Ranking the Best NCAA Division I Women’s Swimmers From 1-25

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The NCAA swimming and diving season has gotten off to a swift start as the Division I landscape is starting to heat up as teams begin having serious dual meets in the month of October. Swimming World has ranked the 25 best men’s and women’s swimmers returning in Division I for the third straight year, and this year will be a unique one since a lot of these swimmers will have long course in the back of their minds as the Olympic Trials approach.

This year’s women’s NCAA Division I championships will be in Athens, Georgia and Stanford enters as winner of three straight team titles. The Cardinal got a big push from conference rival Cal, but the Stanford depth was too much, and this past season that could be the same story. Stanford is missing Ella Eastin to graduation and Taylor Ruck decided to take an Olympic redshirt, but the Cardinal will still be tough to beat as they seem to have a player in every single event.

Defending NCAA champions Brooke FordeBeata NelsonAbbey Weitzeil and Louise Hansson return this year as some more records could go down from these four. The 2020 meet will also see new champions in the 400 IM and the breaststroke events as Eastin and Lilly King won four straight titles in those events, leaving the door open for a new champion. This isn’t quite a prediction of the upcoming season, rather a guide for where everyone is coming into this season.

Note: No data from the early parts of the 2019-20 collegiate season was put into account.

Swimming World’s Top 25 – Women’s Division I

Just missed the cut:

30. Sarah Darcel, Junior, Cal
29. Kirsten Jacobsen, Senior, Arizona
28. Zoie Hartman, Freshman, Georgia
27. Claire Fisch, Senior, Auburn
26. Leah Braswell, Sophomore, Florida

25. Courtney HarnishJunior, Georgia

Courtney Harnish

Photo Courtesy: Georgia Athletics

2019 times: 500 free, 4:35.52 (SEC); 200 free, 1:43.53 (SEC)

Harnish had a nice breakout sophomore season for Georgia as she was the SEC champion in the 500 free, joining a long list of distance greats for the Bulldogs. But she couldn’t quite back that up at NCAAs, placing eighth with a 4:37. This year Harnish will be swimming NCAAs in her home pool and with more experience on her side, we could see her higher on the podium.

24. Veronica Burchill, Senior, Georgia

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2019 times: 100 fly, 51.35 (Georgia Invite); 100 free, 47.30 (SEC)

Burchill has struggled to get going in her college career after having such a great high school career with the legendary Carmel Swim Club. Burchill has not made an A-Final individually at NCAAs yet, but like mentioned earlier with Harnish, that could change in her senior year in her home pool. She will be looking to lead a Georgia team back to the top of the SEC for the first time since 2015.

23. Claire Adams, Senior, Texas

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2019 times: 100 back, 50.95 (Texas Invite); 100 free, 47.32 (Texas Invite)

Like the aforementioned Burchill, Adams has struggled to find consistency in her college career after a great high school career at Carmel. Texas has been knocking on the door to finish in the top four the last few years and the Longhorns might finally have the team to make that push into the top four. Adams will be key as she was just a few tenths shy of making the A Final in both the 100 free and 100 back last season.

22. Ky-Lee Perry, Senior, NC State

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Photo Courtesy: Michael Millay

2019 times: 50 free, 21.57 (NCAA); 100 free, 47.43 (NCAA)

Perry enters her final year with a Wolfpack team that is coming off its second ACC team title in three years, and has officially risen after being “on the rise” for a number of years. Perry snuck into both the sprint free A-Finals at NCAAs last year and also helped NC State score three relays in the top five that helped the team get to a program high seventh place. She returns for her final year at NC State where the team will hope to make the jump into the top five.

21. Vanessa Pearl, Sophomore, Florida

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Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

2019 times: 200 IM, 1:53.98 (SEC); 400 IM, 4:03.56 (SEC)

Pearl had a nice freshman debut for the Gators with a runner-up finish in the 400 IM at SECs. She was off her game at NCAAs, only managing a B-Final appearance in the 200 IM, but she rebounded with a second place finish in the 200 IM at US Nationals at the end of the summer. That should give her some momentum into her sophomore year at Florida where the Gators will look to build under second year coach Jeff Poppell.

