By David Rieder.
Through the first 48 hours of NCAA swimming conference championships, the women of the Indiana Hoosiers and Virginia Cavaliers have each posted sparkling relay efforts that have left ripples in the national rankings.
Oh, and Caeleb Dressel smashed a record—in case you missed it.
Check out the entries in today’s NCAA swimming notebook.
The Indiana women can medley.
The Indiana women laid down the first hammer of conference championship season with a near-record-breaking performance in the 200 medley relay. Ally Rockett, Lilly King, Christine Jensen and Grace Haskett put together a time of 1:34.16, the third-fastest time in history. Only the NCAA title-winning teams from Cal (2017) and Stanford (2016) have been quicker.
Looking back to that 2017 NCAA championship race, the Golden Bears recorded the fastest time in history at 1:34.10. Indiana finished fourth that night, 1.16 seconds behind. King, unsurprisingly, was a part of that relay, as was Rockett, while Jensen (junior) and Haskett (freshman) are new additions. So where did the difference come from? Check the splits:
2017 NCAA championships:
Indiana women at Big Ten championships:
1 Indiana 1:34.58 1:34.16#A 64 1) Rockett, Alexandra SR 2) r:0.35 King, Lillia JR 3) r:0.34 Jensen, Christine JR 4) r:0.46 Haskett, Grace FR r:+0.70 12.02 23.63 (23.63) 35.38 (11.75) 49.47 (25.84) 59.63 (10.16) 1:12.14 (22.67) 1:22.53 (10.39) 1:34.16 (22.02)
Well, not from King. The world’s top sprint breaststroker was solid on the Big Ten relay, at 25.84, but she split 25.62 last year at NCAAs. But Rockett improved from 24.05 to 23.63, and Jensen split 22.62, a half-second better than Gia Dalessandro’s 23.12 split from the 2017 championships.
It’s easy to lose perspective on 50-yard splits, so here’s some: Only Olympic medalist Kathleen Baker put up a faster 50 back at last year’s NCAAs than Rockett from Wednesday night, and Jensen would have ranked third behind the now-graduated Sarah Gibson and USC’s Louise Hansson.
The Hoosiers still aren’t elite on the freestyle leg, with Haskett at 22.02, but they don’t need to be. Why? Because they have King—and no one else has anything close to that. When King split 25.62 on the breast leg last year, the only swimmer within a second of her in either the A or B-final was Texas A&M’s Jorie Caneta.
For Cal and Stanford, likely the Hoosiers’ strongest competition for a national title in the event, the breaststroke leg will be the weakest link of their medley relays. Freshman Grace Zhao has been impressive for the Cardinal, and Cal sprinter Abbey Weitzeil has done a fine job moonlighting as a breaststroker for this relay, but neither one is anywhere close to Lilly King.
Virginia women, underdogs no more.
University of Virginia associate head coach Tyler Fenwick is an unabashed fan of the Philadelphia Eagles, a team which recently won all three of its playoff games as an underdog on the way to the franchise’s first-ever Super Bowl win. Along the way, Eagles players emphasized that no one believed in their team by donning realistic-looking dog masks.
Before this week’s women’s ACC championships, Fenwick fancied his team as similar underdogs.
Halfway through the meet, the Cavaliers sure don’t look like underdogs anymore. The team leads Louisville in the overall standings by 28 points, and that was before a massive effort in the third morning of prelims when five Virginia swimmers qualified for the 200 free final.
First-year head coach Todd DeSorbo has the program moving in the right direction, and nowhere is that more obvious than in the sprints, the events in which DeSorbo built his coaching résumé when he was at NC State.
Caitlin Cooper will get the bulk of the attention for UVA’s sprint success, as her 21.54 in the 50 free now ranks fourth in the country, but as DeSorbo referenced in a series of tweets, look a little deeper into the results.
Virginia senior Laine Reed, who tied for third in the 50 free at the ACC meet in 22.07, qualified for one B-final and one C-final at last year’s championships. She didn’t even swim the 50 free. Dina Rommel, another senior, was not on UVA’s conference team last year, and this year she made the 50 free final with a of 22.36.
The Cavalier women punctuated the Thursday night session with a come-from-behind win in the 200 free relay. After Rommel and Reed both split under 22 seconds, Cooper anchored in 21.03 to go by Louisville anchor Casey Fanz. Virginia’s final time of 1:26.67 ranks No. 1 in the country.
Want more perspective? Check out last year’s NCAA results in the 200 free relay.
Yup, only two teams were faster. If indeed the Virginia women were underdogs two days ago, they are not any longer.
Where-did-that-come-from moment of Thursday: Beata Nelson.
In 2016, Beata Nelson was named Swimming World’s National High School Swimmer of the Year after a campaign that included a nation-leading 51.62 in the 100 fly. One year later, as a freshman at Wisconsin, she was a total non-factor at her first NCAA Championships. Her finishes at that meet: 40th in the 100 fly, 27th in the 100 back and 17th in the 200 back.
Maybe she just needed some time to make the adjustment to college swimming, because Nelson has been the surprising breakout story of the weekend so far. Leading off the Badgers’ 400 medley relay Thursday night at the Big Ten Championships, she posted a 100 back time of 49.78.
That time is the fastest in the nation this season by more than eight tenths. It’s also the second-fastest swim in history. Yes, ever.
Only Ally Howe has been quicker with her 49.69 from last year’s Pac-12 championships. Nelson moves ahead of Kathleen Baker (49.80) on the all-time list, as well as Natalie Coughlin’s 49.97 that stood as the American record for 15 years.
Nelson also finished second in the 200 IM at the Big Ten meet, her time of 1:53.85 ranking her No. 7 nationally, and she backed up her 100 back relay leadoff in Friday morning’s prelims, qualifying first for the final in 50.57. And in that final, she could make a run at Howe’s American record.
Who saw that coming 24 hours ago?
Hope you enjoyed that Caeleb Dressel 200 IM…
…because you probably won’t get another chance to see one. Why, you might ask? Remember, there’s virtually zero chance some other swimmer approaches the stunning American record of 1:38.13 he swam Thursday night at the SEC championships?
Simple. Points. Florida will already be getting plenty in the 200 IM at the NCAA championships, where Mark Szaranek is the defending NCAA co-champion and Jan Switkowski finished ninth last year. On the other hand, the Gators probably would have no one entered in the 50 free if Dressel skipped the event.
Yes, Florida likely gets 20 points in whichever event Dressel swims, but if he swims the 200 IM, he likely knocks down a pair of scoring teammates one spot each. NCAAs is a math game, and the math says put Dressel in the 50 free.
Florida head coach Gregg Troy indicated the team still had a decision to make, but Dressel figured that the 50 free would be the choice come March. Because as amazing as that IM was Thursday evening, Dressel is still the three-time defending NCAA champion in the 50 free and the fastest man in history by a quarter-second.