2021 A Year of Historic Firsts For NCAA Women’s Swimming Top Five

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Photo Courtesy: NCAA Media

2021 A Year of Historic Firsts For NCAA Women’s Swimming Top Five

It seemed as if most schools in the top ten at this year’s NCAA Division I Championships were having their best season in years. Having an NCAAs canceled in 2020 certainly fueled the fire for many teams to stay hungry. And in a season where the status of this meet was uncertain all year, the preparation for everyone was a bit rocky, making some of these feats all the more impressive.

The first semester of the 2020-21 school year was strictly getting back in a routine after an entire summer away, while many teams didn’t get to compete until January, some seven weeks before the national championships. Even in an abbreviated season like this one, any “first” for a swimmer or a team was worthy of celebrating – whether it was first time scoring, first time in the top ten as a team, or first time qualifying for the meet.

The 2020-21 season will forever be marked as the “pandemic year” and it certainly proved the nature of the human spirit – resilience when adversity shows its ugly face.

Program Firsts

Virginia won its first team title, and its first top-five finish. NC State had its best finish in program history in second place, and also finished in the top five for the first time. Texas was third overall, having not been in the top four since 2001.

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Alabama’s Rhyan White. Photo Courtesy: NCAA Media

Alabama placed fifth for the first time since 1983. And Virginia, NC State and Alabama, the winners of four of the five relays, had never won a relay at NCAAs before this year.

Ohio State had its highest finish in program history in seventh place. Kentucky had its highest finish in 11th and was a point away from its first top ten showing. North Carolina had its highest finish since 2013 in 12th, and was nine points away from its first top ten since 2001.

The usual suspects were there, too, as Cal finished in the top four for the 12th straight year. Georgia actually placed in the top ten for the first time since 2017 but this is the 24th time in the last 26 seasons that the Bulldogs were in the top ten. Stanford has never not been in the top ten, and even in a year where they were decimated by COVID redshirts, the team finished ninth, and with an individual national champion.

Why Was This Year So Historic?

Well, for one, a lot of these “firsts” were on pace to happen last season. On the 2020 psych sheets, Virginia was seeded to win, and NC State was seeded 4th. Cal was seeded third and Kentucky ninth. Those teams didn’t allow the pandemic to slow down their momentum and growth, and now can go back to the offseason and chalk up ways to get even better without saying “this could have happened had we had the meet.” Having new goals to set is a lot easier than writing goals for something you never actually did.

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Texas’ Anna Elendt. Photo Courtesy: Luke Jamroz Photography

For schools like Texas and Alabama, the historical finishes came from the impressive additions each team acquired this season. Texas’ freshmen class that includes 200 fly runnerup Olivia Bray and 200 breast B-final winner Anna Elendt as well as 200 fly finalist Emma Sticklen, helped Texas have five solid relays that all scored in the top ten. Having three divers score doesn’t hurt either.

The Longhorns finally put together a top four finish for coach Carol Capitani, who had a top four worthy team in 2017 before a disqualification on the last day pushed them to fifth. And things could look up for this team, who will bring in distance aces Erica Sullivan and Olivia McMurray.

Alabama had a big offseason by bringing in Cora Dupre as a transfer from Indiana as well as freshmen Gracie Felner and Diana Petkova who helped the Crimson Tide score in the top ten in all five relays.

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Cal’s Ema Rajic. Photo Courtesy: NCAA Media

As hard as it is to get to the top ten as a team, it is even harder to stay there – something Stanford has done every single year. Even in a “rebuilding” year, the Cardinal finished ninth, and no one is expecting them to fall lower than that any time soon as Regan SmithTorri HuskeTaylor Ruck and the Nordmann sisters are set to join the team next year, suddenly putting them back in the race for the national title.

Across the bay, Stanford’s rival Cal is still among the top four, and will only be losing Robin Neumann from its scoring roster. Izzy IveyEma Rajic and Ayla Spitz will all return for their senior seasons and will make this a hard team to beat next year.

2021 was a historic year for most of the top ten teams that competed in Greensboro this week – signaling a potential shift in the power to the Atlantic Coast Conference with the top two teams, and two more in the top 15. And Louisville and North Carolina both have young teams in place, so expect the ACC to only get faster from here.

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