Arena Grand Prix in Austin: North Baltimore Produces Strong First Morning

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AUSTIN, Texas, January 17. WHILE the women’s 400-meter freestyle had one of the most high-profile matchups set up this evening at the Arena Grand Prix in Austin, day one preliminaries featured a particularly strong outing by the North Baltimore Aquatic Club.

Women’s 100 free
First Colony’s Simone Manuel popped the only sub-55 second swim of the morning as the sizzling 17-year-old turned in a swift 54.60 in preliminary qualifying. That’s tied for her third fastest swim ever, including a pair of 54.60s at the 2012 Junior Pan Pacific Championships. She’ll be gunning for her lifetime best of 53.86 from last summer’s nationals this evening.

SwimMAC’s Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace turned in a 55.35 to qualify second. She’s regularly in the 54-mids, so there’s a strong likelihood that she will challenge Manuel this evening in what should be a big-time race in the middle of the pool.

NBAC’s Allison Schmitt, who pulled out of the 400 free today to focus on her sprint, qualified third in 55.46. She has a chance of tracking down her in-season best time of 54.55 from the 2012 edition of the Austin Grand Prix here in Texas. Her fellow Bulldog Megan Romano, claimed fourth overall in 55.63, while Canada’s Victoria Poon placed fifth in 55.64.

A pair of veterans finished sixth and seventh with SwimAtlanta’s Amanda Weir (55.80) and California’s Natalie Coughlin (56.00) making the A final. Reigning World Swimmer of the Year Katie Ledecky, meanwhile, matched her lifetime best with a 56.00. Previously, she posted the same time at the Mesa stop of the Arena Grand Prix last April.

Amanda Kendall, who has finally found a landing spot at T2 Aquatics after some rough times at LSU that led to her leaving the program, qualified ninth overall with a 56.01.

Men’s 100 free
NBAC ruled the roost during prelims as three of Bob Bowman’s swimmers earned spots in the finale. Conor Dwyer led the way for the NBAC swimmers with a 49.93, his fourth sub-50 swim in his career. Look for Dwyer to take a run at another 48-second swim this evening as he challenges his lifetime best of 48.94 from last summer’s Nationals.

French 100 free stud Yannick Agnel, who trains at NBAC, cruised to the second seed with a 50.16. He’s capable of much more, and should drop into the 48s this evening to challenge for the event title.

California’s Anthony Ervin, fresh off the annual California altitude trip to Colorado Springs, qualified third in 50.48, while hometown favorite Jimmy Feigen dropped a 50.52 to qualify fourth overall. Ervin’s teammate Nathan Adrian, the cover personality for the February issue of Swimming World Magazine, picked up fifth overall in 50.65.

NBAC’s Matt McLean uncorked a bit of a surprise with a sixth-place time of 50.77. That’s just off his lifetime best of 50.62 from way back in 2009 and is his second-best swim ever in the event. The middle-distance specialist has continued to grow into his speed, but today seemed especially surprising as he just finished a 12-hour day of photo shoots with his apparel and meet sponsor Arena yesterday.

Stanford’s Alex Coville picked up seventh overall in 50.88, while SwimMAC’s Dax Hill made a strong return to his old stomping grounds as the former Longhorn qualified eighth in 50.89.

Women’s 200 breast
SwimMAC had a strong morning in the women’s longer distance breaststroke event by placing two in the top four seeds. Micah Lawrence, who is coming off a successful 2013, started her 2014 campaign off right with a 2:27.90 to lead qualifying this morning. She’s capable of much more, having an in-season best of 2:24.62 from the 2012 Charlotte UltraSwim. So, there’s a chance that she will produce some fireworks tonight.

Her teammate, Katie Meili, threw down a fourth-seeded time of 2:32.77 this morning. That’s just off her lifetime best of 2:32.51 set at the Charlotte stop of the Arena Grand Prix last year. There’s little reason by Meili won’t be able to crack the 2:32 barrier this evening, as she definitely has set the table for a massive time drop.

BlueFish’s Laura Sogar, another of the handful of Arena-sponsored athletes coming off a fun-filled photo shoot day in San Antonio yesterday, qualified second in 2:28.19. SMU’s Rachel Nicol qualified third in 2:30.33, two seconds back of her lifetime best of 2:28.76 from last July. She could be in for a new best this evening as well.

Canada’s Tera Van Beilen (2:34.06), T2’s Justine Mueller (2:34.09), SMU’s Raminta Dvariskyte (2:34.96) and Frisco’s Destiny Nelson (2:35.50) comprised the rest of the championship finale. Nelson is a 16-year-old breaststroker with a 2:34.62 lifetime best from the 2012 Speedo Junior Nationals. She could have a breakthrough swim this evening.

Men’s 200 breast
In one of the more international finals of the night, Scottish swimmer Ross Murdoch picked up the top time in qualifying with a 2:14.73. He finished nearly two seconds ahead of NBAC’s Conor Dwyer in the process, and just a second off his lifetime best of 2:13.60 from last year.

Dwyer, meanwhile, set up a pretty strong double title opportunity with a second-seeded 2:16.50. After leading the way in the 100 free, he posted one of his only official 200 breaststroke swims ever. USA Swimming currently only has a pair of 200-meter breaststroke swims in its database from 2006, with Dwyer having posted a 2:53.44.

UC Davis’ Scott Weltz, a 2012 Olympian, qualified third overall in 2:17.03, while Grand Prix regular BJ Johnson of PASA posted a fourth-place 2:17.81. NBAC’s Gabriel deSousa, another of the ever-growing NBAC post-grad squad, took fifth in 2:17.95.

