This is the third weekend of March and the third straight weekend of stellar fast swimming. From the drama of an NCAA team title race in Austin to the next wave of America’s superstars in Orlando to the fastest high school meet in the country in Pennsylvania, featuring arguably the greatest high school swimmer in history. Without further ado, take your mark!
The biggest story of the weekend is the three-way battle for the team title at the Women’s NCAA Championships in Austin. After day one, Georgia, Stanford, USC, and Cal were within all within 15 points. Stanford started to fall back on the second day, as Cal used a string of superb performances to vault ahead. After prelims today, Cal has established itself as the clear favorite to win another National title, just like the Bears did back in 2009. Just like in 2009, Georgia should finish in second, and the up-and-coming Trojans should get third. Of course, day three last year was when the Arizona vaulted themselves in front of the favored Stanford for several events, only for Florida to catch them in diving and hold off Stanford and Cal for the win. A lot could change tonight.
Two performances for Cal yesterday really changed the face of the meet in their favor. First, senior Amanda Sims reclaimed her 100 fly title that she had previously won in 2009. She steamrolled right past the 51.43 that Elaine Breeden won in last year, the 51.28 she clocked to win in 2009, and any time on the all-time list recorded by Olympians Christine Magnuson and Dana Vollmer. Sims’ 50.49 makes her the fourth-fastest in history, behind only Natalie Coughlin and Rachel Komisarz. This morning, she clocked a top time in the 200 fly of 1:53.17, ahead of the USC tandem of Katinka Hosszu and Lyndsay De Paul. Sims dropped 1.5 seconds from prelims to finals in her 100 fly yesterday; if she can drop a similar margin, she will be in the mix for the win or at least a top-three finish.
Can Sims make a mark nationally and internationally? Last year at this meet, she clocked 51.85 in the 100 fly for third place. At Long Course Nationals, she took tenth in 59.31. A long course drop similar to that which she posted short course would take her into the 57-range, into which among Americans only Magnuson and Vollmer touched in 2010. Additionally, Teri McKeever has been known for getting her swimmers to step up at every corner. She has coached Natalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer to superstardom, and she helped Caitlin Leverenz and Madison Kennedy earn surprising berths on the 2010 Pan Pac team. McKeever is also head Olympic coach for 2012 and should tonight wrap up her second NCAA team title. Sims will have completed her eligibility after this season, and all the pieces are in place for a 2012 Olympic run.
One of the biggest stories of the meet has been the rise of Texas A&M freshman Breeja Larson as a national contender in breaststroke. Three weeks ago, Larson finished runner-up to Texas’ Laura Sogar in both breaststroke distances at Big-12s in Austin. Her return trip to Austin, however, has been significantly more fruitful. Larson first turned heads on the 400 medley relay, where she split 57.88 to help A&M to the B-final win. The next night in the 100 breast, she nearly ran down favorite Jillian Tyler in the final. Tyler won in 58.39, followed closely by Larson, in 58.51. This time is a considerable drop from her entry of 59.27, recorded at Big-12s. The scariest part: Larson began swimming year-round just over a year ago, during her senior year of high school!
Larson’s achievements last night led The Swimmers Circle’s Braden Keith to comment afterwards, “We’ve just seen the metaphorical birth of the next great American breaststroker.” In today’s 200 breast prelims, Larson qualified third in 2:08.03, dropping three tenths from her Big-12 time. Expect her to give favorites Tyler and Caitlin Leverenz a real run in tonight’s final. By next year, with another crucial year of swimming under her belt, we could see something stellar on the NCAA level and maybe even on the international scene. Certainly, with the breakthrough we have already seen from Larson, the sky is the limit for her.
In Austin last night, Cal freshman Cindy Tran and Deborah Roth went 1-2 in the 100 back. However, someone even younger ripped off a faster time at the NCSA Junior Nationals in Orlando. Rachel Bootsma, a junior in high school, clocked 50.76, well ahead of Tran’s 51.30. The time moved Bootsma to third on the all-time list, behind only double Olympic champion Natalie Coughlin and world champion Gemma Spofforth. Bootsma is not just a speedy backstroker, having outstanding versatility and a powerful underwater dolphin kick which has already led Bootsma to a sweep of the butterfly races. She is slated to compete tonight in the 200 IM, 50 free, and 50 back. In the 50 back, she led all qualifiers by more than a second! Already a Pan Pacs team member this summer and bronze medalist in the 50 back, Bootsma has some serious upside potential, and it would not be surprising for her to enter college as the American record-holder in the 100 back. Expect big things from her down the line.
In my blog last week, I discussed the potential for David Nolan to break National High School records at the Pennsylvania High School State Championships this weekend. With one out of two finals sessions at Bucknell University out of the way, he has not disappointed. His 200 IM time of 1:41.39 obliterated his old national mark of 1:43.43 set last year. More importantly, that time is well ahead of Austin Staab’s 1:42.01 that sits as the top seed headed into NCAA Championships. Additionally, Nolan swam 19.62 in the 50 free to lead-off the 200 free relay, not far off Vlad Morozov’s national record of 19.43 set last year. Oh, and his team from Hershey lowered the national record for that relay by more than a second!
Tonight, Nolan will compete in the 100 back final and most likely swim the lead-off leg of Hershey’s 400 free relay. This morning, he posted a 47.37 100 back, and he will be shooting for Cole Craigin’s national record of 46.75 in finals. He will also chase Morozov’s 42.91 national 100 free record and is expected to bust through both. Some now consider him the greatest high school swimmer of all time! The incoming Stanford freshman has mighty expectations to live up to; in NCAA competition, he could win multiple national titles as a freshman and make major contributions to Stanford’s relays. He has been discussed as a potential 2012 Olympian, as a relay alternate or maybe even an individual event. Even a medal in London is a possibility. But as we’ve seen this week, Nolan is not one to shy away from expectations; he just shatters them.