2021 W. NCAA Championships: SwimSwam’s Awards


We’ve had a couple days to catch our collective breath after the excitement of watching fast college racing again last week. While we’re busy gearing right back up for the men’s championships, which start Wednesday, we wanted to share a few of our thoughts on what stood out to us last week. None of these are cut and dry, so if you have your own opinions (and we know you do) feel free to share your comments below. Keep in mind, though, that no one gets any money from our hypothetical awards, or will even probably add these titles to their Instagram bios, so please try to keep the vitriol to a reasonable level.

Note: the CSCAA Awards will be given out on Tuesday.

Swimmer of the Meet – Maggie MacNeil, Michigan

Look, we love it when this choice is easy, and this time it’s not. This is one of the awards that is by nature a bit subjective, and we’ve already seen some chatter in the comments. In the end, it’s really a subjective philosophical judgment — do you go with the swimmer who won more events, or a  swimmer who had the the more impressive win(s)? Some years, a Katie Ledecky or Caeleb Dressel makes this is an easy decision.

It’s hard to ignore the fact that Virginia senior Paige Madden came away with three individual event victories, and initially, we were going to (in our imagination) hand her this trophy. But, upon further reflection, it’s even harder to ignore what Michigan junior Maggie MacNeil did this week.

Despite having training interrupted just a few weeks ago due to university-wide Covid precautions, MacNeil was on fire at this meet, winning two of the three head-to-head battles with UVA’s Kate Douglass. In the 50 free, her first individual event, she took 2nd, and only by 0.04s. Later that evening, she led off Michigan’s 400 medley in 49.76, making her the second woman to go under 50 in both the 100 back and the 100 fly.

MacNeil didn’t just win two races, she did so against arguably the best and deepest fields in the whole meet. Besides Douglass, she squared off with, and beat, swimmers like Isabel Ivey, Rhyan White, and Kylee Alons, who in different years could all be Swimmer of the Meet candidates.

On Friday, MacNeil made more history by winning the 100 fly with a time of 48.89, breaking the U.S. Open Record of 49.26 (which she jointly held with with Louise Hansson at 49.26) and making her the first woman under 49 in the event. Saturday, she wrapped up her individual events with a 46.02 in the 100 free, beating Douglass by 0.28s and coming within half a second of the U.S. Open Record of 45.56.

Runner-Up – Paige Madden, Virginia – We know that some of you feel like Swimmer of the Meet should go to the swimmer who won the most races, and we totally understand that thinking, and if there was any money or hardware associated with these awards, we’d get you being upset. But there’s not, and there’s no denying that Madden had an incredible meet. She came into college as the #18 recruit in the class, with some very solid times, but has steadily improved, culminating in her triple victory this year. She won the 500 free with a 4:33.61, winning by nearly 1.5s, then won by over a second in the 200 free,  with a 1:42.35, and closed out her individual events with a 15:41.86 in the 1650, an event she only really picked up her junior year. Madden added in a 1:41.63 split on UVA’s victorious 800 free relay, and also split 47.98 on Virginia’s 2nd-place 400 free relay after winning the 1650 earlier in the session.

Honorable Mentions: Phoebe Bacon (Wisconsin), Kate Douglass (Virginia), Sophie Hansson (NC State)

Diver of the Meet- Sarah Bacon, Minnesota

One again, this feels like it could either way, as a couple divers actually scored a couple more points that Bacon did, since she didn’t contest the platform event. But, she did go two-for-two in the two events did swim, winning  the 1m with a score of 357.20 and the 3m with a score of 408.60

Runner-up: Aran Vazquez-Montano, UNC – Vazquez-Montatno was one of two divers who scored more points than Bacon, and there’s a strong argument to be made for her here, as she took 2nd place behind Bacon on the 1m and 3m, and added a 6th-place finish in the platform, for a grand total of 47 points.

Honorable Mention: Paola Pineda (Texas)

Freshman of the Meet – Phoebe Bacon, Wisconsin

While there’s an argument to be made that our runner-up’s relay contributions should put her over the edge, we think that Bacon gets the nod her thanks to her big swim in the 200 back, a 1:48.32 effort that not only won, but moved her to #2 all-time in the 17-18 age group. Besides that, Bacon took 4th in the 200 IM with a 1:54.55 and 3rd in the 100 back with a 50.39.

Runner-Up: Alex Walsh, Virginia – Walsh was the 3rd-highest scorer for the NCAA champions, and was the only freshman besides Bacon to win an individual event. Her 1:51.87 in the 200 IM was a bit off of her time from ACCs, but still plenty enough to win by over a second and a half. Walsh displayed her versatility by A-finaling in three different disciplines, as she took 5th in both the 200 free and the 200 breast, and swam on all three of Virginia’s free relays, earning another NCAA in the 800 free relay.

Honorable Mentions: Mona McSharry (Tennessee), Isabelle Stadden (Cal)

Coach of the Year – Todd DeSorbo, Virginia

Again, we realize this is a pretty subjective award, and it’s tough to definitely proclaim the best coach from the outside looking in. And we’d certainly be the first to acknowledge that there are many great coaches in the NCAA, and they all put forth a tremendous effort in making through what may be the weirdest, most difficult season in at least the recent history of college swimming.

