Ranking the Top NCAA Division I Women’s Swimmers For 2020-21 From 1-25

Swimmers at the last NCAA meet in 2019. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Ranking the Top NCAA Division I Women’s Swimmers For 2020-21 From 1-25

As a new college season approaches (hopefully), Swimming World wanted to unveil its preseason top 25 Division I women’s swimmers ahead of the 2020-21 campaign. This season is unlike any other we have ever had, as many questions still loom over the fate of the campaign as the coronavirus pandemic still remains at large in many parts of the United States. Some conferences have delayed the start of fall sports, with the status of the winter season still up in the air.

Some incoming freshmen have deferred their enrollment in order to stay home and train safely in the comfort of their hometowns ahead of the Olympic Games. Arizona State has redshirted its entire team for this season, and some schools will not even compete this entire fall semester.

But with all of those uncertainties aside, we have put together our top returning swimmers this year, assuming there will be a championship meet in the spring.

Placings have been determined by best times swum in the 2019-20 season.

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

Just missed the cut:

30. Alicia Wilson, Junior, Cal
29. Julia Cook, Junior, Texas
28. Vanessa Pearl, Junior, Florida
27. Daria Pyshnenko, Senior, Michigan
26. Emma Muzzy, Junior, NC State

25. Isabelle Stadden, Freshman, California


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Best Times: 100 back, 51.23 (NCSA); 200 back, 1:50.37 (Juniors)

Our very first freshman on the list is a part of the tremendously deep backstroke field in this incoming class as Stadden was third at US Nationals in 2018 in the 200 back. The Minnesota native will make her Cal debut this season after winning the silver medal in the 200 back at the 2019 Pan American Games and will provide some much needed depth to a Cal team that has been top three every year since first winning in 2009.

24. Izzy Gati, Junior, Kentucky


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2020 times: 100 fly, 51.60 (SEC); 200 fly, 1:52.54 (SEC)

Kentucky has steadily risen up the SEC ranks the last few years and Gati’s breakout sophomore season definitely played a role in the Wildcats finishing third at SECs in 2020. She was the runner-up in the 200 fly last season with a 1:52 after finishing sixth as a freshman with a 1:55. Gati is one of the top swimmers in Lexington after Asia Seidt graduated and will be leading a Kentucky team that returns eight of its ten NCAA qualifiers from last year.

23. Leah Braswell, Junior, Florida


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2020 times: 500 free, 4:37.25 (GT Invite); 1650, 15:47.85 (GT Invite)

Braswell was unable to finish her season at NCAAs and may have had something left in the tank as she helped Florida finish runner-up at SECs, giving Tennessee all they could handle for five days. The Gators lost five of their 11 NCAA qualifiers, but Braswell is still one of the top distance swimmers in the country. She has the second fastest time in the 1650 coming into this season and will be a force in the SEC distance events.

22. Jade Hannah, Freshman, Southern Cal


Jade Hannah Photo Courtesy: Swimming Canada/Ian MacNicol

Best Times LCM: 100 back, 59.62 (Junior Worlds); 200 back, 2:09.28 (Junior Worlds)

Jade Hannah comes to USC after a stellar junior career for Team Canada, sweeping the 100 and 200 backstroke gold medals at the 2019 Junior Worlds. It is yet to be seen how Hannah’s long course times translate to the short course pool as she joins a Trojan team starting a new era under coach Jeremy Kipp. In a backstroke field as deep as this year’s, a national title will not come easy for Hannah.

21. Sierra Schmidt, Senior, Michigan


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2020 times: 500 free, 4:37.15 (B1G); 1650, 15:48.53 (B1G)

Schmidt had a promising high school career as a world juniors gold medalist in 2015, but hadn’t quite hit her stride in college while at Michigan. In her junior year, she was top three in both the 500 and 1650 at the Big Ten Championships and was in the talks to take the longer distance at NCAAs. It’s hard to believe Schmidt is just now in her senior year at Michigan, but the perennial “dancing queen” has remained one of the more consistent distance freestylers the last five years. Michigan last produced an NCAA champion on the women’s side in 2008, when Emily Brunemann won the 1650.

