Katie Olsen (21.75) just missed the American, NCAA, US Open and meet record. The Cardinal quartet touched in 1:26.23, a fingernail off the 1:26.20 set by Arizona's Lara Jackson, Lindsey Kelly, Justine Schluntz and Taylor Baughman in 2009.

Although missing a record by such a slim margin is never ideal, Stanford should be pretty excited about their potential for next year. Lee is the only senior on the relay, and the Cardinal will have a big time sprinter headed their way in the fall. Janet Hu, who trains at Nation's Capital Swim Club and is currently competing at the NSCA Junior Nationals in Orlando, has a personal best of 21.82 in the 50, which she set in December at the AT&T Winter National Championships. With Hu on the relay next year, Stanford could easily take the American record into another stratosphere with a sub-1:26.

Sometimes, prelims are more important than finals

A couple of swims in tonight's finals session highlighted the importance of placing well in prelims. In the 500 free, Virginia freshman Leah Smith posted a 4:39.47 in prelims, five seconds off her No.-1 seed time of 4:34.35, to qualify 11th. In finals, Smith dropped almost six seconds and swam a 4:33.75, which would have placed third had she been in the championship heat. Smith is just a freshman, and with one swim now under her belt she'll have a better idea of what to expect in prelims for her next event.

It was a similar story in the 50 free, as Florida sophomore Natalie Hinds qualified 14th for the 50 free finals with a morning swim of 22.15, slightly off her seed time of 21.91. In finals, she dropped a 21.66 to win the consolation final, which turned out to be the second-best time overall behind eventual champion Olivia Smoliga of Georgia, who turned in a 21.59 for the win.

Could diving be the difference?

Diving makes up only three of the 21 events at the NCAA swimming and diving championships, yet sometimes the outcome of these three events can be a deciding factor in the meet. In what's shaping up to be a great team race between California and Georgia, Georgia took a huge step forward tonight when Laura Ryan won the 1-meter diving event, the first NCAA diving title for Georgia in school history. With the win, the Bulldogs picked up an additional 20 points on Cal, who did not have a diver in the field. The diving events always create an interesting dynamic at the meet, as many of the best divers are from schools that do not have a shot at the overall team title. But, when a diver like Ryan, from a school in the hunt for the team title, scores major points, it only reinforces the importance of diving at the meet.

Don't give up on Cal

Through the first day of racing, Georgia leads the team standings with 189 points, followed by Stanford (136) and California (126). At first glance, it might seem like Georgia already has the title wrapped up, but don't count out Cal. At the Pac-12 Championships a few weeks ago, Cal trailed Stanford by a huge margin after day one before slamming the door with a handful of qualifiers in the 100 fly, 200 free and 100 back. The Bears are very deep in all three events, and with a couple swimmers back in finals in each event, they could be right back in the lead. Cal already has four swimmers seeded in the top 13 in the 100 back.

What a difference a few years makes

A few years ago, San Diego State regularly finished at the bottom of the Mountain West Conference Championships. After a couple of amazing recruiting classes, they now have swimmers in the championship finals at NCAAs just a few years later. The Aztecs' Anika Apostalon (22.02), Chelsea Bailey (22.18), Maddy Dalcamo (22.72) and Whitney Weisz (22.41) finished 14th in the 200 free relay in 1:29.33, before Mikaela Macklin placed 12th in the 200 IM (1:56.95) and Apostalon took seventh in the 50 free (22.00). Tomorrow, Macklin will swim the 400 IM, where she's seeded 12th, and Apostalon will swim the 100 back, where she's the 11th seed.

Check back tomorrow for results, recaps and observations from day two of the meet.