2022-23 College Previews: #10 Tennessee Women Looking to Defend SEC Title

It’s that time of the year again. SwimSwam will be previewing the top 12 men’s and women’s teams (and then some) from the 2022 NCAA Championships. Follow along with the College Swimming Preview Channel. Want to read even more? Check out the latest edition of the SwimSwam magazine

#10 WOMEN: TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS

Key Losses: AJ Kutsch (5 NCAA points), Alexis Yager (3 NCAA points), Tjasa Pintar (2 scoring NCAA relays), Trude Rothrock (NCAA qualifier), Mallory Beil (NCAA qualifier)

Key Additions: Julia Burroughs (Sprint Free), Regan Rathwell (Back/IM), Libby Russum (Sprint Free/Fly), Hannah Duncan (Diving)

Returning Fifth Years: Grace Cable (Diving – 2022 NCAA qualifier), Emma Carlton (Back, Fly, Sprint Free), Bayley Stewart (Back – 2022 NCAA qualifier,

GRADING CRITERIA

Three years ago, we unveiled a new, more data-based grading criteria based on ‘projected returning points’, a stat of our own making that involved a lot of manual calculations involving departing seniors, redshirts, freshmen, etc. We liked the objectiveness of that stat, but given that there’s still a lot of uncertainty for this year, we’re adopting a hybrid approach this year. The “stars” will rely heavily on what swimmers actually did last year, but we’ll also give credit to returning swimmers or freshmen who have times that would have scored last year.

Since we only profile the top 12 teams in this format, our grades are designed with that range in mind. In the grand scheme of college swimming and compared to all other college programs, top 12 NCAA programs would pretty much all grade well across the board. But in the interest of making these previews informative, our grading scale is tough – designed to show the tiers between the good stroke groups, the great ones, and the 2015 Texas fly group types.

  • 5 star (★★★★★) – a rare, elite NCAA group projected to score 25+ points per event
  • 4 star (★★★★) – a very, very good NCAA group projected to score 15-24 points per event
  • 3 star (★★★) – a good NCAA group projected to score 5-14 points per event
  • 2 star (★★) – a solid NCAA group projected to score 1-4 points per event
  • 1 star (★) –  an NCAA group that is projected to score no points per event, though that doesn’t mean it’s without potential scorers – they’ll just need to leapfrog some swimmers ahead of them to do it

We’ll grade each event discipline: sprint free (which we define to include all the relay-distance freestyle events, so 50, 100 and 200), distance free, IM, breaststroke, backstroke, butterfly and diving. Use these grades as a jumping-off point for discussion, rather than a reason to be angry.

2021-2022 LOOKBACK

Tennessee had one of the best turnarounds of the 2021-2022 season, coming back from a 5th place finish at the 2021 SEC Championships to win the 2022 Championships in dominant fashion. Of course, it has to be taken into account that the 2020-2021 NCAA season was a very unique one, taking place in the midst of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Even so, Tennessee scored just 934 points at the 2021 SECS, then came back last year and scored 1313.5 to win the women’s title by nearly 300 points.

Freshman Ellen Walshe was a star for the Volunteers in her first collegiate season. The Irish Olympian won the women’s 200 IM, 400 IM, and 100 fly at the 2022 SEC Championships. Another freshman, Julia Mrozinski, won the 500 free, while sophomore Mona McSharry won the 100 breast. Tennessee performed exceptionally in the relays as well, winning the 800 free, and taking 2nd in the 200 free, 400 free, 200 medley, and 400 medley.

The Vols then traveled to the 2022 NCAA Championships, where they took 10th place as a team. They had 6 athletes score individually at NCAAs, led by Ellen Walshe, who scored 23 points individually. Tennessee also scored in all 5 relays at NCAAs, topping out in the 800 free relay, where they finished 8th.

SPRINT FREE: ★★★

The Tennessee sprint group has taken a hit, as rising senior AJ Kutsch no longer appears on the 2022-23 roster for the Vols. Kutsch spent 1.5 years at Auburn, then transferred to Tennessee for the 2021-2022 season. She was the Vols’ top sprinter last year, breaking through with a 21.60 50 free and a 48.92 100 free to boot. The absence of Kutsch means Tennessee is without some of their potential NCAA points in the 50 free.

Additionally, Trude Rothrock, who was Tennessee’s 4th fastest 100 freestyler last year (48.48) has graduated and is no longer on the team. Tjasa Pintar, who was a 5th year last year and was a huge relay contributor to the Vols during her collegiate career has also used up all of her eligibility. Pintar was a 1:45.39 200 freestyler last year.

Overall, things look positive for this young group, however. Last season, Tennessee’s fastest 4 200 freestylers were all freshmen, and all 4 have returned for their sophomore seasons. Julia Mrozinski swam a 1:43.21 last season leading off the 800 free relay at SECs. Brooklyn Douthwright took 2nd at SECs in the 200 free, swimming a 1:43.45. Ellen Walshe doesn’t typically swim the race individually at Championship meets, but she swam a flat-start 1:44.63 last season. Sara Stotler was 1:45.14. Elle Caldow, who is a rising junior this season, got down to 1:45.70 last year.

Pintar was Tennessee’s 2nd fastest 100 freestyler last year (48.32), but the Vols still return their top performer, Mrozinski, who swam a 47.92 in her freshman campaign. Mrozinski notably performed better on relays than she did individually last year, as both her 100 free and 200 free personal bests came leading off relays at SECs. She was off in her individual performances at SECs and NCAAs, but if she can match her best times this year, she’s got NCAA scoring potential in both events.

