And now to reveal our top 4 recruiting classes on the women’s side. As a refresher, here are links to the rest of the top 12:
The top four really separated themselves this recruiting season, as all four of these are legitimately loaded classes. In fact, of our top 10-rated prospects last summer, 8 ended up going to these four teams, including 4 to the #1-rated class.
As a reminder, the ranking numbers listed for each individual prospect are from our pre-recruiting season rankings done last July. There has obviously been some shake-up in the rankings since then based on each swimmer’s senior season, so the individual rankings are a rough sign of each prospect’s standing, though not as concrete as they’d appear.
4. California Golden Bears (NCAA Finish: 3rd)
Top Tier Additions: #6 Jasmine Mau, Cierra Runge, Noemie Thomas, Maija Roses, Catherine Ladd
It’s tough ranking this class 4th, as Cal has once again done its work in recruiting. This crew feels very much like a top-tier recruiting class, and only checks in at #4 because of how loaded the top 4 recruiting classes are.
The Golden Bear headliners are a pair of butterflyers from outside of the continental United States, Hawaii’s Jasmine Mau and Canada’s Noemie Thomas.
Mau comes out of Hawaii, choosing to stay in the Pacific even as she heads to the mainland for school. We had her ranked 6th in our initial recruiting rankings, and that was before she even broke the National Independent High School record in the 100 fly to close out her high school years. She holds top times of 52.2 and 1:56.6 in the 100 and 200 flys, and is also an above-average 100 freestyler (48.6) and backstroker (53.54), though she’ll have her work cut out for her to try competing in a loaded NCAA in the backstrokes. Still, Mau has the potential to be an elite butterflyer on the college stage, which would be a big boost to Cal’s medley relays a year after the Bears wound up sticking backstrokers on their fly legs to round things out.
Thomas, meanwhile, might be an even bigger pickup. She’s far and away the best Canadian prospect in this class, with several national records under her belt as she heads south for college. Thomas is a former World Champs finalist and comes in with top long course times of 57.96 in the 100 fly and 2:11.43 in the 200. The only obvious downside with Thomas is that long course times don’t always convert well to the NCAA’s compact pool (Cal got a lesson in this with the lackluster freshman year of Marina Garcia last season), but Thomas’s prior short-course meters prowess should help assuage some of those doubts. We don’t rank foreign athletes in our pre-recruiting season rankings, but Thomas is a pretty clear top-10-type talent for Cal.
The most important pickup for Cal lineup-wise, though, might be Cierra Runge out of North Baltimore Aquatic Club. Runge gives coach Teri McKeever a big-time freestyle piece in the distance races, which should presumably allow them to let their stud Missy Franklin swim more backstroke races. Runge was 9:25 in the 1000 free as recently as last December, and swims down to a 4:37.1 500 free and a 16:45.78 mile, though that 1650 time is almost 4 years old by this point.
Far from a distance-only swimmer, Runge also has enough speed to compete for relay spots, particularly in the 200, where she’s been 1:45.5. If that’s not enough, she has the versatility to swim 200 back or 200 IM at a high level, which should allow great lineup flexibility for a team that already boasts a wealth of lineup options.
Pulling in athletes from all over, Cal next turns to Carolina, where they mined former junior national champion Maija Roses from SwimMAC. The Golden Bears hope Roses is their next stud breaststroker, which was their most glaring Achilles’ Heel this past season. Roses has been 1:01.4/2:12.0 in the 100 and 200 breasts, but has done her best work in the long course pool (1:09.5/2:31.7). Roses is also a solid IMer, but what might be her best trait is her demonstrated ability to deal with adversity. She fought through a hip surgery in 2012, and saw her future swimming career legitimately in doubt, but came back just a year later to win that junior national title.
Cal also kept a good prospect in state, roping in Catherine Ladd from nearby Santa Clara Swim Club to bolster their sprinting corps. Ladd looks like a solid sprinter with some upside, and an NCAA team can never have too many sprint freestylers in their stable, given the importance of relay points. Ladd’s best time is her 49.5 in the 100, but also swims down to 23.5 in the 50 and is a solid backstroker.
