NCAA Women's Swimming and Diving Championship Preview: Cal vs. Georgia for the title?

The Golden Bears are ready for the Minnesota cold and the challenge from the rest of the country. - Cal Women's Swimming and Diving Facebook

No.1 Cal Golden Bears have the hype and the star power, but Is that enough to overtake Georgia for Cal's 4th NCAA women's swimming and diving title in school history?

The finish line for the 2014 Women's Swimming Diving season is here. In these next three days in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a 2014 team winner will be crowned along with NCAA champions (individual and relays) in a total of 21 events. The team championship is expected to come down to a tight battle between No.1 California Golden Bears and No.2 (and defending NCAA champions) Georgia Bulldogs. Experts project a scenario where Cal and Georgia are miles ahead of the rest of the field (we will get to that in a little bit).

Current Number of National Championships (from CalBears.com):

85 Team Title*

*Since this total includes both Rugby (27) and Men's Crew (16) which are both NOT NCAA sports, Cal only has 42 National Titles in some comparison.

Despite all the great swimmers (and the individual titles) that have come through Cal for years, winning the team title is a relatively new thing for the Golden Bears. In Women's swimming and diving, Cal have won 3 team titles in 2009, 2011, and 2012. Bears' attempt to three-peat last year was stopped by the Georgia Bulldogs. Georgia won the team title over the Golden Bears by an 84 point margin (477 to 393).

151 Individual Titles

This total includes 4 from members of the current team in Cindy Tran (100 Back in 2011 and 2012), Rachel Boostma (100 Back in 2013), and Elizabeth Pelton (200 Back in 2013)

39 Relay Titles (all swimming except for 3 Track and Field)

The question is not whether the Golden Bears will add to these national championships total but by how much. More importantly, can the Bears reclaim the big one, the team NCAA title from Georgia.


NCAA Championships Format and Viewing Schedule

The events of these next 3 days are broken down into 6 sections. Preliminaries are in the morning, starting at 9 AM PT. The finals will take place in the evening, starting at 5 PM PT. All 6 sections are streamed for free online.

For all the action today and the two prelims on Friday and Saturday: here (may not have commentary)

For Friday and Saturday's finals: ESPN3/WatchESPN will have the live coverage. ESPNU will show the tape delayed coverage on April 2nd.

Live Results: Swimming and Diving

While the evening's finals are the exciting races where individual winners are crowned, the team championship is won or lost during the prelim. Based on their times in the prelim, finalists for the A and B finals (each consists of 8 swimmers each) are determine. On rare occasion, there is a "swim off" for participants that post the same qualifying time in the morning for the final spot.

Points are awarded on a sliding scale:

For Relays (Double the point of individual events), they are

40 (extra points for the winner), 34, 32, 30, 28, 26, 24, 22 for the A-Final participants

18 (again bonus points for the winner), 14, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 for the B-Final participants

For Individual Events

20 (extra points for the winner), 17, 16, 15, 14, 13, 12, 11 for the A-Final participants

9 (bonus point for the winner), 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 for the B-Final participants

It should go without saying, but points are not awarded for finalists who are disqualified (DQ'ed, typically for a false start or illegal turn).


Cal Swimmings (and Diver) in the 2014 NCAA Championships

The Golden Bears are brining 16 swimmers to the meet. They are (with the individual events that they are qualified for and the qualified times that Cal are famous for lowering in the NCAA's).

