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

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Beata Nelson was the best swimmer in the NCAA in 2019; Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Who were the best women’s swimmers in the 2018-19 season? As the school year is winding down for most of the country, it is time to look at who were the best swimmers this season.

Back in September, Swimming World ranked the best NCAA Division I women’s swimmers from 1-25 as a “pre-season top 25” type list. Now with the season over, we are again revisiting that list, and updating it with the 2019 results.

At the beginning of the season, it was evident that this year’s senior class was one of the most impressive of all-time, taking the first three spots on the pre-season list. Although the senior class did not disappoint in 2019, it was this year’s junior class that stood out in a big way this year, taking ten of the 25 spots on this list. The senior class accounted for eight of the 25 spots.

25. Cierra Runge, Junior, Arizona State

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2019 Times: 500 Free, 4:34.64 (NCAA); 1650, 15:51.72 (Pac-12)

Pre-season rank: 15

Runge came back to NCAA swimming and was starting to look like the 2016 Olympian again. She was the top seed in the 500 after prelims but ended up fading to fourth in the final. She has finally found some consistency in her college career after starting at Cal in 2014 and transferring to Wisconsin after the Olympics, and finally transferring again to Arizona State.

24. Izzy Ivey, Freshman, Cal

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2019 times: 100 fly, 50.82 (NCAA); 100 back, 50.42 (NCAA)

Pre-season rank: N/A

Ivey’s mid-season move to Cal proved to be just what the Golden Bears needed to contend for the national title. Cal came up a bit short at the end but Ivey stepped up in a huge way by getting in two A-Finals on Friday in the 100 fly and 100 back, as well as swimming the lead-off in the American Record 400 free relay. Ivey did, however, provide perhaps the best quote of the NCAA meet by referring to upperclassmen Katie McLaughlinAmy Bilquist and Abbey Weitzeil as her “cool aunts.”

23. Meghan Small, Junior, Tennessee

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2019 Times: 200 IM, 1:51.62 (SEC); 200 back, 1:51.13 (NCAA)

Pre-season rank: 22

Small came into the NCAA meet as the top seed in the 200 IM after a huge SEC performance, but only managed a disappointing seventh place in that event. She rebounded the second half of the meet by leading off Tennessee’s winning 200 medley relay team and also scored a best time in the 200 back by winning the B-Final.

22. Lauren Pitzer, Sophomore, 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)

Pre-season rank: N/A

Pitzer had a breakout sophomore season by winning the Pac-12 title in the 500 and was the top seed coming into the meet in that event. She ended up sixth in the 500 but had a much better 200 free the next day to win the B-Final.

21. Grace Oglesby, Junior, Louisville

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2019 Times: 100 Fly, 50.75 (Indiana Invite); 200 Fly, 1:50.80 (NCAA)

Pre-season rank: 23

Oglesby was a quiet part of Louisville’s historic fourth place finish this year. She had a disappointing 100 fly with an eighth place finish but came back in a huge way to finish third in the 200 fly and almost steal the win. Even with superstar Mallory Comerford on her way out, Louisville will still be a forced to be reckoned with as Oglesby enters her senior year next year.

20. Mackenzie Padington, Sophomore, Minnesota

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2019 Times: 500 Free, 4:35.21 (NCAA); 1650, 15:47.16 (NCAA)

Pre-season rank: N/A

Padington had a big breakout season for the Golden Gophers and was a part of a distance group in Minneapolis that put two in the A-Final in the 500. She most notably had a huge last 50 in the 500 to sneak in for third and also got up for third in the 1650 after swimming a 15:47 in the earlier heats.

19. Anna Hopkin, Junior, Arkansas

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Anna Hopkin; Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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

Pre-season rank: 40

Hopkin made her NCAA debut in a big way by placing second in the 100 and fifth in the 50 in perhaps the fastest fields ever assembled. Hopkin, although a rookie, completed her junior year for the Razorbacks and adjusted very nicely to short course yards.

18. Anna Belousova, Junior, Texas A&M

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Anna Belousova; Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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

Pre-season rank: 19

Belousova had a much better showing at SECs a month prior as she was only seventh in the 200 and eleventh in the 100 at NCAAs. But Belousova’s SEC times were impressive enough to put her on this list. She rebounded to make Russia’s Worlds team a couple weeks after NCAAs and will be aiming for medals at World Championships at the end of July.

17. Sophie Hansson, Freshman, NC State

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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

Pre-season rank: N/A

Hansson had a great freshman season and was a huge part of NC State’s ACC team titles this season and their seventh place finish at NCAAs. Hansson was third in both breaststroke races this year and adjusted well to short course yards after coming from Sweden in the fall.

