NEW YORK, New York, October 11. ONE of the crown jewels of the women's Class of 2013 has made her college decision. Olympic bronze medalist Lia Neal, who also ranks as a Swimming World six-star recruit in the College Recruit Rankings system, will head cross-country next fall, having pledged her services to new Stanford head coach Greg Meehan.
"I chose Stanford because I felt it was the best place for me. During my recruiting trip I could see myself spending the next 4 years there," Neal told Swimming World. "I am excited to work with Coach Greg and swim alongside an amazing group of girls. I truly believe that I can excel in both my swimming and my academics at Stanford."
Neal, who was born in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, will be leaving coach Rachel Stratton-Mills of Asphalt Green Unified Aquatics after her senior year at Convent of the Sacred Heart. Neal has become one of the faces of diversity in swimming as the first African-American female to swim in finals in the Olympics. Neal went on to earn bronze in the women's 400-meter freestyle relay this summer in London. She clocked a 53.65 split on the U.S. bronze-medal winning squad, that included the top-ranked recruit in the Class of 2013 Missy Franklin, as well as Jessica Hardy and Allison Schmitt. During prelims, Neal helped the U.S. relay to finals with a 54.15 leadoff leg, which stands as her top 100-meter freestyle effort.
Maritza Correia was the first African-American female Olympian, and won silver as a prelim swimmer for the 400 freestyle relay in Athens.
Neal is a short-course sprint star in the making, having already made the Olympic squad as a high school junior. Her best short course time of 48.13 in the 100-yard free from back in 2010 already would have put her in the A final at the 2012 NCAA Division I Championships. Neal is also a strong 200 freestyler, with a lifetime best of 1:45.99 in the 200-yard free that would have qualified her for the NCAA Division I Championships in that event. On top of her 50-yard free speed with a 22.56, Neal has a strong set of three events to not only score individually, but be a valuable relay asset across the board for the Cardinal.
Neal is the ninth-ranked recruit in the nation by CollegeSwimming.com, and is the top swimmer out of the state of New York. Only two of the top 10 recruits are still in play with top-ranked Missy Franklin and third-ranked Bonnie Macdonald still on the board.
Neal has been a rising star since she was very young, currently owning U.S. National Age Group records in the 50 and 100 meter freestyles for 10-and-unders, and the 100 free for 11-12 year olds.
There are plenty of connections between Stratton-Mills and Stanford. Stratton-Mills coached Stanford senior Andi Murez as the head coach of Team Santa Monica during Murez's age group years. Additionally, Meehan was the assistant women's coach at UCLA during Stratton's senior year as a Bruin.
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