GEORGIA POSTS STRONG DAY ONE; ARIZONA’S MARGO GEER, TEXAS A&M SHINE AS WELL AT NCAA DIVISION I WOMEN’S CHAMPS

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MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota, March 20. THE first day of preliminary competition is complete at the always-fast NCAA Division I Women’s Championships in Minneapolis, Minn.

The Georgia Bulldogs put themselves in a strong position to repeat as national champions with a strong day versus what the California Golden Bears could produce. Meanwhile, Texas A&M is on the verge of a historic moment for their program with a potential NCAA relay victory, while Arizona’s Margo Geer blasted the 50 free with a lifetime best.

Women’s 200 free relay
Stanford and Georgia made some early statements by breaking into the 1:26 range during the morning with matching 1:26.96s. Maddy Schaefer (21.88), Lia Neal (21.77), Felicia Lee (21.26) and Katie Olsen (22.05) tied Georgia’s Olivia Smoliga (21.66), Maddie Locus (21.74), Jessica Graber (21.97) and Chantal Van Landeghem (21.59).

Both swims aren’t far off Arizona’s NCAA record of 1:26.20 as both Stanford and Georgia should be considered the favorites heading into the finale. Stanford is looking to win its seventh 200 free relay ever to match Arizona for second most in the history of the meet. Texas is the team leader with nine wins overall. Stanford’s last win was in 2012 with a 1:26.85.

Georgia, meanwhile, could run its team tally to six wins in the event, but haven’t won since a four-year winning skein from 2002-05 keyed by Kara Lynn Joyce and Maritza Correia. The Bulldogs also won the event in 1995.

Texas A&M’s Sammie Bosma (22.32), Lili Ibanez (21.62), Breeja Larson (21.59) and Erica Dittmer (21.66) finished third overall in 1:27.19 and are looking to make history for the Aggies as they have never won this event.

Defending champs Tennessee took fourth as Faith Johnson 21.90), Cherelle Thompson (21.88), Harper Bruens (21.85) and Lindsay Gendron (21.59) posted a 1:27.22. Last year, the Lady Vols were the relay darlings with a trio of relay victories that started with a victorious 1:27.14 in the 200 free relay. UT is going to need a bit more than that to capture the title this evening.

California (1:27.49), Arizona (1:27.67), Wisconsin (1:27.76) and USC (1:27.87) made the championship finale.

NC State (1:28.33), Florida (1:28.41), Auburn (1:28.43), Minnesota (1:28.63), Texas (1:28.69), Virginia (1:28.97) and UCLA (1:29.16) qualified ninth through 15th for the consolation heat, while San Diego State and Indiana tied for 16th with matching 1:29.56s to set up a swimoff 30 minutes after the session.

Women’s 500 free
Georgia did what Georgia usually does in the 500 free, and that’s smash the rest of the field in terms of overall team points with a three up, two down performance.

Brittany MacLean put up the top seeded time with a 4:35.08, while Shannon Vreeland (4:35.89) and Amber McDermott (4:35.93) qualified third and fourth for the Bulldogs. Additionally, Jordan Mattern (4:39.78) and Rachel Zilinskas (4:40.23) qualified 12th and 14th into the consolation heat to guarantee some serious points for UGA.

Although Georgia typically gains a bunch of team points from this event, they have surprisingly only won it four times in the past with Allison Schmitt taking three of the titles from 2009-11. Laura Conway is the other Bulldog victor with a 4:40.01 in 2006.

Meanwhile, the undisputed superstar of the meet is California’s Missy Franklin as the multiple Olympic gold medalist made her NCAA Championship debut for the Golden Bears with a 4:35.62 to qualify second. She could become Cal’s very first winner in this event’s history as she has a legitimate chance to move into the upper echelon of swimmers in the event helmed by high schooler Katie Ledecky’s American record 4:28.71.

Indiana’s Lindsay Vrooman (4:36.42), Minnesota’s Kiera Janzen (4:36.48), Arizona’s Bonnie Brandon (4:36.73) and Texas A&M’s Sarah Henry (4:37.01) also picked up transfer spots into the A final.

