Breaking Down IM Races At Women’s NCAA Division I Championships

Women's NCAA Division I Championships
Photo Courtesy: David Farr

Commentary by Jeff Commings

TUCSON – The best thing about watching an individual medley race is seeing the lead change throughout the race. As swimmers play to their strengths and hope their weaknesses aren’t their downfall, we tend to see some exciting strategy play out in the 200 and 400 IM.

That will be true in two weeks at the Women’s NCAA Division I Championships, where new champions will be crowned, thanks to the graduations of previous champions Maya DiRado and Elizabeth Beisel. Who has the chops to win? Here’s a breakdown of how the 200 IM and 400 IM will shape up by stroke.


Tanja Kylliainen Women's NCAA Division I Championships

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The strongest butterflyer among the top six seeds in both IMs is Louisville’s Tanja Kylliainen. She’ll be a major player in the 200 fly final, and will play to her butterfly strengths, especially in the 200 IM where three backstrokers will be looking to chase her down (see “Backstroke” below). Look for Hali Flickinger of Georgia, seeded second in the 200 fly, to make a move early in the 400 IM. Celina Li is also a good butterflyer but tends to hold an even pace throughout the race. If she takes advantage of the butterfly in the 400 IM, it could put her in a good position for the rest of the race.


Elizabeth Pelton and Missy Franklin go one and two in the 100 backstroke.

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Three of history’s best backstrokers are the top three seeds in the 200 IM: Elizabeth Pelton, Missy Franklin and Courtney Bartholomew. Pelton nearly made the Olympic team in the 200 IM in 2012, while Franklin once owned the national independent high school record in the event. Bartholomew is not as accomplished as Pelton and Franklin in the 200 IM, but should be able to hang with them through the breaststroke. It’ll be exciting to see which of the three has the fastest backstroke split. As for the 400 IM, Minnesota freshman Brooke Zeiger is the only notable backstroker. If she isn’t too far behind after butterfly, expect her to surge into the lead on backstroke.


Madisyn Cox

Photo Courtesy: Mike Comer/

This is the stroke where the championship is often decided. Franklin and Pelton are not strong breaststrokers, but are fairly evenly matched in the other three strokes. The toughest of these two on the breaststroke leg will have the confidence going into freestyle. Historically, Franklin is the better freestyler, but Pelton has been improving and could win if she has a lead of more than three tenths going into the final 50 of the 200 IM. The 400 IM features Madisyn Cox of Texas as the only breaststroker in the top six. She’ll have to keep the leaders close through the first 200 yards in order to challenge in breaststroke. Zeiger has a good breaststroke as well.


Sarah Henry

Photo Courtesy: David Farr

The 400 IM has three strong distance freestylers in the top six. Sarah Henry of Texas A&M is a potential top-eight finisher in the 500 free, while Brooke Zeiger also has talent in that event and might score well in the 500 free. Flickinger is also in the 500 free and if she does not fall behind too far in the breaststroke, she will be tough on the end. In the 200 IM, the race going into freestyle will likely be between Franklin and Pelton, and it’s a toss-up to choose the better swimmer here. It will be all about guts and determination in those final 50 yards.

Women’s NCAA Division I Championship psych sheet

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