Analyzing the Current & Future Stars From the Virtual 18 & Under Champs

torri-huske
Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

Analyzing the Current & Future Stars From the Virtual 18 & Under Champs

Last month, some of the USA’s best 18 and under swimmers raced all around the country in the virtual 18 & under championships as the COVID-19 pandemic prevented USA Swimming from holding its usual east-west juniors meets in two locations. Even in a year where normal training environments have been affected, the Olympics have been postponed, and adversity showing its ugly face, many of the best 18 and under swimmers in the US continued to show personal improvements as we reach the end of the 2020 calendar year, and turn the page (once again) on to the Olympic year.

As with every junior national meet, we got to know the future of the sport a little bit better over the last two weeks, so here are some standout swimmers that performed well, as well as some names that you might not have heard of that put themselves on the map as potential future stars.

As a reminder, the full top eight leaderboards for the women’s events can be found here, while the men’s event leaderboard can be found here.

Here are some of the current stars of the 18 & under scene who performed well and stood out:

Torri Huske

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Huske has really established herself in the last 12 months as a rising star in swimming, first breaking the national high school record in the 100 fly in 2019, earning herself the national high school swimmer of the year award in 2019. She followed that up with a surprising win the 100 fly at the 2019 US Open in the original appetizer for the 2020 Olympic year. Even with the pandemic and the Olympic postponement, she has shown hardly a falter as she officially won the 200 free and 200 IM at the 18 & under championships, and those aren’t even her best events. She was a bit overshadowed by peer Claire Curzan, who we will talk about later, in the 100 fly, but Huske finished in the top eight in six total events, and even got the upper hand over Curzan in the 50 free. Huske will take that versatility to Stanford next year, and before that could potentially make a run at the Tokyo Games.

Josh Matheny

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Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

Pittsburgh native Josh Matheny is another one in the long line of solid breaststrokers to come out of the Keystone state including Brendan HansenKristy Kowal, and most recently Reece Whitley. Matheny smashed Whitley’s 17-18 NAG record in the 200 breast with a 1:51.38, which would rank him second among Division I NCAA swimmers currently only behind Whitley, who is now at Cal Berkeley.

Matheny established himself as a breakout start at the 2019 Junior Worlds when he won a surprising gold in the 200 breast over Japan’s Shoma Sato and shot himself into the top ten in the United States for the year. After Matheny makes a run at the Olympic Trials, he will be headed to Bloomington where he will join the stacked breaststroke group at Indiana University.

Claire Curzan

SW December 2020 - Before the Beep - Claire Curzan

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

We already know how good Claire Curzan is. It seems like every time she enters the water, she is breaking another national age group record. Even last month at the long course US Open, she challenged the world record in the 100 butterfly and was under record pace at the 50 turn. Curzan is easily the top uncommitted recruit in the class of 2022, and based on her results this season, including at the virtual 18 & under championships, she will be a prized possession anywhere she lands. In December, she won the 100 fly, the 100 and 200 back and also finished runner-up in the 100 free and third in the 50.

Gretchen Walsh

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Walsh has been on every swimming fan’s radar since she scored some insane relay splits as a freshman high school at Juniors East three years ago that almost didn’t even seem real. Now she is finally in her senior year and living up to expectations that could result in an Olympic relay spot next summer. Walsh won the 50 and 100 freestyle at the virtual 18 & under championships as her 50 free time puts her faster than every Division I swimmer that has raced this year, and her 100 free time is only second nationally among the best college swimmers to have raced this semester.

Walsh will be a welcomed addition to Virginia next season as her versatility and range (she was second in the 200 free and 100 back, and fourth in the 100 fly) will be an asset the Cavaliers will treasure during her time in Charlottesville.

Emma Weyant

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Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

Weyant’s breakout moment came last summer at the 2019 Nationals when she won the 400 IM and produced the fastest time of any American for the summer. She was set to join the Virginia Cavaliers this fall but elected to stay at home and train with coach Brent Arckey for another year in Sarasota ahead of the Olympic Trials. Despite the fact she is not in high school, she is still 18 and had the fastest 400 IM time at the virtual championships by six seconds, lowering her best to a 4:04.