North Carolina’s Stephanie Peacock is back after having to withdraw from the ACC Championships due to illness. Last year, she had a chance to do some special things at NCAAs after a tremendous regular season, but an undisclosed illness claimed her championship season. This year, it nearly happened again, but she returned with a ninth-place 4:38.33 to make finals.

Minnesota’s Sam Harding (4:39.17), Virginia’s Leah Smith (4:39.47), USC’s Chelsea Chenault (4:39.84) and California’s Melanie Klaren (4:40.35) captured the other spots in the consolation heat with Cal’s Catherine Breed just missing with a 17th-place 4:40.85.

Women’s 200 IM
Melanie Margalis of Georgia could join Kirsty Kowal as the only Lady Bulldogs to win this event in school history after leading qualifying with a 1:54.15. Kowal is the only person from Georgia to win the event, having clocked a 2:10.69 in the SCM event in 2000. Margalis is currently the fourth-fastest swimmer in history in the event with a 1:52.87 from last month, and is the top-ranked swimmer here with two-time champion Caitlin Leverenz of California having graduated to a professional career.

Stanford’s Maya DiRado, the eighth-ranked swimmer ever with a 1:53.50 to her credit, took second in 1:54.20 and would join a long line of Cardinal to have won the event with Stanford holding the most wins at seven. Susie Rapp (1986), Janel Jorgensen (1990), Summer Sanders (1991, 1992), Jenny Thompson (1995) and Julia Smith (2009, 2010) are former winners for Stanford.

California’s Elizabeth Pelton checked in with a third-place time of 1:54.87, and is the sixth-ranked swimmer in the field with a 1:53.39. Notre Dame’s Emma Reaney, who took down the 200-yard breaststroke American record last month at her conference championships, qualified fourth in 1:55.01.

Stanford’s Felicia Lee (1:55.57), California’s Celina Li (1:56.01), Michigan’s Marnie Oldershaw (1:56.18) and USC’s Stina Gardell (1:56.29) also made the championship heat.

USC’s Jasmine Tosky (1:56.48), Virginia’s Kaitlyn Jones (1:56.81), USC’s Meghan Hawthorne (1:56.93), Texas’ Madisyn Cox (1:57.07), San Diego’s State’s Mikaela Macklin (1:57.07), Louisville’s Tanya Kylliainen (1:57.16), California’s Caroline Piehl (1:57.20) and Minnesota’s Tori Simenec (1:57.35) comprised the consolation heat.

Women’s 50 free
Arizona’s Margo Geer, the defending champion with a 21.73 to win a year ago, moved from 10th all time to fifth with a scorching fast time of 21.53 this morning. She only trails Lara Jackson (21.27), Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace (21.34), Natalie Coughlin (21.46) and Liv Jensen (21.48) in the event now.

Geer could become the ninth swimmer to ever win this event more than once, and could push Arizona’s tally to six wins in the event. Only Stanford and Georgia have won it more times with seven each. Former Wildcats to have topped the splash-and-dash are Dian Johnson (1982), Ashley Tappin (1995) are Lara Jackson (2008, 2009).

Georgia’s Olivia Smoliga, the reigning Swimming World High School Swimmer of the Year, has made a serious impact as a super freshman. Smoliga came into the meet with a 21.54 seed to rank sixth overall in the event’s history, and snared the second seed in 21.81. Wisconsin’s Ivy Martin, meanwhile, qualified third in 21.83, but also has a 21.5 to her credit with a 21.58 to rank seventh all time.

Georgia’s Maddie Locus (21.91), USC’s Kasey Carlson (21.92), Stanford’s Maddy Schaefer (21.92) and Tennessee’s Faith Johnson (21.96) also secured spots in the championship finale.

San Diego State, however, will be involved in another swimoff. After tying for 16th in the 200 free relay, SDSU’s Anika Apostalon tied Texas’ Ellen Lobb for eighth with matching 22.01s and will be a busy bee in swimoffs after this morning’s session.