16. Brooke Forde, Sophomore, Stanford

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2019 Times: 500 free, 4:31.34 (NCAA); 400 IM, 3:59.26 (NCAA)

Pre-season rank: 35

Forde had a breakout season as a sophomore with an NCAA title in the 500 free to continue Stanford’s winning streak in the event that was started by Katie Ledecky. Forde also was third in the 400 IM and was tenth in the 200 fly, which was enough to get Stanford its third straight national title. She also made headlines when she did an extra 50 on the first night of the meet in the 800 free relay, which still allowed the Cardinal to win the relay for their only relay title of the meet.

15. Asia Seidt, Junior, Kentucky

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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

Pre-season rank: 6

Seidt was a part of one of the best races of the whole meet in the 200 back final on the last day. She quietly made three A-Finals and was as high as third in the 200 IM. Although she came in to the season higher on our pre-season list, she was still able to get best times in both the backstroke events in 2019.

14. Emma Barksdale, Senior, South Carolina

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Photo Courtesy: South Carolina Athletics

2019 Times: 200 IM, 1:53.27 (SEC); 400 IM, 4:01.52 (SEC); 200 Breast, 2:06.87 (NCAA)

Pre-season rank: N/A

Barksdale made three A-Finals in Austin, placing as high as fourth in the 200 breast on the last day and also was fifth in both IM’s. She was easily the most improved swimmer on this list. To make it even more impressive, this was Barksdale’s first year reaching an A-Final at NCAAs. She is the first swimmer from South Carolina to score in an A-Final since Amanda Rutqvist was fifth in the 200 breast in 2011.

13. Katie McLaughlin, Senior, Cal

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Photo Courtesy: Dan D’Addona

2019 times: 100 fly, 49.97 (NCAA); 200 free, 1:42.85 (NCAA); 200 fly, 1:51.09 (NCAA)

Pre-season rank: 21

McLaughlin came up clutch for the Golden Bears with her 100 fly/200 free double on Friday, getting in the A-Final in both events. She also snuck into third place in the 100 fly and broke Natalie Coughlin’s Cal school record in the process. She swam on three winning relays for Cal in the 200 free, 400 medley and 400 free, breaking American records in both sprint free relays.

12. Siobhan Haughey, Senior, Michigan

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2019 Times: 200 IM, 1:52.36 (B1G); 200 free, 1:40.70 (NCAA); 100 free, 46.64 (NCAA)

Pre-season rank: 12

Haughey had a disappointing start to her NCAAs after she was controversially disqualified in the heats of the 200 IM, missing out on an A-Final spot on Thursday. She came back that night by swimming on both of Michigan’s runner-up relays in the 200 free and 400 medley and was a big part of the Wolverines’ third place team finish, their highest in 24 years.

11. Amy Bilquist, Senior, Cal

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2019 Times: 50 free, 21.52 (NCAA); 100 back, 50.05 (NCAA); 100 free, 47.01 (Pac-12)

Pre-season rank: 13

Bilquist was another key member to the Cal team that gave Stanford all it could handle at the meet in Austin. She reached three A-Finals for the first time in her career and also swam on all three of Cal’s winning relays. She was the heart and soul of the Cal team that has now finished in the top two eight of the last eleven seasons.

10. Maggie MacNeil, Freshman, Michigan

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Maggie MacNeil; Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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

Pre-season rank: N/A

It’s hard to believe she was just a freshman this season. MacNeil was another big part of the third place finish for Michigan as she reached three A-Finals and was as high as second in the 100 fly. She burst on to the scene early on in the year with her fast dual meet times and proved those were not flukes as she was able to break 50 in the 100 fly at the end of the year. She will also be swimming at World Championships for Canada this summer.

9. Erika Brown, Junior, Tennessee

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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

Pre-season rank: 7

Brown broke the NCAA record at SECs in the 50 free that would ultimately get broken again at NCAAs by Abbey Weitzeil. After having a breakout sophomore season, Brown continued to have a strong junior season but underperformed at NCAAs. She was able to reach three A-Finals but did not win any individual events. She did, however, anchor Tennessee’s 200 medley relay that won the NCAA title and helped Tennessee secure its first top ten finish since 2014.

8. Sydney Pickrem, Senior, Texas A&M

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2019 Times: 200 IM, 1:51.66 (SEC); 400 IM, 3:58.23 (NCAA); 200 breast, 2:03.65 (NCAA)

Pre-season rank: 8

Pickrem may go down as one of the best swimmers to never win an individual NCAA title. She is in the all-time top ten list in all three of her events she swam this year but was second in the 400 IM and 200 breast and was third in the 200 IM. Pickrem still ends her career with eleven A-final appearances in individual events, having only missed one A-Final at NCAAs in her entire career.

