2020 NCAA Female Swimmer of the Year: Erika Brown
In 2020, only one woman broke an American Record in the short course yards (SCY) pool: Erika Brown of the University of Tennessee. Though Brown missed the NCAA and U.S. Open Records when she reset the American Record in the 100-yard butterfly, she still accomplished something no other woman did this calendar year. Brown also inserted herself among the top-10 fastest performers all-time in three more races.
Despite Brown’s incredible swimming at SECs, other women were strongly considered for this award–in fact, Jared, Braden, and I had to talk it over to determine who, in our minds, out-performed the rest. In 2020, Brown became the 2nd-fastest performer all-time in both the 50 and 100 freestyles, the 3rd-fastest ever in the 100 butterfly, and the 10th-fastest ever in the 200 freestyle. Going into NCAAs, Brown held the top times in the nation in the 50, 100, and 200 freestyles and was ranked 2nd in the 100 fly. Though she did not swim the 200 free at SECs, Brown posted a 1:41.66 at the 2019 Tennessee Invite, a mark that survived all of conference season, though she did not enter it at NCAAs.
Brown was the only woman other than Abbey Weitzeil of Cal to break an American Record during the 2019-2020 season. She slipped under Kelsi Dahlia‘s mark in the 100 butterfly with a 49.38 at the 2020 SEC Championships, though she fell just short of MacNeil and Hansson’s time (49.26) which remains the NCAA and U.S. Open Record. Brown was on fire at SECs where she posted a 21.03 in the 50 freestyle, making her the 2nd-fastest all-time behind only Weitzeil. She also swam a 45.83 in the 100 freestyle, again elevating her to the 2nd position all-time and making her one of only two women ever, alongside record holder Simone Manuel, to go sub-46 in the race.
In the process, Brown won head-to-head victories over Anna Hopkin, another legendary ‘all-time’ type of female college sprinter in a golden generation of them in NCAA swimming.
Each of Brown’s swims at the SEC Championships registered as SEC Records and contributed to Tennessee’s first-ever conference title. Brown also helped the Volunteers to SEC titles in the 200 free relay, delivering a 20.57 split as the anchor, the 800 freestyle relay, and the 400 medley relay. Accordingly, Brown was named the 2020 SEC Female Swimmer of the Year.
In no particular order.
- Abbey Weitzeil, Cal: Weitzeil made history and at the 2019 Minnesota Invite when she became the first woman to break 21 seconds in the 50 yard freestyle, registering a 20.90. Weitzeil also posted a 46.52 in the 100 free, 1:42.25 in the 200 free, and 51.66 in the 100 back at Minnesota last December. Unfortunately, Weitzeil hardly had a chance to race at the 2020 Pac-12 Championships due to an injury to her elbow sustained during the 50 freestyle, which she won in a 21.03, equal to what Brown did at the 2020 SEC Championships and the 3rd-fastest performance all-time (tied with Brown).
- Maggie MacNeil, Michigan: The 2019 World Champion in the 100 LCM butterfly made NCAA history by tying the NCAA and U.S. Open Records in the 100 yard butterfly at the 2019 Minnesota Invite, blasting a 49.26 to equal Louise Hansson as the fastest woman ever in SCY. At the 2020 Big Ten Championships, MacNeil posted a 21.30 in the 50 freestyle becoming the 8th-fastest in history in that race, as well as a 46.57 in the 100 freestyle to become the 7th-fastest all-time and deliver a new Big Ten record. MacNeil also cranked out the fastest 50 backstroke in history leading off Michigan’s 200 medley relay at Big Tens, registering a 23.05. MacNeil was named the 2020 Big Ten Championships swimmer of the meet, setting championship records in the 100 free and 100 fly.
- Kate Douglass, Virginia: Douglass had a remarkable freshman season, even though it was cut short. At the 2020 ACC Championships, Douglass won the 200 IM (1:51.36) and 100 fly (50.83) and placed 3rd in the 200 breast (2:05.89). Her time in the 200 IM is the fastest all-time for a freshman. Douglass finished the season ranked 1st in the NCAA in the 200 IM, 3rd in the 200 breast, 4th in the 100 fly, 10th in the 100 free (47.77), and 11th in the 50 free (21.75). As 2020 comes to a close and the championship season draws nearer, Douglass leads the NCAA in the 50 free (21.42), 100 free (46.86), 100 fly (49.73), and 200 IM (1:50.92). Additionally, Douglass posted the fastest-ever 100 IM in September at Virginia’s opening intrasquad meet, scorching a 52.48.
- Beata Nelson, Wisconsin: Nelson looked poised and dangerous at the 2020 Big Ten Championships where she won all three of her individual events–the 100 and 200 backstrokes and the 200 IM–as well as helped Wisconsin to victory in the 800 freestyle relay, a 2nd place finish in the 400 medley relay, and 3rd in the 400 freestyle relay. Nelson led the NCAA in the 100 backstroke (49.70) in 2020, and posted the 2nd-fastest times of the season in the 200 back (1:48.73) and 200 IM (1:51.66), as well as the 5th-fastest 100 fly (50.65), though we did not get to see if she could defend the three titles she won in 2019.