By Emily Sampl//Contributor | Monday, March 13, 2017
One of the most anticipated meets of the spring – the women’s NCAA Division I Swimming and Diving Championships – are just days away, and the top teams in the country are gearing up for another run at a national championship. Here’s a look at the top teams and swimmers to keep an eye on as the meet unfolds at the IU Natatorium in Indianapolis.2016 Top Five:
1. Georgia – 414
2. Stanford – 395
3. California – 358
4. Texas A&M – 309
5. Virginia – 264
TEAMS TO WATCH
STANFORD UNIVERSITYLed by Olympic gold medalists Katie Ledecky and Simone Manuel, two-time Olympic medalist Lia Neal and two-time defending NCAA champion Ella Eastin, Stanford’s NCAA roster reads more like an all-star lineup than a college swim team. With so many weapons in its arsenal, the Cardinal could be poised to capture its first women’s NCAA swimming and diving title since 1998 after finishing just 19 points out of first last year.
Ledecky, who won four gold and one silver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics, has already smashed the NCAA and American records in the 500 free and 1650 free and is basically unstoppable in those events; she’ll have to contend with teammate Simone Manuel in the 200 freestyle though, as Manuel comes into the meet seeded .13 ahead. Manuel, the 2016 Olympic gold medalist in the 100m free, is also seeded first in the 50 and 100 free events. Eastin, meanwhile, aims to win both the 200 and 400 IM again after sweeping both events last year as a freshman; she’s also seeded first in the 200 fly. Junior Janet Hu could walk away with three individual NCAA titles as well, as she comes into the meet with three top-three seeds – first in the 100 fly, second in the 200 back and third in the 100 back.
Other Swimmers to Watch:
Lia Neal (50 free, 200 free, 100 free)
Katie Drabot (500 free, 200 free, 1650 free)
Alexandra Szekely (400 IM, 200 back)
Ally Howe (100 back, 200 back, 200 IM)
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIAThe Golden Bears finished third in last year’s meet and will look to get back to the top of the podium after winning the meet in 2015, 2012, 2011 and 2009. Like rival Stanford, Cal has numerous swimmers capable of winning multiple individual titles. Sophomore Kathleen Baker, a surprise silver medalist in the 100m back in Rio, comes into the meet seeded second in the 200 IM, second in the 100 back and first in the 200 back and has an excellent shot to win all three. Cal has traditionally had a strong backstroke contingent and should also get big points from sophomore Amy Bilquist in the 100 (8th) and 200 (4th) back. Freshman Abbey Weitzeil also represented the United States in Rio and will now make her NCAA debut with a chance to win the 50 free and 100 free. Senior Farida Osman, an Olympian from Egypt, will be a major player in the individual sprint events (50 and 100 free, 100 fly) and in the relays for the Bears.
Other Swimmers to Watch:
Katie McLaughlin (500 free, 200 free, 200 fly)
Celina Li (200 IM, 400 IM, 200 fly)
Noemie Thomas (100 fly, 200 fly)
UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIAThe defending champion Georgia Bulldogs could be in the hunt for their eighth NCAA team title and fourth win in five years, but they’ll have a lot of work to do to make a team championship a reality. Senior and newly minted Olympic medalist Olivia Smoliga leads the way for the Bulldogs, as the defending champ in the 50 and 100 free will look to sweep those events again as the sixth and third seed, respectively. She’ll also swim the 100 back, which she swam for the U.S. in Rio.
Canadian Olympian Chantal Van Landeghem is back for her final NCAA meet and should be a big contributor as well, with the 11th best time in the 50 free, 10th best in the 100 free and valuable relay experience for Georgia. Georgia has traditionally had a more notable distance group, but should score a lot of points in the sprint events with the 1-2-3 punch of Smoliga, Van Landeghem and freshman Veronica Burchill, who will race the 50 and 100 free and 100 fly.
Other Swimmers to Watch:
Emily Cameron (200 IM, 400 IM)
Chelsea Britt (200 fly, 100 back)
Meagan Raab (200 IM, 200 free, 200 breast)
OTHERS TO WATCHThe usual suspects – Arizona, Texas, Texas A&M and Southern California – will definitely be contenders in the team race for the top five spots, along with up and comers Michigan and North Carolina State, who both should make some noise. Stanford swimmers are seeded first in every individual event but three – Indiana’s Lilly King, the Olympic champion in the 100m breast, is the top seed in both breaststroke events, while Cal’s Kathleen Baker is first in the 200 back. All five relays look to be a dog fight between Cal and Stanford, with the likes of USC, Georgia, Arizona and NC State also in contention.
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