By Chris Harrell
Another NCAA Championship meet has fallen by the wayside. The on-site staff at CollegeSwimming.com (Writer, Tweeter and Editor Chris Harrell, Writer and Spotter Extraordinaire Jim Richardson and Writer/Interview Specialist Cammile Adams) have put their collective heads together (no one was injured) and decided on who gets to take home our hardware. Let’s hand out some awards and recap the meet:
Swimmer of the Meet: Missy Franklin, California. Her win in the 200 back cemented this as Franklin becomes the first women’s swimmer to win three events at an NCAA Championships since USC’s Katinka Hosszu did so in 2011. Franklin not only won three events but absolutely smoked her own NCAA record in the 200 freestyle by more than a second, becoming the first woman to ever go under 1:40. Honorable mention: Simone Manuel, Stanford; Leah Smith, Virginia; Kelsi Worrell, Louisville.
Diver of the Meet: Yu Zhou, Minnesota. Not only did Zhou win her first ever NCAA title with a victory on the three-meter but she was only the only diver in the field to finish in the top five on every board. This was an easy decision. Honorable mention: Jessica Parratto, Indiana; Samantha Pickens, Arizona; Kassidy Cook, Stanford; Rebecca Hamperian, Kentucky.
Freshman of the Meet: Simone Manuel. Manuel was one race away from being not just the freshman of the meet but the swimmer of the meet. The American record holder in the 100 free (and nearly the 50 free) has clearly established herself of as the queen of NCAA freestyle sprinting from now until she either goes pro or runs out of eligibility. Honorable mention: Cierra Runge, California; Kennedy Goss, Indiana; Béryl Gastaldello, Texas A&M; Kylie Stewart, Georgia.
Coach of the Meet: Arthur Albeiro. This was a difficult decision as California responded to every Georgia challenge throughout the week but, top-to-bottom, Louisville got up and exceeded expectations in nearly every way --and with a lot less room for error. Albeiro’s girls did not have the luxury of resting swimmers in relay prelims yet they kept stepping up, race after race, and finished in sixth overall, several spots higher than most folks had any idea they would finish. Kelsi Worrell, who swam most of those relays twice, was one of the talks of the meet with her incredible butterfly performances. Honorable mention: Teri McKeever, California; Jack Bauerle, Georgia; Steve Bultman, Texas A&M; Carol Capitani, Texas; Neal Studd, Florida Gulf Coast.
Swim of the Meet: Kelsi Worrell, Louisville, 100 Fly; and Missy Franklin, California, 200 Free. We can’t do it. We simply can’t decide between these two swims. The fact that they came back-to-back is even more amazing as the meet really hit a crescendo on Friday night. Worrell cracking the magic 49 second barrier for the first time and Franklin completely taking apart Missy Franklin-circa 2014 by more than a full second is just bewildering. Those were two spectacular swims that both deserve this honor. Honorable mention: Simone Manuel, 100 Free; Leah Smith, 500 Free; Stanford 400 Free Relay; 200 (yes 200) & 400 Medley Relay.
Race of the Meet: 400 Medley Relay. This was a no-brainer for us. Taking the only lead of the race at the finishing wall by .01 and leaving poor Virginia in second despite breaking the American record? I’ve never felt worse for a relay team than Virginia after that. That said, give all the credit in the world to Stanford and Simone Manuel and her incredible 45.45 anchor leg. That was one of the greatest collegiate swimming races in history. Honorable mention: 100 Breast, 400 IM, 200 Free Relay, 400 Free Relay.
Quick Notes -
Highest Finishes Ever:
Missouri 14th (Ties it)
Florida Gulf Coast 26th
First-ever scorer for UMBC
Recapping my champions picks without comment:
50 Free – Simone Manuel, Stanford (My pick: Manuel)
100 Free – Simone Manuel, Stanford (My pick: Manuel)
200 Free – Missy Franklin, California (My pick: Franklin)
500 Free –Leah Smith, Virginia (My pick: Smith)
1,650 Free – Leah Smith, Virginia (My pick: Smith)
100 Back –Rachel Bootsma, California (My pick: Courtney Bartholomew, Virginia, 2nd)
200 Back –Missy Franklin, California (My pick: Franklin)
100 Breast –Sarah Haase, Stanford (My pick: Emma Reaney, Notre Dame, 3rd)
200 Breast – Kierra Smith, Minnesota (My pick: Emma Reaney, Notre Dame, 4th)
100 Fly –Kelsi Worrell, Louisville (My pick: Worrell)
200 Fly – Kelsi Worrell, Louisville (My pick: Christina Bechtel, Kentucky, 2nd)
200 IM –Missy Franklin (My pick: Franklin)
400 IM –Sarah Henry, Texas A&M (Hali Flickinger, Georgia, 2nd)
200 Free Relay –California (My pick: California)
400 Free Relay –Stanford (My pick: Stanford)
800 Free Relay –California (My pick: California)
200 Medley Relay –California (My pick: Stanford, 9th – with fast enough time to win A final)
400 Medley Relay –Stanford (My pick: Virginia, 2nd – by .01)
One-Meter Diving – Samantha Pickens, Arizona (My pick: Pickens)
Three-Meter Diving –Yu Zhou, Minnesota (My pick: Pei Lin, Miami (OH); 2nd)
Platform –Jessica Parratto, Indiana (My pick: Haley Ishimatsu, USC; 2nd)
I somehow managed to correctly pick 12 of 21 events with six more taking runner-up honors. Only two of my 21 picks went home without a medal and one of those swam fast enough in the B to win the A. I will be flying directly to Vegas tomorrow.