20. Allie Raab, Sophomore, Stanford

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Photo Courtesy: John Todd

2019 times: 400 IM, 4:05.28 (NCAA); 200 breast, 2:06.85 (NCAA)

Raab was one of the unsung heroes for Stanford last season, sneaking into the A-Final of the 400 IM and also winning the B-Final in the 200 breast. And not to mention she was just a freshman swimming in her first NCAA Championships. Now Raab returns for her sophomore year to provide some more depth for a young Stanford team aiming for its fourth straight title.

19. Katharine Berkoff, Freshman, NC State

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2019 times: 100 back, 50.72 (Winter Juniors West); 200 back, 1:50.13 (Washington Open)

Berkoff is the lone freshman on this list as she comes to the Wolfpack from Montana. She was the World University Games gold medalist this summer in the 100 back, putting herself tenth in the world. She is joining a red-hot NC State team that matched its highest NCAA finish last year in placing seventh, and could have a shot in running down record holder Beata Nelson. The name Berkoff might sound familiar to some swimming fans, and yes – she is the daughter of two-time Olympic 100 back medalist David Berkoff.

18. Anna Hopkin, Senior, Arkansas

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Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

2019 times: 50 free, 21.51 (NCAA); 100 free, 46.56 (NCAA)

Hopkin adjusted well to her first year swimming short course yards last season with the Razorbacks, finishing second in the 100 and fifth in the 50 at NCAAs. She followed that up with an appearance in the final of the World Championships in the 50 while representing Great Britain, so she has to be beaming with confidence heading into her senior year at Arkansas. An NCAA title won’t come easy for Hopkin, who will have to race against Cal’s Abbey Weitzeil, but she already beat her at the World Championships in long course, so she should be counted as a co-favorite in both the 50 and 100.

17. Grace Oglesby, Senior, Louisville

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2019 times: 100 fly, 50.75 (Indiana Invite); 200 fly, 1:50.80 (NCAA)

Louisville has had historic finishes at the last two NCAAs, placing a program high fifth in 2018 and then doing one better in 2019 by getting fourth. Oglesby has played a big role in that the last two years, and she will enter her senior year with the Cardinals as the butterflyer to beat in the ACC. She narrowly struck an upset in the 200 fly at NCAAs a year ago, and will be looking to score big points in both butterfly events this year.

16. Lauren Pitzer, Junior, Stanford

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2019 times: 500 free, 4:34.30 (Pac-12); 200 free, 1:42.84 (NCAA)

Pitzer came into NCAAs as the top seed in the 500, but the title ended up going to her Stanford teammate Brooke Forde. Nevertheless, she finished sixth in the 500 and won the B-Final in the 200 free to provide some clutch points for the Cardinal. Not bad considering she only scored one point as a freshman in 2018.

15. Katie Drabot, Senior, Stanford

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2019 times: 500 free, 4:37.87 (NCAA); 200 free, 1:43.99 (NCAA); 200 fly, 1:51.42 (Pac-12)

The fact she only reached one A-Final at NCAAs last season was a head scratcher, considering she was a national runner-up in two events the year prior. But Drabot put that behind her to win the bronze medal in the 200 fly at the World Championships this past summer. Not a lot of schools have won four straight NCAA team titles, and Drabot will be looking to close out her Stanford career 4-for-4.

14. Anna Belousova, Junior, Texas A&M

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2019 times: 100 breast, 57.99 (SEC); 200 breast, 2:04.80 (SEC)

Texas A&M’s Belousova carries on an Aggie breaststroke tradition that culminated when the team placed four in the A-Final of the 200 breast at the 2018 NCAAs, just a few weeks removed from a 1-2-3-4 finish at SECs in their home pool. Now Belousova is the only one left from that group of four as she enters her junior year as the quickest 200 breaststroker in the country. Belousova has swam her best times at SECs the last two seasons, which will need to change if she is to be standing on the top of the podium come March.

13. Sophie Hansson, Sophomore, NC State

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2019 times: 100 breast,  57.74 (ACC); 200 breast, 2:06.18 (NCAA)

So NC State is for real, right? The Wolfpack men and women have made tremendous leaps the last few years in the national rankings and the Wolfpack women proved they are here to stay, building a young team that is competitive in relays and capable of beating anyone. Swedish breaststroker Sophie Hansson has played a big role in that, placing third in both breaststrokes last year as a freshman. Without four-time champ Lilly King, the breaststroke events are wide open, leaving the door open for Hansson to potentially become NC State’s first swimming national champion. And with the addition of Berkoff, could the Wolfpack be the early favorites to win both medley relays?

