This is part three of this year's five-part Swimming and Diving Preview. UB starts their season this coming Friday at the Florida Gulf Coast invite. Today we look at what I believe is the strongest single group in all of UB Athletics in Women's Freestyle and pair them with the Butterfly swimmers.
Up and down the freestyle events UB returns absolute top-end MAC talent, and Megan Burns leads the charge. Her accomplishments as a freshman in 2014-15 are stunning: undefeated on the season and an NCAA B Cut in the 50 free, MAC Champion in the 50 and 100 free and 400 free relay. She also earned points for the Bulls in the 200 free relay* and as the freestyle anchor in UB's medley relays. Moving up in distance, she finished ninth in the 200 free as well, but had the 4th fastest time overall after not qualifying for the final in the prelims.
*the only freestyle event UB didn't win. They lost by .06 seconds.
Eve Kosten didn't earn points in any individual events at the MAC Championships, but was a part of UB's sprint relays and should improve plenty heading into her sophomore year. Rachael Bertini could step into a relay spot this year as UB has a ton of tightly packed depth behind a trio of sophomores.
Jessica Powers feels like more of a distance swimmer, but she's the reigning MAC Champion in the 200 free, boasts a competitive time in the 100, and is a mainstay on UB's 800 free relay. You'll also find the more distance-minded Hannah Miller, Paula Stoddard, and the versatile Brittney Walters here in the 200. Some very fast swimmers this year are going to get left off UB's 800 free relay, which I think will challenge for the MAC Record.
The losses among this group are significant, especially considering UB only graduated three seniors last year. Taylor Steffl was a speedster who was a regular on the 200 and 400 free relays, placed fourth in the 50 free after getting into the final on a swim off, and earned points finishing 11th in the 100. That's a lot of points to replace.
Spencer Rodriguez was a huge loss to the IM depth, but was nearly as accomplished in the freestyle, where she swam on all three UB relays. All told Buffalo will be replacing a pair of spots in each of the shorter relays and has an open space in the 800.
The good news is the newcomers are fast. Sarah Baxter is a sophomore coming in from Penn State who swam in the Big 10 Championships in all three sprint events last year. She comes from and holds records at the same high school as UB all-timer Brittney Kuras.
Julia Box is a super-versatile freshman who we've already seen in the backstroke preview, but while she may be weaker in freestyle than back and fly, we'll see plenty of her here. Catherine Schultheis and Maddy Jacumski bring speed to the 50, though we'll see more of Jacumski in the back, and Kerry Giovanniello can compete across several events.
It's the Jessica Powers show. The MAC Champion in both the 500 and 1650 free, she's already hit NCAA B Cuts in both and could go undefeated this year. Paula Stoddard (7th 500, 15th 1650) and Hannah Miller (11th 500, 5th 1650) are both plenty good in their own right, and Brittney Walters can throw down here, as well, though we haven't seen her in the mile yet.
Once again, Spencer Rodriguez is gone. She was second to Powers in the 1650 at last year's championships.
Giovanniello is the only freshman in this group, but might offer a little more in the distance events than in the sprints. It'll be interesting to see where she slots in.
In general last year, UB was amazing in the freestyle and weak everywhere else. They do here lose their best sprint flyer in Taylor Steffl, who finished ninth at the MAC Championships in the 100. UB was stronger in the 200, where Brittney Walters (6th, school record), Saoirse Palu-Benson (9th), and Victoria Butler (15th) all earned points a the Championships.
Julia Box is the new frontrunner for the Bulls, yards faster than anyone else. We've hit her in the backstroke and freestyle, but butterfly is her best. We also so Kerry Giovanniello again. She could factor in some 100s.
This is the second of a five-part preview leading up to Swimming and Diving's season opener in Florida next Friday. Prior and upcoming previews:
Men's butterfly and freestyle - 25 September
Women's breaststroke, backstroke, and IM - 26 September
Men's breaststroke, backstroke, and IM - 30 September
Men's and Women's diving - 1 October