The No. 12 Wisconsin Badgers come into this meet with top-ten aspirations and a stacked team, which is a welcome change from previous years. Head coach Whitney Hite recruited a top-four class this year, and it shows with the team’s overall success and improvement this season.
One of those top-tier incoming swimmers is sophomore transfer and U.S. Olympian Cierra Runge, who is seeded within the top six in all three individual events she will swim - the 200-yard freestyle, the 500-yard freestyle and the mile. In addition, Runge is expected to swim on two relays.
Madison native Beata Nelson, who many analysts called the top recruit in her class, has also been huge for the Badgers during her freshman season and earned a trip to Indianapolis in the 100- and 200-yard backstrokes and the 100-yard butterfly. Nelson is also expected to swim on at least two relays.
Qualifying for her first NCAA championships is sophomore backstroker Jess Unicomb, who will swim in the 100- and 200-yard backstrokes and the 200-yard individual medley after posting provisional qualifying marks in five different events this season. Unicomb is expected to swim on at least three relays as well.
In addition to these promising youngsters, there are five seniors who will be ending their careers on high notes after qualifying individually.
Ashley Peterson will compete in platform diving after a stunning performance at the Zone D qualifier last week in Missouri. Her performance made her the first diver of any gender to qualify for Nationals in 16 years. This will be Peterson’s first NCAA Championships.
Chase Kinney, Dana Grindall, Maria Carlson and Danielle Valley will also make repeat appearances at the meet, hoping to cement additional All-American designations to add to their list of accolades that have piled up during their decorated careers as Badgers.
Rounding out the group, juniors Marissa Berg and Abby Jagdfeld and sophomore Emmy Sehmann will participate in the Championships as relay-only swimmers.
Looking at the national landscape, Wisconsin falls firmly near the 10-12 spot when scoring out the meet, which is indicative of both their ranking and their performance all season. It’s really anyone’s game at this point in terms of individual events, but the team race is a different story.
No. 1 Stanford, with its 14 qualified swimmers, is the runaway favorite to take home the title. Featuring swimmers like U.S. Olympians Katie Ledecky and Simone Manuel as well as rising stars on the international scene like Katie Drabot and Ella Eastin, this team is loaded from top to bottom and has many top-seeded swims, including Ledecky in both the 500-yard freestyle and the mile.
No. 2 California qualified 13 swimmers, including five members of their 2015 national champion team. The meat of this team, however, is in their underclassmen, with seven of their qualifiers being sophomores or younger. Cal’s young guns have the upper hand nationally as well, with Katie McLaughlin, Kathleen Baker, Amy Bilquist and Abbey Weitzeil all having recorded times within the top four in their respective events.
Defending champions No. 4 Georgia also have 14 qualified swimmers, including returning Olympians Chantal Van Landeghem and Olivia Smoliga. The Badgers have already seen the absolute havoc the Bulldogs can wreak in a dual meet format, but they’re even faster and more dangerous when they’re fully rested.
The top team coming out of the Big Ten is No. 6 Michigan - the Badgers have seen what they can do with their full team at Big Tens, but the National Championship is a different ball game, and they’re only bringing ten swimmers.
Their top two swimmers from Big Tens, G Ryan and Siobhán Haughey, are both ranked within the top five in their respective events and appear ready to score some serious points for the Wolverines.
Comparing the Badgers to these four juggernauts, quantity and quality of qualifications are both an issue, especially with teams like Stanford and Michigan, who are strong in both swimming and diving. It will be difficult for Wisconsin as a team to place in the top five, but in individual events, anything could happen.
The NCAA Championships start Wednesday evening at 5:00 p.m. and will continue on through Saturday.