By Jason Marsteller
PHOENIX, Arizona, March 23 AFTER letting what was one of the most exciting finishes in NCAA history marinate in my mind for a few days, I've decided to look back at my predictions that appeared in the March issue of Swimming World Magazine. The assignment is typically pretty daunting, as John Lohn (men's) and I (women's) must pick our top 10 finishers by a mid-January deadline due to the production schedule of a monthly print publication. Usually, we are just happy to get the top 10 picks in no particular order.
Here's a review of my picks from this month's issue in order of how I picked them to finish:
Finish: #5 (342.5 points)
Coming into the 2009-10 season, Georgia had the most returning scorers (14) of any other team and looked to have plenty of depth to turn in a special meet for Jack Bauerle. A relay disqualification on the second day in the 200 medley relay really turned the tide against Georgia picking up the win. Even though Georgia rebounded by the end of the second night of finals, the Bulldogs spent most of their energy on that comeback and did not have enough to pull out the victory on the final day.
This year, Georgia managed to have 12 point scorers, which along with the relay disqualification, cost them the 40-point margin by which they lost to Florida.
2009 Scorers (14):
Anne-Marie Botek (free/relays), Annie Broome (fly), Lisa Caprioglio (relays), Colleen Haase (breast), Erica Malagon (free), Michelle McKeehan (breast/relays), Kelly McNichols (breast/relays), Courtney Monsees (relays), Hannah Moore (diving), Chelsea Nauta (free/relays), Allison Schmitt (free/relays), Morgan Scroggy (free/IM/relays), Kristen Shickora (back/relays), Wendy Trott (free).
2010 Scorers (12):
Anne Broome (fly), Anne-Marie Botek (free/fly/relays), Lisa Caprioglio (fly/relays), Jana Mangimelli (back/IM), Michelle McKeehan (breast/relays), Courtney Monsees (relays), Hannah Moore (diving), Chelsea Nauta (free/relays), Megan Romano (free/relays), Allison Schmitt (free/relays), Morgan Scroggy (free/IM/relays), Wendy Trott (free)
Verdict: Close enough; Predicting a relay disqualification is pretty much impossible, and with the relay points, Georgia would have jumped into the top three.
Finish: #2 (379.5 points)
Stanford had the most top-end talent heading into the 2009-10 season, returning all but 10.5 of its second-place tally of 312.5 points from a year ago. Stanford added three more point scorers compared to those they had returning, but a lack of diving cost the Cardinal on the final day as Florida's two divers in the A final opened the door for the Gators to secure the team title with a third-place 400 free relay. This is the second close call for Stanford in the past 10 years. Stanford is part of the closest meet of all time when Georgia won by 1.5 points, 389-387.5, in 2001. Stanford now has a 2.5-point loss on its record to Florida this year, 382-379.5.
2009 Scorers (9):
Elaine Breeden (fly/IM/relays), Julia Smit (free/IM/relays), Kate Dwelley (free/relays), Kelley Hug (fly), Elizabeth Smith (relays), Whitney Spence (free/relays), Carmen Stellar (diving), Betsy Webb (relays), Samantha Woodward (free/relays).
2010 Scorers (12):
Elaine Breeden (fly/IM/relays), Kelsey Ditto (free), Kate Dwelley (free/relays), Kelly Hug (fly), Kerry Kraemer (relays), Andrea Murez (relays), Julia Smit (free/IM/relays), Elizabeth Smith (breast/IM), Whitney Spence (relays), Stefanie Sutton (fly), Betsy Webb (back/free/relays), Samantha Woodward (free/relays)
Verdict: Dead on; While Florida surprised me by hitting on all cylinders, including a final-day diving assault, I was pretty certain that Stanford was one of only two teams that could have won – the other being Georgia.
Finish: #11 (106.5 points)
While Texas had the same amount of point scorers this year as point scorers that returned from last year, almost across the board each of the point scorers this year were from the B final compared to last year. Additionally, Texas scored a lot more points from relays. Overall, the Longhorns just did not perform up to any of the expectations that have come with having top-rated recruiting classes year-in and year-out since Kim Brackin took over the team. I'd be surprised if this year's meet does not provide some serious motivational fuel for the Longhorns heading into next season.
2009 Scorers (10):
Karlee Bispo (free/relays), Shelby Cullinan (diving), Leah Gingrich (fly/relays), Kathleen Hersey (fly/IM/relays), Katharine Riefenstahl (back/relays), Carlye Ellis (relays), Susana Escobar (free), Brie Powers (relays), Natalie Sacco (free) and Alexi Spann (relays).
