2021 W. NCAA Picks: Can Top Seed Madden Deny Forde A Repeat Victory In The 500?


  • When: Wednesday, March 17 – Saturday, March 20, 2021
  • Where: Greensboro Aquatic Center / Greensboro, NC (Eastern Time Zone)
  • Prelims 10 AM / Finals 6 PM (Local Time)
  • Short course yards (SCY) format
  • Defending champion: Stanford (3x) – 2019 results
  • Streaming:
  • Championship Central
  • Psych Sheets
  • Live Results

Stanford’s Brooke Forde jumped from an 11th place finish in the 500 freestyle at 2018 NCAAs to a gold medal performance the following year. In 2018 as a freshman, Forde was a 4:47.53 for 11th place and dropped to a 4:31.34 to take the 2019 crown. Now in her final year at Stanford, Forde has the chance to repeat as the victor and claim the 2021 500 freestyle title but in order to do so, she will need to break her current 4th seed in the event.

Forde’s best time in the event is that 4:31.34 from 2019 nationals but she has only been as fast as a 4:37.07 this season when she won the Pac-12 titles in the event a few weeks ago. That swim for Forde is slower than Paige Madden‘s 4:33.09, Courtney Harnish‘s 4:35.33, and Evie Pfeifer‘s 4:35.73. While Forde won Pac-12s this year, the leading trio all managed to collect their respective conference titles this year as well, Madden at ACCs for Virginia, Harnish at SEC Championships for Georgia, and Pfeifer at Big-12s for Texas.

Madden, Harnish, and Pfeifer were all also in the 2019 NCAA A final that Forde won, placing 2nd, 8th, and 7th respectively and in the two years since the last NCAA Championships, have all managed to stay at the forefront of the event.

When the four seniors converge at next week’s NCAA Championships, we will likely see Forde and Madden battle it out for the gold. Madden swam a 4:32.98 to take gold, a bit more than a second slower than Forde’s winning time. Further, Madden passed Forde in the rankings last season as she finished the year with a 4:34.64 while Forde hit a season-best of 4:36.31. Forde also has a split focus this year as she eyes a spot on the 2021 Tokyo squad and recently wrapped her Pac-12 meet a day early to focus on the Pro Swim Series in San Antonio. Forde raced the 200 breast and 400 IM, earning 8th in the former (2:31.25) and swam to 5th in the prelims of the latter (4:48.18) but did not race in the finals.

While Harnish and Pfeifer are seeded such that it seems they will fight for bronze, a case can be made for Stanford junior Morgan Tankersley joining in on that race for third.

Tankersley swam a 4:37.11 at Pac-12s a few weeks ago, earning silver to Forde and that season-best will make it fairly easy for her to get into the A final but if she can get down closer to her lifetime best in the event; a 4:35.99 from 2020, she’ll be right in there with Harnish and Pfeifer looking to find her way to the podium.

Tankersley finished 14th in the event as a freshman at 2019 NCAAs and moved up to 4th place in the nation by the end of her 2019-2020 sophomore season. That makes it five women in the field who have been a 4:35 or faster, creating a nice gap between themselves and the rest of the entrants which starts with 6th seed Kate Moore from NC State with a season and lifetime best of 4:37.94.

Moore has raced the 500 free at 2 NCAAs, placing 47th back in 2018 as a freshman and then 15th as a sophomore in 2019. She was a 4:39.45 in 2019 to finish right behind Tankersley in the B final but actually swam faster in the prelims with a 4:38.47. Moore’s best time gives her the best ranking she’s ever had in the event within the NCAA, having fallen to 29th place at the end of last season with a 4:39.34. Moore and Tankerley will likely graduate from the B final to the A this year and should either of them dip under 4:37 for the first time, they could very well be in the mix with Harnish and Pfeifer fighting for a spot on the podium.

