As 2016 comes to a close college swimmers across the country are busy preparing for their winter training, with their focus honing in on conference and NCAA championship meets. With the current break from competition, this is the perfect time to recap some of the standout swimmers from the first half of the year and see who fans should have an eye on as we move into the spring. Take a look below to see 5 women swimmers to watch for in Division II swimming, with a men’s edition to follow later in the week!
Leonie Van Noort (Grand Valley State – Senior)
The distance ace from Grand Valley State is another senior who has set herself up for a big final year of collegiate swimming. Van Noort had a breakout year last season, winning the 200 free (1:47.32) and 1,650 free (16:34.44) at NCAA’s and recording second place finishes in the 500 (4:47.95) and 1,000 (9:52.51) freestyle events as well. At the recent 2016 Calvin Invitational, Van Noort recorded a best time in the 200 free (1:47.15) and was just a hair off of her best in the 500 free (4:47.80), showing she is in a great position to challenge her titles again this year. With Queens Patricia Castro Ortega gone to graduation, she is also the highest placing returner in the 500 free, giving her a great chance at winning that event as well.
Emma Wahlstrom (Nova Southeastern – Senior)
The swimmer with perhaps the most impressive fall on this list is Nova Southeastern senior Emma Wahlstrom, who had a huge meet at the 2016 Spartan Invitational just a few weeks ago. The senior, who was third in the 200 freestyle at NCAA’s last year, just nipped her best time in that event when she went 1:46.43 to win the event at that meet. A best time at that level in the fall is always impressive, but what was more outstanding were Wahlstrom’s swims in the 500 free and 200 back. The senior cut more than 7 seconds from her best time in the 500 to pick up the top time in the country (4:47.05) and cut about 4 seconds from her best in the 200 backstroke (1:57.60) to also grab the top time in the country. That makes Wahlstrom a challenger for an individual title at NCAA’s in three different events, a nice addition to an already strong Nova Southeastern women’s team.
Theresa Michalak (West Florida – Junior)
This West Florida junior has put herself in a great position to match or improve on her NCAA finishes from last year. In 2016 she was first in the 100 breast, second in the 200 IM, and third in the 100 butterfly. She has already been faster than her winning time in the 100 breaststroke from last year, and that time came in a dual meet in early November. The junior is likely to end up on the podium in multiple events, as she currently sits second in the country in six different events. Those include the 50 free (22.53), 100 free (49.42), 100 breast (1:00.62), 100 butterfly (53.98), 100 backstroke (54.52), and 200 IM (1:59.53).
Bailee Nunn (Drury – Freshman)
The freshman from Drury has been a huge part of the program’s dominance this season, which includes a current #1 ranking in the country from last week’s CSCAA Coaches Poll. Nunn has set herself up to be a major player at the end of the year, but one of their most remarkable things about the young swimmer is her incredible versatility. The freshman is currently ranked within the top 5 in the six different events and also holds 3 number one rankings.
At the 2016 Missouri Invitational, Nunn hit A cuts in the 100 breast (1:00.42), 200 IM (1:57.96), and 100 fly (53.16), her three events that currently lead the country. Her 100 breast time is already faster than what won NCAA’s last year, while her 200 IM is faster than any returner and her 100 butterfly is just 6-tenths off what won last year. While we may not know exactly what she will be swimming at the end of the year, you can also be sure Nunn will be a threat for multiple individual titles. Between her and senior Wen Xu, Drury has an opportunity to make a serious run at a team title based on the strength of their relays and multiple individual title chances.
Wen Xu (Drury – Senior)
Speaking of Wen Xu, the NCAA record holder in the 50 freestyle and defending national champion is looking to continue her success in her senior year. Xu currently holds two number one rankings in the 50 free (22.48) and 100 free (49.33), both times just a hair off of her lifetime bests in both events. That is the fastest that Xu has been in the fall in the 50 free, and signals she may be ready to take her national record of 22.36 down even further at the end of the year. If Drury has any hope of knocking off Queens at NCAA’s, Xu is going to be a big part of it. Teaming with freshman Bailee Nunn, the Panthers have an opportunity to have some title-winning relays in addition to the possibility of multiple individual event winners.