And now, to reveal our top 4 women’s recruiting classes for the fall of 2013, who will begin their quests for collegiate greatness over the next few weeks.
To be totally transparent and honest, we’ve had Cal as the #1 class in the country for a month. Given that we, and most of the swimming community, only found out about the signing of World Championship finalist breaststroker Marina Garcia on Saturday, that says just how good this class is. The Cal women have had the best two-year run of recruiting that we’ve seen at least in recent memory.
4. Stanford Cardinal
Headliners: Lia Neal, Nicole Stafford, Grace Carlson, Kassidy Cook (diving)
Rest of the class: Bridget Boushka, Tara Halsted
Greg Meehan already has what will probably become the top group in the high school class of 2014, but his class of 2013 was none-too-shabby either. Start with Olympic bronze medalist Lia Neal, who swam in London on the American 400 free relay. During her senior season, her times indicate that her focus was more on high school and her yards times, and the results were spectacular. She was 22.4 in the 50, 47.9 in the 100, and 1:45.5 in the 200 yard freestyles. She didn’t go any best times in long course, but Greg Meehan will be thrilled with what she showed in 2013 regardless. She can immediately take Andi Murez’s spot on all three free relays and will be seamless (though she’s not quite as good in the 50 as the senior Murez was in a spectacular year last year).
Nicole Stafford from Georgia is a ten-time Georgia High School State Champion. She’s had some really scary health issues this summer, but if she’s at full-strength as a freshman this year, she could be a gem of this Stanford class. She’s primarily a butterflier, with bests of 53.4 and 1:58.0, but is also a fantastic backstroker (54.2) and freestyler (49.3/1:45.2). She should slide perfectly into that versatile role that senior-to-be Felicia Lee has had at Stanford for the last three years. Even with her health problems, she swam lifetime bests of 1:00.1 and 2:15.6 in the 100 and 200 long course butterflies this summer.
Halsted is a swimmer who is probably still looking for what her best event is, but the good news is that she’s clearly very talented. She’s been 55.0/1:55.4 in the 100 and 200 yard backstrokes, which is one of Stanford’s weakest areas. She’s also been a 1:58.1 in the 200 fly and a 2:01.1 in the 200 IM. She had a great senior year, just like most of this class did, which should help carry momentum.
Carlson, from Tualatin Hills in Oregon, is a great freestyle/backstroker, going 50.2/1:47.9 in the 100 and 200 yard freestyles plus 53.8/1:57.9 in the 100 and 200 yard backstrokes. That’s more resources invested in shoring-up that backstroke group.
And finally, their diver. Kassidy Cook from the Woodlands program is the number one women’s diving recruit in the country, and one of the best in years. She just barely missed the Olympic Team in the 3-meter at the Olympic Trials, placing 4th, and is a former multiple-time Junior National Champion on both springboards.She’s also been very good on the platform in the past, but as she’s moved to the more elite levels of the sport has shied away from that event. Given some battles with shoulder injuries, she may be a two-event diver at Stanford, but she could be an NCAA top three finisher, if not champion, as a freshman.
This is another small class, as women’s NCAA teams seem to be in the mode of shrinking their rosters a bit.
3. Georgia Bulldogs
Top Additions: Olivia Smoliga, Emily Cameron, Rachel Zilinskas
Rest of the Class: Kimberlee John-Williams, Anna Kolanowski, Elizabeth Ann Kirkland (diving)
It would have been improbable, especially in the fall signing period prior to hanging another ‘National Champions’ banner, for Georgia to replace their outgoing class that included Megan Romano and Allison Schmitt. However, their incoming freshmen class should result in a very strong, if new-look, Georgia team that suddenly should have incredible medley relays to go with their history in the free relays.
That begins with Olivia Smoliga, who was the first high school swimmer under 22 seconds in the 50 yard free (21.99) and could help in all four of the shorter relays immediately. In the freestyle races, she goes 21.99/47.89 in the 50 and 100; in the backstrokes, she goes 51.4/1:56.8 in the 100 and 200 yard races. That means immediately she will be a backstroke upgrade even from the great Megan Romano. She gives Georgia a big leg-up in their head-to-head rivalry with Cal, as she’s one of a handful of swimmers in the country who can challenge Cal’s backstroke dominance next year (she would’ve been in the A-Final in 2013 at NCAA’s).
