2020-2021 NCAA Women’s Swimming & Diving Power Ranks: December Edition

As in 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.

It’s a particularly tricky year to put together our NCAA Power Rankings.

The coronavirus pandemic has already caused at least one ranked team (Arizona State) to bow out of the season. The Pac-12 and Big Ten have barely competed, and it’s unclear what the end of the college swimming season will look like.

Still, we’re doing our best to combine all possible data points – and to verify which difference-making swimmers are in and out – to come up with a comprehensive power ranking. With all the uncertainty, we’d expect a much wider range of opinions than a typical season, so make sure to leave your own rankings and opinions in the comment section, keeping in mind that we’re all tracking swimming in a pretty unprecedented year.

Without further ado, here are our women’s NCAA power rankings, along with the team’s standing in our final 2019-2020 power ranks:

Honorable mention: UNC Tar Heels, Arkansas Razorbacks, Auburn Tigers, Notre Dame Fighting Irish

#20: Wisconsin Badgers -4 (Final 2020 Power Rank: 16th)

Losing Beata Nelson drops the Badgers quite a bit. But Phoebe Bacon is exactly what they needed to try to replace some of her production and relay legs. With Regan Smith deferring her enrollment, Bacon comes in with a chance to win NCAA backstroke titles as a freshman, carrying on Nelson’s legacy.

#19: Virginia Tech H2Okies + (Final 2020 Power Rank: N/A)

VT had just one NCAA qualifier last year, but they’ve loaded up their roster much more this season. Chase Travis should be one of the best freshman distance swimmers in the NCAA, and Emma Atkinson has a chance to be a very good backstroker right out of the gates. VT also has 2019 top 20 recruit Caroline Bentz joining after a deferred freshman year.

#18: Missouri Tigers +2 (Final 2020 Power Rank: 20th)

Sarah Thompson had a pair of top-8 seeds last year, and Missouri had some nice showings under their new coaching staff. They’ll need a few of last year’s breakout freshmen to step up to NCAA scoring level to hold onto this top 20 spot, though.

#17: Texas A&M Aggies + (Final 2020 Power Rank: N/A)

Texas A&M might have just skipped their rebuilding season. They weren’t even included in our final power ranks last year, with just two individuals seeded to score, and both in the single digits. They add a solid recruiting class, including 1:45.5 freestyler Chloe Stepanek, and Jing Quah should be a solid senior leader. Arizona transfer Monica Gumina does not appear on the roster, though.

#16: Tennessee Volunteers -11 (Final 2020 Power Rank: 5th)

Tennessee was second in psych sheet points heading into last year’s NCAA meet. But they lose 123 of those 146.5 points to graduation, and they don’t exactly have an Erika Brown replacement just sitting around the pool somewhere. Irish breaststroker Mona McSharry is a great addition and blasted a 58.2 in the 100 breast last month.

#15: Indiana Hoosiers +4 (Final 2020 Power Rank: 19th)

IU was set up to score big in the breaststrokes with Noelle Peplowski and Emily Weiss, but not a whole lot elsewhere. Freshman Ella Ristic seems like the type who could become a monster 200 freestyler overnight in Bloomington. But the Hoosiers lose last year’s freshman breakout Cora Dupre to a transfer.

#14: Florida Gators +1 (Final 2020 Power Rank: 15th)

Florida has junior duo Vanessa Pearl and Leah Braswell set to return after they headed into NCAAs seeded to score double digits. The Gators have a huge recruiting class that should make a major impact at the SEC level – the big question for these rankings is whether any individual recruit can improve fast enough to become an NCAA-scoring factor in their rookie seasons.

#13: Northwestern Wildcats +5 (Final 2020 Power Rank: 18th)

Northwestern is working through a coaching change, and also has a significant amount of its points tied up in international swimmers – that’s makes them hard to project in a year where many internationals are not making the trip to the USA for the college season. Australia’s Calypso Sheridan is the huge question mark. If she competes, she’s a game-changer for Northwestern, but without her, they’d fall way off this 13th rank. A positive for the Wildcats: Sheridan is still listed on the team’s roster. A negative: she’s currently still competing in Australia.

