By David Rieder.
Take a deep breath. Over the past two weeks at the women’s and men’s NCAA swimming championships in Indianapolis, the American and/or NCAA record went down in 14 PLUS events as the Stanford women and Texas men stormed to dominant team championships.
You’ve seen the times and what it all meant to the athletes competing front and center. If you haven’t, you should check out our landing pages for the women’s and men’s meets, where you can find immediate recaps, commentaries, video interviews, analyses and photos.
Over the next three months, the top performers from NCAAs will move their focus to the long course pool, trying to carry over their success towards U.S. Nationals in the very same IUPUI Natatorium in three months’ time and the World Championships coming up in late July in Budapest.
There will be plenty of time to dig deep into that short course to long course analysis, but as the last swimmers and coaches head home from Indy, why not look back at the top performances from the past two weeks of racing?
Some of these swims were record-breaking efforts but not all. And to be sure, plenty of excellent candidates just missed the cut-line of seven.
7. Lilly King, Indiana – 200 Breast (2:03.18)
Lilly King expected that she would have no real competition in the 100 breast, and she came out flat (by her standards) for that event. She finished in 56.71, the second-fastest time in history, but in her own words, the swim “sucked.”
One day later, she had to deal with Minnesota’s Kierra Smith in the 200 breast. Smith had been a 2016 Olympic finalist in the event, and King knew she needed to get her mojo back in time to face her first-ever challenge in an NCAA breaststroke event.
Indeed, King responded. Smith made up a big lead over the final 100 yards and touched in 2:03.55, under King’s old NCAA record of 2:03.58, but King got to the wall a few tenths ahead, in 2:03.18.
6. Will Licon, Texas – 400 Medley Relay breast split (49.75)
Really, the whole relay deserves a spot on this list as the Texas Longhorns became the first team to break the 3:00-barrier in the 400 medley relay. John Shebat stuck with Cal’s Ryan Murphy on the backstroke leg, but Licon broke the race wide open.
Just more than an hour after he won the 200 IM but in a time far from what was expected (1:40.67), Licon rocked a 49.75 breaststroke split that ranks as the fastest in history. Joseph Schooling and Jack Conger had no trouble closing out the relay from there.
The man won three individual events on the weekend, including the first ever sub-1:48 swim in the 200 breast, but none was more impressive than that relay split. None meant more, either.
5. Mallory Comerford, Louisville – 200 Free (1:40.36)
No, it was not an American or NCAA record, and no, Mallory Comerford did not even touch the wall first outright. But the Louisville sophomore deserves some credit for her breakthrough moment.
She touched in 1:40.36, dead-heated with Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky. The two moved to No. 2 on the all-time list in the event.
But Comerford gets the nod here because of her race plan. Ledecky tried to stick with Simone Manuel on the first 200 and ended up not having her signature finishing kick left to turn to. Comerford swam behind the two Stanford swimmers for most of the race before coming home in 25.53, faster than even Ledecky.
Comerford was patient and stuck to her race plan, and it paid off with a best time by almost a second and a half. And, you know, an NCAA title.
4. Katie Ledecky, Stanford – 500 Free (4:24.06)
Come on, you had to figure Ledecky would make it onto this list eventually, and the 500 free was by far her most impressive swim of her first collegiate national championships.
When Ledecky first set the American record in the 500 free, she posted a time of 4:29.54. Entering her freshman season at Stanford, her top mark was 4:26.58, set at a high school championships in 2015. She then lowered the mark three times, to 4:26.54 (at the Ohio State Invite), to 4:25.15 (at the Pac-12 championships) and then to 4:24.06 in Indy.
Finishing second in that race was Leah Smith, who came in at 4:28.90, becoming only the second woman to ever break 4:30. Smith’s time was impressive enough that it merits a mention if this list had run a little bit longer, and yet she still was almost five seconds behind Ledecky, who has single-handedly brought the 500 free to an insane new level.
3. Clark Smith, Texas – 1650 Free (4:08.42)
Clark Smith is not afraid of pain. He showed that in the 400 free final at Olympic Trials, going out well under world record pace before fading badly down the final 100 yards.
He was not afraid in the NCAA final of the 500 free, either, going out quick with the knowledge that teammate Townley Haas and the rest of the pack would close him down on the last 100. He won that race in 4:08.42, a new American and NCAA record—very nearly getting a spot on this list based on those merits.
But no race at the men’s meet could match what Smith pulled off in the 1650. He was in pain even before the race, having strained his groin during the 500 free. It would have been easy to quit or cruise, particularly with Felix Auboeck, Akaram Mahmoud and Jordan Wilimovsky all swimming faster than any man ever had.
But Smith would not give in. He could not stand up after the race, but that didn’t stop him from kicking with everything he had on the last 50 to pull just ahead and take the victory. He broke Connor Jaeger’s American record by more than a second, touching in 14:22.41.
After the race, meet announcer Sam Kendricks called the swim the greatest he had ever seen. And Smith won it.
2. Simone Manuel, Stanford – 100 Free (45.56)
Hard to top Smith’s mile, but two people did it—one at the women’s meet and one at the men’s, and both in the same event.
Simone Manuel did not have the flashiest meet prior to her 100 free at the women’s NCAA championships. She had won the 50 free and finished third in the 200 free but was generally overshadowed by her own teammates, particularly Ledecky and Ella Eastin.
But on the meet’s final day, Manuel came out and crushed her own American record in the 100 free, posting a time of 45.56 to break her 46.08 from two years earlier by more than a half-second.
When Manuel won Olympic gold in the 100 free over the summer, expectations automatically rose for her return to collegiate swimming. Maybe that means her exploits in the 50 and 200 and on relays—very much up to her usual standard—were not appreciated as much as they should have been.
But when she swam that 45.56, everyone took notice.
1. Caeleb Dressel, Florida – 100 Fly (43.58)
When Olympic gold medalist Joseph Schooling turned for home in the 100 fly final with a huge lead, his third-consecutive NCAA title in the event seemed all but a forgone conclusion, even if Florida’s Caeleb Dressel was not far away.
But off the last wall, it was Dressel who kicked away. He did not breathe on the last 25 and came into the wall in 43.58, crushing Tom Shields’ American record of 43.84. Schooling, too, beat Shields’ old mark, but he could only watch as his former Bolles teammate celebrated his stunning defeat.
But as stunning as was Dressel’s massively successful foray into the butterfly world, it’s impossible to top what he accomplished in the 100 free.
40.00. Just think how ridiculous that time is, three-quarters of a second faster than anyone else has ever swum. He even left Olympic gold medalist Nathan Adrian in awe. A potential sub-40 performance sounded so far out there, but it wasn’t. (Just imagine if Dressel had worn a dome cap!)
Before the final night of competition at the men’s meet, Manuel had the inside track on the No. 1 spot on this list, and Dressel’s 100 fly had him ranked second.
But then came the 40.00.
All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.