NCAA Division I Women’s Prediction: Can Stanford Be Beat?

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Editor’s Note: Swimming World Magazine’s March issue featured our annual prediction. Did we get it right?

The Stanford women’s swim team repeated as NCAA champions last year. It was expected, and the meet wasn’t even close. The Cardinal scored a stunning 593 points and cruised to their second consecutive championship.

This year will be a little different.

Stanford is favored to three-peat, but this year’s women’s NCAA Division I Swimming and Diving Championships, to be held March 20-23 in Austin on the campus of the University of Texas, shouldn’t be anywhere near as dominating as it was last year.

2018 runner-up Cal returns some big-time scoring power, as does Michigan, Texas, Louisville, Tennessee, USC and Indiana. Each of those schools has at least one superstar who will challenge for individual titles and lead her team’s relays to top-eight finishes.

Here is a look at the teams that Swimming World predicts to finish in this year’s Top 10:

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Photo Courtesy: Dan D’Addona

  1. STANFORD CARDINAL

Last year: 1st (593 points)

Returning points: 257

Stanford absolutely dominated last year’s meet, winning by more than 200 points. The Cardinal had Olympians Katie Ledecky, Simone Manuel and Kassidy Cook as well as Swimmer of the Meet Ella Eastin, who won national titles in all three of her events.

How dominant was Stanford in 2018? Even if you took away the points the trio of Olympians scored—plus Eastin’s three victories—Coach Greg Meehan’s squad still would have won the meet!

In addition to having some of the biggest names in women’s swimming and diving, Stanford was packed with depth. Katie Drabot became one of the nation’s elite performers last year, and she’ll be counted on to do the same in 2019…along with Eastin.

And there’s more: Brooke Forde, Leah Stevens, Erin Voss, Grace Zhao, Kim Williams, Allie Szekely, Megan Byrnes and Lauren Pitzer bring Stanford’s total of returning scorers to 10—along with Texas, the most of any other school.

If that isn’t enough, Stanford landed an impressive freshman class that includes Canadian Olympian Taylor Ruck, Allie Raab and Zoe Bartel.

 

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Photo Courtesy: McKenna Ehrmantraut

  1. CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS

Last year: 2nd (373 points)

Returning points: 248.5

It looked as if Cal might be the team to knock off Stanford for the women’s NCAA title this year…until Olympian and multi-national champion Kathleen Baker decided to forgo her senior year and turn professional.

The good news, though, is that pretty much every other point scorer from last year’s team (outside of Baker and Noemie Thomas) returns for Cal this season—seven in all…which means Cal will still be a top contender for No. 1.

Olympic sprinter Abbey Weitzeil has been swimming at a higher in-season level than her past two years, which could be huge for the Golden Bears, especially with her anchoring some of the relays.

Meanwhile, Katie McLaughlin had a breakout championship meet in 2018, becoming one of the nation’s elite swimmers—even scoring in two individual events just minutes apart!

The key could be Amy Bilquist. The senior has been a consistent scorer throughout her college career. But after scoring in the top eight twice as a freshman, she swam in the consolation final the past two years in most of her events, along with one eighth-place finish. If Bilquist can be a top-eight performer again, it would be a huge point swing for Cal.

Cal’s remaining returning scorers include Maddie Murphy, Ali Harrison, Sarah Darcel and Robin Neumann. And Coach Teri McKeever welcomes a strong freshman class, led by butterflyer Cassidy Bayer.

 

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Photo Courtesy: Dan D’Addona

  1. MICHIGAN WOLVERINES

Last year: 4th (267 points)

Returning points: 185

After finishing 11th in 2017, the Michigan women jumped to fourth, earning a team trophy for the first time in decades.

Olympian Siobhan Haughey from Hong Kong has proven to be a national title contender. She finished runner-up in the 200 yard free last year, finishing behind Louisville’s Mallory Comerford, but ahead of Stanford’s Simone Manuel. She also finished fourth in the 100 and ninth in the 200 IM. And Haughey was the key relay swimmer for the Wolverines, helping four relays score points, including a second-place finish in the 800 free relay.

The Wolverines lost point scorers Gabby DeLoof, Clara Smiddy and G Ryan from last year’s team, but Coach Mike Bottom still has plenty of returning scorers—eight in all.

Miranda Tucker has been an NCAA runner-up to Olympian Lilly King in the breaststroke a couple of times. Rose Bi is one of the top distance swimmers, along with Sierra Schmidt, and Catie DeLoof has become one of the country’s top sprinters.

Vanessa Krause, Daria Pyschenko, Becca Postoll and Taylor Garcia also return for Michigan, while divers Christy Cutshaw and Nikki Canale could provide a boost for the Wolverines. Meanwhile, freshman Maggie MacNeil has been one of the biggest surprises in the country this year, and could be a point-scoring threat in her NCAA debut.

 

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Photo Courtesy: Taylor Brien

  1. TEXAS LONGHORNS

Last year: 6th (221.5 points)

Returning points: 186

Having the NCAA Championships in their home pool could be a huge boost for Coach Carol Capitani’s Longhorns. And it doesn’t hurt that they return 10 scorers from last year, tied with Stanford for the most in the country.

Claire Adams, who has been a huge point scorer in the backstroke events and a key relay swimmer, will lead Texas, along with seniors Brooke Hansen and Remedy Rule, and sophomore Evie Pfeifer.

Also look for freshman Grace Ariola to swim well in front of the hometown fans.