Acker, Rachael Sophomore

200 FR SCY 1:44.43

100 FR SCY 48.07


Au, Hoi Shun (Stephanie) Senior

100 BK SCY 52.00

200 BK SCY 1:54.38


Batchelor, Sophia Freshman

100 FL SCY 52.15

200 BK SCY 1:54.61


Bing, Kaylin Junior

50 FR SCY 22.15

100 FR SCY 48.52


Bootsma, Rachel Sophomore

100 FL SCY 52.06

100 BK SCY 51.19

200 FL SCY 1:55.37


Breed, Catherine Junior

500 FR SCY 4:41.09


Cheng, Camille Junior

200 FR SCY 1:44.61


Franklin, Melissa (Missy) Freshman

500 FR SCY 4:34.63

200 FR SCY 1:41.40

100 FR SCY 47.17


Garcia Urzainqui, Marina Freshman

200 BR SCY 2:10.98


Klaren, Melanie Junior

500 FR SCY 4:41.23

100 BK SCY 52.06

200 BK SCY 1:52.84


Li, Celina Freshman

200 IM SCY 1:54.25

400 IM SCY 4:06.54


Naze, Kelly Sophomore

200 IM SCY 1:57.52

400 IM SCY 4:11.61

200 BK SCY 1:54.73


Osman, Farida Freshman

50 FR SCY 22.11

100 FL SCY 52.36

100 FR SCY 48.38

Pelton, Elizabeth Sophomore

200 IM SCY 1:54.15

200 FR SCY 1:44.71

200 BK SCY 1:49.59

Piehl, Caroline Junior

200 IM SCY 1:57.75

200 FR SCY 1:44.07

Tran, Cindy Senior

100 FL SCY 52.41

100 BK SCY 51.28

200 BK SCY 1:55.13

The more important number than the swimmers is the 36 individual events where the Bears may get points (logistically, sometimes it is not wise for a swimmer to swim in every event that she is qualified for).

The Bears may be a young team, but many of the freshmen (other than the obvious one in Missy Franklin) have great international experiences. Marina Garcia and Farida Osman both swam in the London 2012 games for their native Spain and Egypt, respectively. How will those two and perhaps more importantly, Celina Li, fare in their very 1st college national championship will be huge for Cal's chances. Other Cal swimmers with experiences like Elizabeth Pelton and Cindy Tran have shown the ability in the past to shave fairly significant time (almost a second) off between the Pac-12 and the NCAA's. Should the Bears be able to consistently do that as a team, they may be in very good shape.

While that looks like a large group (and it is the largest Cal contingent in program history), Georgia matches it with their own 16 swimmers in 39 events.

Both school are have one diver in the NCAA's. There are a total of 3 diving events. For Cal, it is senior Kahley Rowell. Rowell had scored in the platform event the last two years (5th in 2012, 8th in 2013). For Georgia, they also has one diver in Laura Ryan. Some people project Ryan to be able to get to the A-Final in all 3 diving events. If that is indeed the case, that is a 20-40 point edge for the Bulldogs.

Coach Terri McKeever, Missy Franklin, and Rachel Bootsma in Wednesday's Press Conference:

The word "team" is repeated here many time. Coach McKeever said that every race is critical for Cal's chance to win the team title.

Missy Franklin compares wearing the Cal cap to wearing the US cap:

On the pressure of swimming for California…

"I think for everyone on the team, when we put the California cap on there is so much more meaning behind it than just putting on a regular cap. For me, it is very similar to having an American flag on my cap. Knowing who I am representing, where I come from and knowing that I am swimming with my entire team, not just myself."

You can read more from SwimSwam's transcriptions.

Missy Franklin also appeared in a recent Inside the Lair. She talked about winning the Pac-12 and fretted about missing all these school for the Pac-12 and the NCAA's. Interesting tidbits, she "enjoys writing papers"!?!?!? This is definitely a video worth watching.


Rachel Bootsma, also a London 2012 Gold medalist, actually has a bit of a home pool advantage, with the University of Minnesota pool being her pool as a youngster. She also has a very short commute home after the meet since it is Spring Break (what better place to spend a spring break than the still frigid Minneapolis?).


NCAA Championships Events Schedule

All Times Pacific Time


Thursday, March 20
9 a.m. Preliminaries
200-yard free relay
500-yard free
200-yard individual medley
50-yard free
400-yard medley relay

11:30 a.m. Preliminaries
1-meter diving


5 p.m. Finals
200-yard free relay
500-yard free
200-yard individual medley
50-yard free
1-meter diving
400-yard medley relay


Friday, March 21
9 a.m. Preliminaries
200-yard medley relay
400-yard individual medley
100-yard fly
200-yard free
100-yard breast
100-yard back
800-yard free relay


11:30 a.m. Preliminaries
3-meter diving


5 p.m. Finals
200-yard medley relay
400-yard individual medley
100-yard fly
200-yard free
100-yard breast
100-yard back
3-meter diving
800-yard free relay


Saturday, March 22
9 a.m. Preliminaries
1,650-yard free
200-yard back
100-yard free
200-yard breast
200-yard fly
400-yard free relay


11:30 a.m. Preliminaries
Platform diving


4 p.m. Finals
1650-yard freestyle (fastest heat)
200-yard back
100-yard free
200-yard breast
200-yard fly
Platform diving
400-yard free relay

Projections

Both SwimSwam and College Swimming are great sources for information on the various competitors. They also have predictions for each events (some people actually love to make these picks like filling out the other March Madness bracket...and I don't mean the NIT).