12. Morgan Hill, Senior, Virginia

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Photo Courtesy: Virginia Athletics

2019 times: 50 free, 21.68 (ACC); 100 fly, 50.84 (NCAA); 100 free, 47.46 (ACC)

Virginia threw everything at NC State in the ACC Championships, ultimately falling short in the end. But the Cavaliers were able to stay in touch thanks in part to Morgan Hill, who won both the 50 free and 100 fly ACC titles by 0.01. Virginia, along with NC State, has a strong team brewing and could challenge for a top four spot nationally. It’s hard to believe Virginia has never been top four, but that could change in 2020.

11. Paige Madden, Junior, Virginia

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Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

2019 times: 500 free, 4:32.98 (NCAA); 200 free, 1:43.03 (NCAA); 200 back, 1:51.36 (NCAA)

Madden had a breakout sophomore season in which she almost stole the 500 free NCAA title, ultimately placing second at 4:32.98. Madden followed that up with some long course success, swimming a 1:58.3 in the 200 free at the World University Games in winning the silver medal. Now as a junior, she is one of the favorites in the wide open 200 free as well as the 500, where she will do battle with Stanford’s Brooke Forde.

10. Cierra Runge, Senior, Arizona State

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Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

2019 times: 500 free, 4:34.64 (NCAA); 200 free, 1:43.46 (NCAA); 1650, 15:51.72 (Pac-12)

Runge finally found a home that suits her after starting her career at Cal, taking an Olympic redshirt, transferring to Wisconsin, taking another year off, and then ultimately landing at Arizona State. Now in her long awaited senior year, Runge will be looking to lay it all on the line as she searches for her first individual title after finishing second in the 500 as a freshman and fourth last year as a junior. It’s been a long bumpy road for Runge, but she finally has some consistency and that could be what she needs to go out on top.

9. Meghan Small, Senior, Tennessee

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2019 times: 200 IM, 1:51.62 (NCAA); 200 free, 1:43.31 (SEC); 200 back, 1:51.13 (NCAA)

Small has been a Swiss army knife of sorts for Tennessee as she has had her hand in almost every event for the Vols. Small was the SEC champion in the 200 IM last year, but couldn’t replicate that at NCAAs, only placing seventh. She had a much better second half to her NCAAs in leading off Tennessee’s 200 medley relay title team, and also scoring a lifetime best in the 200 back. If Tennessee is to win its first SEC title on the women’s side, then they are going to need everything they can get out of Small.

8. Isabel Ivey, Sophomore, Cal

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Photo Courtesy: McKenna Ehrmantraut

2019 times: 200 IM, 1:53.87 (NCAA); 100 fly, 50.82 (NCAA); 100 back, 50.42 (NCAA)

Ivey came up huge for the Golden Bears last year, coming to Berkeley a semester early in January and scoring in two A-Finals and winning the B-Final in the 200 IM, after being in college for just a few weeks. Ivey also led off Cal’s winning 400 free relay team that set an American record to close out the meet. She adjusted quickly to her new life in Berkeley last year so what does Ivey have in store for her sophomore season?

7. Asia Seidt, Senior, Kentucky

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Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

2019 times: 200 IM, 1:53.51 (NCAA); 100 back, 50.68 (NCAA); 200 back, 1:48.65 (NCAA)

Seidt has helped Kentucky become one of the powerhouses in the SEC, placing them as high as third in both 2017 and 2019. Now in her final year at Lexington, she is looking for an individual national title, with the 200 back perhaps being her best chance. She was third as a freshman in 2017, second as a sophomore, and was third as a junior last year. If she is able to win that event on the final day of NCAAs, she will add to Kentucky’s growing backstroke legacy in taking after 2016 champ Danielle Galyer, who remains the Wildcats’ lone NCAA champion in the swimming pool.

