INDIANAPOLIS, IN - For awhile, it has appeared that the perfect storm was about to take place. Despite tremendous odds against it, California Golden Bears were surely going to stay in contact with the heavily favored Stanford Cardinal at the end of Day 2 of the 2017 NCAA Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships. Those key 6 point from relay and 3 point from individual event difference between 1st place and 2nd place were allowing the Golden Bears to stay close to the lead.
Golden Bears starts the evening session of Day 2 with a huge 200 Free win (3rd in a row) just ahead of rival Stanford. Kathleen Baker then won the 200 IM just ahead of Stanford’s Ella Eastin. Baker then broke Natalie Coughlin’s school record with a sub 49 second lead off in the 400 medley relay. After yet another tremendous relay finish in the 400 medley, one that saw Cal’s Abbey Weitzeil touch the wall just ahead of Stanford’s Lia Neal, Golden Bears and their fans are riding an emotional high at the end of Day 2.
Then the announcer said the unthinkable. “We have a disqualification in the A-Final.” Could this be on Stanford (they had DQ’ed in a relay last year en route to a 2nd place finish behind Georgia)? That would put the Bears in the lead.
“We have a disqualification in lane 4. [Something something about] the exchange between the 3rd and 4th leg.” (Weitzeil apparently leaves the block too early.) Oh, no. That’s our beloved Golden Bears. The Cal supporting section just in front of the press row (and a bunch of other swim fans) gives a consolatory applause to the four Bears who had to walk out of the line for always awkward looking 8-step podium back to their section.
It does not take a Ph.D. in Nuclear Physics (although I do have one of those) to know that a 21 point deficit would have given the Bears a much better shot at the team NCAA title than the current 77 point lead (what a huge 46 point swing). Nevertheless, Kathleen Baker said in the post meet interview that “while everyone [on the Cal team] is disappointed...this will just fuel [the team] for tomorrow...our best day in this meet.”
THE BEAR WILL NOT QUIT!
There are plenty more NCAA titles (individuals and relays) to be won in Days 3 and 4 of this meet. The Golden Bears will fight to win as many as possible. Pressure is on Stanford to not make a mistake of their own to maintain that lead.
Day 2 Recap
Even with the relay DQ, Day 2 had been a very successful day for Cal Women’s Swimming (and Diving) with two NCAA titles to match the haul from last year for the entire meet.
200 Free Relay: Coach Teri McKeever went with a slightly different lineup for the 200 Free relay, inserting freshman Maddie Murphy into the quartet after she made the A-Final for 50 Free in the morning. Abbey Weitzeil led off for the Bears against Simone Manuel from Stanford. Stanford had a slight lead at the first exchange. They maintain that small lead with Lia Neal swimming just a tiny bit faster than Cal’s Murphy. Cal’s Indiana native Amy Bilquist was able to make up some of the time for the Bears against Stanford’s Janet Hu. With just a 0.06 second deficit, Cal’s senior Egyptian American Calympian Farida Osman overtook Stanford’s Ally Howe in the final leg to give the Bears a thrilling victory.
In the process, Cal’s time of 1:25.59 is a new Cal and NCAA record! There are some debate about whether this was also an American record (or does that goes to the 2nd place Stanford) since Osman does compete for Egypt internationally despite having dual citizenship.
Amy Bilquist said that Coach Teri McKeever revealed the final lineup in the team meeting in the afternoon. She felt privileged to make the roster thanks to the amount of talent on the Cal squad. Bilquist and Osman were holdovers from Cal’s NCAA winning relay last year. Kathleen Baker said that she was more nervous while watching this race than for her own races.
500 Free: In a mild disappointment, neither of the two Bears - freshman Chenoa Devine and sophomore Katie McLaughlin (in her first NCAA after a neck injury last year) made the top 16 of this event. McLaughlin placed 22nd in the morning while Devine placed 41st. Then again, Stanford lost more seed points by having freshman Katie Drabot placing 28th.
In the actual race, Virginia Leah Smith had a tremendous swim to get under 4:30 with a time of 4:28.90. That was almost in the same neighborhood as Stanford’s superstar Katie Ledecky who set a new NCAA record with a time of 4:24.06. Stanford also picked up points from Megan Byrnes (9th) and Leah Stevens (11th).
200 IM: Cal sophomore Kathleen Baker was 2nd in this event last year. She swam the 5th best time in the morning to make the A-Final.
Baker than turned on her jets to nearly set a new record in the final en route to her first NCAA individual title. Baker’s time of 1:51.69 is just 0.04 short of Eastin’s record set last year.
Baker said that it was the little things that helped her to finally overtake Stanford’s Ella Eastin - “working on her underwater” and “rest” allowed her to reverse the result from the Pac-12 few weeks ago.
50 Free: Bears earned huge points from this event with 3 Golden Bears making it to the A-Final. A 4th Bear nearly was in scoring position but Amy Bilquist (thanks to a late/bad start) lost the swim-off for 16th place against USC’s Anika Apostalon (who eventually took 11th place).
Nevertheless, Farida Osman, Abbey Weitzeil, and Maddie Murphy placed 4th, 5th, and 6th respectively in the A-Final on this sprint. Stanford’s Simone Manuel managed to place first ahead of Georgia’s Olivia Smoliga and Ohio State’s Liz Li. Stanford also picked up points for Lia Neal winning the B-Final to take 9th.
