NCAA's top swimmers, divers aim for Pac-12 title
In what has been another remarkable year for Pac-12 women’s swimming and diving, six teams were ranked in the Feb. 19 CSCAA Poll, including four in the top six. With a number of Olympians and NCAA standouts slated to compete in the 2013 Pac-12 Women’s Swimming Championships, the meet will again showcase swimmers who shine on the national and international stages.
USC, the nation’s top-ranked team, is poised to bring home the program’s first Pac-12 women’s team title, but a competitive field rife with individual talent will make it a tough road to the top of the podium. The Trojans are led by senior Haley Anderson, a 2012 NCAA Champion and Olympic silver medalist who has turned in NCAA ‘A’ qualifying times in the 500 freestyle and 1,650 freestyle events this season. Joining Anderson are seven All-Americans, including fellow Olympian Stina Gardell, who claimed a pair of top-three finishes in the 2012 Pac-12 Championships.
[Related video: Pac-12 swim and dive coaches struggle with 'the dash']
Stanford, winner of 18 Conference titles, dealt USC its only loss through mid-February and notched convincing victories over previously unbeaten UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State. Senior and eight-time All-American Andi Murez leads a talented group that features four swimmers who posted top-15 finishes at the 2012 NCAA Championships. Among them is junior Maya DiRado, the reigning Pac-12 Champion and NCAA runner-up in the 200 backstroke. DiRado owns the fifth-fastest time in the 200-meter backstroke this season. The Cardinal is seeking its third Conference title in the last four years.
Two-time defending national champion California is led by reigning Pac-12 Swimmer of the Year and Honda Sports Award winner Caitlin Leverenz. The senior took home a pair of NCAA titles and swam on the Bears’ national champion 200- and 400-medley relay teams last year. Freshman Elizabeth Pelton has flourished in her first season in Berkeley, claiming the Pac-12 Swimmer of the Month honor in November and posting the NCAA’s top times in 200 backstroke and the 200 IM. Arizona has seen significant contributions from a number of upperclassmen, including five-time All-American Ellyn Baumgardner, who holds the third-fastest time in the NCAA in the 100 breaststroke this season. Freshman Bonnie Brandon, January’s Pac-12 Swimmer of the Month, owns the NCAA’s second-fastest time in the 200 backstroke.
UCLA junior freestyler Ting Quah and sophomore Noelle Tarazona have more than held their own against some of the top competition in the country. Tarazona placed fourth in the 200 butterfly and set a UCLA freshman record in the 400 IM (4:12.94) at the 2012 Pac-12 Championships. Arizona State junior All-American Tristin Baxter paces the Sun Devils this season. The distance specialist holds school records in the 1,000 freestyle (9:43.49) and the 1,650 freestyle (16:05.63). She placed second in the 1,650 freestyle at the Conference championships last season.
Oregon State junior Crystal Kibby, who took ninth in the 200 breaststroke at last year’s Conference meet, has turned in OSU’s top eight times and the top six in the 100 and 200 breaststroke, respectively. Washington State’s Emma Johansson has filled a variety of roles for the Cougars. The multi-talented junior holds WSU’s top times in the 50 freestyle, 100 backstroke and 100 butterfly this season. Johansson also plays a valuable role on the Washington State’s relay teams. Utah is led by juniors Traycie Swartz and Samantha Zuch. Swartz holds school records in the 100 back (525.87), 50 freestyle (22.32) and 100 freestyle (48.70).
Young Talent Highlights Diving Championships
The diving competition will feature a talented group of young stars who look to challenge a savvy veteran class that has already made waves at the Conference meet.
Arizona junior Samantha Pickens and UCLA sophomore Emma Ivory-Ganja lead a strong women’s field. Pickens, the school record holder on the three-meter, earned a pair of top-four finishes at the NCAA Championships in 2012 after placing second on the one-meter and fourth on the three-meter at the Pac-12 Championships. Ivory-Ganja, last year’s Pac-12 Newcomer of the Year, finished third on the three-meter and platform at the 2012 Pac-12 Championships. USC sophomore Haley Ishimatsu has been tough to beat in one-meter and platform events this year. As a freshman at Duke in 2011, she won the ACC title on platform, setting a conference record and earning first-team All-ACC honors. Ishimatsu represented the United States in the 2008 Olympics and took fourth on the platform at the 2012 Olympic Trials last summer. Morgan Weller and Hailey Casper give Arizona State a solid one-two punch. Both divers set new school marks on the three-meter in a January. California junior Kahley Rowell became the school’s second women’s diver to reach the NCAA championships, where she placed fifth on the platform last season and qualified for the 2012 USA Diving World Championship Trials. Stanford junior Stephanie Phipps, the 2011 Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year, finished fifth on the one-meter and the three-meter at last year’s Conference championships and earned an eighth-place finish at the NCAA championships. Utah sophomore Kersten Merry became Utah’s first Pac-12 Women’s Diver of the Month after winning three events in December.
On the men’s side, ASU senior Harrison Jones has won both the one-meter and three-meter springboard events in every meet he has participated in this year. He was the Pac-10 Champion on the one-meter in 2009 and 2010 as a member of USC’s squad. Stanford sophomore Kristian Ipsen is the defending NCAA three-meter champion and a 2012 Olympic bronze medalist. UA freshman Rafael Quintero, one of the NCAA’s top freshman divers, put together a string of 12 straight top-two finishes. Freshman Collin Pollard holds Cal’s top two scores on the one-meter (343.73) and platform (278.50) this season. He also turned in the Bears’ second-highest mark on the three-meter (350.25) at the Georgia Fall Invitational in November. Utah senior Nelson Foo placed third on the platform and fourth on the three-meter at the 2012 Pac-12 Championships. USC sophomore Jordan Gear finished fourth on the platform at last year’s Conference meet. Cal Poly sophomore Elliott Adams and UCSB sophomore Erich Brodbeck have led their teams this season.