PHOENIX, Arizona, July 8. STARTING Wednesday, hundreds of swimmers will take to the new aquatic center in Kazan, Russia, for the World University Games. Though some may view the 39-person American pool squad as this year's "B" team, we should expect to see some swims that, if given the chance, would place in the top 16 -- or even top eight -- at the world championships.
Courtesy of: Peter H. Bick
Courtesy of: Peter H. Bick
At the 2011 meet, Megan Romano started to cement herself as a star on the rise. She was third in the 400 free and swam impressive legs on the American freestyle relays just six months before breaking the American record in the 200-yard freestyle at the NCAA championships. Another name that stood out was Jimmy Feigen, for years an also-ran to several sprint stars. After the 2011 World University Games, he made the 2012 Olympic team in the 400 free relay and qualified for the individual 100 free at this year's world championships.
Who will use this meet as a launching pad to becoming a bigger star in the pool? Below are four likely candidates:
Laura Sogar. Sogar almost made the world championship team this year in the 200 breast, finishing third. Expect her to take her anger out on the Kazan pool in all three breaststroke events, and watch out for that 200. She could swim fast enough to vault herself into the top five in the world.
Jack Conger. Conger grew up in the sport as a future 200 backstroke star, but has also blossomed into an accomplished sprint butterflyer after making the final of the 100 fly last month at nationals. He'll swim the sprint butterfly events in Russia, but the 200 back still remains the focus event in my eyes, and he'll have his eyes on a sub-1:56 swim this week, which will give him a boost of confidence heading into his freshman year at Texas and give his domestic competition another reason to train harder.
Michael Weiss. Weiss has continually improved in the 400 IM in the past two years, winning at the US Open, placing second at the 2013 NCAAs and third at last month's nationals. Whether or not Ryan Lochte decides to race the 400 IM in the coming years, Weiss is on his way to becoming a part of the top group that will be chasing one of those two Olympic spots in 2016. He swam a lifetime best 4:15.76 last month and another time drop will be a boon to his confidence. Expect him to race in Russia as if Tyler Clary and Chase Kalisz are in the lanes next to him.
Chelsea Chenault. Chenault missed the Olympic team by two spots last year in the 200 free, and has had a good season so far. She is racing the 200 and 400 freestyles in Russia before she (and Romano) head to world championships for relay duty. The incoming freshman at the University of Southern California showed some promise at nationals and could parlay these two meets into crucial racing experience.