The 2016 MAC Women's Swimming and Diving Championships begin tonight. After a (planned) month off, we've finally reached the end of UB Athletics' longest season, which began back in October. The Women, bolstered by versatile freshmen and improved depth in the non-freestyle disciplines from last year, will look to improve on their fourth-place finish from 2015.
Update: Ed. Note: I'm working off the MAC-provided best times lists, available on the website. They're not great, but without them we wouldn't have anything in the way of a preview beyond me basically listing out UB's depth chart.
Tonight is just a small appetizer of the three-day main event, as we'll only see the 200 Medley Relay and 800 Free Relay. Thursday is only a touch larger, with three individual swimming events, one diving event, and a relay, but Friday and Saturday really kick it up. Between two freestyle relays and two individual freestyle events in the first two days, expect UB to near the top of the standings heading into Thursday. As last year, their ultimate position really depends on depth across the other disciplines.
If you don't know the name Megan Burns by now, I'm glad this is the first Swimming piece you've ever read. She is the top-seeded swimmer in the MAC in both the 50 and 100 free, by margins that given how short the races are, aren't terribly close. She also absolutely a contender in the 200 free, and will undoubtedly be either the lead or anchor legs on all the free relays. Only Akron's Hanna Raspopovich in the 50 free really stands a chance of upsetting her in my eyes.
Beyond Burns, though, Penn State Sarah Baxter has added another top of the MAC name to UB's sprinters. She could be top-five in all three sprint events.
Possible Winners: Burns, Baxter (50); Burns (100); Burns, Baxter, Powers (200)
Possible Finalists: The above, plus Eve Kosten (50, 100)
Possible Point-Earners: The above, plus Julia Box (50), and Kerry Giovanniello (200)
Normally the name here would be Jess Powers, who really could drop down to 200 and win in addition to sweeping the 500 and 1650. She suffered a concussion this year though and hasn't reset any UB records like we planned. If she's healthy she will win. Hannah Miller is another top-of-the-MAC talent in these longer events, and while freshman Kerry Giovanniello could really swim any distance, she's shown her best in these longer swims this year.
Possible Winners: Powers (500); Powers, Miller (1650)
Possible Finalists: Miller, Giovanniello (500)
Possible Point-Earners: Giovanniello (1650)
This is where UB's improved depth from last year starts to come into play. Akron's Erin Seiler is going to win both the 100 and the 200 barring something shocking, but UB should at least have a finalist, possibly multiple in both events here. Freshman Julia Box has lived up to recruitment billing and is sitting sixth in the MAC in the 100 and third in the 200, while Baxter in the 100 and Saoirse Palu-Benson in the 200 both are on the cusp of reaching the top eight. Even better, Brittney Walters should at a minimum earn important depth points in the 200, and with a big swim could get into the final as well.
For comparison, last year UB had only four point earners and only one finalist across these two events. Even the last place finisher in the Finals earns more points than the winner of the consolation regardless of relative times, so improved chances of getting in there is good, good news.
Possible Winners: Box (200)
Possible Finalists: Box, Baxter (100); Palu-Benson, Walters (200)
UB will be hard pressed to find a finalist in these events, as only Holly Olsen in the 100 and Cristina Czyrka in the 200 even crack the MAC top twenty right now. Czyrka is closer to getting in with a strong preliminary swim. For comparison, though, UB only scored 11 points from the breaststroke in 2015, when both Olsen and Czyrka made the consolation of the 200, so we should still see an improvement there.
It's also worth noting that since the MAC lists only go to twenty, and 16 swimmers earn points, Sharne Tiller (if healthy) and Alexis Valedon could sneak in.
Possible Finalists: Czyrka (200)
Possible Point-Earners: Olsen, Czyrka (100)
This is another rough patch for the Bulls, but a discipline where they scored zero points in 2015. Both Box and freshman Maddy Jacumski could earn points in the 100, but no one cracks the top twenty in the 200. Mallory Buha (another freshman) and Gloria Melofchik could get into the 100 with big swims.
Possible Point-Earners: Box, Jacumski, Buha, Melofchik (100)
The biggest hole from graduation is Spencer Rodriguez, who spent her two upperclass years behind Brittney Kuras and Jess Powers, but was named Most Outstanding Senior after winning both IM's, two relays, and taking second in the mile.
This year, Walters is UB's strongest threat in the 400, where she could (should?) be top-five. In the 200, Victoria Butler will certainly earn points and can maybe make the final. I wouldn't be surprised to see both enter and score in both events.
Possible Winners: Walters (400)
Possible Finalists: Butler (200)
Possible Point-Earners: Walters (200); Butler (400)
Expect UB to win the longer freestyle relays. Box, Giovanniello, Schultheis, and Baxter have added more new blood than UB lost in Taylor Steffl and Rodriguez. and Powers will make an appearance in the 800. The medley relays are likely to see UB more in the middle of the pack.
On the whole, I expect UB to score more points than last year, especially considering across six back, breast, and fly events they scored only 33 points in 2015. That improvement, though, needs to overcome the loss of 40 points from Spender Rodriguez' Individual Medleys and a bit of a dip in relay strength with Taylor Steffl and Rodriguez gone.
Freestyle Distance: Healthy Jess Powers and strong swims from Miller and Giovaniello
Relays: A top-half showing in the 200 free and both medley relays
Butterfly: Three finalists
Backstroke: Three point-earners
Tonight will not be, but the remaining three nights will be broadcast on ESPN3 from Bowling Green. UB has the links in their own preview.