3 Backstrokers Who Could Make Top 8 In Women NCAA Division I Championships

Photo Courtesy: Griffin Scott

Commentary by Jeff Commings

TUCSON – The backstroke events at for the women NCAA Division I championships are loaded with so much talent that it will be difficult for an unknown to find her way into the championship final. In the 100 back, Rachel Bootsma will be looking to regain the NCAA crown she won in 2013 while Courtney Bartholomew will be chasing her first title.

And then you have Elizabeth Pelton, Olivia Smoliga, Brooklynn Snodgrass and Clara Smiddy as established swimmers on the national scene who know what it takes to get into the top eight. It certainly doesn’t look easy for the underdogs.

The 200 backstroke field is just as daunting. Snodgrass will be defending her title, while Pelton will be looking to lower her American record and earn another title after winning in 2013. And then there’s Missy Franklin. The 200 back will be her final individual event as a collegiate athlete, and she will go down fighting. Franklin hasn’t swum a short course yards 200 backstroke in about two years, so I’m not sure what’s in store, but since it’s Missy Franklin, expect fireworks.

Bartholomew and Smiddy will be in the hunt, as will Georgia freshman Kylie Stewart. At the NCSA junior nationals last March, Stewart swam a 1:49.85, which would have won last year’s NCAAs. With Pelton and Franklin in the race, Stewart will need to get under the barrier again to score high for the Bulldogs.

But there is a chance that more than one unknown could get into one or both of the backstroke finals. Here are three with the best chances:

Linnea Mack

Photo Courtesy: David Farr

Photo Courtesy: David Farr

With the exception of Bootsma, no one has better underwater kicking skills in the backstroke events than UCLA senior Linnea Mack. At the winter nationals last December, she was underwater to the 15-meter mark on nearly every length of the 100 back. If she leans heavily on her strength – and also swims well on top of the water – she could give the Bruins some big points.

Sarah Denninghoff

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Perhaps Denninghoff wouldn’t be a major surprise if she makes it into the 100 and 200 backstroke finals, since she was eighth in the 200 back at the 2013 NCAAs. But she redshirted last season to heal from injury, and in that year away, several new contenders have entered the fray. Denninghoff will be swimming the 200 freestyle and the 100 backstroke on the second day of the meet, and if she gets into the top eight in either or both, she’ll have a tough day. But it could turn out to be one of the best of her career, if she doesn’t lay back on the throttle in prelims.

Anika Apostalon

21 FEB 2014: The Mountain West Conference Swimming and Diving Championships are held at the Palo Alto College Aquatic Center in San Antonio, TX. Ashley Landis/NCAA Photos

Photo Courtesy: Ashley Landis/Mountain West Conference

I’m picking Apostalon as a dark horse championship finalist in the 100 back not only because she’s seeded 15th, but because it would be a great story to see the San Diego State sophomore continue to shine a light on the rising team with another top-eight finish. She swam in the championship final of the 50 free last year, and it would be great for the Aztecs if she can replicate that and add the 100 back to her list of championship final swims. She was San Diego State’s first championship finalist, and is likely inspiring her teammates to follow in her footsteps next season.

Women NCAA Division I championships psych sheet

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9 years ago

Anika is only a sophomore this year!

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