With the kind of recruiting classes Cal has brought in the past several seasons, the biggest problem for the Bears has been maximizing their elite talent for the greatest number of points. With some holes in their lineup filled, the best possible outcome for McKeever & co. would be a roster that can hold its own in every event, allowing its stars to truly excel in their specialties instead of moving around to bolster weak spots. This recruiting class certainly has the pieces to make that happen.
3. Georgia Bulldogs (NCAA Finish: 1st)
Top Tier Additions: #3 Kylie Stewart, #7 Meaghan Raab, Megan Kingsley, Courtney Weaver, Anna McKenzie, Stephanie Peters
The two-time defending NCAA champs don’t have our top-ranked class, but they did plenty work in recruiting last fall, and should be clear title contenders for a third straight season.
Perhaps the first rule in college recruiting is to keep the best home-grown recruits in-state, and Georgia did so with Kylie Stewart. Rated our #3 prospect in the nation last fall, Stewart only got better over her senior season. Backstroke is her calling card, where the Dynamo swimmer went 51.96 and 1:49.85 in the 100 and 200 yard distances at NCSA Juniors back in March. That should make her an instant NCAA title contender in a pair of events where Georgia wasn’t particularly strong this year (with the obvious caveat that the backstrokes are so loaded at the NCAA level right now that almost no one is “guaranteed” a scoring spot).
Stewart is also a great get for Georgia based on medley relay need. Last season the Bulldogs used freshman stud Olivia Smoliga to lead off both medleys, but with Stewart, should be able to shift Smoliga, the national 50 free champ, to the freestyle leg.
That’s not mention Stewart’s 1:44.6 speed in the 200 free, which makes her a candidate for the 800 free relay that has been a bread-and-butter kind of event for Georgia.
The Bulldogs complement Stewart with another top-10 recruit: Meaghan Raab. The Hershey, PA product brings some big sprinting potential to Georgia, with times of 23.15/49.01/1:45.10 in the 50, 100 and 200 frees respectively. Raab is versatile enough to be a tough 100/200 butterflyer and a good 200 IMer as well, and as we wrote back in October, Raab just seems like the prototypical Georgia prospect.
On top of those two are a few more prospects who look like instant contributing role-players with the potential to develop into all-around studs down the line. Flint, Michigan YMCA powerhouse Courtney Weaver brings in the butterfly speed, with best times of 52.51 and 1:56.51 both set back in April at YMCA nationals. It appears Weaver will look to bring along backstroke or possibly the 200 IM as a tertiary event down the road. She’ll get a new training partner in Mount Pleasant (South Carolina) Swim Club’s Megan Kingsley. At this point, Weaver is a bit better at the short course 100 fly, but Kingsley has the edge in the 200. Ideally for Georgia, they’ve got a dynamic duo to send forward for the next four years in both butterfly races.
In-state prospect Stephanie Peters brings a distance free component to this class, as a 16:17 miler out of Marietta. Anna McKenzie comes from Tuscalossa, Alabama and shows some promise in the sprint freestyle and breaststroke to cap off what looks like a pretty well-rounded class for the defending champs.
2. Michigan Wolverines (NCAA Finish: 30th)
Top Tier Additions: #4 Gillian Ryan, Clara Smiddy, Emily Kopas, Carolyn McCann, Hannah Moore
Michigan is still a ways out of national title contention, but it’s becoming clear that coach Mike Bottom has got a good thing going in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines pulled in a top-5 recruit and filled out the class with some fast-rising talents as they try to make a splash in a Big Ten that has been mostly a two-team show the past several seasons.
Gillian Ryan is the biggest name here, and she’s an interesting get. A former U.S. National Champ in 2011, Ryan was also third at Olympic Trials in the 800 free. She broke out with Parkland Aquatic Club, but followed her coach Erik Posegay to North Baltimore after that 2011 national title. She went almost two full years before matching the 8:27.64 she put up there, but broke through last summer with an 8:25.57 at the U.S. Open.
Ryan looks like a top-tier stud in the longer freestyle races, perhaps à la Connor Jaeger, a cornerstone of Bottom’s NCAA title run with the Michigan men.