7. Taylor Ruck, Freshman, Stanford

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2019 Times: 200 free, 1:40.37 (NCAA); 100 back, 50.34 (NCAA); 200 back, 1:47.59 (NCAA)

Pre-season rank: 5

Ruck came in to the season with a lot of hype after she had an incredible long course season in 2018. She stepped up big for a Stanford team that needed a lot of points from its underclassmen to win their third national title in 2019. She reached three A-Finals and also split a huge 1:39 on the Cardinal’s 800 free relay on the first night. She was second in the 200 back and 200 free and was third in the 100 back. She came up big for Stanford’s relays with a couple 45’s on the end of their 400 medley and 400 free relays.

6. Ella Eastin, Senior, Stanford

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2019 Times: 200 IM, 1:51.81 (NCAA); 400 IM, 3:57.03 (NCAA); 200 fly, 1:50.46 (NCAA)

Pre-season rank: 1

Even after having a dream junior season in 2018, Eastin still reflected on her senior year as rather disappointing individually. Regardless, she was still able to  finish her college career with zero dual meet losses and three NCAA team titles. She became the first woman in Division I to win the 400 IM all four years of her career and finished her career with eight out of a possible twelve individual titles.

5. Mallory Comerford, Senior, Louisville

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2019 Times: 50 free, 21.49 (NCAA); 200 free, 1:40.26 (NCAA); 100 free, 46.26 (NCAA)

Pre-season rank: 3

Comerford also closed out her senior year in style with two individual titles in the 200 free and 100 free. She won her third 200 free title in one of the most exciting races of the meet. She also won the 100 free in a race that included five of the eight fastest performers all-time lined up next to each other. She was also able to propel Louisville to a historic fourth place finish, the team’s highest finish in school history.

4. Lilly King, Senior, Indiana

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2019 Times: 100 breast, 55.73 (NCAA); 200 breast, 200 breast, 2:02.90 (NCAA)

Pre-season rank: 2

King became the first woman in Division I history to win all eight breaststroke titles of her career, breaking the 100 breast record in the process. She was the first woman to break 56 in the event and is one of just two women to break 57. King has now entered professional swimming and has left behind an impressive college resume, leaving behind a legacy as the best woman breaststroker in NCAA history.

3. Abbey Weitzeil, Junior, Cal

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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

Pre-season rank: 16

Weitzeil finally had the breakout season she had been hoping for since coming to college. She was able to break the American Record in the 50 free that she initially broke in her gap year she took before coming to college in 2016 with a 21.02. Although she sustained an injury to her right arm on the penultimate night of the meet, she was able to come back Saturday and finish fourth in the 100 free and anchor Cal’s 400 free relay to a new American Record.

2. Louise Hansson, Junior, 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)

Pre-season rank: 4

Hansson had a stellar junior season, breaking the NCAA record in the 100 fly twice during the year with a 49.34 at Pac-12s and a 49.26 at NCAAs. She also surprised a lot of people when she won the 200 fly on the last night of the meet, upsetting two-time defending champion Ella Eastin of Stanford. Hansson was also a part of the stacked 200 IM final four of the five fastest performers in history in the event, placing fourth as she moved up to ninth all-time.

1. Beata Nelson, Junior, 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)

Pre-season rank: 10

Nelson scored one of the biggest upsets of the meet when she took down Eastin in the 200 IM to post the second fastest time all-time in the event. She then followed that up with new NCAA records in both backstroke events, narrowly missing the American Record in the 200. She broke the 100 back NCAA record earlier in the season, only to have high schooler Regan Smith take it away a few weeks before NCAAs. She successfully got the record back and was able to get under Kathleen Baker’s NCAA record in the 200 back on the last night of the meet. Nelson was awarded with the CSCAA Swimmer of the Meet award for her spectacular showing in Austin.

12 comments

  1. Nicole Mueller

    Congrats Beata! We’re so proud of you!!!!!

  2. avatar
    Anonymous

    No Paige Madden?

    • avatar
      Andy Ross

      She was just off the list in 29th.

  3. avatar
    Anonymous

    @NCAAs 2nd in 500Fr, 5th in 200Fr & 10th in 200Bk

  4. Rose Unicomb

    Congratulations Beata!!
    Well deserved.. xx 👐🏼

  5. Dady Sullivan

    She is incredible. And a very sweet and gracious person.

  6. avatar
    picz

    ruchaj mnie