Weyant also won the 500 free in a “thrilling” virtual race over Long Island’s Cavan Gormsen, as she also finished third in the 200 free, fourth in the 1650, and fifth in the 200 back, setting best times in each event.

Rye Ulett

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Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

Ulett can hardly be considered a breakout star after she made the World Juniors team in 2019, but with such a stacked backstroke field on the women’s side, Ulett almost flew under the radar with her swims at the 18 & under virtual championships. She was second in the 200 back and fourth in the 100, and had a seventh place finish in the 200 IM. Ulett will follow in the footsteps of her sister Tristan at the University of Louisville in the fall of 2022 and with a lot of attention already on the likes of Curzan and Walsh, Ulett, who was the youngest competitor at the 2018 Nationals, could have a bright future with a year and a half left during her time at Dynamo Swim Club.

And here are some breakout stars that emerged:

Blair Stoneburg

Blair Stoneburg

Photo Courtesy: Blair Stoneburg

Stoneburg had a strong showing at the FHSAA state championships last month, and followed that up with three top eight finishes in the 200, 500 and 1650 freestyle at the national level. The future Wisconsin Badger was sub-4:40 in the 500 free for the third time this season at the virtual 18 & under championships after having a personal best of 4:46 pre-pandemic. Stoneburg swam a 1:44 last month at the state championships in the 200 free, following it up with a 1:46.2 at the virtual meet, and was also a 16:14 in the 1650. With an extra year before heading off to Madison, Stoneburg could give the Badgers a huge steal as she continues improving ahead of her collegiate years.

Liam Custer

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Photo Courtesy: Liam Custer

Custer, one of the top un-committed swimmers out of the class of 2022, had a big set of improvements in his junior year in Sarasota, improving from 4:29 to a 4:21 in the 500 during high school season, and following it up with a 4:18 at the virtual championships. Custer also destroyed the national age group record in the 1650, improving from a 15:11 to a 14:37 on his personal best, taking down Sean Grieshop’s 14:45 NAG record in the process. Custer comes from the same club team as Emma Weyant and Austin Katz, who have won national titles and swam on the national team in the last few years, so he has the pedigree to back him as he approaches the second half of his junior year. Still uncommitted, Custer established himself as one of the premiere distance talents in this class and will be a good asset wherever he decides to study.

Cavan Gormsen

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Photo Courtesy: Ella Walsh

Gormsen broke the magical 16:00 barrier in the 1650 free with a 15:58 as the Long Island product improved from a 16:22 pre-pandemic. Gormsen is still in her sophomore year so she has a lot of room to improve, but this may not be the last you hear of her. She also swam a 4:38 in a thrilling virtual race with two other swimmers already listed here in Weyant and Stoneburg, with Gormsen splitting the pair in second place. Gormsen was a 4:45 pre-pandemic in the 500 and is now in the all-time top 12 in both the 500 and 1650 in the 15-16 age group. She comes from a Long Island Aquatic Club that has produced a few national junior team members including Tess HowleySophia Karras and Jason Louser.

Michael Cotter

michael cotter

Photo Courtesy: Michael Cotter Instagram (@michael_cotter1)

Cotter, who comes from the same club team as Claire Curzan, was the top finishing high schooler in the 200 freestyle with a 1:35.3. Cotter picked up right where he left off pre-pandemic as he was a 1:36.9 in March and has started knocking on the door of getting below 1:35. Cotter is headed to NC State, but has a year and a half left of club swimming to get through before he heads off to Raleigh, and based on the improvement of his peers at his club, Cotter could have a bright future ahead of him. NC State has shown to be a good place for 200 freestylers, having won the NCAA title in the 800 free relay in 2017 and 2018, as well as runner-up finishes in 2015, 16 and 19.

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