By Kevin Donnelly, Swimming World College Intern.
In college swimming, we commonly see swimmers and teams from the Power Five conferences (the Big Ten, the ACC, the Pac-12, the Big 12, and the SEC) dominate the ranks at the Division I NCAA Championships. At the 2017 Women’s NCAA Championship Meet for example, the top 23 finishing teams were from a Power Five conference, while on the men’s side, the top 26 finishing teams were from a Power Five conference. This obviously means their swimmers are dominating the ranks, placing extremely highly at the NCAA Championships year after year.
However, every so often there are swimmers from mid-major Division I schools that place extremely highly at the championship meets, bringing in big points for their teams all on their own. It has proven difficult over the years for mid-major school swimmers to even qualify for the NCAA Championships, but it is always noteworthy when a mid-major swimmer not only qualifies, but scores big points.
Below is a list of the top five Division I mid-major swimmers from the past decade (2008-2017) of NCAA swimming. This only includes accomplishments achieved at the NCAA level of competition; for example, Claire Donahue (2012 U.S. Olympian and Western Kentucky graduate) would have her swims at the NCAA Championships factored in, but not her postgraduate Olympic career. This list only includes swimmers who swam at a mid-major school through their entire NCAA career. Swimmers who started at mid-major schools and transferred to a Power Five school are not included.
5. Katie Meili, Columbia, 2010-2013
Katie Meili has become a household name in the sport of swimming recently as a member of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team as well as a three-time World Championship medalist. But many swimming fans don’t know that Meili was a strong NCAA swimmer in the early 2010s, swimming her collegiate career at the Ivy League’s Columbia University.
As an NCAA competitor, Meili was a three-time championship finalist, as well as a two-time consolation finalist. Her highest finish was third place at the 2013 NCAA Championships in the 100-yard breaststroke. Meili went on to become an Olympic Games qualifier for Team USA in 2016 in the 100-meter breaststroke, and would later win a gold medal as part of the 4×100 medley relay representing the United States.
4. Chris Swanson, Penn, 2013-2016
The Ivy League snags another spot on the list, this time from Chris Swanson. In his four-year NCAA career for Penn, Swanson was a nine-time Ivy League conference champion, as well as a qualifier for NCAAs in every one of his four seasons.
He placed ninth in the 1650 free at the 2014 NCAA Championships, as well as 11th at the 2015 meet. But Swanson is most known for his performance as a senior at the 2016 NCAA Championships, where he blazed a 24.38 split on the final 50 of the 1650 to surpass South Carolina’s Akaram Mahmoud by just twelve hundredths of a second, winning the event in a time of 14:31.54.
Swanson is one of just two mid-major swimmers to win an event at the NCAA Championships since 2008. He went on to place 12th in the 1500-meter free at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials.
3. Ashley Danner, George Mason, 2009-2012
Swimming for the George Mason Patriots, who back in 2009-2012 were a member of the Colonial Athletic Association (they have since moved to the Atlantic Ten Conference), Ashley Danner was a powerhouse breaststroker who made herself known by earning the top seed in the 100 breaststroke heading into the 2010 NCAA Championships. She went on to place second in the event at the meet, as well as a strong sixth place finish in the 200 breast.
Danner ended her swimming career with six championship finals appearances at the NCAA Championships (all in the breaststroke events), including a three-year string of top-three finishes in the 100 breast (second in 2010, third in 2011, and second again in 2012).
She also had two consolation finals appearances at the NCAA Championships. Danner’s best 100-yard breaststroke time of 59.02 would have qualified her for the championship final at the 2017 NCAA Championships, showing just how far ahead of the pack she was at the time.
2. Josh Schneider, Cincinnati, 2008-2010
Although only three of Josh Schneider’s four seasons count towards the past decade of NCAA swimming (his freshman year at Cincinnati was the 2006-2007 season, eleven seasons ago), Schneider remains, along with Chris Swanson, one of two swimmers from mid-major schools to win an event at the NCAA Championships in the past ten years.
As a senior for the Bearcats, then a member of the Big East (they have since moved to the American Athletic Association), Schneider won the 50 free, 100 free, and 100 fly at the Big East Championships. Like Swanson, Schneider also won his NCAA title in grand fashion, defeating California sprinter and now-eight-time Olympic medalist Nathan Adrian in the 50 freestyle at the 2010 meet, swimming an insanely fast time of 18.92 to take the gold.
Schneider added a sixth-place finish in the 100 free later at the meet, and made three other consolation finals during his run as an NCAA swimmer. Schneider might be better known as a post-graduate swimmer; he represented Team USA at the 2010 and 2014 Short Course World Championships as well as the 2015 Pan American Games, where he won gold in the 50-meter freestyle.
1. Alicia Aemisegger, Princeton, 2008-2010
Like Schneider, only three of Alicia Aemisegger’s four seasons count towards the past decade of NCAA swimming, as her freshman season was eleven seasons ago. But even with that handicap, Aemisegger is still clearly the most dominant mid-major NCAA swimmer over the past ten years.
The third Ivy Leaguer to appear on the list, as a Princeton Tiger, Aemisegger swam her way to eight top-eight finishes over the span of 2008-2010, more than any other mid-major swimmer. She finished as high as second in the 1650 freestyle in 2010, and boasts three-straight top-five finishes in the 400 IM over the span.
Aemisegger still holds four Ivy League records eight seasons after her NCAA career ended, in the 500 free, 1000 free, 1650 free, and 400 IM. Over the span, Aemisegger was a perfect nine-for-nine in Ivy League championships, winning all her individual events for the Tigers at the Ivy League Championships from 2008-2010. Aemisegger also placed seventh in the 400-meter IM and 12th in the 200-meter IM at the 2008 Olympic Trials.
All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.