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By David Rieder.
Almost every year, NCAA Division I swimming gets faster, so during the championships qualifying period, the invited times for the previous year’s championships only mean so much. Swimming a time that got someone into the meet one year is no guarantee of an invitation the next year.
Indeed, when the official psych sheets for the women’s championships were released Wednesday, the invited times in 12 out of 13 individual events had dropped from last year. In the chart below, check out the times it took for a swimmer to get invited to the NCAA championships each of the last three years.
Okay, so that point is made. The invited times were faster in every event in 2017 than in 2016 and in every event but the 50 free this year compared to last year. About what you would expect. No news here, right?
Well, maybe. Look at the improvement in the times, with the focus first on the 2018 times compared to 2017. As you might expect, the longer the event, the greater the time difference between the 2017 and 2018 invited times, but we crunched the numbers, and even on a per-100-yards basis, the differential was much greater in longer events.
On average, the invited time in each event improved by two tenths per 100 yards. But consider in which events the time differentials were greater or smaller than that.
GREATER THAN 0.20 IMPROVEMENT PER 100 YARDS: 500 free, 200 IM, 400 IM, 200 free, 100 breast, 1650 free, 200 breast, 200 fly
SMALLER THAN 0.20 IMPROVEMENT PER 100 YARDS: 50 free, 100 fly, 100 back, 200 back, 100 free
Noticing a pattern? The rates of improvement in the longer events were in general greater than that in the sprints. The outlier here is the 200 IM, where the invited time decreased by a whopping nine tenths, or 0.45 per 100. Why the discrepancy? Impossible to know.
Alright, so how about from 2016 to 2017? Do we see those same patterns of greater improvements in the invited time per 100 yards? No, we do not.
Every invited time improved from 2016 to 2017, by an average of 0.18 per 100. When comparing which events had a greater or smaller improvement than that 0.18 average, the pattern looks a lot different.
GREATER THAN 0.18 IMPROVEMENT PER 100 YARDS: 50 free, 100 fly, 200 free, 100 breast, 100 back, 200 back, 200 fly
SMALLER THAN 0.18 IMPROVEMENT PER 100 YARDS: 500 free, 200 IM, 400 IM, 1650 free, 100 free, 100 breast
The only events where improvements were higher than average both years were the 200 free, 100 breast and 200 fly. Improvements in the 100 free were below average both years. That means in nine of the 13 individual NCAA events, improvements were above average one year and below average the other.
Finally, let’s combine the data: What was the improvement in invited times from 2016 to 2018?
Over the course of the last two years, 12 of 13 events improved between 0.33 and 0.57 per 100 yards. The outlier here is the 50 free — which makes sense, considering the invited time in that event was actually slower in 2017 than in 2018.
Three of the four most-improved events (per 100 yards) over the last two years were the three events to have a greater-than-average improvement in both 2017 and 2018: the 200 free (-0.47), 100 breast (-0.44) and 200 fly (-0.52). The fourth is the 200 IM, which should not be too surprising because of the massive jump in the invited time in that event this season.
Remember that this is a small sample size: We did not analyze 2015 or any other year, so we don’t know how this would affect the patterns.
Of course, none of this affects what actually happens at the meet, but for all the hard work that the women put into trying to qualify for the NCAA championships, it’s interesting to know in which events have become the most difficult in comparison to years past.