Ohio State Women Looming as Sleeper Top-Five Candidate for NCAA Championships

Hannah Bach -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Ohio State Women Looming as Sleeper Top-Five Candidate for NCAA Championships

Even diehard Buckeye fans would not confuse Ohio State’s women’s swimming and diving program with a national powerhouse. In head coach Bill Dorenkott’s first 11 seasons in Columbus, the team never placed higher than 13th on the national level and third at the Big Ten Championships. Since then: three consecutive conference titles, two national top-10 finishes and a team poised for perhaps its best national finish in 2023.

The status quo of women’s college swimming centers around the University of Virginia, with returning stars Kate DouglassAlex Walsh and Gretchen Walsh expected to lead a third consecutive national-title run. Stanford has Torri HuskeClaire Curzan and Taylor Ruck surely set for big performances in March, and Texas has depth and balance led by Kelly Pash and Emma Sticklen plus the elite breaststroking duo of Anna Elendt and Lydia Jacoby. NC State is another team considered likely for the top-five.

But beyond that, no group has separated from the pack, and the Buckeyes were voted fifth in the most recent CSCAA dual meet poll. Ohio State’s impressive January results include a commanding win over Alabama, last year’s fourth-place team, and the program’s first-ever win over archrival Michigan. Ohio State has one loss all year, and it came in a closer-than-expected effort against Texas (in a meet held concurrently with Alabama).

Meanwhile, almost all key swimmers return from Ohio State’s ninth-place effort in 2022 — a meet where Ohio State’s 165 points fell just short of Louisville (196.5), Michigan (184.5) and Cal (180). Hannah Bach was the sixth-place finisher in the 100 breaststroke last year, and she performed well in long course over the summer, with finals appearances in the 100-meter breast at the U.S. International Team Trials and U.S. Nationals. In the 200 breast, the Buckeyes will turn to senior Josie Panitz, who did not score last year but was a finalist in the 200-meter race at both national-level meets last year.

Amy Fulmer only scored individually in one event last year (11th in the 50 freestyle), but she had a breakthrough long course season, swimming as fast as 54.57 in the 100-meter free, 59.87 in the 100-meter backstroke and 24.86 in the 50-meter free. It would not be implausible for Fulmer to score in three events this year while maintaining her key spot on OSU’s shorter relays.

After five strong years with the BuckeyesKristen Romano moved on after last season, but Katherine Zenick is a returning B-finalist in the 100 fly and 100 free while Maya Geringer placed ninth in the 1650 free. And those all-important relays: Ohio State placed third in the 200 medley relay last year before claiming fourth in the 200 free relay and eighth in both 400-yard relays. Emily Crane, a senior last year, has moved on, but depth is big, and swimmers like Myah Funderburke and Teresa Ivan could step into more significant roles this championship season. Versatile swimmers Felicity Pasadyn and Tristan Harrison look set to contribute this year as well.

Given the realities of college swimming point-scoring, a fourth-consecutive win at the conference level and a third appearance in the national top-10 look likely. And if Ohio State can produce even one or two stellar relay swims at the national meet, a spot in the exclusive top-five could be within reach.

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