20. Freya Rayner, Senior, Ohio State


Photo Courtesy: Kirk Irwin Photography

2020 times: 50 free, 21.85 (B1G); 100 free, 47.81 (B1G)

Rayner came up huge in the Buckeyes winning their first Big Ten championship since 1986, as she swam on the winning 200 free relay team and finished second in the 100 freestyle and third in the 50. Rayner was unable to prove that Big Ten meet wasn’t a fluke at NCAAs so what will she have up her sleeve in her senior year? She broke 22 seconds for the first time this past year in the 50 and also dipped under 48 in the 100. Ohio State returns all but three of its 12 NCAA qualifiers from last year so don’t expect the Buckeyes to lay down when fighting for this year’s Big Ten title.

19. Morgan Tankersley, Junior, Stanford


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2020 times: 500 free, 4:35.99 (Pac-12); 1650, 15:50.81 (Pac-12)

The 2017 Swimming World high school swimmer of the year showed glimpses of her high school success last season as a sophomore, winning the Pac-12 title in the 1650 and finishing second in the 500. Stanford has been known to rest well for NCAAs so Tankersley might have had more left for NCAAs, but we will never know for certain. But Tankersley returns as an upperclassman in a wide-open year for the 500 & 1650 events.

18. Olivia Bray, Freshman, Texas

Olivia Bray Texas

Photo Courtesy: Olivia Bray

Best Times: 100 fly, 50.19 (Virginia Seniors); 200 fly, 1:53.72 (Virginia seniors)

Olivia Bray took a lot of people by surprise when she swam a 50.1 100 fly as a junior in high school and now she will get to showcase that speed in the college pool as she joins a Texas team eager for a top four finish. The Longhorns were a bit top heavy last season, swimming just five different swimmers on each of the five relays at Big 12’s last season, and Bray should definitely add some depth to the Longhorns.

17. Ella Nelson, Sophomore, Virginia


Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

2020 Times: 400 IM, 4:04.36 (ACC); 200 breast, 2:05.68 (ACC)

Nelson had a tremendous first season in Charlottesville, finishing runner-up in both the 400 IM and 200 breast at ACCs. Now she returns for her second season where Virginia is heavy favorites to not only repeat as champions at ACCs, but challenge for its first ever national title. Nelson provided depth for Virginia in the IM and breaststroke events and she will be a key piece to this year’s team as they aim for history.

16. Sarah Thompson, Senior, Missouri


Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

2020 times: 50 free, 21.53 (Mizzou Invite); 100 back, 51.07 (SEC)

Thompson finished fourth in a deep 100 back field at SECs last year as the Missouri women’s sprinters really showed out well at their conference meet. Thompson swam the butterfly leg on the 200 medley relay team that was just out-touched in the end by Tennessee and also anchored the 200 free relay with a swift 21.3 to help the Tigers finish in third. She will be a valuable piece for a Missouri team that finished eighth at SECs in 2020.

15. Kylee Alons, Junior, NC State


Photo Courtesy: Chris Baird

2020 times: 50 free, 21.63 (ACC); 100 free, 47.73 (ACC)

Alons swam the butterfly leg in the nation-leading 400 medley relay team last season as the Wolfpack return three of those four legs. Alons has become one of the top sprinters in the nation and will need to be huge in NC State’s quest for its first top four finish. Alons returns as the second fastest in the nation in the 100 free and is third in the 50, so she will be a key piece for NC State.

14. Laticia Transom, Junior, Southern Cal


Photo Courtesy: McKenna Ehrmantraut

2020 times: 100 free, 47.83 (Art Adamson); 200 free, 1:42.47 (Pac-12)

Transom came up big in Dave Salo’s last year at USC, winning the Pac-12 title in the 200 free and helping the Trojans win the 800 and 400 free relays at the conference meet. Now in year one under Jeremy Kipp, Transom is the nation-leader in the 200 free from last season as she leads an experienced USC team fighting amongst two national powers Cal and Stanford in the Pac-12.