1 Meter Diving: I tried to watch a bit of diving but I apparently can’t consistently tell between a 45 point dive vs. a 57 point dive. Somewhat disappointingly, Cal’s Phoebe LaMay finished in 18th place in the prelim to just miss out on scoring. Stanford’s Olympian Kassidy Cook made the A-Final but inexplicably placed 8th. Texas’ Alison Gibson won this event.
400 Medley Relay: Stanford (Ally Howe, Kim Williams, Janet Hu, and Lia Neal) won (for the 4 straight year) after the Cal DQ. Kathleen Baker’s 49.80 that broke Natalie Coughlin’s school record bodes well for her chance to win the 100 Back on Friday night. Cal’s Rachel Bootsma won that event last year. Other Cal swimmers in this race were Marina Garcia (Breast), Noemie Thomas (Fly), and Abbey Weizeil (Free). Indiana were also in the mix for the title as their Olympian hero Lilly King gave the Hoosiers the lead after the Breast leg.
Final Thoughts for Day 2: Despite the letdown at the end, Bears already match the two titles - one individual and one relay, from last year. You have got to like the Bears’ chance to win a few more, particularly Kathleen Baker in the backstroke.
Day 3 Update after Morning’s Swim Prelim
Somewhat disappointingly, the Golden Bears will only have 3 swimmers swims for individual NCAA title on Night 3 with 3 more swimmers in B-Finals. The frustrating part is that both Katie McLaghlin in 200 Free and Amy Bilquist in 100 Back finished in 9th spot. Bears will also compete in the 200 Medley Relay tonight. In all 3 events with Golden Bears finalists, Cal has got to considered one of the few favorites for those events. Let’s win 3 NCAA titles tonight!
400 IM - both Devine (37th, 4:13.51) and Li (43rd, 4:15.00) finished outside the scoring range (top 16).
100 Fly - Bears have two A-Finalists in Noemie Thomas (1st, 50.71) and Farida Osman (3rd, 50.77). Freshman Maddie Murphy placed 11th in the prelim (51.74) to make the B-Final.
200 Free - Katie McLaughlin was the top Cal qualifier with a 9th place finish of 1:43.75 (a mere 0.02 off the 8th spot). Abbey Weitzeil finished 18th with a time of 1:45.03. Kristen Vredeveld was 22nd (1:45.24). Former Bear (now Badger) Cierra Runge was 24th (1:45.36).
100 Breast - Senior Marina Garcia finished 23rd with a time of 1:00.24 to land outside the scoring range.
100 Back - Kathleen Baker is saving her best backstroke swim for tonight but still comfortably qualified with a time of 50.63 (3rd best). Amy Bilquist was 9th with a time of 51.35 (0.25 off the 8th spot - at least this was a real time difference). Freshman Keaton Blovad was 36th (53.10).
200 Medley Relay - The Cal four-some of Amy Bilquist, Abbey Weitzeil, Noemie Thomas, and Valerie Hull placed 3rd with a time of 1:35.93.
Stanford had a great morning of prelim swim to essentially lock up the NCAA team title. Other than 100 Breast, they have a strong contender to win every event (Eastin in 400 IM, Hu in 100 Fly, Manuel or Ledecky in 200 Free, and Howe in 100 Back).
Cal diver Phoebe LaMay will compete in the 3-meter diving this afternoon.
ROLL ON YOU BEARS!
Day 3 Preview:
400 Individual Medley
Chenoa Devine (heat 2) and Celina Li (heat 5) - Li, now a senior, has the 15th best seed time. Hope is that she will be in scoring position for the Golden Bears. Stanford’s Ella Eastin is the favorite for this event.
Farida Osman (heat 5), Maddie Murphy (heat 7), Noemie Thomas (heat 7) - Osman and Thomas have the 3rd and 4th best time in the country this year. Stanford’s Janet Hu will also be in the mix for the NCAA title. My pick would be senior Farida Osman.
Abbey Weizeil (heat 4), Kristen Vredeveld (heat 5), Katie McLaughlin (heat 7) - Stanford will dominate this event between Simone Manuel and Katie Ledecky, but all 3 Bears are capable of making the A-Final.
Marina Garcia (heat 5) - The senior Spanish Calympian needs to improve on her 23rd seed time to get into scoring position. Indiana’s Lilly King is the huge favorite (Ledecky-like lock) to win this event.
Keaton Blovad (heat 5), Amy Bilquist (heat 7), Kathleen Baker (heat 7) - Should Baker replicate what she did in the 400 medley relay, she should be able to hold off Stanford’s Ally Howe.
Cal’s Phoebe LaMay is a qualifier for her 2nd and final diving event. Stanford has two divers in Kassidy Cook and Haley Farnsworth.
200 Medley Relay
Stanford and Cal are the two top seed for this relay.
Here are your links to view this meet online:
Prelims starts at 7 AM PT, Finals starts at 3 PM PT
My Preview of the 2017 NCAA Championships: CGB
Friday Prelims: IUPUI
Friday Finals: ESPN3
Saturday Prelims: IUPUI
Saturday Finals: ESPN3
Live results: Meet Results
Schedule: Indiana Sports Corp
2017 NCAA Titles:
200 Free Relay - Abbey Weitzeil, Maddie Murphy, Amy Bilquist, Farida Osman; 1:25.59
200 IM - Kathleen Baker; 1:51.69