NCAA Swimming Notebook: Gearing Up for Week Two

Texas sophomore Claire Adams -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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By David Rieder.

With the second slate of Division I conference meets ready to kick off, it’s time to look back on a couple outstanding storylines from the first week and glance ahead to what’s to come at the Big 12 championships, the men’s ACC and Big Ten championships and the women’s Pac-12 meet. Here are the latest entries in the NCAA swimming notebook.

Georgia Bulldogs rebuilding without graduated Olympians.

If your team loses three Olympic medalists, two women and one men, it won’t look the same. And after Olivia Smoliga, Chantal Van Landeghem and Chase Kalisz all graduated following last season, the Georgia Bulldogs are still working to rebuild themselves into national contenders.

Jack Bauerle’s teams acquitted themselves nicely at the SEC championships last week, finishing second behind Texas A&M in the women’s meet and third behind Florida and A&M on the men’s side, but compared to their own lofty standards, the national championship meet could prove challenging.

The Georgia women, remember, have finished either first or second at the NCAA meet 15 of the last 19 seasons.

But Bauerle has confidence that his teams will at least be at their best come March, as they so often are, and the team race will stack up as it may.

“We might not have as many really good guys, but I think they’ll swim great at the end. Our time to shine is always at the end of the year,” he said. “We’re obviously not as strong on the women—you can’t lose two Olympic medalists, especially in the sprints, and be as good—but all I want us to do is be the team we can be.”

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Meaghan Raab — Photo Courtesy: Thomas Campbell/Texas A&M Athletics

Many of Georgia’s stud swimmers swam through the SEC meet without being tapered or shaved, including Meaghan Raab and Veronica Burchill. Burchill finished second in the 100 free at SECs in a quick 47.76, even though, according to Bauerle, she “might be one of our most tired.”

For the men, 100 back conference champion Javier Acevedo went out of his way to point out the mustache he was sporting, and U.S. Olympians Jay Litherland and Gunnar Bentz also swam tired and hairy over the weekend in College Station.

But Bauerle was just thrilled to have Bentz back with the team after he missed the entire fall with a collarbone injury suffered in a freak scooter accident the day of the team’s first dual meet.

“He’s the glue in our team,” Bauerle said. “He really is. He’s amazing. He’s a natural leader. He’s got leadership ability oozing out of his veins. We just have to have him. He’s actually, even with all he’s gone through, he’s actually right where he was at this meet last year, which is incredible to me.”

NC State men go for four-in-a-row in the ACC.

It would take a massive upset for the NC State men to not win their fourth straight conference title this week. Why? Because the Wolfpack are easily the conference’s most complete team. Aside from Soren Dahl, most the key pieces are back from last year’s team that finished fourth place at the NCAA championships.

Ryan Held, Anton Ipsen and Hennessey Stuart are all seniors. Andreas Vazaios is still among the country’s best in the butterflys and the 200 IM, and since Justin Ress last competed in a college championship meet, he has become one of the best sprinters in the country and swum in a World Championship final.

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Ryan Held — Photo Courtesy: Andy Ringgold / Aringo Photos

In March, a top-three finish at the NCAA championships will be the expectation, and anything less would be frustrating. But Wolfpack head coach Braden Holloway explained that his team is more prepared this time around for the pressure that comes with being one of the top teams in the country.

“We only graduated a few guys from our NCAA team last year. A lot of these guys are back, and some guys ended last year with a bang, and some guys have a chip on their shoulder from last year. James Bretscher, for example, who’s kind of emerged for us this year, he’s a lot smarter now,” Holloway said.

“I feel like our men, they’re not so antsy—they seem more mature about the process.”

Claire Adams takes stock after big graduations and rough summer.

Coming off a fifth-place finish at the NCAA championships last season, the University of Texas women put up an undefeated dual meet season heading into this week’s Big-12 championships, where they will be heavily favored for another conference title.

But the composition of this year’s team is much different with Madisyn Cox and Tasija Karosas both graduated, and pulling off a repeat top-five national finish looks like a big hill to climb with those two gone. But sophomore backstroker Claire Adams is undaunted.

“I see no reason why our team can’t shoot for something like winning an NCAA championship because I feel like if that’s what we’re working towards, even if that doesn’t happen, the things that will come from just making goals that high and looking up to doing things like that, it’s going to be pretty big,” she said.

Adams was an A-finalist in the 100-yard back at her first NCAA championships last season, but the summer did not go the way she expected. She was eighth in the 100-meter back at U.S. Nationals and more than a second off her lifetime best of 59.51 from two years earlier.

At the Olympic Trials in 2016, Adams attributed her disappointing swims—she failed to qualify for semi-finals in any events—to a broken hand she had suffered weeks before the meet. Now, she was frustrated, and she had no choice but to look in the mirror.

“Last year, it was kind of humbling, actually, to have a summer where it wasn’t my hand or there wasn’t an outside reason that I wasn’t swimming well,” she said. “It was truly myself. And to have to sit down and figure that out, why I didn’t perform the way that I wanted to, I feel like that, in the long run, is going to be beneficial, learning from that failure in general.”

This season, Adams has focused on taking care of herself outside the pool and dealing the aspects of college life that can distract from fast swimming, and also on “trying to make my teammates better.”

“I’m given so many opportunities, and I’m really grateful for the people I had last year that were leading me when I was a freshman, and I want to be able—even though I am a sophomore—to be able to do that for everyone else on the team.”

Unprecedented speed in women’s breaststroke? Not quite.

In 2016 at the women’s NCAA championships, Lilly King was the only swimmer to crack 58 seconds in the 100 breast—when she posted a time of 56.71 and then claimed that her performance “sucked.”

This past weekend at the women’s Big Ten Championships, King won the race in 56.46, the second-fastest time in history, and she was joined under 58 by Minnesota’s Lindsey Kozelsky (née Horejsi) and Michigan’s Miranda Tucker. So David Woods of the Indianapolis Star presented this question: Was that the first time three women had broken 58 in one race?

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Breeja Larson — Photo Courtesy: Taylor Brien

As it turns out, no, but it took some digging to find a previous instance. The last time it happened was at the NCAA championships in 2014, when Breeja Larson, Emily McClellan and Emma Reaney all swam times of 57.79 or better.

So come NCAAs, King will go after her American and NCAA records of 56.30 in the 100 breast and likely put some distance between herself and the field, but don’t be fooled: Even without the expected victor, the heat could be the fastest in history.

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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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