2016-2017 Women’s NCAA Power Rankings – January Edition

Texas is surging with a big win over Georgia, but no one can quite unseat Stanford at the top of our first Power Rankings of 2017. The Cardinal are still the team to beat, though midseason rest meets caused some major shakeups behind them.

Just like previous years, SwimSwam’s Power Rankings are somewhere between the CSCAA-style dual meet rankings and a pure prediction of NCAA finish order.  SwimSwam’s rankings take into account how a team looks at the moment, while keeping the end of the season in mind through things like a team’s previous trajectory and NCAA scoring potential.  These rankings are by nature subjective, and a jumping-off point for discussion.  If you disagree with any team’s ranking, feel free to make your case in a respectful way in our comments section.

#20: Wisconsin Badgers (Previous Rank: #16)

Cierra Runge and Danielle Valley are a top-tier distance duo, and the Badgers already have an A cut in the 800 free relay. But the other relays are lagging with the sprint group struggling and star recruit Beata Nelson hasn’t been anywhere near her top times.

#19: North Carolina Tar Heels (Previous Rank: N/A)

The nation’s #5 200 free relay is led by Caroline Baldwinwho is having a great year. Hellen Moffitt swam well at Short Course Worlds and should be in line to put up some great season-ending times. But there’s not much else there at the national level yet for the Heels, who are still waiting on some high-level depth.

#18: Florida State Seminoles (Previous Rank: N/A)

A couple of relay A cuts under their belts, Florida State also boasts the second-fastest 100 breaststroker of the season: junior Natalie PierceJunior College product Tayla Lovemore is also making some national waves in the 100 fly.

#17: Tennessee Volunteers (Previous Rank: #13)

Tennessee is either slumping hard or really hasn’t shown its hand this season. Outside of an impressive 51.7 100 backstroke from Kira Toussaint way back in October, the Vols have zero swims ranking in the NCAA’s top 16 as of now. That includes relays, where Tennessee ranks in the 20s, 30s and even 50s nationally. Still, there’s a wealth of talent on the roster, including blue chip recruit Meghan Smallwho could be a game changer by herself if she comes around at taper.

#16: Ohio State Buckeyes (Previous Rank: #19)

Zhesi Li is handling the sprints and Lindsay Clary the distance. Can Ohio State fill in the gaps in between? Breaststroker Taylor Vargo is doing a nice job, and all-arounder Meg Bailey has already hit lifetime-bests in 6 events this season.

#15: Minnesota Golden Gophers (Previous Rank: #18)

Brooke Zeiger is turning into a force, holding the 4th-fastest 400 IM in the nation and the 2nd-fastest 1650 free. (The latter also counts as the fastest non-Katie Ledecky miler, or the fastest human miler). Kierra Smith is back from redshirt and holding pace with stellar freshman Lindsey Horejsi for the Gophers, who also have some quick medley relays.

#14: Kentucky Wildcats (Previous Rank: N/A)

Kentucky has a few highly-ranked relays, but the kicker is in the 200 back, where the Wildcats field no less than four swimmers ranked inside the NCAA’s top 16. Freshmen Asia Seidt and Ali Galyer are joining junior Bridgette Alexander and defending NCAA champ Danielle Galyer in what could be a monster event for the ‘Cats.

#13: Indiana Hoosiers (Previous Rank: #11)

IU’s relay strength is hidden behind a smokescreen at this point as the fastest breaststroke splitter in history (one Lilly King) didn’t swim the team’s mid-season rest meet. She still leads the NCAA with her times from the U.S. College Challenge and is the heavy favorite to win NCAA breaststroke titles. The rest of the roster is a little hard to predict, but Gia Dalesandro is in good shape in the butterflys.

#12: Missouri Tigers (Previous Rank: #12)

Missouri’s got a couple nice medley relays and a very nice backstroke duo in Hannah Stevens and Nadine Laemmler. Breaststroker Katherine Ross is another key piece and Sharli Brady is already swimming lifetime-bests in the IMs. 