2010 Scorers (10):
Bethany Adams (relays), Karlee Bispo (free/relays), Leah Gingrich (IM/relays), Jessica Guro (relays), Kathleen Hersey (fly/IM/relays), Brianne Powers (relays), Katharine Riefenstahl (relays), Laura Sogar (breast/relays), Alexi Spann (breast), Maren Taylor (diving).
Verdict: Complete miss; Even considering the clerical error that cost the team a pair of relays, I drastically overrated Texas in the prediction process. Texas finished with 106.5 points, a full 115.5 points lower than the points the team returned from last year.
Finish: #1 (382 points)
Gregg Troy's Florida Gators had the most amazing jump up the rankings this year, catapulting all the way up from seventh last year with just 239.5 points overall, to first place with 382 points. While some will say that Florida won because of diving (having two platform divers score in the top eight on the final day certainly helped), if not for the Gator swimmers having absolutely the best final day possible with five individual swims in the championship final as well as the 400 free relay making the top eight – Stanford would have stood atop the final podium.
Florida even had enough bullets in the gun to overcome Indiana's Kate Fesenko upsetting Gemma Spofforth's bid for her fourth-straight triumph in the 200 back. There is some conversation going on, including in our comment section, that Stanford could have picked up points by moving Julia Smit around. Think if things had gone the other way and Spofforth had the weight of the world on her not winning the 200 back.
2009 Scorers (11):
Gemma Spofforth (back/IM/relays), Teresa Crippen (back/relays), Jemma Lowe (fly/relays), Sarah Bateman (relays), Melani Costa-Schmid (relays), Monica Dodson (diving), Elizabeth Kemp (relays), Stephanie Napier (relays), Lily Ramirez (relays), Lindsay Rogers (relays), Kara Salamone (diving).
2010 Scorers (12):
Sarah Bateman (free/relays), Jamie Bohunicky (relays), Melani Costa-Schmid (free/relays), Teresa Crippen (back/fly/IM/relays), Monica Dodson (diving), Elizabeth Kemp (relays), Jemma Lowe (fly/relays), Stephanie Napier (relays), Lindsay Rogers (relays), Kara Salamone (diving), Gemma Spofforth (back/IM/relays), Shara Stafford (free/relays)
Verdict: Close enough; There's always been this underlying conversation within the college ranks that Gregg Troy just didn't seem all that focused on winning an NCAA title. His primary goal has always seemed to be to get world-class talent into Gainesville, and help them achieve world-class times on the international scene. This year, Troy proved some of that rhetoric wrong by having the most complete team at the meet. Part of the reason why I picked them outside of the top three is that the team only returned 191 points, the lowest of the top seven teams from a year ago.
California Golden Bears
Finish: #3 (363 points)
Out of the top seven teams in my predictions, Cal had one of the smallest returning corps of point scorers. The Golden Bears successfully added to that group of seven swimmers, eight if you include Arkansas transfer Katie Kastes. By the end of the meet, California finished with 11 point scorers – most of which scored big points for Cal.
2009 Scorers (7):
Amanda Sims (fly/relays), Sara Isakovic (free/fly/relays), Liv Jensen (free/relays), Hannah Wilson (free/fly/relays) Lauren Boyle (free), Erica Dagg (relays), Alexandra Ellis (breast/relays).
*Arkansas' Katie Kastes, who scored in the 200 fly and 400 IM, transferred to Cal.
2010 Scorers (11):
Lauren Boyle (free), Erica Dagg (free/relays), Alexandra Ellis (breast/relays), Colleen Fotsch (relays), Sara Isakovic (fly/free/relays), Liv Jensen (free/relays), Katie Kastes (free), Caitlin Leverenz (breast/IM), Amanda Sims (fly/relays), Heather White (IM), Hannah Wilson (fly/free/relays),
Verdict: Close enough; The defending champs finished a few spots above where I picked them back in January. I believed the loss of Dana Vollmer would hurt the squad bad enough to nearly knock them out of the top five. Cal showed some strong depth by remaining in the title hunt until Florida's final day championship final bonanza during prelims.
Finish: #4 (359.5 points)
In a typical year where a few teams cancel each other out at the top end of the talent pool, and the team with the most "nickel and dime" points wins out – Arizona might just have been able to pull out a win with 14 overall point scorers. This year, however, Florida and Stanford had too strong of a consistent lock on the top points for Arizona to be able to break through.
