Ranking (1-10) The Top NCAA Championships Performances: Marchand, Douglass Highlight Dazzling Two Weeks of Swimming

Arizona State's Leon Marchand -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

NCAA Championships Top Performances: Marchand, Douglass Highlight Dazzling Two Weeks of Swimming

One week, it was the University of Virginia women putting on a dominant performance for the third consecutive year, riding a three-individual-record performance from Kate Douglass and a sweep of the five relays to a 127-point victory that was never really in doubt. Four days after that meet ended, the men’s competition got underway in Minneapolis with much more drama between the top teams. Only 23 points separated first from third place going into the final day before Cal finally got some breathing room and pulled away.

Between those two meets, we saw records and lots of them. Including relays, seven out of 18 events at the women’s meet produced the fastest time in history followed by eight at the men’s meet. Plenty of other swims flew slightly under the radar amid the barrage of historic swims but still were closer to high-flying records than we had seen in years.

With the college swimming season closed and attention shifting to long course, let’s look back on the top 10 performances of the NCAA Championships. One caveat: only one performance per swimmer will be included on the list. That means we must choose the best of Leon Marchand’s unbelievable swims for his lone entry here, and it was not a difficult choice to pick the best of his record-breaking swims.

1. Leon Marchand, Arizona State, Men’s 400 IM (3:28.82)


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

His first individual act of the NCAA Championships was a 200 IM performance that beat his previous NCAA record by 1.35 seconds and left the field almost two seconds in the dust. On the meet’s final day, Leon Marchand broke Will Licon’s 200 breaststroke NCAA record, a far-from-slouchy mark that had stood for six years, by exactly one second. And in four relays, all of which he helped Arizona State finish in the top-three, he swam the fastest split ever three times: in the 50 breaststroke, 100 breaststroke and 200 freestyle. A 400 IM specialist beating the best sprint breaststrokers on their turf is essentially unprecedented.

But the single best performance from the NCAA Championships was Marchand’s 400 IM, where he annihilated his previous NCAA record of 3:31.57 by almost three seconds. All meet long, Marchand raced with an aggressiveness that he had never shown before, and he was almost a bodylength ahead of the field after 100 yards of the 400-yard race. By the halfway point, Marchand led by just under three seconds, and his breaststroke leg only extended the advantage. And he ended up winning the race by almost six seconds and 10 yards of pool.

And these were world-class medley swimmers in the field: Hugo Gonzalez entered as defending NCAA champion after knocking off Marchand last year, and Carson Foster earned silver in the 400-meter IM behind Marchand at last year’s World Championships. That race was long course, which does not accentuate Marchand’s underwater strengths as much as short course, but Foster led that race at the halfway point before finishing just over two seconds behind Marchand. This time, Foster was more than seven seconds in the wake.

2. Kate Douglass, Virginia, Women’s 200 IM (1:48.37)


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Perhaps Kate Douglass has slipped from our memory thanks to Marchand’s heroics, but she, too, swam the fastest time in history in all of her individual NCAA Championships wins, and her lights-out relay swimming led to Virginia wins in every event. Her 200 breaststroke resulted in the fastest time ever for the third time this season, and in the 100 butterfly, she edged out Maggie Mac Neil by five hundredths as both swimmers went much faster than Douglass’ previous NCAA record of 48.84. Douglass won that event in 48.46, followed by Mac Neil in 48.51.

But the spectacle of her 200 IM performance was unmatched. Racing the event at the NCAA Championships for the first time in her career, Douglass dominated and walloped a pair of elite IMers in Torri Huske and Alex Walsh, who was the defending champion and world champion in the 200-meter IM. Both Huske and Walsh ended up breaking the existing NCAA record in the event, but Douglass beat them by more than a second-and-a-half as she finished in 1:48.37. No woman had ever been under 1:50 before, but Douglass skipped right over 1:49.

