NCAA Women’s Championships Breakdown: Strengths and Weaknesses of Top Teams in Knoxville

Virginia's Kate Douglass (left) and Gretchen Walsh -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

NCAA Women’s Championships Breakdown: Strengths and Weaknesses of Top Teams in Knoxville

For the entirety of this collegiate swimming season, the University of Virginia women have been considered the heavy favorites to win a third consecutive national title — as one might expect when the Cavaliers are returning 2022 winners from seven individual events plus four relays. The showing at last month’s ACC Championships, which included record-setting swims from Gretchen Walsh in the 50 freestyle plus Kate Douglass in the 100 butterfly, only reinforced that notion.

Now that the meet is just days away, let’s consider how Virginia is likely to score the requisite points for another crown and how the consensus top two challengers for that throne, Texas and Stanford, will score their points. Here’s what we’ve learned about each team over the course of the last six months:

Virginia: Stars Leading the Way

Strengths: This team is all but certain to wrack up wins and top-three finishes galore throughout the meet. The team’s three  stars, Douglass, Gretchen Walsh and Alex Walsh, are each a threat to win all three of their individual events, and any finish outside the top-three for these women would be a big upset. Ella Nelson is a likely three-time A-finalist, and she enters the meet as top seed in the 400 IM, and new addition Aimee Canny will be in contention in the 200 freestyle. Reilly Tiltmann is another probable multi-event A-finalist, and Lexi Cuomo and Maxine Parker will be huge for sprint depth. Thanks to the big three, all of Virginia’s 200 and 400-yard relays are heavily favored.

Weaknesses: If we’re nitpicking here, Virginia is unlikely to score any diving points, and they lack star power in the 500 and 1650 free, 100 breaststroke and 200 backstroke. Strong swims from Maddie Donahoe (distance free), Emma Weber (100 breast) and Tiltmann (200 back) could help compensate, and getting high B-final points or even A-final points from those swimmers or perhaps Parker, Anna Keating or Abby Harter would remove any shard of doubt.

Texas: Depth and Few Holes


Texas’ Kelly Pash — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Strengths: The Longhorns once again have Kelly Pash, never an NCAA champion so far in her career but a reliable force in individual events (three top-five finishes last year) and relays. Olympic gold medalist Lydia Jacoby joins Anna Elendt for the country’s top breaststroke duo, and Texas has the top three entries in the 200 fly with bourgeoning star Emma Sticklen plus veterans Pash and Dakota Luther. Olympic medalist Erica Sullivan has the top seed in the 500 free plus the third-best entry time in the 1650 free, and Olivia Bray will be called upon to provide big points in her events (500 free, 100 back, 200 back) after she showed impressive consistency during her junior season. And of course, Texas is the only top contender likely to score big in diving, with Hailey HernandezJordan Skilken and Janie Boyle all returning A-finalists.

Weaknesses: In a surprising second-place finish last year, Texas did not have a single top-two finish until the final day of the meet when Sullivan was second in the 1650 free and Elendt claimed runnerup honors in the 200 breast. The Longhorns will have some title chances this year but not nearly to the level of a Virginia team that could feasibly claim first place in eight out of 13 individual events plus four relays. Regarding weaker events, Texas is unlikely to have any scorers in the 50 and 100 free (which will also hamper sprint relays, although Pash will play a role there), and no Longhorns will contest the 400 IM.

Stanford: Huske, Curzan and Ruck


Stanford’s Torri Huske — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Strengths: If not for the trio of Douglass and the Walsh sisters, the Stanford group of Torri HuskeClaire Curzan and Taylor Ruck would be the most star-studded group in the country. All are Olympians, and all have earned medals at international competitions. Ruck is the defending national champion in the 200 free while Huske was second in the 100 fly and 200 IM last year. Curzan will be favored for the 200 back individual crown. Another freshman, Charlotte Hook, enters as the fourth seed in the 200 fly, and Stanford should score big in the relays, with top-three seeds in all but the 200 medley. The Cardinal will be favored to win the 800 free relay without Curzan on the roster and possibly with only one of Huske or Ruck.

Weaknesses: Outside of Huske, Curzan, Ruck and Hook, Stanford has no swimmers locked into top-eight finishes. Lillie Nordmann is returning off a strong freshman season where she was an A-finalist in the 200 free and B-finalist in the 200 fly, but she has not replicated those times as a sophomore. Freshmen such as Kayla Wilson (200 free) or Lucy Bell (400 IM) could make an impact, while Morgan Tankersley (200 and 500 free) and Lucie Nordmann (200 back) are both back as fifth-year swimmers after making A-finals in 2022. If Stanford has hopes of finishing higher than third, the team needs a lot from its less-proven supporting cast.

Notify of

Welcome to our community. We invite you to join our discussion. Our community guidelines are simple: be respectful and constructive, keep on topic, and support your fellow commenters. Commenting signifies that you agree to our Terms of Use

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x