13. Sophie Hansson, Junior, NC State


NC State’s Sophie Hansson Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2020 times: 100 breast, 57.74 (ACC); 200 breast, 2:05.59 (ACC)

Hansson was the top seed in both the 100 & 200 breaststroke events at NCAAs as the Swede won both ACC titles in those events. Although Hansson was not the official NCAA champion in the first year without 4-year champ Lilly King, she still has the target on her back in her junior year as she is following in the footsteps of her sister Louise, who had a successful NCAA career at Southern Cal.

12. Phoebe Bacon, Freshman, Wisconsin


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Best Times: 100 back, 50.70 (NCAP Invite); 200 back, 1:50.71 (NCSA); 100 fly, 51.75 (NCAP Invite)

Wisconsin scored a huge commitment out of Phoebe Bacon last spring as the Badgers saw immense success out of outgoing senior Beata Nelson. Bacon, who swims primarily the same events as Nelson, is already one of the top 100 backstrokers in the world, taking the gold at the Pan Am Games in 2019 and also put herself in the running to make the Olympic team. Wisconsin has been on the rise in the last few years, and with a brand new long course pool on campus in Yuri Suguiyama’s third year, Bacon could be a part of a historic season for the Badgers in her first year.

11. Cora Dupre, Sophomore, Alabama


Photo Courtesy: @coradupre

2020 Times: 50 free, 21.90 (B1G); 100 free, 47.84 (Tennessee Invite); 200 free, 1:43.61 (B1G)

After one season at Indiana, Dupre is headed south to Alabama and renowned sprint coach Coley Stickels as the Crimson Tide are a team on the rise after three individual SEC titles in 2020. Dupre will provide much needed sprint depth as she makes the switch to Stickels, who has coached the likes of Abbey Weitzeil and Santo Condorelli to Olympic success in the last quadrennial. If Dupre adjusts well in her new home in Tuscaloosa, then the Crimson Tide could be on their way to a top ten finish nationally.

10. Alex Walsh, Freshman, Virginia


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Best Times: 200 IM, 1:53.69 (Juniors); 100 breast, 58.19 (Juniors); 200 breast, 2:05.87 (Southern Premiere)

Our top freshman on the list is joining a red hot Virginia team that has become a recruiting powerhouse the last few years. Walsh is capable of scoring in any number of events as she could swim any stroke on a medley relay and keep the team competitive. It’s just a matter of can Walsh continue her momentum from high school, where she broke the national high school record in the 100 breast and 100 back, to college where Virginia is one of the pre-season favorites to take the national title.

9. Brooke Forde, Senior, Stanford

brooke forde 2019 d1 w NCAA Division I Womens Swimming and Diving Championship Austin Texas Swimming World

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2020 times: 500 free, 4:36.31 (Art Adamson); 400 IM, 4:01.53 (Pac-12); 200 breast, 2:07.35 (Pac-12)

Had Forde swam fully rested at NCAAs, she might have been a little higher on this list since she is known to be a big rest swimmer. But Forde was still able to boast the nation-leading time in the 400 IM from last year and is still technically the reigning champ in the 500 free. Forde has proved to be a clutch swimmer for the Cardinal each of the last three years as she helped the Cardinal win national titles in her first two seasons in Palo Alto. Now in her senior year, she is hoping to extend that streak as she also strives for a spot on the US Olympic team next summer.

8. Isabel Ivey, Junior, California


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2020 times: 200 IM, 1:54.67 (Pac-12); 100 fly, 51.14 (Pac-12); 100 back, 51.06 (Pac-12)

Ivey is one of the more versatile swimmers in the NCAA and will be a key piece to Cal’s relays moving forward without American record holder Abbey Weitzeil. Ivey will be an early national title favorite in any event she chooses to swim if we can get to a national championship safely this season as she is ranked as high as third in the 100 back ahead of this year. Cal has been top three each of the last eleven seasons, and Ivey will need to step up big time if that streak continues in 2021.