Recapping my Top 10 Predictions:
10. Indiana, 126 (My pick: Tennessee) – I had the Hoosiers battling Tennessee for this spot but got the two flipped-flopped – by one point; Tennessee was 11th with 125. The Hoosiers can thank freshman diver Jessica Parratto for their first top 10 finish since 2010 with a strong win over the two-time defending champion on the tower as well as points on all three boards. A sixth-place finish in the 800 free relay also paid huge dividends as did two ‘A’ final swims out of backstroker Brooklyn Snodgrass. Freshman Kennedy Goss stepped up big as well.
9. Florida, 144. (My pick: USC) – I was only one spot off on USC but I definitely whiffed on picking Florida sixth. The Gators struggled for the most part, not getting a relay in the top eight until Saturday night (where they finished seventh). The Gators relied almost exclusively on sprinter Natalie Hinds and distance/IM star Jessica Theilmann who did both have great meets. Diver Kahlia Warner was the only other Gator to earn a spot in the big girl final (sixth on the 1M). Those three needed a lot more help than they got.
8. USC, 163. (My pick: Louisville) – I did slightly underestimate USC’s potential but I have Texas’ 400 free relay to thank for only being one spot off on the Trojans instead of two. USC’s only big girl performance on Thursday came in a seventh-place finish in the 400 medley relay and their only other top eight relay finish was a very solid fifth-place one in the 800 free relay. Kendyl Stewart’s bronze in the 100 fly and Chelsea Chenault’s sixth place in the 200 free were the only other ‘A’ final performance from the Trojans the whole meet in the pool. Haley Ishimatsu did take second the tower but was an unimpressive 15th and 16th on the springboards which helped keep the Trojans from finishing one spot higher.
7. Texas, 164 (My pick: Texas) – I got this pick right but, unlike what I predicted, it had very little to do with the Longhorn divers. Carol Capitani’s group came into Greensboro and swam their tails off. Exhibit A is the 400 free relay where Texas knew it had to finish in the top two in the consolation final and they did just that. The Longhorns also scored big with a sixth-place finish in the 200 medley relay on Friday night. Sophomore Madisyn Cox had a terrific meet, earning bronze in the 200 IM and taking fifth in the 400 IM while Gretchen Jaques was sixth in the 100 breast. While the divers managed only a single measly 13th-place finish on the springboards, they did produce up top with a pair of top 10 placings.
6. Louisville, 197 (My pick: Florida) – Most people thought this would be Louisville’s best NCAA finish ever; they just didn’t think they’d finish THIS high. Arthur Albeiro’s group was cash money all weekend long, stepping up race after race after race. This Cardinal team couldn’t sub in on relays during prelims for fear of not making the spot they want at night and it didn’t even matter. These Cards didn’t fold a bit. In many other years, Kelsi Worrell would have been named Swimmer of the Meet. She was more valuable to her team this week than any other swimmer and is the primary reason the Cardinals even had a shot at the top 10. The Cards ended up with three top eight relay finishes including a surprise runner-up effort in the 200 medley relay. Tanja Kylliainen was also huge with top eight finishes in the IM’s. Louisville was definitely this year’s ‘IT’ team.