They actually have projections for each of the events individually (which are interesting to read), but given the length of this post already, I will just post their team result predictions below.

From SwimSwam:

2. CAL GOLDEN BEARS (MID-SEASON #1)

Cal didn’t look great in their second-semester dual meets. Cal looked much better, but still not spectacular, at Pac-12′s. They need their big three to step up, plus Li (who maybe should make it the "big four" except that she won’t swim many relays) to carry this team. Osman, Tran, and Garcia all have opportunities to make huge impacts too (all three are top-three capable swimmers), but just based on what we’ve seen, we had to flip Georgia into the top spot.

1. GEORGIA BULLDOGS (MID-SEASON #2)

This one is almost too close to call. It would’ve been an easier call had the Bulldogs gotten a second diver in, but they should still have a diving advantage over Cal at this meet. Psych sheet scoring showed a significant 130 point advantage for Georgia. While nobody who’s paying attention actually believes that the gap will be that big, that is a huge score in Georgia’s favor for picking. Cal will score more than seeded barring any kind of DQ – there’s not much doubt about that. But a few things haven’t worked out for the Golden Bears this season (Marina Garcia on the breaststrokes is still acclimating it seems, Farida Osman’s DQ hurts) while everything has gone right for Georgia (Margalis’ performances, Smoliga’s living up to billing).

Here’s how we’ve got some "back of the napkin" math working out for Cal:

Cal relays: 170 points (averaging 2nd)
Franklin/Pelton/Bootsma: 150 points (averaging 2nd)
Li/Garcia/Osman/Tran: 105 points (averaging 9th)
Bing/Breed/Acker/Naze/Batchelor/Piehl/Cheng/Au/Klaren: 80 points (averaging 16th)

That puts Cal right over 500 points (505 to be exact), which in most years recently is a winning number.

Georgia’s "back of the napkin" math:

Georgia relays: 170 points (averaging 2nd)
MacLean/Margalis/McDermott/Smoliga/Vreeland: 170 points (averaging 5th)
Locus/Mattern/Harrington/Flickinger/Zhu/Zilinskas: 160 points (averaging 9th – note that a lot of these swimmers have top 5 potential events, but have 3rd events that might bring down their average)
Cameron/O’Malley/Peters/Vernon/Van Landeghem: 60 points (averaging 13th)

That comes out to 560 points for Georgia. Georgia’s number, reliant heavily on sprint freestylers where things are SO tight, has a lot more volatility, but that works in both directions as Chantal van Landeghem is as likely to move up from a 19th seed as Smoliga is to mover down from the 1st seed.

I’d still take Cal’s top four against any top 4 in the country, but the way that Georgia’s depth in the sort of 6-12 range in scoring finals has developed this year is amazing.

Here is what College Swimming has to say:

#2 California – Were the roster sizes not as large as they are, I think Cal would be the favorite to win this meet. But they aren’t so, in my opinion, they are going to have a little trouble with the No. 1 team’s depth. They bring the unquestioned best swimmer in the country to Minnesota in freshman Missy Franklin. You know a swimmer is extra special when she doesn’t swim two of her best events and still is a favorite to sweep the three she does enter. It’s really quite difficult to even wrap your head around when you sit and think about it. Cal will be a terror in the relays as they always are, perhaps even more so with Magnificent Missy waiting to mow down whomever she is paired up next to. I see Cal finishing in the top two in every relay and winning three of the five. I wouldn’t bet against seeing 50-point eruptions in both the 100 back and 200 free. I’d expect to see them climb above 30 in the 200 back and IM as well. The Golden Bears undoing will likely come from no significant scoring threat in the breaststrokes and on the springboards. That said, I see no one even coming close to threating them for the No. 2 spot.


