6 Top Takeaways From Around the USA

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

By David Rieder.

The first weekend of December always brings quick short course yards performances from around the country, and so far, this one has been no different, with AT&T Winter Nationals in Atlanta and college invitationals in Austin, Texas, and Athens, Ga., all producing some nice results.

How about some quick takeaways from around the USA from the past 48 hours?

1. The Arizona women are back.

Wednesday night, at the end of the relays-only opening session of the Texas Invite, Arizona put up time trial squads for the women’s and men’s 200 medley relays. The men posted a strong time of 1:24.39, but it was the performance of the Wildcat women that looks like a game-changer.

Taylor Garcia, Kennedy Lohman, Annie Ochitwa and Katrina Konopka combined for a 1:34.63, less than a half-second off the American and NCAA record (1:34.15) and faster than the time Stanford swam to win the relay at the NCAA championships last year. The time also broke Arizona’s school record of 1:35.29, set back in 2008 on the way to the Wildcats’ only team championship.

By the way, Lohman is a freshman. Garcia, Ochitwa and Konopka are sophomores.

Konopka is perhaps the best-known of the bunch after she finished fifth in the 50 free at Olympic Trials last summer, while Ochitwa and Garcia were both semifinalists in the 100 back. Right now, they look poised to lead Arizona back into the national top ten after a two-year absence.

2. Claire Adams is, too.

Claire Adams arrived at Olympic Trials this summer as the defending National champion in the 100 back and a legitimate contender to challenge for an Olympic team berth in a deep field. But a broken hand foiled those hopes, and Adams finished 46th in her specialty event in 1:02.46, almost three seconds off her best time.

Five months later, Adams is a freshman at the University of Texas and swimming for head coach Carol Capitani. Swimming pretty fast, too. Not typically known as a 200 freestyler, she split 1:43.05 on the Longhorns’ 800 free relay Wednesday night. The next day, Adams posted two more strong relay swims, a 22.17 anchor split on the 200 free relay and a 51.88 leadoff leg on the 400 medley relay.

It’s too early to know for sure how Adams will stack up at the end of the season, especially with a deep field of short course-specialist sprint backstrokers, but if nothing else, Adams is a long way from where she was in Omaha five months ago.

3. The upped state of the men’s 500 free.

At last year’s NCAA championships, only four men swam under 4:13 in the men’s 500 free. Four did that in Thursday night’s final of the Texas Invite—and the defending NCAA champion, Townley Haas, was fifth in that race.

Clark Smith actually had the fastest 500 free all season last year, posting a 4:08.84 at the Texas Invite, but he faltered badly at the NCAA championships, missing out on the top 16. He proved that was just a fluke over the summer, when he finished a strong fourth in the 400 free at Olympic Trials and then made the Olympic team in the 800 free relay, and Thursday night he posted a 4:11.20 in the 500, the top time in the country so far this year.

A trio of Stanford men came in behind Smith in Austin, reigning Swimming World High School Swimmer of the Year Grant Shoults (4:12.03), fellow freshman True Sweetser (4:12.97) and junior Liam Egan (4:12.99). Haas swam a 4:14.36—almost identical to the 4:14.07 he swam at that meet a year ago before posting a 4:09.00 for the NCAA title come March.

Over at U.S. Nationals in Atlanta, Indiana’s Marwan El-Kamash dominated the field in the 500 with a 4:13.4.4. El-Kamash was not even in that NCAA final as he was sitting out the season after transferring from South Carolina. This looks like a strong, healthy field bound for a quick NCAA final come Indianapolis in March.

4. Sleeping on Madisyn Cox? You shouldn’t be.

Madisyn Cox has been in just about every major domestic and collegiate 200 IM final for the past two years. It’s just that right now, she’s swimming better than ever.

Cox finished fourth in the 200 IM at the NCAA championships last year behind a trio of freshman (Ella Eastin, Kathleen Baker and Kirsten Vose), and then she finished fourth in the long course version of the event at Olympic Trials. She was actually just off the lead at the 150 but could not hang with Maya DiRado, Melanie Margalis and Caitlin Leverenz down the stretch.

But Cox bounced back from that, and she swam the two best performances of her life in her signature event Thursday. Having never before swum under 1:54 in the event, Cox posted a 1:53.86 in the prelims and then cut more than a second off that mark for a 1:52.83 in the final.

That time improves Cox to tenth all-time in the event and ranks well ahead of Eastin’s 1:54.06 as the top time in the country this year and also ahead of the 1:53.16 that Margalis swam at U.S. Nationals a couple hours earlier. Cox has the best breaststroke of any IMer in the country (she split 59.20 on Texas’ 400 medley relay later in the night), and she’s dangerous.

5. Confident and Dangerous Jack Dolan emerges at Nationals.

Michael Andrew, Ryan Hoffer and Caeleb Dressel. Those are the only 15-16 boys who have ever swum faster in the 50 free than Jack Dolan, who finished fifth at U.S. Nationals in the event Thursday night in 19.86.

Minutes after that 50, Dolan admitted that he had really considered the 200 free and the 100 back his best events. Indeed, he swam best times by large margins in both events in Friday morning’s prelims, posting a 1:36.68 to qualify sixth for finals in the 200 free and a 48.07 in the 100 back, good for 11th place overall.

Dolan first broke into the news earlier this year when he qualified for Olympic Trials in the 100 back at the test event for Olympic Trials, held inside the CenturyLink Center two weeks before the big show kicked off. The 6’5” St. Louis-native is soft-spoken but not shy in admitting his long-term aims: he wants to be on the Olympic team four years from now in 2020.

Is Dolan a 200 specialist, a 50 guy or a backstroker? Good question. Even his coach, Mary Liston, can’t really answer that yet (although she staunchly denies that he will do any specific training for the 50). Keep an eye on Dolan, both this weekend and beyond.

6. Isabel Ivey is improving—and seeded first at Nationals.

In Friday morning’s prelims at Winter Nationals, Isabel Ivey first swam the 400 IM, leading her heat for the first half of the race before falling off the pace on the breaststroke leg. She ended up finishing tenth in prelims in 4:14.02, but that was just a prelude.

Less than an hour later, Ivey swam the 200 free and finished in 1:45.43, a lifetime best by almost a second and a half, beating the 1:46.88 she swam in the same Georgia Tech pool at Junior Nationals one year ago. The Gator Swim Club product finished ahead of Olympic gold medalist Melanie Margalis as the top seed for finals.

Did I mention that she’s just 16 years old?

Tonight, the event lineup changes for Ivey as she pulled out of the 400 IM consolation final to focus on the 200 free, one of the events that she figures to focus in on over the next few years. Her first big chance in the spotlight of a national final awaits.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.