#11: Louisville Cardinals (Previous Rank: #7)

Louisville has five good relays that all rank in NCAA scoring position, led by a 5th-ranked 200 medley. Mallory Comerford is one of the premier mid-distance swimmers in the nation and Andee Cottrell is a breaststroke star. But Louisville needs some individual scorers to emerge around those two to jump back into the top 10 at NCAAs.

#10: NC State Wolfpack (Previous Rank: #10)

The Wolfpack is very tough in the backstrokes, especially with FGCU transfer Elise Haan already swimming near lifetime-bests in both backstrokes. NC State already has a pair of A cuts in relays and ranks 13th or higher in all five relay races. Keep an eye on the sprint group, where Alexia Zevnik is setting the pace but a number of young swimmers could step into the NCAA limelight with good taper meets.

#9: Michigan Wolverines (Previous Rank: #9)

Michigan has been blowing up this season, centering especially on some huge swims at the US College Challenge and the Georgia Invite. G Ryan and Rose Bi are among the nation’s most dynamic distance duos, sitting inside the top 6 in both the 500 and 1650. Siobhan Haughey is swimming great and freshman Vanessa Krause is providing a butterfly threat the Wolverines haven’t fielded in some time.

#8: Texas A&M Aggies (Previous Rank:#6)

IMer Sydney Pickrem leads a versatile group of stroke specialists out of College Station. That group very possibly includes multiple NCAA scorers in both breaststrokes, both IMs and both butterflys. Keep a special eye out for Bethany Galatwho had a breakout summer and was just off her lifetime-best 400 IM at the Art Adamson Invite in November.

#7: Virginia Cavaliers (Previous Rank: #8)

One of just 4 teams with NCAA A cuts in all five relays, Virginia is a nice round roster with potential NCAA scorers in almost every discipline. Laura Simon sits third nationally in both breaststrokes this season and Leah Smith is probably the best non-Katie Ledecky threat in the distances. Virginia needs a deep sprint group to break out into some more top-end talent, and will also need to find a viable replacement for graduated backstroker Courtney Bartholomew.

#6: USC Trojans (Previous Rank: #4)

The Trojans have a very versatile roster that showed up big at the Texas Hall of Fame Invite. Freshman Louise Hansson is a wide-ranging threat who has already made huge impacts swimming freestyle, butterfly and IM. USC currently has three swimmers ranked inside the NCAA’s top 16 in the 200 IM – and all three are sophomores and younger (freshmen Hansson and Tatum Wade plus sophomore Kirsten Vose). The Trojans should load up on relay points, though they’re a bit weak in distance and backstroke. The latter should change if Hannah Weiss has a good postseason.

#5: Arizona Wildcats (Previous Rank: #14)

The blowup team of December, Arizona is starting to look like a national power with all five relays ranked inside the top 8 nationally. That includes a nation-leading 200 medley relay with a time (1:34.63) that would have won NCAAs a year ago. The Wildcats currently have a swimmer in NCAA scoring position in every freestyle distance and have a wealth of sprint freestyle talent that could overcome questionable depth to float the team on relay points in the postseason.

#4: Texas Longhorns (Previous Rank: #5)

Texas has been red-hot lately, swimming a brutal Stanford team tough and then downing Georgia, both on the road. Senior Madisyn Cox leads the NCAA in the 200 IM currently, and Texas is incredibly strong in the backstrokes and butterflys. A sign of a complete roster: Texas is currently the only team with a swimmer ranked inside the NCAA’s top 16 in every single event this season. The next step is continuing that momentum through the postseason.

#3: Georgia Bulldogs (Previous Rank: #2)

A home loss to a good (and fired up) Texas team slides Georgia down just a bit, if only because it’s been so long since the Bulldogs lost a dual meet at home. Still boasting the nation’s best 400 free relay, Georgia is built to contend at SECs and NCAAs. Despite the return of Olympian Simone Manuel and the debut of American record-holder Abbey Weitzeil, Bulldog Olivia Smoliga still leads the NCAA ranks in the 50 and 100 freestyles.

