By Emily Sampl
BOULDER, Colorado, March 18. WHEN the women’s Division I NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships get underway this Thursday, the race for the team title will take center stage, and a couple of major swimming stars could have a huge impact on the meet’s outcome. Four seniors, Florida’s Elizabeth Beisel, Texas A&M’s Breeja Larson, Stanford’s Maya DiRado and Georgia’s Melanie Margalis, will compete in their final collegiate meets this week, while California’s Missy Franklin will be making her much-anticipated NCAA Championship debut. These ladies are only five of many athletes to watch in what should be a very exciting meet.
Breeja Larson, Texas A&M
A relative unknown coming out of high school in Mesa, Ariz., Breeja Larson has taken the swimming world by storm in her four years at Texas A&M. As a freshman, she finished second in both the 100 and 200 breast at NCAAs; the following year, she won the 100 breast in American record time and finished third in the 200. Last year, she repeated those places, winning the 100 breast and finishing third in the 200 breast while setting American records in both during the season. On top of that, she qualified for her first Olympic team in 2012, and represented the U.S. at last summer’s FINA World Championships.
With only one collegiate meet remaining in her historic NCAA career, Larson will have a chance to achieve something she has yet to do in college – sweep the breaststroke events at the NCAA Championships. Larson has an excellent chance to accomplish the feat as she enters with the fastest time in the 100 breast at 57.28 (an American record, which she set at the SEC Championships) and second-fastest time in the 200 breast at 2:04.92. She’ll have to chase down newly-minted American record-holder Emma Reaney from Notre Dame in that event in order to make the sweep a reality.
Elizabeth Beisel, Florida
A staple on U.S. national teams since age 13, it’s hard to believe Elizabeth Beisel has reached the end of her collegiate swimming career. It’s been a great three years so far, and Beisel will have a chance to add to her legacy in Minnesota that already includes two individual NCAA championship titles and multiple All-American honors.
Beisel enters the meet as the defending champion and top seed in the women’s 400 IM (3:59.26), third seed in the 200 back (1:50.62) and ninth seed in the 200 fly (1:54.60). Beisel won the 200 back as a sophomore and will be looking to regain that title; standing in her way are California’s Elizabeth Pelton (1:49.59) and Virginia’s Courtney Bartholomew (1:50.55). The 200 back will be the first of a tough day three double for Beisel; she won’t swim any individual events on day one, but will double up on day three with two 200s. In the 400 IM, Beisel will have a shot at the American record of 3:57.89, set by Cal’s Caitlin Leverenz in 2012. National championships and possibly an American record would definitely be a storybook ending for Beisel.
Missy Franklin, California
The world has been anxiously awaiting Missy Franklin’s NCAA Championship debut after several outstanding performances at the 2012 Olympic Games (four gold, one bronze) and 2013 FINA World Championships (six golds). This meet will have a much different look for Franklin, however, as she won’t swim either the 100 or 200 back and will instead swim the 100 free, 200 free and 500 free. Internationally, Franklin is stronger in backstroke, but on home soil and in short course yards, she actually stacks up better in the freestyle events.
She enters the meet as the second seed in the 500 free (4:34.63) and top seed in the 200 free (1:41.40) and 100 free (47.17). She’ll have her hands full in all three, as Virginia freshman Leah Smith has the top time in the 500 at 4:34.35 and Shannon Vreeland of Georgia is right on her heels in the 200 with a 1:41.83. The 100 free is wide open, with 11 swimmers seeded under 48. If Franklin were to go three-for-three as a freshman it would definitely go down as one of the more epic performances in NCAA history. With the Bears in the mix for the team title, Franklin will shoot for as many points as possible.
Maya DiRado, Stanford
If you were to describe Maya DiRado’s collegiate swimming career, it would sound a lot like a well-split race; she started out fast and only got faster. As a freshman, she finished second in the 200 IM, third in the 400 IM and fifth in the 200 back. The following year, she took second in the 200 back, third in the 200 IM and fourth in the 400 IM. Last year, she placed second in the 400 IM, third in the 200 IM and fifth in the 200 back. In her final collegiate meet, she’ll be looking to upgrade all of those second, third, fourth and fifth place finishes to firsts, which she has a legitimate shot to do.
DiRado is seeded second in the 200 IM in 1:53.50, and will have to overtake Georgia’s Melanie Margalis (1:52.87) for an individual title in that event. In the 400 IM, DiRado is third behind Beisel and Margalis; this could be one of the most exciting races of the meet, as all three swimmers will likely be under 4:00 and will be fighting for the American record held by Caitlin Leverenz, a 3:57.89. Instead of the 200 back, DiRado will swim the 200 fly this year, where she’s seeded second behind Texas A&M’s Cammile Adams, a 2012 Olympian in the event. Adams comes in with a 1:52.19, while DiRado is entered at 1:53.60. After qualifying for the World Championships in this event last summer, DiRado should definitely have the confidence to chase down Adams for her first individual NCAA title.
Melanie Margalis, Georgia
On a team full of versatile swimmers, Melanie Margalis may be the most versatile. Margalis had her choice of several events to swim at NCAAs, including the 100 and 200 breast, 200 and 400 IM and 200 back. This weekend, she’ll go with the 200 and 400 IM and 200 breast, and will be seeded no lower than third going into the meet.
After bouncing around between sixth and 11th place in those same three events in her first three NCAA Championships, this could finally be the year that she brings home an individual title. Margalis has steadily improved in each of her three seasons, and has now positioned herself among the favorites for a couple of individual titles. In the 200 IM, she’s seeded first with a 1:52.87, just ahead of DiRado and Cal’s Elizabeth Pelton. In the 400 IM, Margalis is sandwiched between Beisel and DiRado. In the 200 breast, she’s third behind Notre Dame’s Emma Reaney, the new American record-holder, and Texas A&M’s Breeja Larson. Picking up as many points as possible for Georgia will definitely be on her mind and could push her to her first NCAA individual title.