But, you can’t really ignore what UVA did this week. Less than four years after taking over, and with only two of his own recruiting classes, DeSorbo and Company have transformed the Cavaliers into a juggernaut. UVA has been swimming fast all season long, and while they didn’t necessarily swim a lot faster here, they swam plenty fast enough to get the job done. Virginia put an A-finalist into every event, finished 1st or 2nd in every relay, and ended up winning by 100 points. We expect teams like Cal and Stanford to come back stronger next year, but Virginia seems to be on a trajectory to contend for a national title every year for the foreseeable future.

Runner-Up – Braden Holloway, NC State – While UVA was widely expected to win, NC State looked to be about a 4th or 5th place team heading into the meet. And while you could argue that Cal and Texas stumbled, the truth is that the Wolfpack came ready to rumble. One of the clearest examples of this is the 400 medley relay, where NC State finished 2nd to Virginia at ACCs, but knocked over two seconds from their performance last month to swim the fastest time ever by exactly half a second.

Honorable Mentions: Bill Dorenkott (Ohio State), Ozzie Quevedo (Alabama).

Quick Hits

  • Individual Swim of the Meet: Maggie MacNeil, 100 fly
  • Relay of the Meet: NC State, 200 Medley Relay
  • Biggest Surprise Team: UNC Tar Heels
  • Biggest Jump: Michigan’s Sierra Schmidt going from last seed to 4th place in the 500 free
  • Biggest Breakthrough: Kristen Stege, Tennessee
  • Best Battle: Women’s 50 free
  • Best Performance by a New Head Coach: Katie Robinson, Northwestern

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Sun Yangs Hammer
2 months ago

Didn’t Reagan get under 50 in both the week before?

Reply to  Sun Yangs Hammer
2 months ago

Yes, and I would encourage Robert to go back and edit the article – there are quite a few errors and typos throughout.

Joe robb
Reply to  Sun Yangs Hammer
2 months ago

Yeah sure I think so

2 months ago

Paige Madden deserves Swimmer of the Meet. A) She won every race she swam (800 Free Relay – setting the table for UVA – 500 Free, 200 Free and 1650 Free) except the 400 Free Relay (which was 2nd) B) She wasn’t really challenged in any of her races; therefore, she didn’t have to kick it in to highest gear to win. This allowed her to be fresher for the 400 Free Relay at the end of the meet. C) She led her team to the Championship. D) She is a Senior (which should add mild precedence over a junior). Maggie McNeil was a superstar when she arrived on campus; Paige was a blue-chip recruit who developed into a star… Read more »

Reply to  Nonrevhoofan
2 months ago


Reply to  Nonrevhoofan
2 months ago

I think Nonerevhoofan’s comment and one from another article deserve to be next to each other, so I’m linking the other one.

Last edited 2 months ago by Andrew Mering
Reply to  Nonrevhoofan
2 months ago

So what you’re saying is that she didn’t *NEED* to do a lights out performance because she wasn’t being challenged? If it was my last NCAA champs I would go all out 🙄

Reply to  Nonrevhoofan
2 months ago

Being a senior should have absolutely no bearing on this discussion.

Maggie had 1, 2, and 4 ranked events by Power Points in the whole meet. That’s 3 of the best four swims of the meet. All of Maggie’s swims put her in the top 10 all time lists, including backstrokes. Only 1 of Madden’s puts her in the top 25 (1650 at No.24).

This is not a point scoring award, it is a question of ‘who is the best swimmer at this meet’. In my view this is

  1. Maggie MacNeil
  2. Kate Douglass
  3. Toss up between Rhyan White, Phoebe Bacon and Sophie Hansson.

Madden wins MVP.

Reply to  Jackman
2 months ago

3 – White???, Bacon???
Hansson is challenging the #2 spot. I would have Ivey over White and Bacon

Reply to  Breezeway
2 months ago

I agree on Ivey

Reply to  Nonrevhoofan
2 months ago

Maggie was not a superstar when she arrived on campus.Quite the opposite.

Reply to  bob
2 months ago

I think she had a 58.4 in the 100 fly LCM and 26/56 in the 50 and 100 free LCM. Her improvement since then has been huge especially given that when she came to campus she seemed likely to be a flyer but there was no guarantee she turns into the versatile multi event scorer she became.

Joe robb
Reply to  Hannah
2 months ago

Yeah sure you are right

Reply to  Nonrevhoofan
2 months ago

I don’t think Madden being a senior or a blue chip recruit have any bearing on the matter.
What should matter is that MacNeil was dominant in more different events. She swam the fastest 100/50 back splits of the meet along with her awesome 3 individuals.
Macneils only loss was still a historically better time than Madden’s 3 wins.

2 months ago

Only changes I would have:
Relay of the meet – NC State 400 medly
Breakthrough – Alabama sprint free

And I agree with MacNeil as swimmer of the meet. More relay contributions and more impressive times (48 fly blows a 1:32 200 or 4:32 500 out of the water).

2 months ago

A 1:32 200 would blow me out of the water.