Also joining the backstroke group is Kimberlee John-Williams, a native of Trinidad & Tobago who swam at the Baylor School in Tennessee; she is the defending Tennessee State Champion with a 54.04 in the 100 yard back, and has split 22.8 and 50.8 in the 50 and 100 yard freestyles on relays. She’s seen as a swimmer with a ton of upside, given her size and strength.
Emily Cameron didn’t have a great senior season, but she’s still the top breaststroker in the class with yards bests of 1:00.54 and 2:13.60. She’s also a strong freestyler, going 22.7/49.4/1:49.0 in the 50, 100, and 200 yard races. She’ll have a year to get her times straightened out, as Melanie Margalis remains as a great relay option, before taking over in 2014-2015.
The Dawgs also bring in Rachel Zilinskas, a tailor-made Georgia recruit. She’s 1:47.1 in the 200, 4:40.0 in the 500, and 15:59 in the 1605 freestyles. Coming from Germantown, she’s no stranger to hard work, though is another swimmer who could do well from a change-of-scenery after a sluggish senior season. Kolanowski will slide into that middle distance group, with her best race being the 200 free where she has gone 1:48.36.
This is not the world’s deepest class, but a medley relay next year of Smoliga, Margalis, Harrington, and Vreeland/van Landeghem is mouth-wateringly good.
2. Tennessee Volunteers
Headliners: Michelle Cefal, Camryne Morris, Christina Leander, Colleen Callahan, Lauren Driscoll (sophomore transfer from Cal)
Rest of the class: Trisha Forrester, Heather Lundstrom, Morgan Dickson, Gaffney Taylor (diving), Madeline Tegner, Bailey Wind (diving)
This class is insanely deep for Tennessee, which they needed after losing a good chunk of scoring from last year’s team that placed 3rd at NCAA’s.
One of those graduations is incredibly obvious in the focus of this recruiting class. Butterflier Kelsey Floyd completed her eligibility, and Tennessee has brought in four impressive butterfliers in the class. Michelle Cefal is the headliner and a Junior National Teamer. She has been 53.1 and 1:55.5 in the 100 and 200 yard flys, and is even better in long course, where she seems dead-red on track to fill the huge gap in the women’s 200 fly right now (she’s been 58.2 and 2:08.7 in long course).
Trisha Forrester, daughter of 1976 Olympic medalist Bill Forrester, comes from Savannah, Georgia, and is a two-time Georgia State Champion (in the 100 free and 100 back) but her best races are the butterflies, where as just a sophomore she was 55.0 and 1:58.8. Since then, she’s improved in a lot of other races, but in the hallowed halls of Knoxville, where they know butterfliers as well as anywhere, she’s being called a butterflier, which can only mean good things for her future.
Heather Lundstrom is an incredible worker. She won three-straight Missouri State Championships in the 100 yard fly, including a 54.57 as a senior a week after having her wisdom teeth out (and being out of the water for 5 days). Also at that senior state meet, she won the 500 freestyle title. For those unfamiliar with the American high school racing schedule, that’s about a 15-minute turnaround, with only the 100 free separating the two races. This is again while spending most of her taper out of the water.
She has been 54.3 and 1:57.6 in the 100 and 200 yard butterflies, and is the kind of driven swimmer that a coach like Matt Kredich can turn into a star.
Leander is a very good backstroker, with bests of 53.6 and 1:58.1 in the 100 and 200 yard races. She’s also a strong enough breaststroker and butterflier that she’ll probably wind up swimming the 200 IM (2:00.61) as her third event.
Colleen Callahan is one of the top 5 breaststrokers in the class of 2013. Tennessee has a good one returning in Molly Hannis, but Callahan gives them much-needed depth with bests of 1:01.2 and 2:15.2 coming out of high school.
