Katie Ledecky at NCAA Champs: No 200 Free, No Rematch with Comerford

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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By David Rieder.

Last season, when Katie Ledecky took down the American record in the 400-yard IM at the Pac-12 championships, it was a precursor to… well, nothing. She skipped the event at the NCAA championships, and the IM was still off her schedule come long course season and the World Championships.

Over the weekend, Ledecky again broke the American record in the 400 IM, taking the mark back from Stanford teammate Ella Eastin—and this year, she will swim it at NCAAs.

That means no 200 free next month in Columbus, Ohio—and no rematch with Mallory Comerford.

In the most stunning performance of the 2017 NCAA meet, Comerford stayed close to Ledecky and fellow Olympic gold medalist Simone Manuel and then attacked the superstar duo on the last 50, hitting the wall at the exact same time as Ledecky: 1:40.37.

This was before Comerford had established herself as one of the country’s best freestylers, winning the 100 free in long course at U.S. Nationals, qualifying for the World Championships and then winning five relay gold medals in Budapest. Last March, she was very much an underdog.

katie-ledecky-

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

This year, the 200 free between Ledecky, Comerford and Manuel would have been the most anticipated race of the meet. All three have the capability to challenge the 1:40 barrier and possibly even Missy Franklin’s American and NCAA record of 1:39.10. Not that Comerford vs. Manuel won’t be a good race but being without the best swimmer in the world does take away some of the luster.

But why? Why move Ledecky from the 200 free to the 400 IM? Sure, the IM might be a safer bet for her to touch first, but if Ledecky wasn’t in the 400 IM, Eastin would be the big favorite to win a third-straight NCAA title.

Here’s what Stanford head coach Greg Meehan had to say in an email to Swimming World:

“For everyone on our team, and Katie is no different, each event decision is made within a much larger perspective, with the ultimate goal of maximizing our team point production.  It’s not just about that specific event—it’s about that event and how it potentially impacts other individual events (and relay events).

“Much the same as to how we make relay decisions for prelims and finals – there is always a greater impact to consider. Our team this year is incredibly versatile, and it’s given us the opportunity to look at different options to score points.

“We put our NCAA plan in place first and then we worked backwards to decide Pac-12 events. In some cases that meant not racing an event they would ultimately race in Columbus.”

Probably the most interesting piece here is that Meehan knew prior to Pac-12s what Ledecky’s event plan would be going forward to NCAAs. Whether she broke the American record or not—heck, whether she won or not—had no bearing.

Beyond that, it’s about point maximization, and that’s the goal for any team at a college championship meet. But in that light, it would make more sense to put Ledecky in the event where Stanford has less depth—which is the 200 free, not the 400 IM.

Behind Ledecky and Eastin (seeded second) in the 400 IM, Stanford has Brooke Forde seeded fourth, Allie Szekely 12th and Leah Stevens 20th. Ledecky being in that race pushes each of them down a slot. In comparison, Katie Drabot (seeded 11th) is the only other Cardinal swimmer aside from Manuel with a realistic shot at points in the 200 free.

Of course, Meehan surely has a logic behind this event decision, and perhaps that will play itself out in Columbus. Still, after last year’s 200 free epic, it’s fair to be a little bummed that the trio of Ledecky, Comerford and Manuel won’t match up in the 200 free this time around.

7 Comments

7 comments

  1. avatar
    GO

    Lol, David, gives Meehan a break, he’s new to this Ledecky girl.
    If Manuel beat Comerford and Drabot end up top 8, Stanford will made a huge point there.

  2. avatar
    dave92029

    Simone is a Senior, and NCAA will be her last college event. Maybe Greg wants to give her the ability to finish her college career winning the 50, 100 and 200?

    Maybe racing Comerford is considered a bit easier than taking on Ledecky.

    Did you watch how Katie closed on Simone at the PAC12 in the 200?

    Greg cares about thanking his seniors for their careers on the farm.
    Good move !

    • avatar
      GO

      dave92029, Comerford will close harder than Ledecky.
      Did you watch how she closed on both Ledecky and Manuel at the NCAA last year?

      • avatar
        dave92029

        Comerford was an “unknown” last year, and I believe that Katie and Simone thought that they had a lock on the 200 1st + 2nd, and were not racing all out. They thought it was like what they do at Stanford.
        Did you notice how mad Simone was at the result of the 200, and how she responded in the 100? New Amerian and NCAA record!
        My money is on Simone vs Comerford in the 50, 100 and 200.

        Comerford is fast, just not Simone or Ledecky fast. Both won Individual Gold at the World championships. Comerford won her medals on relays.
        Can’t wait for the actual racing. We will not decide anything here.

    • avatar

      Dave you are EXACTLY right….they..”Greg” want Simone to go out with bang…and she was pissed after 3rd place in the 200…its still going to be a race in the 200..but gotta feel for Ella in the 400IM…not saying she can’t beat Katie but its all about making Simone LOOK good…imho…but well see..can not wait…..ps and boy they better get those relays in check at Stanford….4 american records and can only win 1 out of 5….

  3. Jo Ann Hardin Meyer

    At this point… I love coaching strategy to win as a team.

Author: David Rieder

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David Rieder is the host of Swimming World TV and a staff writer for Swimming World. A contributor to the magazine and website since 2009, he has covered the NCAA Championships, U.S. Nationals, Olympic Trials as well as the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and the 2017 World Championships in Budapest. He is a native of Charleston, S.C., and a 2016 graduate of Duke University.

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