#2: California Golden Bears (Previous Rank #3)

In typical Cal fashion, the Golden Bears of 2017 have a couple major holes (breaststroke and distance) but are so absurdly loaded in everything else that the deficiencies almost don’t matter. California has two swimmers apiece in the top 8 of the 100 and 200 back along with a whopping four swimmers inside the top 12 in the 100 fly. Freshman sprinter Abbey Weitzeil has already been worth the gap-year wait. And even without a great true breaststroker on the roster, Cal leads the nation in the 400 medley and sits 2nd in the 200 medley relay as no Golden Bear relay ranks lower than 3rd.

#1: Stanford Cardinal (Previous Rank: #1)

Stanford’s freestyle dominance is unparalleled, and there’s no sign that anyone in the NCAA can currently hang with the Card. 4 ranked scorers in the 50 free, 3 in the 100 free and 4 in the 200 free, plus the far-and-away NCAA title favorite in the 500 and 1650 with Katie LedeckyIt’s also worth noting that Ledecky sits #2 in the NCAA in the 400 IM behind teammate (and defending NCAA champ) Ella EastinStanford, too, has a breaststroke problem but has enough talent to overcome a one-discipline hole.

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6 years ago

It is curious that the top programs are lacking in breaststroke. And even when top schools have a good breaststroker, they often have ONE elite breaststroker (eg: Sarah Hasse at Stanford. Leverenz at Cal.) Meanwhile last year Indiana had two of the best breaststrokes in the country (King & Tucker.) It’s true that many school’s training environments might not be great for breaststrokes due to the fact that breast is slower than other strokes and very technique focused. For that reason great breaststrokes may choose programs that specialize in breaststroke development- which is not always the top programs. I also wonder if because breaststrokers tend to be one trick ponies, top schools don’t offer elite breaststrokers the scholarship $$ they… Read more »

6 years ago

After the UT/UGA meet looks like Tennessee will be much better at NCAAs. Fighting for top spots in a few relays plus Small is starting to swim LARGE!!!

Jim C
6 years ago

Is it true that breaststrokers are specialists and the top breaststrokers are not likely to contribute much anywhere else?

Frank the tank
6 years ago

I KNOW my Lady Tigers will break into that top 10 this year! They’re on FIYA!! MIZ!

Fly errrrrr
6 years ago

I think team scores at ncaas will be 1-4 as listed above.

samuel huntington
6 years ago

it’s weird that the top teams all struggle in the breaststroke

Reply to  samuel huntington
6 years ago

There seems to be a shortage of depth in breaststroke on many of top teams. The past few recruiting classes just haven’t had as many elite breaststrokers. The 16th fastest time in NCAA Division I in the 100 breaststroke has stagnated since 2012 (2012-59.68, 2013-59.46, 2014-59.55, 2015-59.49, 2016-59.57), while in an event like the 100 backstroke, it has dropped significantly (2012-52.26, 2013-52.12, 2014-51.84, 2015-51.85, 2016-51.46). It looks like there is a new crop of fast breaststrokers coming up–Alex Walsh, Margaret Aroesty, Zoe Bartel, Nikol Popov, Grace Zhao, etc. so hopefully this trend will change soon!

NYC Unicorn
Reply to  dmswim
6 years ago

Breastroke is a very fundamental and technique driven stroke. All timing. Unfortunately most clubs foster an environment where all the kids care about is moving up a lane and catching the person infront of them on every set or making a certain interval and don’t spend enough time on technique and drills without intervals

Reply to  NYC Unicorn
6 years ago

This may be the best comment I’ve read on this site yet

bobo gigi
Reply to  samuel huntington
6 years ago

What happens to Heidi Poppe? She was in 59 until 2015 NCAAs. She has been injured then? Her best time of the 2015/2016 college season was 1.02.17. Better this season with 1.00.82 last November but still not close to her best shape.

bobo gigi
Reply to  bobo gigi
6 years ago

I like the downvote but I’d prefer an answer….

Side eye Joe
Reply to  samuel huntington
6 years ago

I thought the same thing, it’s odd that IU had the best two on the same team last year

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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