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Chrös McDougall, NCAA.com | March 20, 2014

Powerhouses Georgia, Cal lead the way at Women's

Elizabeth Pelton ended her freshman season at Cal on a high note --- winning one NCAA title in record-breaking time and finishing second in two other individual events.

In the final result of the night, however, Pelton and her Cal teammates placed second, behind Georgia, in the team competition.

"It does leave a lot for next year," she said after the meet.

Well, next year has arrived, and this weekend in Minneapolis, another highly touted Cal freshman -- or the most touted freshman swimmer, period, in four-time Olympic champion Missy Franklin -- has joined Pelton on a loaded Golden Bears team. But once again, a similarly loaded Lady Bulldogs squad could stand in Cal's way of a NCAA title.

Qualifying swimmers announced

And don't forget about Texas A&M, either.

Georgia comes into the NCAA Div. I Women's Swimming and Diving Championships with the No. 1 ranking on CollegeSwimming.com, while the Aggies rank second, just ahead of Cal. A handful of other schools, including Stanford, Florida and Southern Cal, also have competitive teams.

"Not too often do you get to go to a swim meet and the outcome is in doubt," said veteran Cal coach Teri McKeever, who is in her 22nd year leading the Berkeley, Calif. school. "I think that is what is great about March Madness, anyone can win on any day. We are coming to a place in women's swimming where there is a lot more parity."

Make no doubt about it, though, Cal and Georgia have established themselves as the two powerhouse programs in women's swimming and diving. The two schools have traded first and second place four times in the past five years - Cal edging Georgia in 2009, 2011, and 2012; Georgia edging Cal in 2013. The only outlier was in 2010, when Florida and Stanford took the top two spots.

The sport's two powers are meeting in the upper Midwest this weekend with typically deep rosters.

Georgia brings 17 swimmers and one diver to the University Aquatic Center on the Minnesota campus. The group's collective résumé includes three top seeds individually and four top-seeded relays.

Leading the way for Georgia is senior Melanie Margalis. She has the season's fastest time in the 200 individual medley and has top-three times in the 400 IM and 200 breaststroke. Sophomore Brittany MacLean leads the nation in the 1,650 freestyle and freshman Olivia Smoliga is the top seed in the 50 free. Senior Shannon Vreeland, a 2012 U.S. Olympian, is ranked second in the 200 free.

"I would say any time we've been really successful, it's because we've got great leadership with our upperclassmen," Georgia senior associate head coach Harvey Humphries said. "They do a great job of learning from the ones that came before them and then becoming the role models. And the leaders, they need to help anybody get over a bump or a rough spot over the three days."

Cal brings a school-record 17 athletes in Minneapolis - 16 swimmers and one diver - for a squad that boasts three NCAA-leading times. Two of those belong to Franklin (100 free and 200 free) while Pelton leads the nation in the 200 backstroke, the event she won last year in U.S.-record time.

Also returning for Cal is sophomore Rachel Bootsma, the defending NCAA champion in the 100 backstroke. Bootsma, a 2012 U.S. Olympian, grew up in nearby Eden Prairie, Minn.

"One of the things I love most about this team is how we are able to push each other every single day," said Franklin, who won four gold medals and a bronze medal as a 17-year-old at the 2012 Olympics, setting two world records in the process.

Leading Texas A&M is a pair of accomplished seniors: Both Breeja Larson and Cammile Adams are 2012 U.S. Olympians and defending NCAA champions. Larson won the last two 100 breaststroke titles and finished second as a freshman while Adams will attempt to defend her title in the 200 fly. With a school record 16 qualifiers, Texas A&M is seeking to finish in the top three for the first time.

Two other defending swimming champions are in Minneapolis. They are Arizona senior Margo Geer (50 free and 100 free) and Florida senior Elizabeth Beisel (400 IM).

Meanwhile, two of the three defending swimming champions are back as well. They are Purdue senior Casey Matthews in the 3-meter event and Southern Cal junior Haley Ishimatsu in platform.

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