#12: Kentucky Wildcats -3 (Final 2020 Power Rank: 9th)

Maybe no team felt the heartbreak of the 2020 NCAA cancellation more than Kentucky. The Wildcats were in line for their best NCAA finish of all-time, and had to send off Asia Seidt and Aly Galyer without a senior NCAA meet to cap their incredible careers. The upside for Kentucky is that they also had five underclassmen seeded to score at NCAAs, including two freshmen. Caitlin Brooks looks like the next great Kentucky backstroker heading into her second season.

#11: Ohio State Buckeyes – (Final 2020 Power Rank: 11th)

Ohio State graduates distance/IM types Molly Kowal and Kathrin Demler. But that really just paves the way for the Buckeyes to continue transitioning into a sprint-based team that probably works the NCAA format even better. Freshmen Kit Kat Zenick and Emily Crane should join senior Freya Rayner in a young, fast-rising sprint group.

#10: Louisville Cardinals – (Final 2020 Power Rank: 10th)

Louisville looked pretty solid in their home invite-turned-intrasquad. They’ve lost the bulk of their sprint freestyle depth over the past two seasons, but also bring in a very good young recruiting class headed by flyers Tristen Ulett and Gabi AlbieroThe Cardinals should be able to reload and challenge for a top ten finish again this year.

#9: Texas Longhorns +4 (Final 2020 Power Rank: 13th)

Not much went right for Texas last year, but the kicker was losing individual NCAA scorer Grace Ariola at the end of the season. The Longhorns pulled back their individual entries to focus on relays, but we never got to see how that strategy would have panned out. Their incoming freshman class is outstanding, led by flyers Olivia Bray and Emma Sticklenand they should join Ariola and junior Julia Cook to put together some strong relays this season.

#8: USC Trojans – (Final 2020 Power Rank: 8th)

Typically, we’d temper expectations for a new head coach – but we’ve also seen some programs catch really early momentum with an exciting new hire. The pandemic can’t be making it easy for Jeremy Kipp to establish his culture. But we’re also fairly bullish that this team can have some breakout swims in Kipp’s first year.

It’s a talented incoming recruiting class, with Kaitlyn Dobler and Hanna Henderson joining the roster, even if Canadian standout Jade Hannah does not appear to be joining the team this season. Replacing Louise Hansson’s production and relay legs will be the biggest challenge.

#7: Alabama Crimson Tide +5 (Final 2020 Power Rank: 12th)

Rhyan White was one of the breakout stars of last season – and her backstroke fields caught a break with Regan Smith opting out and Beata Nelson graduating. One big downside for the Crimson Tide: their two big international prospects (Diana Petkova and Avery Wiseman) do not appear on the roster. They will add former Indiana freshman star Cora Duprethough.

#6: Georgia Bulldogs +1 (Final 2020 Power Rank: 7th)

Georgia returns the second-most psych sheet points of any team in the nation. Their 126 points trails only Virginia, which is a promising sign for a team that sat just 7th in our final power ranks last year. The Bulldogs return six projected individual scorers, led by last year’s freshman phenom Zoie Hartmanwho had a trio of 4th-place seeds. They add a great sprinter in Maxine Parkerbut they’ll really have to prove that their relays can score big if they plan to unseat any of the top five schools, all relay powerhouses.

#5: NC State Wolfpack +1 (Final 2020 Power Rank: 6th)

NC State has been rising fast on the women’s side – they actually return the third-most psych sheet points of any team, and just two fewer than Georgia. NC State has the makings of an elite medley relay, ending last season with the nation’s best 400 medley time and returning three of four legs. Sophie Hansson might be the nation’s best sprint breaststroker. Katharine Berkoff is a top backstroker, and her field gets easier with Regan Smith deferring her enrollment. Kylee Alons is a versatile lineup-fixer for the Wolfpack. They also bring in a highly-ranked recruiting class led by two breaststrokers.

#4: Stanford Cardinal -3 (Final 2020 Power Rank: 1st)

Stanford loses a couple of key scorers in Katie Drabot and Erin Voss. Meanwhile their expected replacements are mostly deferring their enrollment in the pandemic-altered season. Taylor Ruck isn’t competing in the NCAA this fall. #1-ranked prospect Regan Smith is deferring, along with #6 Lillie Nordmann and #18 Samantha Pearson.

Stanford can stick in the top three, though, if things break right. Brooke Forde (42 psych sheet points) returns, along with rising freestyler Morgan Tankersley (27 psych sheet points). Stanford remains extremely deep, the product of their torrid recruiting pace the past few years. But with really just one small informal dual meet with Cal to go on, we struggle to rank Stanford higher than 4th for the time being.