3. Gretchen Walsh, Virginia, Women’s 100 Backstroke (48.26)


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Even Virginia head coach Todd DeSorbo did not realize Gretchen Walsh was capable of a 48-low performance in the 100 back. One year earlier, Walsh completed perhaps the fastest 90-yard back performance in history, but she fell off the pace over the final 10 as Katharine Berkoff stormed ahead and became the first swimmer ever under 49, with Walsh settling for a time of 49.00, still an impressive accomplishment and much quicker than the previous all-time record.

But in 2023, Walsh executed the race to near perfection. She utilized her devastating underwater kickouts to the full 15 meters, and Berkoff could not make up any ground down the stretch. Walsh’s final time was 48.26, almost a half-second quicker than her NC State rival’s previous NCAA mark. She has now dropped the 100 back record to 1.71 seconds faster than Natalie Coughlin’s longtime record of 49.97 that stood for 15 years. Later on in the meet, Walsh would finish marginally slower than Simone Manuel’s 100 freestyle record, but smashing the backstroke record gives that race the nod.

4. Josh Liendo, Florida, Men’s 100 Freestyle (40.28)


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Caeleb Dressel’s performance at his final NCAA Championships in 2018 is the stuff of legend, with Marchand’s swimming this year as the only reasonable comparison. In his final individual college swim, Dressel became the first man ever under 40 in the 100 free with a time of 39.90. For five years, Dressel stood more than eight tenths clear of any other man in history, with Cal’s Bjorn Seeliger moving into the No. 2 spot last year at 40.75. Now, it’s another Florida Gator making that leap as Josh Liendo recorded a 40.28 to win the event Saturday evening in Minneapolis.

Liendo got to the halfway point in 19.14, a tenth ahead of even Seeliger’s blistering early speed, and he out-split the field on the way home as well (21.14) as he won the race by more than six tenths. Liendo, who won two individual medals at the World Championships last year along with mixed freestyle relay silver and multiple medals at the Commonwealth Games, has been a rising force in the sprint events for the past couple years, and he is showing further growth early on in his time at the University of Florida. Liendo was also part of three title-winning relays, all of which set individual records. Leading off the 400 free relay at the end of the final night, Liendo’s 40.66 was another performance that only he and Dressel have ever surpassed.

5. Youssef Ramadan, Virginia Tech, Men’s 100 Butterfly (43.15)


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

This swim also got close enough to a 2018 Dressel mark to earn a spot on the top performances list. Virginia Tech’s Youssef Ramadan out-dueled Liendo to win the 100 fly, and his reaction in an post-race television interview was one of the most enduring moments of the meet as Ramadan’s emotions at finally capturing an NCAA title were too much to hold back. But in the process of winning the race, he nearly caught up to Dressel’s NCAA record of 42.80, settling for a 43.15 that is only 35 hundredths short.

Entering the race, Dressel was the only man to ever swim faster than 43.7, but both Ramadan and Liendo beat that standard in the final, with Liendo hitting a time of 43.40. But it was a special, feel-good moment for this Egyptian swimmer who also finished fifth in the 50 free and eighth in the 100 free as he became Virginia Tech’s first-ever national winner in men’s swimming.

6. Maggie Mac Neil, LSU, Women’s 50 Freestyle (20.79)


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Details are everything in the 50 freestyle, and a perfect start and turn allowed Mac Neil to become an individual NCAA champion for the first time since 2021. Facing Gretchen Walsh in the splash-and-dash final, Mac Neil’s 0.64 reaction time beat Walsh by a tenth, and after hitting the turn slightly ahead, her underwater kickout left Walsh scrambling to catch up. The 23-year-old Canadian touched in 20.79, beating Walsh’s previous NCAA record of 20.83 by four hundredths and beating Walsh herself by six hundredths.

If not for swimming the fastest 50 free ever, Mac Neil would have made this list for a performance where she finished second, the 100 fly, as she beat the previous all-time record by three tenths, only for Kate Douglass to swim five hundredths quicker.

7. Destin Lasco, Cal, Men’s 200 IM, 1:38.10


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Yes, Destin Lasco earns a spot on this list in a race where he finished 1.76 seconds behind the winner. But breaking an American record held by the likes of Caeleb Dressel is special regardless of the circumstances, and if not for Leon Marchand’s incredible medley performances over the past two seasons, Lasco would be the owner of the fastest time ever. He was the clear No. 2 performer in the 200 IM, using a freestyle split much quicker than anyone else in the race to finish in 1:38.10, knocking three hundredths off Dressel’s 2018 American record of 1:38.13.

