2018 Women’s NCAA Swimmer of the Year: Ella Eastin
On a historically-dominant Stanford Cardinal roster, it wasn’t five-time Olympic champ Katie Ledecky or seven-time world champ Simone Manuel who led the way. No, the only three-event winner individually was junior Ella Eastin.
Eastin had a sensational NCAA meet, overshadowing even her two teammates who typically refuse to be overshadowed by anyone. Eastin hit the records triple crown (American, NCAA and U.S. Open records) in all three of her individual events during the collegiate season, meaning her swims rank as the fastest in history in those events.
Most notable was the 400 IM, in which Eastin beat Ledecky head-to-head, shattering American, NCAA and U.S. Open records Ledecky had set just weeks earlier at Pac-12s. Prior to February 2018, no swimmer had ever been faster than Katinka Hosszu‘s 3:56.54 from 2012. Ledecky snuck under that record by .01 at Pac-12s, but at NCAAs, Eastin tore through history with a 3:54.60, shattering all historic marks and denying Ledecky’s bid for triple individual titles.
Eastin also set a whole slew of records in the 200 IM, going 1:50.67 and taking almost a full second off her own NCAA, American and U.S. Open records from 2016. She won the 200 fly at NCAAs by a whopping 1.7 seconds (going 1:50.01), though she didn’t break her own records. She did, however, take down American, U.S. Open and NCAA records with her Pac-12 Championship title swim of 1:49.51, becoming just the second woman ever to break 1:50.
If that wasn’t enough, Eastin had three major freestyle swims in the NCAA postseason. She was the Pac-12 runner-up in the 500 free, going a 4:34.04 that would have been second at NCAAs had she not opted for the 200 IM. And she swam on two winning Stanford relays, splitting 1:41.13 on the 800 free relay (better than anyone on her relay besides Ledecky and fourth-best of the entire field) and 47.13 on the 400 free relay (better than anyone on her relay besides Manuel and 6th-best of the entire field).
Looking back at Eastin’s unparalleled NCAA season, it’s easy to see just how devastating her summer bout with mono was. With all the momentum in the world, it felt like Eastin was on the cusp of an international breakthrough. But with a roster spot at World University Games secured, a healthy Eastin could be in line for more Swammy recognition come 2019.
In no particular order
Lilly King, junior, Indiana: The unrivaled breaststroke superstar of the NCAA, King was her typical dominant self in 2018. She won her third consecutive NCAA titles in both the 100 and 200 breaststrokes, and she’s now set NCAA records in both breaststrokes in all three of her collegiate seasons. King’s degree of dominance is better than anyone (besides maybe Ledecky) in college swimming right now; her breaststroke splits were so much faster than the field that she pretty much singlehandedly put the IU relays into title contention. She was 1.3 seconds better than any other breast leg on the 200 medley and 1.4 seconds better than any other breast leg on the 400 medley.
- Simone Manuel, senior, Stanford: Manuel helped power a historic relay sweep by Stanford. The sprint star swam on four of the five relays, helping the 200 free, 200 medley and 400 medley break NCAA, American and U.S. Open records and the 400 free relay win the NCAA title. Manuel couldn’t quite reach her 2017 NCAA record levels in her individual events, but still won the 50 free (21.18) and 100 free (45.65) with top 3 performances in history. Her relay splits were even more insane: 20.45 on the end of the 200 medley relay is the best split ever by three tenths, and 45.47 on the 400 free relay is 0.02 off of the fastest split in history for 100 yards.
- Katie Ledecky, sophomore, Stanford: Ledecky was the other double-individual winner, and there’s at least a chance she would have won three had she not chosen to expand her range with the 400 IM. Ledecky continued to be completely untouchable in distance free, winning the 500 by more than eight seconds (4:26.57) and the mile by almost 29 (15:07.57). She also set the American mile record at mid-season, though that was technically 2017. Ledecky made a bold and competitive choice to swim the 400 IM, breaking American, U.S. Open and NCAA records at Pac-12s before finishing second at NCAAs. And her relay splits were outstanding: 1:39.87 anchoring the 800 free relay, plus 48.08 on the 400 free relay at Pac-12s.