2009 Scorers (7):
Ana Agy (back/fly/relays), Alyssa Anderson (free/fly/relays), Annie Chandler (breast/IM/relays), Jenny Forster (back/IM), Caitlin Iversen (back), Justine Schluntz (free/relays), Leone Vorster (free/relays).
* Washington's Erin Campbell (back/fly/relay) and Utah's Whitney Lopus (fly) both transferred to Arizona after scoring points last year.
2010 Scorers (14):
Ana Agy (back/fly/relays), Alyssa Anderson (fly/free/relays), Ellyn Baumgardner (breast), Andrea Boritzke (back/IM/relays), Erin Campbell (back/fly/relays), Annie Chandler (breast/relays), Emma Darlington (relays), Jennifer Forster (back/IM/relays), Caitlin Iversen (back), Joni Keith (free), Hannah Ross (back), Whitney Lopus (fly/relays), Justine Schluntz (back/free/relays), Leone Vorster (free/relays)
Verdict: Close enough; Arizona was one of the top eight teams heading into the article that looked to be a lock based on what the Wildcats had coming back from a disappointing 2009 campaign that witnessed the national title slipping from their grasp due to an unfortunate relay disqualification. I missed their spot by two, which is pretty good considering the timing of the article. Two point-scoring transfers also proved to be helpful for Arizona.
Finish: #8 (153 points)
While Auburn definitely had a down year – the Tigers actually did not score a single individual point during the second day of the meet – a strong relay presence along with some big points in diving kept them from the same fate that met Texas this year.
2009 Scorers (7):
Maggie Bird (free/relays), Alana Dillette (fly/relays), Caitlin Geary (free/IM/relays), Micah Lawrence (breast/relays), Melissa Marik (back/relays), Ava Ohlgren (fly/IM/relays), Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace (free/relays).
Anna Aguero (diving), Maggie Bird (relays), Vennie Dantin (diving), Katie Gardocki (relays), Caitlin Geary (relays), Micah Lawrence (breast/relays), Melissa Marik (relays), Ava Ohlgren (fly/IM/relays), Hannah Riordan (relays), Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace (free/relays)
Verdict: Nearly dead on; While the Auburn men's team has had a steady hand with Brett Hawke being involved with the team through David Marsh leaving the program, Richard Quick taking over and subsequently passing away due to brain cancer, the women's squad just hasn't had that same time of consistent leadership this past year with Dorsey Tierney-Walker leaving to take over Arizona State. Dagny Knutson will make a serious impact next year.
Finish: #6 (311 points)
Behind Arizona, Texas A&M proved to be one of the deepest teams this year with 13 separate swimmers and divers scoring points. Julia Wilkinson and Kristen Heiss both bounced back from missing last year due to shoulder surgeries, and the rest of the team helped push the Aggies to one of the best years in the program's history.
2009 Scorers (7):
Alia Atkinson (breast/IM/relays), Melissa Hain (relays), Lindsey King (relays), Jaele Patrick (diving), Maria Sommer (relays), Sarah Woods (relays)
* Julia Wilkinson and Kristen Heiss both returned from medical redshirts.
2010 Scorers (13):
Alia Atkinson (breast/relays), Kendra Chernoff (relays), Ella Doerge (relays), Melissa Hain (IM/relays), Kristen Heiss (back/free/relays), Rita Medrano (fly), Maureen McLaine (free/relays), Jaele Patrick (diving), Janie Potvin (diving), Tess Simpson (relays), Maria Sommer (relays), Julia Wilkinson (free/IM/relays), Sarah Woods (relays)
Verdict: Close enough, but nearly a near miss; Texas A&M proved to be my most underrated prediction as a stocked senior class put together a most amazing season. I originally thought that Julia Wilkinson might not be back to full form after missing last season due to a shoulder surgery. I was most definitely wrong. Kudos to the Aggies for winning their first national championships as well with Wilkinson and Alia Atkinson picking up individual wins on the final day.
Tennessee Lady Volunteers
Finish: #13 (99.5 points)
Tennessee actually matched its 2009 finish with another 13th-place effort. It lost the least amount of 2009 points (9) of any other team I picked in the top 10, and its best recruit (national high school diver of the year Tori Lamp) had to sit out due to injury. Usually, Tennessee has a much stronger diving presence, but this year the Lady Vols had to rely completely on swimming points.