All-around, it was an exceptional meet for Lasco, even if he was overshadowed. He captured the NCAA title in a dominant 200 back performance, missing Ryan Murphy’s NCAA record by just 14 hundredths, and that win was the only first-place finish all meet for national-champion Cal. Lasco’s 800 free relay split of 1:29.53 was second-best in the field (behind Marchand, of course), and he broke 44 in the 100 back for the first time ever on his way to finishing second. His gutty anchor performances on both sprint freestyle relays helped Cal break the previous NCAA records, although Florida ended up marginally ahead both times.

8. Luke Hobson, Texas, Men’s 800 Freestyle Relay Leadoff Split (1:29.63)


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Texas lacked the depth to keep up with Cal and Arizona State this year, but Luke Hobson’s emergence continued as he won two national titles for the Longhorns and led off Texas’ first-place 800 free relay that ended up swimming the fastest time ever. Hobson went 1:29.63 on that leg, moving him into a tie with Blake Pieroni for fourth all-time, with only Dean FarrisKieran Smith and Townley Haas having ever posted faster times. Ironically, Pieroni’s time also came leading off an 800 free relay at an NCAA Championships in Minneapolis (in 2018), a swim which made the Indiana senior the first man ever under 1:30.

One day later, Hobson won the 500 free in 4:07.37, moving him up to No. 5 all-time, and in the individual 200 free, he overtook Grant House and held off Gabriel Jett for a second individual win. Hobson first emerged on the national scene during his freshman campaign at Texas, and after narrowly missing the U.S. squad bound for the World Championships, he beat a deep field to win the national title in the 200-meter free in late July. He has the markings of the next Texas swimmer to become an international regular in the 200-meter free and on the U.S. men’s 800-meter free relay, and he took the next steps this week.

9. Emma Sticklen, Texas, Women’s 200 Butterfly (1:49.95)


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

One of the most dramatic finishes of the women’s meet came in the 200 fly, when Texas junior Emma Sticklen made up a deficit of 1.33 seconds on the final 50 yards to overtake Alex Walsh and win her first NCAA title. After hitting the wall, Sticklen exploded in screams of joy. She was thrilled about the honor of becoming NCAA champion, about the big points that she and teammates Kelly Pash and Dakota Luther had achieved for Longhorns on the way to a second-place finish and about the time. Her 1:49.95 made her the fourth-fastest performer in history and knocked almost a second-and-a-half off her previous best time (1:51.37).

Sticklen was never considered a top-tier recruit destined for greatness on the college level, but her rise to elite status was methodical. She was a surprise A-finalist in the 200 fly at her first NCAAs in 2021, and one year later, she claimed the top seed out of prelims before fading to seventh at night. In 2022, she entered the meet with the top time in the country and claimed the top qualifying mark in prelims once again, and in the final, she produced arguably the signature moment of Texas’ trophy-winning meet.

10. Brendan Burns, Indiana, 100 Backstroke (43.61)


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

In NCAA history, only one male swimmer had ever won national titles in both the 100 backstroke and 200 butterfly over the course of their career: Cal’s Tom Shields. Indiana senior Brendan Burns joined that very small club as he added a 100 back title to his 2022 victory in the 200 fly. Last year in the longer fly race, Burns defeated specialists such as Luca UrlandoTrenton Julian and Nick Albiero, and in the shorter race on his back, he edged out defending champion Kacper Stokowski, eventual 200 back winner Destin Lasco and Florida speedster Adam Chaney.

Burns was in fourth place at the halfway point, almost three tenths off the lead, but a second-half surge helped him reach the wall in 43.61, making him the third-fastest performer in history while beating the field by a quarter-second. For good measure, he would go on to achieve a runnerup result in the 200 fly, just two tenths behind NC State’s Aiden Hayes.

Women’s Results
Men’s Results

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