5. Virginia, 229. (My pick: Texas A&M) – I still can’t believe the Cavaliers finished in this spot. They seemed destined for a top four placing all week long until the final race of the meet. That said, this was still easily the best NCAA finish ever for the Cavs and they still had an amazing meet. Leah Smith, like Louisville’s Worrell, might have been named Swimmer of the Meet in other years. Smith proved herself to be the NCAA distance queen this year, taking the American record in the 500 free as well as a strong victory in the 1,650. Courtney Bartholomew didn’t score any wins but two silvers in the backstrokes and a fifth in the IM is nothing to go home upset about by any stretch of the imagination. Breaststroker Laura Simon will be taking home medals in both races as well. Not getting enough top eight relays hurt Virginia some – though the one that might hurt the most was their best effort of losing the 400 medley title by .01 to Simone Manuel and Stanford. Kaitlyn Jones was clearly and unexpectedly not herself this weekend either. All that said, Virginia still had one heck of a meet and should be more than excited about what the future holds as their four biggest stars all return next season.
4. Texas A&M, 231. ( My pick: Virginia) – When the meet started I didn’t think there was a chance in hell that the Aggies could finish fourth for a third straight season. Many different things – some of their doing, some not – ended up breaking their way and here we sit. Fifth-year senior Sarah Henry made a triumphant return to her home state, winning her first and only NCAA title in the 400 IM while adding a bronze in the 500 and a fourth in the 1,650 (another 25 yards and the 1,650 would have given her a medal of every color). The Aggies’ freestyle relays were absolutely enormous (5th, 4th, 4th), handing them 90 0f their 231 points. A&M only had two ‘A’ final swims outside of the free relays and Henry but flooded the ‘B’ finals, primarily with freshmen, time and time again. A&M went into the final relay needing a fifth-place finish to tie Virginia for fourth overall. They got fourth. It was that kind of a meet for A&M. The numbers never seemed to add up but they just somehow found a way to get it done.
3. Stanford, 363. (My pick: Stanford) – This was an easy pick before the meet started and it came to fruition easily with the Cardinal 89 points out of second and 132 points in third. They owned the 400 relays, turning in one the all-time epic finishes in collegiate swimming history in the 400 medley and breaking American record in both. Had they not been asleep on Friday morning, they would have added the 200 medley title to their haul as well (their consol time would have won the ‘A’ final). I sound like a broken record but, once again, in any other year Simone Manuel would have been named Swimmer of the Meet. Manuel kept breathtaking split after breathtaking split, earning American record honors in the 100 free and nearly claiming it in the 50. With the exception of the 200 free final, the nation’s sprint queen was pretty much perfect the entire meet. Junior Sarah Haase emerged from a tight pack to win the 100 breast title while Katie Olsen took bronze in the 200. Diver Kassidy Cook brought home silver on the one-meter and bronze on the three-meter and was arguably the best diver of the meet. Lia Neal also added individual silver and bronze in the sprint frees to go with Manuel’s double gold sprint haul. Stanford was who we thought they were: Really good.
2. Georgia, 452. (My pick: Georgia) – I had an inkling in my predictions that this title wasn’t going to be as easy to win as many thought and the Bulldogs proved me right. Georgia actually had the lead after a very successful Thursday and returned punches with the Golden Bears all meet long. The Bulldogs earned third place finishes in all the sprint free relays and were top eight in medleys. They put an incredible four ladies in the 500 free ‘A’ final then three more in the 50 to race out to a 172-162 lead at the end of day one. A dearth of ‘A’ finalists on Friday night probably ended Georgia’s hopes of running with the Bears to the end but they gave it a valiant effort, still managing silver and bronze in the 400 IM to open the session. The Bulldogs have a future star in Kylie Stewart and know they can get far more from Brittany MacLean when she returns for her senior year in 2016. The Bulldogs will be back.
1. California 513. (My pick: California) It would be one thing if Cal just had wave after wave of talented swimmers qualifying for three finals over and over again but to have arguably the best swimmer in the world swimming like the best swimmer in the world – it was simply too much for the field to handle. Missy Franklin had pretty much a perfect ending to her collegiate career, winning all three of her individual events, pushing GB relays to two more and even crushing an NCAA winning time swam by the 2014 version of herself while beaming from ear-to-ear the whole time. She simply did it all. Cierra Runge turned out to be the best freshman swimmer in the country this side of Simone Manuel and will be wreaking havoc in the distance races for a long time to come. Elizabeth Pelton probably wasn’t quite where she wanted to be but she most certainly rebounded from a tough 2014 meet, nailing down a silver and finishing top seven in every race. Rachel Bootsma regained the 100 back title she won as a freshman in 2013. Sophomore Farida Osman was a difference maker on the relays and grabbed two fourths and a seventh individually. Caroline Piehl and Melanie Klaren kept bringing it race after race. I could go on and on. Cal certainly did. Their talent and their depth and their superstar were unmatched so here they sit as the 2015 NCAA National Champions. Roll on you Bears!