2009 Scorers (6):
Jenny Connolly (back/relays), Morgan Farrell (relays), Michelle King (free/relays), Jamie Saffer (breast/relays), Gabrielle Trudeau (diving), Tricia Weaner (relays)
2010 Scorers (6):
Aleksa Akerfelds (free), Alexandra Barsanti (breast/relays), Jennifer Connolly (back/relays), Morgan Farrell (relays), Kelsey Floyd (relays), Michele King (free/relays)
Verdict: Complete miss; Tennessee almost seemed to have not realized the meet started until the second day. Michele King, who was a favorite to win the 50 free heading into the meet, wound up in the consolation heat before turning her meet around. The Lady Vols managed to fight back towards the end of the first night with a 10th-place finish in 400 medley relay, but by then it was already too late to catch up to the top 10. Additionally, Tennessee's top diving recruit Tori Lamp wound up redshirting the year due to a knee injury. Lamp, the high school diver of the year in 2009, would have provided some much welcome diving points for the Big Orange.
Southern California Trojans
Finish: #7 (251 points)
The USC Trojans had a nearly flawless meet, and likely is the team that realized the most of its potential at this meet. The only blemish came from a clerical issue that cost USC a point-scoring relay. This year, Ania Kowalczyk was left home due to an illness. USC forgot to keep the NCAA informed that she would not make the trip prior to the meet, thus keeping Oregon State's Anna Crandall – the first alternate – home when she should have been invited to the meet. The lack of communication cost USC its 200 medley relay, Kowalczyk's invited event.
USC is beginning to make a habit of these types of NCAA selection errors. In 2008, Whitney Hentzen nearly was left home by USC even though she had qualified to attend the meet since her qualifying times were not submitted properly by the Trojans. It took the NCAA bending its own rules to add her after the entire field had already been selected and finalized.
2009 Scorers (5):
Ellie Doran (relays), Krissy Forelli (relays), Katinka Hosszu (free/fly/IM/relays), Victoria Ishimatsu (diving), Tanya Krisman (relays).
* Indiana's Presley Bard (back/relays), UC Irvine's Lyndsay DePaul (IM) both transferred in as top of the line scorers.
2010 Scorers (10):
Haley Anderson (free/relays), Presley Bard (free/back/relays), Lyndsay DePaul (fly/IM/relays), Katinka Hosszu (fly/IM/free/relays), Victoria Ishimatsu (diving), Tanya Krisman (fly), Ariel Rittenhouse (diving), Jessica Schmitt (relays), Katherine Shumway (relays), Yumi So (fly)
Verdict: Complete miss; If not for two relays being disqualified, USC might have been the anti-thesis of Texas this year whereas Texas had the biggest drop, USC would have been the biggest jump up the ladder. I drastically underrated how much of an impact Presley Bard and Lyndsay DePaul would have on the squad.
Top 10 Misses
I wound up picking 8 out of the top 10 teams in no particular order. With Texas and Tennessee both dropping out, Virginia and Indiana both moved up. In my article, I hedged my bet on Virginia stating that the Cavaliers were pretty much my #11 team:
Out of any of the teams not picked in the top 10, Virginia is likely the one that will do it anyway. With 74.5 points returning with the likes of a Mei Christensen in the leadership role, the Cavaliers are a threat to move up from 12th place in 2008.
Virginia improved three places up to ninth overall with 151 points, and the team could become an impact player for years to come as UVA continues to make strides in recruiting nationally.
I have a confession to make as far as Indiana (they matched their 2008 and 2009 finishes with another 10th-place effort this year). As a former employee at IU as a media relations director for the Hoosiers prior to taking my job here at Swimming World, I always have a hard time figuring out where to put them. If I overrate them, I get phone calls and e-mails calling me biased. If I underrate them trying to counter that potential bias, I get phone calls and e-mails asking me if I am cutting ties with Indiana. I'd much rather live with the latter than be seen as biased as a reporter. So, I tend to underrate them. I don't think the coaching staff minds much, as most coaches love having the "us against the world, no one believes in us" mantra on their side.
Although, the Hoosiers are a pretty young team and have a strong overall recruiting class coming in next year. I might just have to pick them to finish in the top 10 for the fourth straight year in 2011's predictions.
The women's NCAA predictions article is one of the assignments I both look forward to the most and dread the most at the same time each year. Trying to predict how NCAAs will finish when most teams are barely coming back to school from winter training trips is remarkably difficult. But, at the same time, as my friend Garrett McCaffrey said this year – it's like filling out a bracket for men's basketball. The mere process of researching and writing a predictions piece makes covering the meet that much more enjoyable.