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

Braden Keith, Karl Ortegon, and Robert Gibbs contributed to this report.

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 our comments section.

It’s time for our final NCAA Power Ranks, geared especially toward predicting the NCAA finish order.

We’ve looked at a variety of factors, including psych sheet scoring, average points gained/lost from psych sheet scoring in previous seasons, potential diving impacts, how much or how little a team has been affected by COVID-19 shutdowns and restrictions, and how much a team seemed to gear up or swim through the conference rounds.

One major theme we’re noticing: the team battle is much thinner than in previous seasons. That probably owes to some mid-major programs opting out or delaying conference meets and leaving just two projected scorers outside of the Power-5. The end result? The top 10 programs will probably absorb an even greater share of the total points pie. Teams in the 15-25 range will probably score less overall, making the margins at those spots thinner and harder to predict.

With that in mind, our top 25 includes a fair number of programs that should score most or all of their points in diving events. A team with a 30+ point diving presence has a real shot to be inside the top 25, even more so than in a typical year.

Previous Ranks:

Without further ado, here are our women’s NCAA power rankings, with changes from our previous ranks noted in red or green. Unranked teams joining the top 25 are listed with just a plus sign.

Honorable mention: Arizona, Minnesota, Navy, Miami, Notre Dame

#25: UCLA Bruins (-)

Freshman Sam Baron‘s 100 fly is really the only firm scoring projection. But UCLA also has two relays that could be in the mix, and scoring both would be enough to crack the top 25.

#24: Purdue Boilermakers (+)

Purdue might have the top-scoring diving group in the nation this year. Emily Bretscher is an A final contender on all three board. Purdue’s projection relies heavily on how the platform event shakes out. That one was particularly tough to project with only five returning scorers and lots of new faces. Going 2-4-5 in the tough Big Ten on platform has to bode well for the Boilermakers.

#23: Nebraska Huskers (+)

Nebraska has two divers who should score big. Abigail Knapton is a threat to make the A final on all three boards. If their distance duo can supplement with even a few points, this team is solidly in the top 25.

#22: Wisconsin Badgers (-1)

New faces, same story: Phoebe Bacon is projected to score 31 individual points, but Wisconsin has no other individuals nor any relays seeded to score. They do have 400 and 800 free relays qualified, and both sit 17th.

#21: UNC Tar Heels (-1)

UNC should have room to move way up in the relays, if they get back the stars they were missing at the ACC Championships. (Lilly Higgs alone probably improves the breaststroke leg of the 400 medley by three seconds). But their individual invitees are still a little suppressed after those conference absences. One X-factor to watch is freshman diver Aranza Vazquezwho was outstanding in the ACC and in her zone, but also faces tougher fields in the NCAA.

#20: Arkansas Razorbacks (+2)

Diver Brooke Schultz is in the hunt to win NCAA titles on both springboards, and that’s a really big boost to an Arkansas team already projected to score 24 in the pool. With no relays qualified, Arkansas will perhaps free up sprinters like Emily Barclay and Kobie Melton to swim a little fresher in their individual events.

#19: Virginia Tech H2Okies (-3)

Virginia Tech has two strong individuals with 15-point scoring projections in Reka Gyorgy and Emma AtkinsonThe problem is that each is seeded to score nearly twice as many points individually as all four of VT’s relays combined (8 seeded points).

#18: Texas A&M Aggies (-)

Chloe Stepanek looks like a good individual scorer for the Aggies, but they need to improve on just 12 seeded relay points. NCAA production has vacillated between the extremes for A&M: they gained a whopping 84.5 from seed in 2017, only to lose 39 and 22 over the next two years.

#17: Indiana Hoosiers (-2)

The relays are really holding IU back, with just 10 projected relay points. That’s holding them down to just 22nd in psych sheet scoring. We expect a strong diving boost (freshmen Anne Fowler and Tarrin Gilliland are the real deal), and that’s really the only thing keeping Indiana in the top 20 at this point. We haven’t yet seen elite breaststroke recruit Emily Weiss swim an NCAA meet with the breaststroke-factory Hoosiers. Is she in line for a big breakout?

#16: Northwestern Wildcats (-5)

Northwestern swam well at Big Tens, and their relays are seeded to score the 13th-most of any NCAA program. They’re just lacking individual scoring threats right now with only Maddie Smith (8) and Sophie Angus (4) projected to score individually. Most of their non-scorers are seeded in the mid-20s, too, so they’ll need big performances to get into the top 16.

#15: USC Trojans (+4)

It’s a new staff for the Trojans, so we don’t want to read too much into their NCAA-worst rate of 51 points lost from seed per season from 2017-2019. USC is 14th in psych sheet points, including 14th overall in projected relay scoring. Kaitlyn Dobler is the only projected individual scorer, but they’ve got Jemma Schlicht (19th in the 100 fly) on the bubble.

#14: Louisville Cardinals (+3)

Louisville has been the nation’s best team in total points gained from seed over the past three NCAA Championships. They’ve also got no swimmers seeded in the top 8 and no individual scorers projected with more than 8 individual points. We’d expect most, if not all, of their four low-end projected scorers to outswim their seeds, including freshman Gabi Albiero and junior Alena Krauswho scored way back in 2019 as a rookie.