Topping the class off is a pair of great middle-to-distance swimmers. Lauren Driscoll, who is transferring after one season at Cal. She didn’t improve in her core events, the 200 and 500 yard freestyles, as a freshman, though her bests of 1:45.3 and 4:39 show her potential. She did, however, extend her range up to the mile, where she dropped down to a 16:25.19. With what Tennessee has done with their distance group in the last year, she should thrive. Incoming freshman Camryne Morris, who spent time training with NBAC but now is at the Chelsea Piers Aquatic Club in Connecticut, should also help fill out that group. She has yards bests of 1:47.2, 4:42.7, and 16:19.3 in the 200, 500, and 1650 freestyles, and is on the verge of a big national breakthrough on the senior level. After so much focus at NBAC on long course swimming, expect even those very good yards times to drop right away at Tennessee.
And if all that weren’t enough, it’s two great divers. Gaffney Talor dove for the duo of Cynthia Potter (ESPN diving analyst) and Alex Kossenkov. Adding Dave Parrington to that trifecta will give her a huge chance for success; she’s a former Georgia high school state champion. Bailey Wind is an incredible story. After signing with Tennessee, she was involved in an auto accident on December 1, 2012 where a good friend and her boyfriend were both killed after being hit by a speeding driver, and Wind suffered a broken neck, lost several teeth, and had to have a titanium plate put in her jaw (it was ruled that there was no fault by her boyfriend, the driver of the vehicle that she was in). She returned to the boards in April, though she may redshirt her first year.
This is a phenomenal class, and it filled many big needs for the team. If they can find one more sprinter to partner with Faith Johnson, then this could be another huge year for the Vols. What’s really exciting about this class is that all of the swimmers still seem to be going the right way with their improvements: a rarity for a class of this size in women’s swimming. That jumps them up another few rungs on our ladder.
1. Cal Golden Bears
Headline additions: Missy Franklin, Celina Li, Kristen Vredeveld, Farida Osman (Egypt), Sophia Batchelor (New Zealand), Marina Garcia (Spain)
Rest of the class: Taylor Young, Abi Speers,
Another Teri McKeever class that goes 5-or-6 deep with future NCAA Champion-type swimmers. The class gets knocked a little because Missy Franklin, an unbelievable next-level recruit, will only be there for two years, but even that can’t damped this class much. Celina Li is the top butterflier in the class and among the 5 best meters IM’ers (of any age) in the country. Kristen Vredeveld is one of the fastest sprinters ever in high school, a former 15-16 National Age Group Record holder, and the lock-down sprint freestyle specialist that Cal was missing last year.
Abigail Speers will join Vredeveld in that sprint group; she’s been 23.1 and 50.8 in the 50 and 100 yard races
Then there’s two huge internationals. Sophia Batchelor from New Zealand, the National Record holder in the 100 meter fly who is going to be an international-level competitor for the next decade if she wants to be (including at this year’s World Championships). Farida Osman is an Egyptian who was born in the United States; she finished 7th in the 50 fly at this year’s World Championships with a best of 26.12 – basically the same time that American Dana Vollmer, also training at Cal went. Imagine adding Dana Vollmer to your 200 medley relay. She has the potential to have the fastest split in the country on that leg as a freshman if she wants to.
Taylor Young, from nearby Santa Rosa, is another added piece of depth to a Cal breaststroke group that needs it. She was a 1:01.2 and 2:14.9 in the 100 and 200 yard races as a senior. She has shown steady improvement throughout her high school career, which surely attracted the likes of Cal in a relatively-weak breaststroke class nationwide.
And then, the late addition of Marina Garcia Urzainqi from Spain really was the icing on Cal’s cake. Whether you look at a straight long-course comparison, or rely on meters-to-yards conversions, Garcia is the best breaststroker in this freshman class, bar-none, having been 1:07.0 and 2:22 in the 100 and 200 meter breaststrokes. In fact, that 200 time is 4th in the world, and faster than any current NCAA swimmer. National Championship worthy is an understatement.