Meanwhile Florida’s Clara Smiddy might have risen to become one of the best backstrokers in this class over the course of her senior season. She’s been 51.7 in the 100 and 1:50.5 in the 200 and is also a potential factor in the mid-sprint freestyle races.
The Wolverines graduated top breaststroker Angie Chokran, but seem to be taking on some hydra-like qualities in that event, picking up two more high-level talents to replace her. Emily Kopas will take the trip from Florida alongside Smiddy, and might be joining her on medley relays in the near future. Meanwhile Washington’s Carolyn McCann also signed on with Michigan – McCann is a bit quicker in the 100, Kopas in the 200, and the duo could be a great training pair for the next four years.
Smiddy will have her own training partner in North Carolina’s Hannah Moore, a solid backstroker who has developed more lately in the mid-distance freestyles. Moore is 53.9/1:54.4 in the backstrokes, but hasn’t bettered those times since 2012. However, she pushed her way to 1:47.3 and 4:40.9 in the 200 and 500 frees earlier this year, and might project better there, particularly with Smiddy and rising junior Zoe Mattingly heading up the backstroke depth chart.
Give Michigan credit for pulling in a class like this while still sitting well out of the NCAA’s elite programs, at least for the moment. Bottom has clearly convinced the class of 2014 that they’re jumping into a program on the rise, and next season will be a big indicator if their faith is well-founded.
1. Stanford Cardinal (NCAA finish: 2nd)
Top Tier Additions: #1 Simone Manuel, #2 Janet Hu, #5 Lindsey Engel, #8 Ally Howe, Alexandra Meyers, Heidi Poppe, Gracia Leydon-Mahoney (diving)
While Cal has been putting together the headline-grabbing recruiting classes the past several seasons, their Bay Area rivals have been quietly stockpiling some bright young talents on the Farm, and this season they finally added the punchy, star-laden class needed to take the next big step.
Simone Manuel is the clear-cut headliner. She’s the consensus #1-recruit of this class, and the NCAA’s emphasis on relays only makes her more valuable. Already an American record-holder in the sprint freestyles, Manuel has the potential to enter the college ranks as an immediate national title contender in the 50 and 100 frees. If that’s not enough, coach Greg Meehan also has a key relay piece now at his disposal, as Manuel could be a rock of a leadoff leg, or one of the more feared anchor legs in all of college swimming. Pair her with rising sophomore Lia Neal and senior Maddy Schaefer and you’ve got an explosive combination.
If getting the top prospect to come halfway across the country wasn’t enough, Meehan also pulled in Janet Hu, ranked #2 in our early rankings. Hu was the first major recruit to commit, getting Stanford ahead of the game from the get-go. Hu is another talented sprinter who also brings exceptional butterfly and backstroke speed to the table. Her addition should help ease the departures of stars Felicia Lee and Maya DiRado.
Stanford’s third top-5 recruit, Lindsey Engel, further bolsters a sprinting corps that’s almost feeling unfair. She’s 22.2 and 48.9 in the 50 and 100 frees, and can also fill in in the 200 free and 100 fly and back. Engel might not be needed much in the stroke races, though, as Hu will be joined by #8-prospect Ally Howe, whom Stanford mined from its home program Palo Alto Stanford Aquatics. Howe probably only improved her standing in this class since we set those early rankings, as she’s dropped down into the 51-second range in the 100 back and 1:52 in the 200.
Wisconsin’s Alexandra Meyers fills in the more mid-distance freestyle events, and Stanford really rounded out its event lineup with breaststroker Heidi Poppe, another swimmer who improved her stock dramatically after signing on – Poppe cracked a minute in the 100 breast for the first time this spring.
Make no mistake, this is a loaded class. It’s generally short-sighted to anoint any team “offseason champions” – just look at Cal, who got tremendous hype for their last two recruiting classes but still missed the national title – but it’s clear that Meehan & co. will have an abundance of talent to work with beginning next fall.
The only spot Stanford didn’t bring in a true blue-chipper is in the distance freestyle races. Maybe they’ll look there next recruiting season, say, going after perhaps the best swimmer in all of the world to fill that hole starting in 2015. But that just wouldn’t be fair, would it?