6. Erika Brown, Senior, Tennessee

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Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

2019 times: 50 free, 21.15 (SEC); 100 fly, 49.85 (SEC); 100 free, 46.41 (SEC)

Brown had a huge breakout sophomore season when she qualified for NCAAs individually for the first time and made three A-Finals in 2018. Last year she followed it up with an NCAA record in the 50 at SECs and was a favorite to potentially win three individual NCAA titles. But she only managed second in the 50, fourth in the 100 fly, and fifth in the 100 free. Three All-American distinctions is not a disappointment, especially considering the field Brown swam against in all three of her races. It won’t get easier for Brown in her senior year with Abbey Weitzeil and Louise Hansson returning, but her US Nationals success, particularly her 24.7 in the 50 free (LCM), has to be exciting for Tennessee fans heading into this season.

5. Brooke Forde, Junior, Stanford

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2019 times: 500 free, 4:31.34 (NCAA); 400 IM, 3:59.26 (NCAA); 200 fly, 1:53.67 (Pac-12)

Forde took some people by surprise when she won the NCAA title in the 500 free of all events. She had been known more as a 400 IMer, the event that got her on the World Championships roster, but she showed she is a great freestyler too in winning Stanford’s third straight title in that event. Forde is now the woman to beat in the 400 IM after the top two from last year graduated. And she will also have to redeem herself after flipping to do an extra 50 on the end of their victorious 800 free relay.

4. Maggie MacNeil, Sophomore, Michigan

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2019 times: 50 free, 21.49 (NCAA); 100 fly, 49.59 (B1G); 100 back, 50.50 (B1G)

When MacNeil committed to Michigan, she was a 58.3 100 butterflyer in long course from Canada, which meant she would have been on the fringe of making the A-Final at NCAAs. She turned some heads by swimming a 51.4 at an early season duel meet, then swam a 49.9 at the Georgia Invite and a 49.5 at Big Ten’s. She finished second at NCAAs and then went on to become World Champion at the end of the summer. When does the train stop? If she continues on this path, then she could be the first woman to break 49 in the 100 fly.

3. Louise Hansson, Senior, Southern Cal

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2019 times: 200 IM, 1:52.14 (NCAA); 100 fly, 49.26 (NCAA); 200 fly, 1:50.28 (NCAA)

The biggest race of the 2020 NCAAs will be the 100 fly where defending champion Hansson will do battle with the aforementioned MacNeil and Brown, and the winner could be the first to break 49 seconds (if someone doesn’t break it before then). Hansson set the fastest time ever in the 100 fly last year with a 49.2, so a 48.9 isn’t out of the picture. She also upset Ella Eastin in the 200 fly last season, and finally saw some long course success this summer with a seventh place finish at Worlds in the 100 fly. The big question this year will be whether Louise can win more titles than her sister Sophie at NC State.

2. Abbey Weitzeil, Senior, Cal

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2019 times: 50 free, 21.02 (NCAA); 100 free, 46.35 (Pac-12); 200 free, 1:41.97 (Pac-12)

Weitzeil had one of the most impressive meets last season at NCAAs, and not just because she broke her own American record in the 50 free. Weitzeil sustained an injury on Friday night in the 200 medley relay, hyperextending her elbow and causing her to need help getting out of the pool. The big question on the final day was whether she would be able to swim, but she courageously swam with her arm in a cast, placing fourth in the 100 free and then anchoring a record setting 400 free relay. Assuming she doesn’t injure herself during the meet again, what will Weitzeil be able to do fully healthy?

1. Beata Nelson, Senior, Wisconsin

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2019 times: 200 IM, 1:50.79 (NCAA); 100 back, 49.18 (NCAA); 200 back, 1:47.24 (NCAA)

Last year’s CSCAA swimmer of the year gets our top spot as Beata Nelson returns for her senior season in her hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. Nelson had a dream season last year, breaking two NCAA records and winning three NCAA titles in the 200 IM and 100 and 200 back, becoming just the second Wisconsin Badger woman swimmer to win any title in school history. What does she have for an encore in 2020? Nelson is just a tenth away from the American record in both the 200 IM and 200 back, held by Ella Eastin and Regan Smith respectively.

10 comments

  1. avatar
    Nonrevhoofan

    Kate Douglass (Virginia) will make you regret your oversite.

    • avatar
      Andy Ross

      Definitely will be one to watch!

    • Fallon Brown

      Bonnie Rohrbaugh Zimmerman Thank you!! 😊

  2. Sarah Heavren

    Katherine Schaefer they seem to have forgotten you on this list

  3. avatar
    Russ Judd

    Yea BEATA!!!

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