NCAP’s Andrew Seliskar crushed his lifetime best as the 17-year-old qualified sixth in 2:18.44. That swim blasted his 2:19.94 from the 2013 Middle Atlantic Senior Elite meet a year ago. Trojan’s Glenn Snyders qualified seventh in 2:18.72, while Canada’s Nick Kostiuk earned the final transfer spot into the A final with a 2:19.35.

Women’s 400 free
The women’s 400 free finale is about as star-studded as you can get at a Grand Prix. Reigning World Swimmer of the Year Katie Ledecky topped the field of preliminary swimmers with a 4:10.60. She will be vying to drop a new in-season best this evening, as she takes a run at her 4:05.21 from the Mesa stop of the Arena Grand Prix last year. If she is able to do that, it could be scary what types of times she puts up this summer as she focuses on the Pan Pacific Championships. Last year, she broke 4:00 with a stunning 3:59.82 at Worlds — the textile best in the event.

IX3’s Chloe Sutton, who had one of her most successful years in the sport during the last Pan Pacific cycle with a win in Irvine in 2010, qualified second in 4:12.18. Her best in-season time is a 4:-06.04 from the 2011 Indy Grand Prix, and she could take that down this evening.

NBAC’s Lotte Friis, who provided Ledecky’s fiercest competition at the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona, touched third in 4:12.94. With Friis now calling Baltimore home, there’s little doubt we’ll be seeing a lot of Ledecky-Friis match ups heading to the 2016 Rio Olympics. Throw in the likes of two-time Olympian Sutton, and the Grand Prix slate the next two years could be exciting.

Longhorn’s Quinn Carrozza finished fourth in 4:15.44, while 13-year-old Madison Homovich of North Carolina Aquatic Club had the swim of her life with a 4:17.12. That blasted her previous lifetime best of 4:23.99 set last July at the North Carolina 14-and-under Long Course Championships. Another youngster, 14-year-old Isabella Rongione placed sixth in 4:17.47. Rongione is in the middle of moving from The Fish to train with Ledecky at NCAP and is listed as unattached here in Austin.

Canada’s Savannah King (4:17.86) and NCAP’s Megan Byrnes (4:18.02) rounded out the rest of the championship heat.

Men’s 400 free
NBAC’s Yannick Agnel smoked the preliminary field in the middle-distance event with a leading time of 3:51.77. Even if he isn’t at his amazing 3:44-3:47 best this evening, there’s a strong chance of Agnel walking away with the title, but could challenge his in-season best of 3:47.80 from the Montpellier Open of 2012.

Tunisia’s Ous Mellouli, who recently made the switch to train at North Baltimore, placed second this morning with a 3:53.92. He could challenge Agnel, considering he’s put in some in-season times around the 3:44-3:46 range in the past, but also could still be feeling the impact of a switch from an open water focus to the pool this year.

Club Wolverine’s Tyler Clary checked in with a third-place 3:54.13, while NBAC’s Matt McLean continued his strong day with a 3:54.30 for fourth.

Club Wolverine’s Michael Klueh qualified fifth in 3:55.31, while The Woodlands’ Michael McBroom touched sixth in 3:55.85.

California’s Jeremy Bagshaw (3:56.31) and Mexico’s Julia Andres Olvera Alejos (3:57.09) managed to capture the final two spots in the A finale.

Women’s 100 fly
Canada’s Noemie Thomas put up the only sub-1:00 time of the morning in the 100 fly in Austin as the Canadian clocked a 59.39 to lead the way in qualifying. The future California Golden Bear and Canadian record holder could be looking at a special time this evening.

T2 Aquatics, meanwhile, had a strong event with a 2-7 finish. Amanda Kendall, who has landed in Florida at T2 after a bit of a nomadic last two years that occurred following a pair of dismissals from LSU and Arizona, could be looking at a career resurgence under head coach Paul Yetter. She clocked a 1:00.18 this morning, her fourth-fastest time ever, and will be looking for just her third career 59 tonight. Her lifetime best is a 59.20 from the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials.

Kendall’s teammate, Justine Mueller, checked in with a seventh-place time of 1:01.45. She broke 1:00 for the first time last summer at nationals with a 59.99, and could put up a strong time this evening.

Canada’s Audrey Lacroix qualified third in 1:00.45 with SwimMAC’s Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace taking fourth in 1:00.66. Shenandoah Marlins’ Remedy Rule, just 17, clocked a lifetime best with a 1:01.18 to qualify fifth. That beat her previous record of 1:01.41 from the 2013 Speedo Junior Nationals. She could break the 1:01 barrier this evening.

SwimMAC’s Kathleen Baker posted a lifetime best of her own at 16 years old with a sixth-place 1:01.20. That beat the 1:01.66 she clocked at the 2013 U.S. Open last summer. Kendra Chernoff, meanwhile, picked up the final qualifying spot with a 1:01.77.

Men’s 100 fly
Riding some serious momentum from his altitude training at Colorado Springs (and maybe a bit of positive karma from an amazing Morning Swim Show appearance), California’s Tom Shields rocked prelims with a 53.06. That’s nearly a second ahead of the rest of the pack.

Shields’ best in-season swim is a 52.53 from the 2013 Fran Crippen Memorial Meet in Mission Viejo from last June, and there’s a big chance that Shields will clear that time this evening.

PASA’s Jason Dunford checked in with a second-seeded effort of 53.80, while NCAP’s Andrew Seliskar raced to third in 53.98. That’s just half-a-second off his lifetime best of 53.49 from the 2013 Speedo Junior Nationals last summer, and is easily his best in-season time ever, as he smashed his 55.13 from the Virginia State Championships last May.

Stanford’s Eugene Godsoe (54.31) and Bobby Bollier (54.49) qualified fourth and fifth, while Coleman Allen claimed sixth in 54.57. Germany’s Christian Diener (54.95) and SwimMAC’s Nick Thoman (54.97) also made the big final.