#1 Georgia – Appropriately, the only team in the meet with the likelihood of scoring in every single one of the 21 events is the one that is the odds-on favorite to walk away with the crown. Despite losing the likes of Megan Romano and Allison Schmitt, this newer version of Dawg Nation may be even more potent. I suspect Georgia will finish either first or second in every relay except perhaps the 400 medley. The 100 breast, 100 fly, and the diving boards appear to be the only places where there is even a chance of them not hitting double digits but the odds are that they will score at least something in each one of those contests too. The Dawgs will be deadly in every individual freestyle race; I don’t see them scoring less than 35 any of the five. That adds up to massive points in and of itself. The IM’s and 200 breast should prove to be solid point boons as well. The cherry on top is diver Laura Ryan who looks to be on her game at the right time of year. Ryan could easily ‘A’ final on all three boards, giving Georgia a big boost in an area they aren’t necessarily accustomed to getting significant production from.  Even with a relay DQ and Cal hitting their taper perfectly, I think the Bulldogs simply have too much depth up and down their roster to keep from defending their national championship. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, I see Georgia taking the title by somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 points.

Both of their projections have Georgia by 50-75 points with both teams remarkably breaking the 500 point mark. With all that said there are almost always surprise A-Finalists from teams that are fighting for the NCAA Team Championships. I originally thought that Cal would have a small margin but these "experts" predict both Cal AND Georgia to really raise their games.

Keys for a Cal NCAA win

  • Missy Franklin lead by example - Missy Franklin is no ordinary freshman (says Captain Obvious). All eyes will be on Missy, including all the other competitors from the other teams. The meet will open with the 200 Free relay. While Cal is not exactly the favorite based on the psych sheet, can Missy Franklin lead the Bears to a big momentum building win? It is also important to note here that Missy is NOT swimming in all of her usual key events during the college season. With all the other great  backstrokers on the team, Missy Franklin is now Cal's big weapon in freestyle. In not her best events, Missy Franklin is the favorite to win all 3 of those freestyle events. Freestyle is also where Georgia really shines as a team, so Franklin snatching the top spot away from them would be huge.
  • Teri McKeever's managing - You may be surprised by how many key decisions coach McKeever will have to make for these next few days. The bulk of the decisions here are the competitors and order for the relays. In the Pac-12 (won by the Bears despite not particularly eye-opening times across the board), Bears' B and sometimes event C relays have had better times than the "A" team. The big guns will be swimming in more individual events, so do you use them for the relays as well or save them. I expect Teri to rely heavily on Missy Franklin and Elizabeth Pelton.
  • It takes a village whole team - Bears can likely only win if all 17 members of the team are able to score some points. Other than the big 3 (Franklin, Pelton, and Bootsma), Cindy Tran has the experience, Caroline Piehl and Rachael Acker both have experiences making to the NCAA A-finals (Piehl was kind of a surprise last year), Kaylin Bing has swam in point scoring relays before, and team captains Catherine Breed and Melanie Klaren have made the B-finals previously. How well the freshmen fare? Other than Franklin and Li, Marina Garcia, Farida Osman, and Sophia Batchelor are in their first NCAA's.
  • No DQ's - The Bears DQ'ed in the 200 Free relay in the Pac-12, but still managed to beat Stanfurd easily. They obviously cannot afford to do that in the NCAA's and still expect to win the team title.
  • Bears may need some help - The schools that we didn't mention at all but are good, the Texas A&M, 'Furd, Florida, and USC would hopefully provide some buffer between Cal and Georgia in several events, particularly the ones where the Golden Bears are expected to get a top 3 spots or the ones (mainly breaststrokes) where the Bears won't score at all.

The 2014 NCAA Swimming and Diving championships have all the makings of an epic showdown between Cal and Georgia, a swimming rivalry that is on full display in recent years where the two have combined to win 4 of the last 5 team titles. We will have nightly open thread for the final actions. You are also more than welcome to keep us posted on the results from the prelims. This post will double as the open thread for this morning's action.

GO BEARS!

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