As NCAA Swim Season Revs Up, Here Are Several Teams to Watch Throughout Campaign

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As NCAA Swim Season Revs Up, Here Are Several Teams to Watch Throughout Campaign

The COVID-riddled 2020-2021 season was a weird one. Some teams had modified seasons, other teams finished in April, and quite a few did not compete at all. Additionally, many top teams were left shorthanded following multiple deferred enrollments or COVID opt-outs. 

With all teams seemingly back to full strength, we should know what to expect from every program. As we head into the thick of the fall with dual meets and midseason invites, here are five men’s and women’s teams (in no particular order) to watch throughout the 2021-2022 college swimming season. 

This piece is not meant to be a ranking, hence the absence of capsules on Texas and Cal. Rather, this piece explores some intriguing storylines and expectations for the season ahead.

Women 

University of Virginia 

Can the Cavaliers defend their NCAA title? 

After continuously improving under head coach Todd DeSorbo, and being robbed of the opportunity to chase their first title in 2020, the University of Virginia women won their maiden NCAA Championship in style in March. The Cavaliers dominated the competition, finishing almost 150 points ahead of conference rivals N.C. State. 

While they lose triple-event winner Paige Madden and All-American Caroline Gmelich, their top-five recruiting class certainly makes up for that. Highlighting the additions are Olympic silver medalist Emma Weyant, who deferred her enrollment to train for Tokyo, and Gretchen Walsh, one of the fastest sprinters in the United States. Walsh looked superb in the UVA intrasquad meet in late September, going 21.6 in the 50 free and splitting 20.9 in a relay. 

Their top returner, Kate Douglass, had a pair of impressive swims at the meet as well. The Olympic bronze medalist went 21.43 to win the 50 free, and like Walsh, split a 20.9 in a relay. Meanwhile, Alex Walsh is back in the mix, with a silver medal from the Olympics to her credit.

It is hard to pinpoint a weakness in DeSorbo’s squad, but they will have to be at their absolute best if they want to repeat as champions. Stanford brings in tons of firepower as the Cardinals look to lift its fourth championship in six years. 

UVA will not be letting that title go without a fight, though, which will make it intriguing to see how the team progresses as the season unfolds. 

Stanford 

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Photo Courtesy: @regansmith4

With Regan Smith, Samantha Pearson and Lillie Nordmann deferring their enrollment, the 11-time national champions could only muster a ninth-place finish last year. Those three will be competing this year, combined with Taylor Ruck coming back after two years and Brooke Forde returning for a fifth year. Additionally, the Cardinals bring in the top recruiting class in the country, featuring American-record holder Torri Huske and three other top-25 recruits. 

Looking at this team on paper, Stanford has star-studded talent comparable with the Simone Manuel, Lia Neal, and Katie Ledecky era from a few years back.

Although UVA is the defending NCAA champions, many will see the Cardinal as the team to beat. The two should be head and shoulders ahead of the rest, but it may come down to the 400 free relay on Saturday night to see who brings home the trophy from Atlanta in March. 

Alabama 

The Crimson Tide women had a phenomenal season last year. Under interim head coach Ozzie Quevedo, Alabama posted its best-ever NCAA finish. The Tuscaloosa-based school also won its first relay titlein school history, capping off their top five placing with a win in the 400 free relay. The team has come a long way at the SEC level as well. In just two years, it moved up from 11th to fourth. 

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Positively, Alabama retains a majority of its squad from last season. Additionally, it brings in a top-quality recruiting class. Led by Rhyan White and Morgan Scott, the Crimson Tide women are well equipped to repeat or even improve their performances at the conference and national levels. 

Considering what the team achieved last spring, there are high expectations for new head coach Margo Geer. Geer, who secured the job back in the fall following Coley Stickels’ resignation, was undoubtedly the most surprising and controversial head coaching hire for the 2021-2022 season. While she was a very accomplished swimmer herself, she has no head coaching experience, with her only real credentials coming as a volunteer assistant coach at Ohio State and Alabama. 

She will prove many doubters wrong if she can bring this talented women’s team into the SEC top-three and repeat its top-five NCAA finish. 

Kentucky 

Staying on the topic of the SEC, the University of Kentucky women also had a historic season. First, the Wildcats won their first conference championship, beating the likes of Tennessee, Florida, and Georgia for the title. The program then took that momentum into the postseason, capturing an 11th place finish at NCAAs, their highest finish in school history. 

The Lars Jorgensen-led team comes into the 2021-2022 season in a great position to build upon its achievements from the spring. Kentucky retains all its scorers from NCAAs, and 19 of 21 from SECs.

Can the Wildcats go one better than last year and break into the NCAA top 10? If swimmers like Caitlin Brooks, Riley Gaines, and Lauren Poole can put together their best swims in March, there is reason for more optimism at Kentucky. 

Florida 

After a successful three years heading the Florida men’s swimming program, the Gators athletic department handed Olympic champion Anthony Nesty the reins of the women’s program following Jeff Poppell’s move to the University of South Carolina. Another welcome addition is Katie Ledecky joining as a volunteer assistant. She moves from Stanford to train under Nesty but will be assuming coaching duties as well. 