After Moore, Ayla Spitz, Kristen Stege, and Peyton Palsha have been as fast as 4:38.05, 4:38.38, and 4:38.97, respectively this season for 7th, 8th, and 9th seeds.

All three of them earned top 10 seeds in the 500 freestyle this year by pulling impressive improvements from past seasons. Peyton Palsha for example was 55th in the event as a freshman two years ago at 2019 NCAAs with a 4:48.29 in the prelims. She then finished her sophomore season as a 21st seed which was a decent improvement but still a bit off where she is this year. Palsha’s momentum into this year has secured her a 9th seed in the event but she certainly has a shot at breaking into the top 8 and qualifying for the A final.

It will be Cal’s Ayla Spitz and East Carolina’s Kristen Stege that will stand in Palsha’s way during the prelims. Both earned their respective 7th and 8th seeds by moving up a fair bit from where they stood at the end of last season. Spitz was right around Palsha by the end of 2019-2020 as 25th rank nation-wide while Stege sat at 70th with a 4:43.85. That mean’s that Stege wouldn’t have even been at NCAAs for the event had the Championships occurred that season so to go in this year with a seed that would make the A final is quite the accomplishment.


1 Paige Madden Virginia 4:33.09 4:32.98
2 Brooke Forde Stanford 4:37.07 4:31.34
3 Courtney Harnish Georgia 4:35.33 4:35.33
4 Morgan Tankersley Stanford 4:37.11 4:35.99
5 Kate Moore NC State 4:37.94 4:37.94
6 Evie Pfeifer Texas 4:35.73 4:35.73
7 Ayla Spitz Cal 4:38.05 4:38.05
8 Peyton Palsha Arkansas 4:38.97 4:38.86

Dark Horse Pick: Beth McNeese (SO), Kentucky (4:40.69 – 16th Seed)Beth McNeese had a rough set of 500 freestyles at last month’s SEC Championships. McNeese swam a 4:48.89 in the prelims to make 22nd seed and followed that swim with a 4:50.29 to come 8th in the B final. Those swims alone wouldn’t get McNeese anywhere near the A final at NCAAs but her season and lifetime bests prove that she has had what it takes to be competitive in the event. McNeese was a 4:40.69 back in November, giving her a 16th place seed for NCAAs next week. McNeese has been as fast as a 4:38.97, however, at the 2020 SEC Championships. That’s the exact same time that Peyton Palsha has used to earn a 9th seed this year meaning that if McNeese can swim within her PB range, she has a shot at being competitive in the B final and potentially even make the A.

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3 years ago

If Brooke Forde doesn’t do a full taper, what kind of taper would she do?

It’s her last NCAA meet for Stanford, so she’ll do something to swim fast.

3 years ago


3 years ago

I don’t think Brooke is doing a full taper for NCAAs. Theoretically, that would be three full tapers (NCAAs, Trials, Olympics) in five months, which is hard to due in a normal year for Brooke’s events, much less with a tank less than full because of missed training time due to the pandemic.

Reply to  Coach
3 years ago

I agree.

That being said…she’s still a top 3 finisher without a taper.

Reply to  Coach
3 years ago

Yeah because no one ever fully tapers for NCAAS. Kind of a swim through meet. Sarcasm

3 years ago

Really sleeping on the Michigan girls. Both Sierra Schmitt and Kaitlynn Sims have 4:37 lifetime bests

Reply to  Hannah
3 years ago

No dancing 🕺 please.

3 years ago

Stege swims for Tennessee, having tranferred from East Carolina.

3 years ago
  1. Paige Madden 4:31.12
  2. Brooke Forde 4:34.33
  3. Evie Pfeifer 4:34.98
  4. Morgan Tankersley 4:35.49
  5. Courtney Harnish 4:36.10
  6. Kensey McMahon 4:37.01
  7. Kate Moore 4:38.47
  8. Peyton Palsha 4:38.74
3 years ago

I’m thinking it’ll be Madden doing the victory lap this time