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2015 NCAA Women's Swimming (and Diving) Championship Preview: Can the favorite Cal bring home the title?

The question is not whether but by how much and in which events will the California Golden Bears add to their national championship total this weekend at Greensboro, NC.

Missy Franklin may be the headliner, but the entire band of Cal swimmers at the NCAA this week are all quite good.
Missy Franklin may be the headliner, but the entire band of Cal swimmers at the NCAA this week are all quite good.
Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

40 NCAA individual titles, 14 NCAA relay titles, 3 NCAA team titles (or across all the sports: 166 individual, 43 relays, and 87 team titles - including the non-NCAA ones for Rugby and Men's Crew). Expect these numbers to change by the end of the next three days when the top ranked California Golden Bears are done with the 21 events (18 swimming) of the 2015 NCAA Women's Swimming and Diving Championships.

Here are your links to view the meet online:

Prelims for all 3 days and Thursday evening session (FREE): NC State website

Friday evening session: WatchESPN

Saturday evening session: WatchESPN

Live results: Meet Results

The Big National Story of this meet, of course, is that it marks the final collegiate competition for Missy Franklin, 2012 London Olympic superstar. However, long gone are the time when the storied Cal Women's Swimming program only has stars like Natalie Coughlin or Dana Vollmer that can win individual titles but not enough depth to compete for the team titles. The 2015 Cal Women's Swimming team is much more than just Missy Franklin and her golden smile that will soon be making her millions of dollars in endorsements.

This group of Golden Bears currently hold the top time in the nation in 8 events: 5 individuals and 3 relays - From CalBears.com:

  • 500-yard freestyle – Cierra Runge (4:31.90)
  • 200-yard individual medley – Elizabeth Pelton (1:52.93)
  • 200-yard freestyle – Missy Franklin (1:41.09)
  • 1650-yard freestyle – Cierra Runge (15:40.17)
  • 200-yard backstroke – Elizabeth Pelton (1:49.00)

In addition, the Bears rate at the top of the list in the 200 medley relay (1:35.25), the 200 free relay (1:27.18) and the 800 free relay, which set an American record of 6:50.18 at the Pac-12 Championships last week and is five seconds faster than any other team so far.

Several other Bears are also listed among the top five in their events – Franklin (2nd, 200 IM; 2nd, 200 free), Celina Li (4th, 200 IM), Farida Osman (3rd, 50 free; 5th, 100 butterfly), Runge (3rd, 200 free), Rachel Bootsma (2nd, 100 back), Pelton (3rd, 100 back) and Noemie Thomas (5th, 200 fly).

After a dominant Pac-12 Championships where the Bears won 12 of the 18 swimming events, "the Bears are ready [for the NCAA]" said Cal head coach Teri McKeever on the Wednesday press conference. Cal is seeking their first team women's swimming title since 2012.

After watching the NCAA Championships via online streams for the past 5 to 6 years, I will be traveling to Greensboro to catch the action in person this time. Be sure to follow me (@YRueyYen) or CGB (@GoldenBlogs) for live updates for these next three nights.

By the psych sheet (a good approximation of what may happened but expect everyone to post season best times this weekend), the Bears are the overwhelming favorite although defending champs Georgia and Stanford will also again be in the mix. What is particularly interesting is the strategy change made by Coach McKeever to have Missy Franklin swim the 200 IM after the emergence of superfrosh and distance stud Cierra Runge (the Pac-12 Swimmer of the Meet at the Pac-12 Championships two weeks ago thanks to an NCAA record in the 500 Free and a meet record in the 1650 Free, let's not think about how Stanford commit Katie Ledecky will probably break both of those records next year) to swim the 500 Free. By not swimming the 500 Free, Franklin has also become a huge part of the Bears' 200 Free relay (which is the 1st event of the championships where a big relay win really sets the tone).

