The Ultimate Showdown: 100 Butterfly at Women’s NCAAs Features Speedy, Decorated Field

Torri Huske of United States of America, Margaret Macneil of Canada react after winning the gold medal ex aequo in the 50m Butterfly Women Final during the FINA Swimming Short Course World Championships at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre in Melbourne, Australia, December 14th, 2022. Photo Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto
Torri Huske (left) and Maggie Mac Neil -- Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

The Ultimate Showdown: 100 Butterfly at Women’s NCAAs Features Speedy, Decorated Field

The Olympic gold medalist, the reigning world champion and the fastest swimmer ever walk into a pool with a title on the line. That will be the scene Friday evening at the Allan Jones Aquatic Center in Knoxville, Tenn., for the most anticipated single race of the NCAA Women’s Championships. It has been years since an NCAA final included such a decorated field, and that’s even before you throw the most recent American-record holder into the mix as well.

One year earlier, Maggie Mac NeilTorri Huske and Kate Douglass were all in the mix for the 100 butterfly NCAA final. Mac Neil, then representing the University of Michigan, was just eight months removed from capturing her first Olympic gold in the long course meters version of the 100 fly, a race in which Huske placed fourth. Mac Neil also held the NCAA and U.S. Open records in the event at 48.89 while the American record belonged to Claire Curzan, still in high school.

Huske touched first at the halfway point, but Mac Neil and Douglass were close behind, and nothing could split the women as they raced down the stretch. In a fingernail finish when only the scoreboard could separate out a winner, it was Douglass in 49.04, a new American record, followed by Huske in 49.17 and Mac Neil in 49.18.

Since then, three events have altered the landscape of the 100 fly. First, Huske became world champion in the 100-meter fly in a dominant effort that beat the field (albeit with Mac Neil absent) by a half-second). That swim was part of a breakthrough meet for Huske as she established herself as the go-to swimmer for the U.S. women on the way to six total medals (three gold and three bronze). Next, after a challenging year in which she was hampered by injuries, Mac Neil struck back with a world-record-setting swim in the short course meters 100 fly in December, beating Huske by seven tenths for a 25-meter pool world title.


Kate Douglass — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Finally, Douglass took away the all-time record in short course yards from Mac Neil. At the ACC Championships last month in Greensboro, N.C., the Virginia senior raced to a time of 48.84, five hundredths quicker than Mac Neil’s previous record from 2021. About one hour later, Mac Neil, now competing for LSU, issued a response at the SEC Championships in College Station, Texas, as she touched in 48.99.

Entering NCAAs, Douglass and Mac Neil sit at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, on the psych sheet in the 100 fly with three other swimmers entered in the race after having broken 50 this season: Huske, who won the Pac-12 title in a strong time of 49.25, as well as Texas’ Emma Sticklen and Curzan, who is now a teammate of Huske’s at Stanford. Curzan’s best swimming this season has come in backstroke, but she is only 13 months removed from lowering the 100 fly American record at a high school meet.

Sticklen went as fast as 49.79 earlier this year, while seeded sixth at 50.04 is Louisville’s Gabi Albiero. It has only been eight years since a former Louisville Cardinal, Kelsi Worrell, became the first swimmer ever under 50 at the 2015 NCAA Championships, but this year’s race could easily feature three swimmers posting 48-second swims.

Who should be considered the favorite? Perhaps Douglass since she owns the quickest lifetime best in the field and has not lost a college race of any sort in two years, but Mac Neil has looked scary good this season, more akin to the swimmer who dominated the 2021 NCAA season in the leadup to her golden moment in Tokyo than the swimmer who was slightly off in most of her swims in early 2022. Huske has speed and underwater dolphin kicking skills as good as any swimmer in the world, and after her long course accomplishments last year, her yards swimming is due to catch up. And somehow, Curzan is the forgotten woman in the mix, but would it really be surprising if she won this race?

This event will mark the end of an era, with Mac Neil exhausting her fifth year of eligibility this season and Douglass unlikely to use the extra year given to athletes because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mac Neil, Huske and Curzan have become expected names in international 100-meter fly finals, but Douglass has achieved most of her international success in the 200 IM and 200 breaststroke.

Thus, this 100 butterfly is for all the marbles. A multi-year college rivalry will be settled for good this week.