 

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Photo Courtesy: Sarah D. Davis/theACC.com

  1. LOUISVILLE CARDINALS

Last year: 5th (232 points)

Returning points: 221.5 

Louisville returns nine NCAA scorers who accounted for nearly every point the team scored from last year’s fifth-place finish, easily making the Cardinals a repeat top-five threat.

Mallory Comerford leads that group, which lost only 10-1/2 points from its 232-point total in 2018. The senior has been an NCAA champion and has earned All-American honors in nearly every race in which she has participated during her career.

The key, though, for Louisville will be how the rest of Coach Arthur Albiero’s squad performs. Can swimmers such as Sophie Cattermole, Mariia Astashkina, Arina Openysheva, Lainey Visscher and Grace Ogelsby continue their upswing and score even higher?

If they can, the Cardinals might have enough to improve on last year’s finish and take home a team trophy.

 

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Photo Courtesy: Thomas Campbell/Texas A&M Athletics

  1. TENNESSEE LADY VOLUNTEERS

Last year: 7th (180.5 points)

Returning points: 172.5

Tennessee finds itself in unfamiliar territory as the top-contending team from the Southeastern Conference at the NCAA Championships. But that’s where Coach Matt Kredich’s Lady Volunteers would like to stay.

Junior Erika Brown, who had a pair of runner-up finishes last year in the 50 free and 100 fly, leads a talented group into this year’s meet. Madeline Banic, Stanzi Mosely, Tess Cieplucha, Meghan Small, Bailey Grinter and diver Rachel Rubadue also are returning scorers.

Tennessee’s chance of moving up will come down to the relays, which were impressive last year and have even more potential this year.

 

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Photo Courtesy: USC Athletics

  1. USC TROJANS

Last year: 12th (127 points)

Returning points: 125.5

USC’s Louise Hansson won the 100 fly and finished third in the 200 fly at last year’s NCAAs. Maddie Wright also made the finals in the fly. But other than those two who are both returning for their senior seasons, it was a somewhat disappointing finish for the Trojans, which also scored in a couple of relays.

The good news for Coach Dave Salo is that his team returns nearly every point they scored—losing only 1.5 points. And there’s room for improvement, with senior Riley Scott trying to make the breaststroke finals, Wright hoping to score in another event plus junior Tatum Wade (free/IM) and sophomore Marta Ciesla (free) training hard to score individually.

If all of those things come together for the Trojans, they might even finish among the top five.

 

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

  1. INDIANA HOOSIERS

Last year: 8th (169 points)

Returning points: 129

Any team with Lilly King is going to score a ton of points. The Olympic breaststroker has swept the 100 and 200 breast the past three years, and there is no reason to believe she won’t do the same as a senior.

However, where Indiana finishes in the team standings will depend on how the rest of the Hoosiers perform. Can Maria Paula Hietmann, Shelby Koontz, Christine Jensen, Grace Haskett, Cassy Jernberg keep up the pace? Can divers Jessica Parratto and Mya Kraeger continue to score?

Those are big questions, but Coach Ray Looze’s Hoosiers could have some big answers.

 

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Photo Courtesy: Thomas Campbell/Texas A&M Athletics

  1. TEXAS A&M AGGIES

Last year: 3rd (299 points)

Returning points: 124.5

Texas A&M had its best season in school history last year, finishing third at NCAAs. But the Aggies lose a ton of points from that team—58 percent of their 299-point total!

After losing Bethany Galat, Lisa Bratton, Jorie Caneta and Beryl Gastaldello to graduation, Coach Steve Bultman will rely on Sydney Pickrem and Anna Belousova in the breaststroke and IM events, plus Claire Rasmus in freestyle to provide leadership for this year’s team.

However, outside of that trio, this year’s Aggies are relatively unproven. Taylor Pike, Jing Wen Quah and Katie Portz are the only other returners for A&M.

 

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Chantal Nack. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

10 MINNESOTA GOPHERS

Last year: 10th (157 points)

Returning points: 133    

Minnesota’s team depth last season resulted in a 10th-place finish at NCAAs for the second straight year. In fact, it was the fourth time in the last six years that the Golden Gophers placed 10th. And in the last eight years, they also placed 11th (2012) and ninth (2011).

Most of that depth returns in 2019, giving Coach Kelly Kremer’s squad a realistic shot to secure another finish among the nation’s elite.

Minnesota returns eight scorers from last year’s team, led by senior Chantal Nack, who was a part of the 800 free relay that set a school record and earned All-American honors at NCAAs with an eighth-place finish. Chantal, who swims middle distance and backstroke, also had an extremely strong season as a sprinter.

If Nack can pick up some individual points, and if the rest of the team can continue their success from 2018, expect another Top 10 finish for Minnesota.

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Photo Courtesy: Dan D’Addona

OTHERS TO WATCH

There are several other teams that could crack the Top 10 at NCAAs. Kentucky is loaded with top-level talent, led by Asia Seidt, Geena Freriks, Ali Galyer and Bailey Bonnett. They will score a lot of points individually, and if they can get some relay help, could move into the Top 10. Virginia, Georgia, Wisconsin and Ohio State are all in the same boat with top-level talent, but lacking in depth.

*** Since this magazine posting, NC State has also emerged as a top-10 contender after its performance at the ACC Championships.

Check out complete NCAA championships coverage here.

5 comments

  1. Bond Chan

    Good article

  2. Carl Labonge

    You completely left out NC State with 12 invites and dominated the ACC’s beating Louisville and Virginia!

    • avatar
      Daniel D'Addona

      You are right! They are rocking it. In my defense, this article published in this month’s magazine, so it was written before NC State took it to the next level (maybe I should have seen it coming!). But they will be a huge wild card at NCAAs. Looking forward to what they can do!