Four Surprise Standouts from Four Matches in 2021 ISL Season

Madi Wilson (photo: Mike Lewis)
LA Current's Madison Wilson; Photo Courtesy: Mike Lewis/ISL

Four Surprise Standouts from Four Matches in 2021 ISL Season

From a team perspective, there’s nothing new on the International Swimming League block.

The teams that finished 1-2 in the 2020 Grand Final have won each of their first two matches. The teams that finished at the bottom of the 2020 standings are in that vicinity once again. The institution of a draft and protected swimmers hasn’t facilitated a major power shift but rather allowed some minor changes up or down a place or two.

But the nature of the 2021 ISL season opens the door to more change on the individual side. The placement post Olympics means plenty of swimmers are arriving in Naples in drastically different shape, physically and mentally. Some swimmers who missed out on the Games – Coleman Stewart most prominently among them – are making the most of a summer of training. Others are naturally more gifted in the smaller pool, amplifying their speed in a way the Olympic stage wouldn’t showcase.

Through four matches of the 2021 ISL Season, all 10 teams have gotten in the water at least once, and the conclusion of Match 5, which runs Thursday and Friday, will bring everyone to level terms with two matches each.

Before that happens, a quick look at some of the standouts from the first four matches.

Madison Wilson, LA Current

Wilson showed what she can do at the Tokyo Olympics as a vital relay cog for the Aussie machine, so it’s no surprise that the ISL program is in her wheelhouse. But she’s stepped up on an individual basis for the LA Current in a big way to round out their sprint corps.

Wilson has top-two finishes at four different freestyle distances. She won the 200 free in ISL Match 2 and Match 4, then tied with D.C.’s Leah Neale for the win in the 400 free in Match 4. She helped the Current compile 1-2s with Abbey Weitzeil on three occasions, in the 100 free in both matches and the 50 free in Match 4. In the latter match, she was the top scorer for the Current with 44.5 points, ahead even of Weitzeil.

Wilson has carved out a niche as the leadoff leg on the Current 400 free relay, which is 2-for-2. (Honorable mention goes to Current teammate Ingrid Wilm, who had three top-three finishes in Match 4 and set a Canadian record of 55.94 in the 100 backstroke.)

Brendon Smith, NY Breakers

Bredon Smith (photo: Mike Lewis)

Brendon Smith; Photo Courtesy: Mike Lewis/ISL

There hasn’t been much to write home about for the Breakers, finishing in fourth place in both Match 2 and 3. Given the resurgence of Aqua Centurions on the women’s side, it’s looking unlikely that the Breakers can sneak into the eighth and final semifinal spot as they did a year ago.

But that hasn’t stopped their distance/IM contingent from shining. Abbie Wood is perhaps less a surprise given that she had a stupendous 2020 season. Smith’s emergence has been a nice boon for the Breakers.

In Match 2, he won the 400 free and was second to Daiya Seto of Tokyo in the 400 IM. He did the double in Match 3 with a pair of wins. In both matches, he was the second-leading scorer for the Breakers behind Wood (he tied with Svetlana Chimrova in Match 2 for that honor). Smith’s value is circumscribed by the distances of ISL matches: He’s finished sixth and eighth in his two 200 IMs, and he’s not a relay threat over the 100-meter distances. But when he’s able to get going over 400 meters, plus the bonuses of jackpots and intermediate points, he’s maximized his return.

Arianna Castiglioni, Aqua Centurions

Arianna Castiglioni (photo: Mike Lewis)

Arianna Castiglioni; Photo Courtesy: Mike Lewis/ISL

The Aqua Centurions missed out on the semifinals in 2020 in part because of getting almost nothing form their women’s team. For the season, AC won just two women’s races – Martina Carraro in a 50 breaststroke and Valentine Dumont, who is now with LA, in a 400 free. There were a lot of reasons for that, among them a COVID-19 outbreak among the Italian core of the team.

So imagine the surprise in going from that level of frustration to winning the women’s 400 medley relay in their first meet of the 2021 ISL Season. The Centurions are deeper all around, they’re following the lead of Federica Pellegrini in her farewell meet, and they’re build around the Italian nucleus that delivered a historic Olympics this summer. But if we’re singling out one individual, then the eyes go to Castiglioni.

Nationally, Castiglioni has to battle for breaststroke swims in a pecking order that includes Carraro and precocious youngster Benedetta Pilato. (Castiglioni, for instance, swam prelims of the women’s 400 medley relay in Tokyo and split 1:05.26, before giving way to Carraro in 1:05.88 in finals. The Italians finished sixth.) In Match 1, she won the 50 breast by outdueling Pilato and Carraro.

Aqua Centurions’ relay win owed mostly to Castiglioni’s breaststroke leg: She split 1:03.85, the fastest in the race by more than half-second to put AC up for good. Pellegrini held off the Toronto Titans by .19 seconds; Castiglioni outsplit their breaststroker by 2.55 seconds. Castiglioni was Aqua Centurions’ top female scorer in Match 1 and second (behind Mariia Kameneva) in Match 4. In that meet, she finished second to Lilly King in both the 50 and 100 breast and outsplit King in the women’s medley relay.

Louise Hansson, Toronto Titans

Louise Hansson (photo: Mike Lewis)

Louise Hansson; Photo Courtesy: Mike Lewis/ISL

The strength of the Titans is on the women’s side. And ISL is made for a swimmer like Hansson. In Match 1, the only match the Titans have swum, Hansson won the 100 fly to start the meet, then housed the field with a 52.04 split to win the 400 free relay for the Titans. She swam fly on the second-place medley relay, won the 100 individual medley (in a 1-2 with Kayla Sanchez) and swam fly on the winning Titans mixed medley relay. She added third-place points in the 50 fly for good measure. In the 2020 season, Hansson won one race all season, a 100 fly.

Hansson finished tied for fourth in total points in Match 1 with 46.5, third-most among women and the leader for the Titans. It’s tough not to measure the 24-year-old through the lens of her countrywoman Sarah Sjostrom, an icon of the sport and someone with a skillset that seems designed for this league (or maybe, that the league was designed for her skillset). In Hansson, because of her IM ability and her skins potential in two strokes, there’s a chance to dominant just as broadly.