#13: Florida Gators (-)

Florida is 13th in psych sheet points… but that’s without a single projected scorer over 13 individual points. Florida has a really deep group with six projected scorers and the nation’s largest NCAA roster (15 swimmers and 2 divers). Vanessa Pearl might be the best candidate to move up from the psych sheet. She’s seeded 17th in the 400 IM, but has been five seconds faster than her seed in her college career.

#12: Tennessee Volunteers (-8)

The biggest fallers in our ranks, Tennessee has been pretty atrocious in points lost from seed, averaging -51 points over the past three NCAA Championships. Combine that with only 11th place in seeded points and it’s hard to rank the Vols much higher than this. The good news is that Mona McSharry finds herself seeded mostly at the bottom of the top tier of breaststrokers, so she’s got plenty of room to move up from seed. Kristen Stege seems to be dropping time like mad, so she’s another point-boost candidate.

#11: Missouri Tigers (+1)

The whole ‘suiting-up-for-duals’ thing was a hot-button topic last year, and we never really got resolution without NCAAs. Sarah Thompson projects to be a big scorer, but in events where a tenth or two go a long ways. Mizzou did get two platform divers into NCAAs – that’s been the trickiest event for us to project this year, so they could have a great diving boost or a negligible one.

#10: Ohio State Buckeyes (+4)

The Buckeyes are seeded with the 6th-most relay points of any NCAA team. That’s going to be a massive determining factor. We also see the Buckeyes getting a sizable diving boost. Mackenzie Crawford looked like one of the nation’s better divers last year, but hasn’t had that blowup performance yet this year. Right now, Ohio State projects to have a crowd of low-end scorers, so they’ll need their whole roster swimming well – but that depth could work in their favor in a thinner NCAA field this year.

#9: Kentucky Wildcats (+1)

Kentucky gained 47 points from seed back in 2017, but lost 7.5 and 1.5 over the next two years. This rank comes entirely down to how you project them swimming this year on the heels of the program’s first-ever SEC title. The Wildcats are 12th in psych sheet scoring without any 30+ point scorers, so they’ll need every swimmer to show up to stick in the top 10. Lauren Poole was a breakout SEC star who could keep her momentum or come back down to earth. She’s one of the key factors for Kentucky’s hopes.

#8: Michigan Wolverines (-3)

Michigan’s drop has several factors. There’s the loss of Daria Pyshnenko, a projected NCAA scorer and key relay cog. A drop down to 8th in psych sheet points before Pyshnenko’s scratch. Concerns over whether Maggie MacNeil can hold up her psych sheet projections with Virginia’s Kate Douglass challenging her in all three individual races. And how Michigan will translate from the more spread-out five-day Big Ten meet to the compressed four-day NCAA meet.

#7: Stanford Cardinal (-)

We really went back and forth on where to rank Stanford. They were one of the NCAA’s best in points gained from seed in 2019 and 2018. But this is clearly a different roster from those days. They’ll get a decent diving bump, but they’re also seeded 123.5 points behind Alabama. We’ll settle on Stanford in 7th, and if they can make up that huge margin, we’ll rightfully give them major credit for a strong NCAA showing.

#6: Alabama Crimson Tide (+3)

Morgan Scott, Cora Dupre and Diana Petkova have emerged as potential big individual presences to support stars like Rhyan White and Kensey McMahon, and their relays look feisty.

#5: Georgia Bulldogs (+1)

Georgia is generally very reliable in gaining points from seed, though they fell from seed pretty hard in 2019. Zoie Hartman is a game-changer, and the relays have some room to move up.

#4: NC State Wolfpack (-1)

While we made a big deal about the international swimmers the mens’ team got back for the second semester, the women’s team also got a big boost from the return of Sophie Hansson, who’s currently seeded for 37 points, and could challenge for titles in both breaststroke events.

#3: Texas Longhorns (+5)

Texas gets the big jump in our rankings since last month, but we expect that to be somewhat polarizing. They’ve had extreme ups and downs compared to seed over the last three NCAAs, moving up 15 points in 2017, 17.5 points in 2018, but then losing 31.5 points from seed in 2019.

They’re #4 in psych sheet scoring and should get a significant diving bump with the nation’s biggest NCAA dive roster. It’s also easier to move them up with Michigan (Daria Pyshnenko) and NC State (Heather Maccausland) losing key swimmers. Can Olivia Bray hold up her 51 psych sheet points?

#2: Cal Golden Bears (-)

The Cal Bears feel like they’re about 2 stars short of being able to challenge Virginia. The relays should be strong, and it does feel like we’re in for a real backstroke show between Izzy Ivey and Isabelle Stadden.

#1: Virginia Cavaliers (-)

UVA tops the psych sheet scoring by nearly 100 points. That’s a pretty big cushion, but with so many top seeds, there’s a lot of room to move down. On the other hand, they already had quite a few women qualified for NCAAs before ACC Champs, so there should be some more left in the tank. Kate Douglass‘s trio of clashes with Maggie MacNeil carry decent weight – 1st vs 2nd is a three-point difference and a six-point swing between teams.

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1 year ago

Please correct me if I’m wrong but I believe that Cal has placed top 3 at every NCAAs since 2009 (!!!) that kind of consistency is amazing

Hoo Fan
Reply to  irviner
1 year ago

Congrats Cal! Amazing feat. Now, let’s go HOOS!

1 year ago

GO TEXAS GO! Show me that it’s not only the men’s program who can win it all! Y’all have it in you! I know it!!

1 year ago

Hoping the Texas women show up!

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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