The team has had a number of top-level swimmers join the program in recent years but has not seemed to put it together at the national level. After winning NCAAs as recently as 2010, the Florida women have not secured a top-10finish since 2015, even missing out on scoring in 2017. 

Heading into the season, the Gator women feature stars like Talia Bates and Vanessa Pearl and add one of the best recruiting classes in the country with three swimmers already in NCAA scoring range. 

With Nesty coaching Bobby Finke and Kieran Smith to Olympic medals and NCAA records, Florida supporters are hoping he can be the man to steer the team back to its late 2000s level. 

Men

Texas A&M

Aggie fans had high hopes for the season until they got some brutal news. Superstar Shaine Casas left the team to join Eddie Reese’s pro group at Texas. To say Casas carried this team is an understatement. At NCAAs, the three-time collegiate national champion had a hand in 146 of A&M’s 151 points. 

Also losing its only other individual scorer, Mark Theall, the Aggies turned from a possible top-10 program to a team who could potentially go scoreless at 2022 NCAAs. Jay Holmes and staff are hoping Coco Bratanov, Iowa transfer Anze Fers Erzen, and others, can step up and put some points on the board in the postseason. Otherwise, it will be interesting to see how A&M manages its rebuild this season. 

University of Virginia 

After trending in the wrong direction a few seasons ago, Todd DeSorbo turned a men’s team that did not even score at NCAAs four years ago into a top-10 team. Can he take the team one step further and cap off his first five years at the program’s helm with a historic top-five finish? 

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Photo Courtesy:

While UVA loses key points through Keefer Barnum graduating, it retains stars like Matt Brownstead and August Lamb. Add in an arguably top-five recruiting class featuring Alabama transfer Matt King, Olympic Trials finalist Jack Aikins, and Max Iida, and breaking into the top five seems achievable. 

Another thing to watch is the Cavaliers’ sprint relays. The team had a successful year in the 200 and 400 free relays, finishing in the top eight in both. Brownstead, Aikins and King have the ability to split 18 lows and possibly 41s, making Virginia among the favorites to win both relays.

N.C. State

Wolfpack fans should be excited for their men’s team this season. A consistent top-five program over the past few seasons, a young N.C. State team fell to eighth at NCAAs in March. 

In 2021-2022, the Wolfpack brings back Nyls Korstanje, all of their individual scorers and boasts a star-studded recruiting class highlighted by Aiden Hayes, David Curtiss and Arsenio BustosLooking at the swimmers already at its disposal, like Ross Dant and Kacper Stokowski, the team has the potential to mount an outside challenge to Cal and Texas. 

Olympic bronze medalist Noe Ponti leaving school a month into the semester is a massive blow, but the Wolfpack have a deep enough squad to minimize the hole created from his departure. 

Stanford 

The Stanford men were one of the many teams dealt personnel blows due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Like the women’s team, many of its top swimmers opted out last season because of the uncertain campus and training situation. 

For the upcoming year, the Cardinal men look like a promising squad. Deciding to train in Russia until Tokyo, World Championships medalist Andrei Minakov has finally arrived on campus. The Russian record holder should have an immediate impact on the NCAA. He will come in as one of the favorites to win the 100 butterfly and 100 freestyle at the 2022 NCAA Championships and have a monumental impact on the Stanford relays. 

In addition to Minakov, the Cardinal have a lot of veteran stars. After redshirting his junior year and getting an extra season of eligibility due to the pandemic, Grant Shoults will be heading into his sixth season in Palo Alto. The former Swimming World High School Swimmer of the Year has struggled with a shoulder injury in recent years but is, nonetheless, a valuable swimmer for Stanford. If he can rediscover his form from his sophomore season, he has the potential to score in the A-final in the 200, 500, and mile. 

Another returning veteran that can put up points in the double digits is senior Daniel Roy. He is one of the best 200 breaststrokers in the country and hopes to be in the mix for a top-three finish at NCAAs. Complementing the veterans is an arguably top-10 recruiting class headlined by Matthew Fenlon, who is already in NCAA scoring range in the 200 fly. 

Arizona State

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The Sun Devils were the only Power Five team which did not compete last season after Bob Bowman and staff decided to redshirt the entire program last fall. As a result, Arizona State retains its whole roster from last season. Some key returners include Grant House, Cody Bybee and Jack Dolan, who all have NCAA A-final potential in more than one event. 

Arizona State also has a stacked freshman class. Highlighting the newcomers is Olympic finalist Leon Marchand. The Toulouse, France native comes in with converted times in the 400 IM and 200 butterfly that would already score in the top-eight at NCAAs. Once he adapts to yards, the 19-year-old can easily be a 40-plus point scorer in his first year. 

The Sun Devils also have a few talented redshirt freshmen who can instantly impact the national scene. Puerto Rican Olympian Jarod Arroyo’s 400 IM is just off the average NCAA invite time over the last couple of years. Distance freestyler Lleyton Platell is not too far from an invite time either, only needing to drop a few seconds in the mile. 

Another massive addition to the Sun Devil’s firepower is Arizona transfer David Schlicht. The Australian has scored more than 20 points at both NCAA Championships.

With the team it has, Arizona State is well-positioned to secure its first top-10 finish since 2000.

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