Women’s NCAA DI Swimming Championships Predictions

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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With the women’s NCAA Championships just days away, thirteen individual titles, five relay crowns and one team championship will be up for grabs at the McAuley Aquatic Center in Atlanta, Ga. With the departure of reigning NCAA swimmer of the year Missy Franklin and star sprinter Simone Manuel taking an Olympic redshirt, several events look wide-open for less familiar names to make an impact.

The psych sheets are out, and it’s now time to return to the futile task of predicting race. Yes, I know, these predictions are bound to be wrong – so if I pick you, I’m sorry. Studies have shown that so-called experts are actually worse than casual observers in making predictions. I’ve been doing this for eight years. But poor results will not dissuade me from taking up the task, so here goes nothing!

Wednesday, March 16

800 free relay

First: Georgia
Second: Southern California
Third: California

In a new schedule change this year, the 800 free relay will be held on Wednesday night instead of at the end of Friday evening’s session. Expect to see improved performances on this relay and the Georgia Bulldogs to finish on top. Bulldog seniors Hali Flickinger and Brittany MacLean provide the best 1-2 punch in the field. USC is seeded first with Kirsten Vose and Anika Apostolon providing support for veteran Chelsea Chenault. Cal loses Missy Franklin, but impact freshmen Kathleen Baker and Amy Bilquist join senior Elizabeth Pelton on their squad. Also watch for a deep Texas A&M team led by Sarah Gibson, and Virginia will have Leah Smith leading off their relay.

Thursday, March 17

200 free relay

First: California
Second: Stanford
Third: Tennessee

The Bears should have the right combination to pick up this relay win. They will be led by Farida Osman, the top 50 freestyler in the country headed into NCAAs, and they have another potential scorer in the event in Amy Bilquist. Stanford sprinters Lia Neal and Ally Howe should keep the Cardinal in the mix despite the loss of Simone Manuel to a redshirt, and Tennessee’s Faith Johnson will be joined by freshman teammate Madeline Banic and junior transfer Kira Toussaint. Watch, too, for NC State, who had three invited swimmers in the 50 free, including senior Rike Bonnema.

500 free

First: Leah Smith, Virginia
Second: Brittany MacLean Georgia
Third: Hali Flickinger, Georgia

Watch for Smith to try to become just the second woman in history to get under the 4:30 barrier and win her second straight NCAA crown in the event, and MacLean has performed well this season after an injury-ravaged 2014-2015. Watch for NC State sophomore transfer Hannah Moore as a darkhorse, and look for Florida senior Jess Thielmann to move up from the 15th seed; aside from Smith, she is the top returning finisher (fifth) from last year’s final.

200 IM

First: Ella Eastin, Stanford
Second: Kathleen Baker, Cal
Third: Madisyn Cox, Texas

After the two freshmen engaged in an epic dual in this event at the Pac-12 Championships, watch for the veteran Cox to be in the mix as well. Courtney Bartholomew should be the class of the field on the backstroke leg, and don’t count out Elizabeth Pelton, who finished second in this event a year ago but has not shown great form in her senior season. If Stanford’s Ally Howe can sneak into the final, she should help pace the field the first 100.

50 free

First: Kelsi Worrell, Louisville
Second: Farida Osman, Cal
Third: Olivia Smoliga, Georgia

Osman brought the heat with a 21.32 at Pac-12s last month, but Worrell’s underwater strength will help power her in this one. Lia Neal won’t finish out of the top-16 as she did last year, but her strengths are more suited towards the 100 and 200. NC State’s Rike Bonnema has been a consistent relay performer, but this will be her best shot at making a dent in an individual event.

400 medley relay

First: Stanford
Second: Louisville
Third: Virginia

Stanford loses Simone Manuel and her 45.45 anchor split, but Lia Neal should have more than enough to bring this team home following legs by much-improved backstroker Ally Howe, breaststroker Sarah Haase and butterflyer Janet Hu. Louisville and Virginia locked horns at the ACC Championships, with the Cavaliers emerging ahead by seven one-hundredths. Louisville makes up for a relatively weak backstroke leg with Andrea Cottrell, Kelsi Worrell and Mallory Comerford while the Cavaliers have the best front-end of the relay with Courtney Bartholomew and Laura Simon. The only team with a chance to break into this top three should be Cal, who will have Rachel Bootsma and Farida Osman providing key legs.

Be sure to check back in the next few days as we reveal the rest of our predictions for the meet!

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Author: David Rieder

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David Rieder is a staff writer for Swimming World. He has contributed to the magazine and website since 2009, and 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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