In 2014, despite all the hype thanks to Missy Franklin, Georgia gained the momentum when Brittany McLean overtook Missy in the last 50 of the 500 Free in the 2nd event of the meet to inspire great swims from the rest of that team. Bears event had a relay DQ to eventually finish just behind Stanford in a distance 3rd place from Georgia. That finish was certainly not what casual Cal fans expected from the team, especially with a stud like Missy Franklin on the team.

Missy went on to have a subpar summer (by her lofty standard) when a back injury hampered her at the Pan Pacific Championships during the summer. This NCAA season, however, Franklin has shown that she's back to full strength. Certainly, the Bears are not using her for all of her best events, but it would surprise no one if Franklin finished 1st in every event that she will compete in (200 Free, 200 IM, 200 Back - the latter of the two she has the 2nd best time in the country behind teammate Liz Pelton).

The emergence of Egyptian Calympian Farida Osman in freestyle sprints and 100 fly has been huge this year. Bears also got another freshman contributor in Noemie Thomas for the 200 Fly. The addition of 200 IM to Elizabeth Pelton's program (in addition to Missy Franklin) has also been big for the Bears. Of course, Rachel Bootsma is back to reclaim her 100 Back title from two years ago. Looking at the list of top times in the country, the glaring omission is in the breast stroke leg. That leg of the medley relay is one achilles' heel for the Bears although Spanish Calympian Marina Garcia (or even someone like Liz Pelton or Celina Li) can still swim the breast to give the Bears a good shot at the medley relays.

Not familiar with how the NCAA Swimming (and Diving) Championship works? Here is a quick primer.

For each of the next 3 days, there will be 6 sessions. Prelims at 8 AM PT and then the finals at 4 PM PT.

During the prelims for each event, the top 8 overall swimmers will book a spot in the A-Final of the evening. The 9th-16th swimmers will be in the B-Final. Being in the A or B Final means that swimmer will score points for their team barring a DQ. During the prelims, we will track the number of A-Finalists (Up) and B-Finalists (Down) for each of three schools in contention: Cal, Georgia, and Stanford.

The exciting part, of course, is in the evening sessions. That's when the NCAA titles are on the line.

Scoring:

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).

Schedule of Events:

Day 1 -

200-yard free relay - Bears have the top time in the country.
500-yard free - Cierra Runge has the top time in the country, Melanie Klaren may be able to earn a B (or even A) final spot.
200-yard individual medley - Liz Pelton, Missy Franklin, and Celina Li can all make the A final. Kelly Naze can make the B final.
50-yard free - Farida Osman has just beaten the top qualifying time on this list, Stanford's Simone Manuel, just two weeks ago. Kayling Bing may have a shot at the B final.
1-meter diving - no Cal diver qualified
400-yard medley relay - Bears have the 3rd best qualifying time in the country, but winning the relays are often correlated with how well the team have fared on the day up to that point.

Day 2 -

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

Day 3 -

1650-yard freestyle (fastest heat)
200-yard back
100-yard free
200-yard breast
200-yard fly
Platform diving
400-yard free relay

Transcript from the Press Conference:

"I am so excited, this is obviously a little different for me, this is my last collegiate meet as many of you know. I couldn't be more excited to be here with my girls. I'm so grateful and so blessed for the last two years. I think about not having this experience and I honestly can't imagine where I would be."
"It really has changed my life forever."

Missy Franklin on memorable moments in college
"For some reason, the one thing that is popping into my mind is finals week last winter. And our whole team, you would think that we'd get sick of each other after spending so much time together but we would all just take over this room in Doe library and study there for eight hours a day and be running off of coffee and cornbread and I'm sitting there and going through all of my notes and I looked up and it was just one of those moments where you sit back and I'm in this beautiful library on the best campus in the world surrounded by my best friends, my teammates, and people that I'm going to have in my life forever and just watching them study watching them listen to music and just thinking about the times I've been able to share with them and I feel as loved and as close to them sitting in the library studying for finals as I do after we win a relay or lose a relay and being able to share that with someone is a really special thing."

GO BEARS!