Ranking the 10 Best Performers From the NCAA Women’s Championships

GREENSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA - MARCH 20: Sophie Hansson of the NC State Wolfpack hugs Ella Nelson of the Virginia Cavaliers after winning the 200 Yard Breaststroke during the Division I Women’s Swimming & Diving Championships held at the Greensboro Aquatic Center on March 20, 2021 in Greensboro, North Carolina. (Photo by Mike Comer/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)
Photo Courtesy: Mike Comer/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Ranking the 10 Best Performers From the NCAA Women’s Championships

The 2021 NCAA Division I women’s Championships last month were the first national level championship meet in more than a year and swimming fans throughout the United States rejoiced. The Virginia Cavaliers won their first team title in Greensboro, ending Stanford’s winning streak, while N.C. State had its highest-ever finish in second place.

We have highlighted the 10 best performers from the women’s meet.

10. Phoebe Bacon, Freshman, Wisconsin


Photo Courtesy: Mike Comer/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Our lone freshman on the list came into this meet a bit overshadowed by her rivals from powerhouses Virginia and N.C. State, which is kind of hard to believe considering Bacon is one of the top backstrokers in the world. But Bacon swam a very smart race in the 200 backstroke on the final night in Greensboro, and won the fourth 200 back title for the Badgers – men and women. Bacon made the A-Final in all three of her races and showed great poise and consistency in her first NCAAs, and she will be leading a rising Wisconsin team in the three years to come.

9. Olivia Carter, Junior, Michigan


Photo Courtesy: Mike Comer/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Carter had one of the most dominating performances of the whole meet in winning the 200 butterfly on the final night, showing no signs of slowing down, pressing the pedal to the metal on the third 50, and winning the race by over a second and a half. Carter also swam a quiet sixth place in the 100 fly, which gave her the confidence to win the 200 fly the next night. As one half of “Butterfly U” at Michigan, Carter will return for one more year in Ann Arbor as the woman to beat in the 200.

8. Ella Nelson, Sophomore, Virginia


Photo Courtesy: Mike Comer/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Nelson proved integral in Virginia’s team title, making three A-Finals in both IMs and the 200 breast, and also swam the third leg on the winning 800 free relay team. Nelson is a big reason why this Cavaliers team is so deep, and her ability to swim any stroke fills in holes the team might have. Nelson finished runnerup in both the 400 IM and 200 breaststroke, and will help this Virginia team be very hard to beat the next two years.

7. Katharine Berkoff, Sophomore, N.C. State


Photo Courtesy: Mike Comer/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Berkoff finally made her NCAA debut and won the 100 backstroke as a sophomore. She also led off N.C. State’s medley relays that won the first NCAA titles in the pool for the Wolfpack women. Berkoff’s talent and prowess are no longer a secret as she backed up her famous family name with an individual NCAA title of her own and is leading a young N.C. State team with a lot of returning pieces. The backstroke field will only get more crowded after this year, but Berkoff proved how great of a racer she is, and will be a force to be reckoned with in the future.

6. Brooke Forde, Senior, Stanford


Photo Courtesy: Luke Jamroz Photography

Forde concluded her four-year career with an NCAA title in the 400 IM, continuing Stanford’s tradition in the event after Ella Eastin won four in a row from 2016 – 2019. Stanford lost a lot of pieces from its 2019 title team but Forde guided the Cardinal to yet another top-10 finish (Stanford has never been lower than ninth) with her 400 IM win and 500 free third place finish. Even with a lot of nerves affecting her before the race, and the pandemic affecting much of the season for the West Coast schools, Forde swam a controlled race in the 400 IM and completed her Stanford career as a champion in one of the most grueling events.

5. Isabel Ivey, Junior, California


Photo Courtesy: NCAA Media

Even with no individual titles this season, Ivey played a huge role in Cal’s fourth place finish that allowed the team to come home with a trophy for the 12th straight season. Ivey anchored Cal’s winning 200 free relay on Thursday night that was a surprise to some, as it was the Golden Bears’ fifth 200 free relay win in six years. Individually, she made three A-Finals, finishing third in the 100 free, fourth in the 100 fly and fourth in the 100 back. Those three events were some of the most stacked of the whole meet, so we aren’t holding her lack of individual wins against her. Ivey is clearly one of the best swimmers in the NCAA and she proved why with her versatility in Greensboro.

4. Kate Douglass, Sophomore, Virginia


Photo Courtesy: Luke Jamroz Photography

It is hard to believe Douglass only won one NCAA title in Greensboro, but four relay runnerups and two individual runnerups is nothing to yawn at. Douglass could have swum any number of events in Greensboro and been a national title favorite, and she finished second to some really good company in Maggie MacNeil and N.C. State’s medley relays. Douglass’ NCAA debut resulted in her winning the 50 free, and she led Virginia to the national title. Douglass has been a big reason why this Virginia got so strong seemingly overnight, and her three best times in her NCAA debut proved she can rise to the occasion.

3. Sophie Hansson, Junior, NC State


Photo Courtesy: Mike Comer/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Hansson swept the breaststroke events in Greensboro, and also threw down some impressive relay splits on N.C. State’s winning medley relays. Hansson was relatively quiet all season, having not raced in the midseason invite, so many didn’t know what to expect from her comes ACCs and NCAAs. But just like she had done her previous two years, she proved clutch. She won both the 100 and 200 breast in Greensboro, not fast enough to beat Lilly King’s records, but enough to put herself in the running for swimmer of the meet by the CSCAA. She still has one more year in Raleigh, and N.C. State’s medley relays look tough to beat next season.

2. Paige Madden, Senior, Virginia


Photo Courtesy: Mike Comer/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Madden was the only swimmer to win all three of her individual events in Greensboro, and each of her races wasn’t close. Once she took the lead in each of her races, she didn’t look back, and she led Virginia to the program’s first NCAA title in the process. Madden has been a consistent performer for the Cavaliers over the years, finishing second in the 500 two years back in 2019, and emerged as a multi-title contender in 2020 when Virginia was poised to unseat Stanford before the meet was canceled. Madden backed up that hype with results – four titles in 2021, including the fastest split in the 800 free relay. She leaves behind a lasting legacy in Virginia that will keep the Cavs in the national title conversation for years to come.

1. Maggie MacNeil, Junior, Michigan


Photo Courtesy: Mike Comer/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

MacNeil was the only swimmer at either the men’s or women’s Division I meet to set an NCAA record as she became the first woman to break 49 seconds in the 100 butterfly. It was long overdue for MacNeil, who was expected to battle Louise Hansson and Erika Brown for that mantle of “first to break 49” last season before the meet never happened. But MacNeil really stepped up to the occasion this year, facing budding superstar Kate Douglass in all three of her events and beating her twice – in the 100 fly and 100 free. Those two will have one more year to race each other, if they stick to their same lineups. MacNeil’s record-setting swim this season proved that anything is possible when faced with adversity.

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

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Joseph H. Gianera
Joseph H. Gianera
3 years ago

How could you leave out BACON!!! Won 1m. AND 3m. Honda Award winner for top woman swimmer or diver of the year!!!!

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x