Tuesday, February 16, 2010

meet preview: ACC swimming championships

This was my sport in high school, so I take a little extra pride in the fact that this is a sport in which UVA is more or less the undisputed ACC lord and ruler. (Little personal note: my mom tried to convince me to try and walk on to the team at UVA, but....well, my senior season 50-yard freestyle time - which was the result of the most perfect race I have ever swam - would have seeded me 84th in the ACC finals. The women's finals. I might as well have tried to walk my 150-pound self on to the football team.)

Anyway, in the doing awesome things department, the women had a little catching up to do to the men this decade; the men's team won eight straight ACC titles until a slight hiccup in 2007, and then won two more in '08 and '09. It's only been recently that the ladies returned to their rightful place atop the ACC, and the men have a few more championships to their name, but back they are, and ready to go for a third straight year of simultaneous championships. Coach Mark Bernardino has built himself a true dynasty, and ought to be considered among UVA's greatest coaches in any sport.

Tomorrow, the womens' championship gets underway for four days of a swimming extravanganza, hosted by UNC, and the men follow next week, same time same place. How dominant are the UVA squads? Take a look for yourself on the psych sheet.

(For the non-initiated, the psych sheet lists all the seed times for all events, which are a swimmer's best time over the course of the season in each event they swam in. You have to swim an event at least once in the season to be allowed to swim it in the finals. Why is it called a psych sheet? Because you're supposed to psych yourself up by looking at how close you are to moving up in the seedings. What if you're the top seed? I never had to deal with that issue, I don't know.)

Anyway, that's the women's psych sheet - the men's isn't posted yet. So this post will deal with this week's women's meet. To summarize, UVA is seeded first in all five relays and a UVA swimmer is seeded first in 9 of 13 individual events. Some of these top seeds belong to backstroker extraordinaire Mei Christensen, whose unbelievable performance last year led to, among other honors, a nomination on this blog for Cavalier of the Year. She got votes, too. Christensen is a senior and already set to represent UVA at the NCAA championships. But lest you think our domination is graduating, three of the top seeds belong to freshman sprinter Lauren Perdue, a good bet to knock down a few ACC records maybe even as soon as this year.

But the most dominant event we'll have is the 800-yard freestyle relay, where we are seeded almost eight seconds ahead of the second-place team. Eight seconds is a bloody eternity in swimming. That's two seconds per swimmer, and to put that in perspective, two seconds in the 200-yard freestyle (the distance each swimmer will have to go in that relay) is the difference between being seeded 17th and out of the finals (top 16 score points) and being seeded fifth. Two seconds in that event is worth a full 14 points. This is the event to really pay attention to as you peruse the scoresheet. Last year our girls had a seed time of 7:15.81 and swam a 7:05.72 to smash the ACC record. This year the seed time is 7:12.80.

So what teams do we have to be concerned about? Who's a threat to knock UVA off the first-place stand where we belong? I took the liberty of scoring out the psych sheet - a highly unscientific exercise for reasons which I'll get into in a minute - and these are the results (Wake Forest doesn't compete, by the way):

Virginia - 914
UNC - 529
FSU - 457
VT - 306
Md. - 303
Clemson - 228
NC State - 191
Duke - 164
GT - 147
Miami - 116
BC - 60

Poor BC. You get 12 points for coming in last in a relay, so if you've been paying close attention, you'll realize they earned their points only by virtue of finishing last in all the relays.

That's what the scoreboard would look like if everyone on the psych sheet swam exactly their seed times in every event they're listed for. This won't happen, obviously, for quite a number of reasons:

- I excluded the diving; the psych sheet is horribly unreliable as not even all the teams are seeded with scores. There are three diving events - add points as you feel appropriate. UVA doesn't have a real strong diving contingent, but it doesn't matter.

- You can only bring so many swimmers to the meet and they can only swim in a limited number of events. The psych sheet seeds swimmers in events they won't be swimming in. As just one example, Liz Shaw is seeded and earning megapoints in both the 400-yard IM and 100-yard butterfly; it's highly unlikely she'll do both as they're back-to-back events. This is where coaches make their money, by the way - if you could just chuck all your swimmers in all their events, where would the strategy be? These limits prevent a team like, ohhhh say, Virginia, from crowding out all the other teams from the finals and blowing you away with sheer numbers.

- Obviously, not everyone is gonna swim these times. Swimmers at the championship meet tend to outperform their seed times - the interesting part is always by how much? And then there will be disqualifications. The psych sheet is highly unreliable as a predictor of actual scores, but it's also quick and easy. Here is something a little more scientific and probably more accurate.

But, though it doesn't get the scores quite right, it's probably going to be pretty close to the end results anyway. Because when it comes down to it, faster swimmers are faster swimmers. Swimming doesn't lend itself to upsets very much. Your top swimmer might DQ, and that would suck because you don't get those points, but that's not the same thing as throwing an interception on the game-winning drive. It's perfectly plausible that Will Sherrill would go off for 18 points and 6 rebounds after scoring 15 over a two-year career, but a lower-end swimmer isn't suddenly going to shave 30 seconds off her 500-yard freestyle time, and even if she did, it doesn't make her teammates do it too. When you dominate, you dominate. So unless Bernardino has turned into a complete and total lunkhead and forgotten how to fill out a lineup card (he hasn't) or the team wakes up tomorrow with a sudden and debilitating case of the 120-hour flu, Saturday will bring our second ACC championship of the '09-'10 season.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thanks for posting previews the last two years. As a swim alum, it's nice to see someone writing about the teams.