#3: Cal Golden Bears – (Final 2020 Power Rank: 3rd)

Cal lags pretty far behind the rest of the top 6 in returning psych sheet points. But Cal has also generally moved up from seed at NCAAs, so scoring out the psych sheet doesn’t give a completely fair view of where this team would have finished last year. Losing Abbey Weitzeil is a major blow. But in their dual meet with Stanford, Cal’s crew looked pretty solid. Star freshman Isabelle Stadden was 1:49.77 in the 200 back, and Izzy Ivey swam very well with a 51.52 in the 100 back.

#2: Michigan Wolverines +2 (Final 2020 Power Rank: 4th)

Michigan was 4th in our season-ending power ranks, and they also sit fourth in returning psych sheet points. The biggest concern for the Wolverines was probably whether Canadian Maggie MacNeil would be competing or sitting out the season – but she’s already competed with the team at U.S. Open. That leaves Michigan with most of its top talent returning, including top-flight distance duo Sierra Schmidt and Kaitlynn SimsThey’ll have to find a breaststroker to replace the graduated Miranda Tucker, but their freshman class offers several intriguing options.

#1: Virginia Cavaliers +1 (Final 2020 Power Rank: 2nd)

The Cavaliers led psych sheet scoring by almost 70 points last year, and they return 43 more than any other team. They’ve also got the best recruiting class in the nation after the Stanford deferrals. The combo of senior Paige Madden (an NCAA title contender in the 200/500 free), sophomores Kate Douglass (a title contender in basically any three events she chooses) and Ella Nelson (seeded 2nd in the 200 breast and 6th in the 400 IM last year), plus #2 overall recruit Alex Walsh (58.1/2:05.8 in breaststroke plus 1:53.6/4:07.9 in IM) is a stellar top-end scoring group, and UVA has the depth and relay pieces to win the national title this year.

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3 years ago

Freya Rayner is a senior, not a sophomore for Ohio State

3 years ago

I don’t see Michigan being the second best women’s team!
Also, overall the women’s teams seem much weaker overall than normal and less than the men’s teams this year?!? Is it just me?

Circle swim
Reply to  Ghost
3 years ago

Is the impression of weakness based on this article or comparing times swam this year versus times swam in prior years?

Reply to  Ghost
3 years ago

I think it’s definitely weaker overall. Strong graduating class of seniors from last year are gone and several major stars chose not to do college swimming this year. Imagine if UVA had Weyant and then Stanford had all the stars that would have put them on that same level.

3 years ago

Beyond just Alex Walsh — UVA’s other two top-20 freshmen (the 4th Emma Weyant, deferred) have been stellar. Anna Keating has already been major PRs in breast of 59.3/207.2; Abby Harter 51.7/153.7 flys, 156.2 IM (coming in with 52.5/155.8/1:59)

3 years ago

Any word on how Grace Ariola is doing? Totally don’t want to pry, just want to see her compete again.

Reply to  SDR
3 years ago

If she returns to earlier form that would be huge for Texas

3 years ago

Think Stadden was a 1:49.7 last weekend in the 200 back, no?

Anzeo Jackson
3 years ago

Good site for news articles when it comes 2 swimming and water sport’s

Reply to  Anzeo Jackson
3 years ago

lol wut

3 years ago

How in the heck do you rank the GIRL VOLS 16th? Now that is a bit of “Mainstream ABC, CNBC media type trash talk”. Yea maybe they lost a few swimmers but “come on man”. They will be as high as 8th and no lower than 12th at the (hope we not cancelled again) 2021 NCAA Meet. You surely underestimate the power of the raccoon hat!!!!

Reply to  SwimFani
3 years ago

Everyone who disliked this doesn’t realize how epic this comment is

Last edited 3 years ago by Dressel_42.8
Reply to  SwimFani
3 years ago

The Raccoon Hat is indeed epic! The GOAT (Indiana) and the Raccoon Hat will tie for the national championship!

3 years ago

I think UVA has the firepower to comfortably win this year. However, as has been discussed, a lot of swimmers particularly in the senior class are no longer with the team so they are not as deep as expected.

I think I am leaning towards Cal for second place.

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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