Texas A&M’s Lili Ibanez (22.07), FGCU’s Emma Svensson (22.09), Stanford’s Lia Neal (22.12), Minnesota’s Becca Weiland (22.13), Florida’s Natalie Hinds (22.15), California’s Kaylin Bing (22.15) and Texas A&M’s Breeja Larson (22.17) complete the consolation heat with Larson being a bit of a surprise as she added the 50 free as her third event behind her 100 and 200 breaststroke events, where she is a title and record-breaking contender.

Women’s 400 medley relay
While Tennessee had a huge program breakthrough with three relay victories last year, Texas A&M is looking for its first relay win as a program. That might happen tonight after A&M’s Paige Miller (51.15), Breeja Larson (57.50), Caroline McElhaney (52.08) and Lili Ibanez (47.74) powered their way to a scorching 3:28.47 to lead prelims. That’s faster than the 3:28.51 Tennessee used to win a year ago.

Virginia’s Courtney Bartholomew (50.95), Laura Simon (58.13), Ellen Williamson (51.98) and Emily Lloyd (48.36) finished second in 3:29.42 with Bartholomew turning in a special backstroke leadoff just off her lifetime best of 50.73 that puts her fifth all time in the event.

Florida’s Sinead Russell (51.99), Hilda Luthersdottir (58.73), Ellese Zalewski (51.75) and Natalie Hinds (47.20) checked in third with a 3:29.67.

Georgia snagged fourth overall in 3:30.13, while California placed seventh with a 3:30.93 in what will likely be the top two teams battling for the title by the end of the meet. Missy Franklin posted a 47.47 anchor for Cal, while Shannon Vreeland went 47.48 for UGA. Smoliga continued her push for freshman of the year with a 51.41 leadoff.

Stanford (3:30.31), USC (3:30.89) and defending champion Tennessee (3:31.52) qualified fifth, sixth and eighth to make the championship field.

Indiana (3:31.57), Arizona (3:32.76), Texas (3:32.91), SMU (3:33.18), Minnesota (3:33.62), Florida State (3:34.02), Alabama (3:34.08) and Louisville (3:34.20) qualified ninth through 16th to make up the consolation heat.

Swimoffs
In an interesting twist that allowed San Diego State’s Anika Apostalon to only have one swimoff from her two transfer spot ties, Texas’ Ellen Lobb swam against Apostalon as SDSU’s leadoff of the 200 free relay. Apostalon wound up with the win in 21.89 against Lobb’s 22.06, while SDSU went on to beat Indiana in the finale, 1:28.71 to 1:29.59.

Women’s One-Meter Diving
Another event that definitely helped Georgia this morning is the diving prelims. Laura Ryan topped qualifying for the Bulldogs with 312.35 points. Should she pick up the win, it would be the first for the Georgia Bulldogs in the team’s history.

Virginia Tech’s Kaylea Arnett finished second with 307.60 points, while Texas’ Maren Taylor earned third with 305.80 points.

Miami’s Thea Vock (305.05), Massachusetts’ Michaela Butler (295.25), USC’s Haley Ishimatsu (293.75), Miami’s Kara McCormack (292.40) and Minnesota’s Maggie Keefer (291.35) rounded out the championship field. Ishimatsu is looking to match her sister as a one-meter winner as Victoria topped this event in 2012 for the Trojans.

Tennessee’s Tori Lamp (289..35), Texas’ Emma Ivory-Ganja (288.70), Purdue’s Michelle Cabassol (287.55), Stanford’s Alex Clay (287.10), Alabama’s Paige McCleary (287.05), Illinois State’s Zhang Wenting (283.40), Arizona State’s Hailey Casper (283.05) and Southern Illinois’ Zhang Kaixuan (28.203) won’t have much time to relax as they will dive in the consolation final shortly after finishing prelims.

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Author: Jason Marsteller

Jason Marsteller is the general manager of digital properties at Swimming World. He joined Swimming World in June 2006 as the managing editor after previous stints as a media relations professional at Indiana University, the University of Tennessee, Southern Utah University and the Utah Summer Games.

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