7. Calypso Sheridan, Senior, Northwestern


Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

2020 times: 200 IM, 1:53.13 (B1G); 400 IM, 4:03.18 (B1G); 200 breast, 2:06.85 (B1G)

Sheridan has been a big piece in Northwestern’s rise among the Big Ten’s elite, as she won the Wildcats’ first Big Ten title individually since 2008 in winning the 400 IM, and also helped the team finish fourth at Big Ten’s, which was the team’s highest finish since 2002. In addition, Sheridan helped the Wildcats qualify four relays to the NCAAs. Now in year one under Katie Robinson, how will Sheridan continue that momentum into her senior year?

6. Courtney Harnish, Senior, Georgia


Photo Courtesy: Georgia Athletics

2020 times: 500 free, 4:36.40 (SEC); 200 free, 1:43.26 (SEC); 200 fly, 1:53.22 (SEC)

Harnish was SEC champion in the 500 and played a big role for Georgia last year. She missed out on competing at NCAAs in her home pool, but how much will that motivate her into her senior year for the Bulldogs? Georgia has a rich history in the events Harnish swims, as she won the 11th SEC title in the 500 for Georgia since 2006 and also finished third in the 200 free and 200 fly. Georgia has had a bit of a resurgence the last few years and they are returning nine of their 11 NCAA qualifiers.

5. Zoie Hartman, Sophomore, Georgia


Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

2020 Times: 200 IM, 1:53.05 (SEC); 100 breast, 58.21 (SEC); 200 breast, 2:06.20 (SEC)

Hartman had a big freshman campaign for the Bulldogs as she swept the breaststroke double at the SEC Championships. She was unable to follow that up at NCAAs in her home pool, but Hartman is the real deal. The breaststroke field in the NCAA is still loaded, with the top eight times from last year returning in the 200, and six of the eight fastest in the 100.

4. Paige Madden, Senior, Virginia


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2020 times: 500 free, 4:34.64 (Tennessee Invite); 200 free, 1:43.18 (ACC); 1650, 15:50.38 (ACC)

Madden had the second fastest time nationally in the 500 last year and was a favorite to take the national title before the meet was cancelled. She has steadily improved to be one of the top freestylers in the nation as she is striving to lead Virginia to unprecedented success. The three-time ACC champion leads a Virginia team that returns 13 of its 15 NCAA qualifiers from last year.

3. Kate Douglass, Sophomore, Virginia


Photo Courtesy: Virginia Athletics

2020 times: 200 IM, 1:51.36 (ACC); 100 fly, 50.30 (Tennessee Invite); 200 breast, 2:05.89 (ACC)

Douglass was a big reason why Virginia was last year’s national title favorite as she was the top seed in the 200 IM and was ranked in the top four in the 100 fly and 200 breast. Now Douglass returns for her second year, where the Cavaliers are even stronger. How hungry will the team be after missing out on last year’s nationals? And will Douglass follow up her freshman year with an even bigger sophomore campaign?

2. Rhyan White, Junior, Alabama


Photo Courtesy: Jeff Hanson / Alabama Athletics

2020 times: 100 fly, 50.80 (SEC); 100 back, 50.02 (SEC); 200 back, 1:48.06 (SEC)

White had a huge SEC meet, taking golds in the 100 & 200 backstroke and had the fastest time nationally in the latter. She was unable to have an encore at NCAAs and show what she was made of on the national stage. We have seen White’s true colors, so what does she have in store for her junior season? Alabama has a vastly improved team, returning seven of its nine NCAA qualifiers that were seeded to finish eleventh. A top ten finish has not happened for the Crimson Tide since they were ninth in 1994.

1. Maggie MacNeil, Junior, Michigan


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2020 times: 50 free, 21.30 (B1G); 100 fly, 49.26 (Minnesota Invite); 100 free, 46.57 (B1G)

MacNeil earns our number one spot for the pre-season as she is the fastest returning swimmer in the 50 & 100 free and 100 fly, where she is also the reigning World champ. MacNeil tied the NCAA record in the 100 butterfly last season at the Minnesota Invite, but missed out on a chance to duel with co-record holder Louise Hansson, leaving the question unanswered if one of them could be the first to break 49 seconds. It’s been a long time coming for a 48 100 fly to happen, but if anyone can do it, then it could be MacNeil, who will also be tough to beat in the 50 and 100 free.

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