Jasmine Rumley was 48.41 in the 100 free as a freshman last year, while Douthwright and Walshe were 48.58 and 48.70 respectively. Again, that’s not a race we’ll likely see Walshe race individually at any championship meets, but the option is there nonetheless. Breaststroke star Mona McSharry also has quite a bit of sprint freestyler speed to her name. Last season as a sophomore McSharry clocked a 48.89 in the 100 free, and 22.01 in the 50 free. She’s more likely to swim the 50 free individually, however, as she’ll be in the 200 breast on day 4 of championships meets, the same day as the 100 free.

Rumley is the fastest returning 50 freestyler with no Kutsch on the roster. She swam a 21.81 last season, still giving Tennessee a very solid top sprinter to work with this season. Stotler was down at 22.69 in the 50 last year as a freshman, so we’ll see if she can take another step forward in her 2nd year with the Vols.

Tennessee brought in a huge freshmen class last year, leaving this season with a relatively small incoming class. Even so, the Vols have brought in some extra sprint help to increase their depth and boost their relays. Julia Burroughs is the top sprinter coming in this fall. She’s been 22.65 in the 50, which marks her as an incoming freshman who could improve enough to end up qualifying for NCAAs individually this season. She’s a strong sprinter across the board, also boasting a 49.31 in the 100 free and a 1:46.9 200 free. Hers is a name to keep an eye on as she could turn into a key part of this Tennessee roster as they attempt to repeat as SEC Champions and record another top 10 NCAA finish.

DISTANCE FREE: ★★★★

Tennessee is strong in the distance events, seeing all of their key contributors return for this season. Julia Mrozinski won the SEC title in the 500 free by a huge margin last year, posting a lifetime best of 4:35.95. She was a little off that time at NCAAs, only swimming a 4:39.60 in prelims to qualify for the ‘B’ final. She made the most of it, however, swimming a 4:37.35 in finals to win the ‘B’ final. As is the case with her 100 and 200 free, if Mrozinski can be at her best, or very close, at NCAAs this year, she’ll be an ‘A’ finalist in the 500 without a problem.

In the 500 Kristen Stege is also a potential NCAA scorer. She swam a 4:38.50 last season, which is just off her lifetime best of 4:38.38 from the 2021 SECs. That being said, she’s displayed a consistent ability to be under 4:40 in the event, which is enough for her to be a viable ‘B’ finalist at NCAAs even without any improvement.

Aly Breslin was 4:42.02 last season as a sophomore, while freshmen Kate McCarville and Summer Smith were 4:43.10 and 4:43.34 respectively. Coming back for this season, they have potential for scoring in the event, but they have to at the very least be close to breaking 4:40 to do so.

Stege is one of the top milers in the NCAA currently. She was a bit off at NCAAs last year, but her 15:42.37 from SECs would have been fast enough for 2nd place. She’s backed up by Breslin, who was a 16:03.12 last year. With Summer Smith at 16:09.81 as a freshman, Tennessee has one of the most formidable mile groups in the NCAA coming into this season.

BACKSTROKE: ★★★

The Vols had a solid backstroke group last year led by freshman Josephine Fuller. Fuller was the fastest backstroker on the team in both events, having clocked a 52.00 in the 100 and a 1:53.68 in the 200. She’s been faster in the 200 back, however, with a lifetime best of 1:52.73 from 2021. Fuller’s 52.00 100 back came in the ‘A’ final of SECs and was good for a 6th place finish. She had a poor prelims swim in the 200 back and ended up in the ‘B’ final, but made the most of it, winning and posting her season best in the process.

It took a 51.83 to score at NCAAs in the 100 back last year and 1:53.21 in the 200, so Fuller was just shy of those marks as a freshman. With another step forward this season, she should be able to make it there.

Behind Fuller, Olivia Harper and Elle Caldow put up strong 100 back times last season as sophomores. Harper swam a 52.47 100 back to qualify for NCAAs at a last chance meet, while Caldow clocked her best of 52.60 at the end of January. Neither was quite as fast in the 200 back last season, with Caldow’s best coming in at 1:55.79 and Harper’s 1:57.76.

Bayley Stewart is also returning for her 5th year, giving Tennessee some veteran leadership in the backstroke group. After an excellent undergraduate career at Notre Dame, Stewart joined Tennessee last year and was a contributor at SECs. Her season best in the 200 back came at mid season, where she swam a 1:53.82. She was just off that time at SECs, swimming the ‘B’ final with Fuller.

Perhaps most notably, Tennessee brings Regan Rathwell into this backstroke squad. Coming from Canada, Rathwell enters her collegiate career as an accomplished LCM swimmer. She’s coming to Knoxville fresh off the Junior Pan Pacs in Honolulu, where she represented Canada. Rathwell is a particularly fast LCM 200 backstroker, having been 2:09.54 in the event. LCM to SCY conversions aren’t always accurate on a case-by-case basis, but that converts to 1:52.73 in yards. That would put Rathwell as the fastest 200 backstroker on the team coming in, and withing NCAA scoring range already. Her LCM 100 back is a 1:00.90, which converts to 52.53.

BREASTSTROKE: ★★★

This is an interesting discipline for Tennessee this season. The Vols return Mona McSharry, who is one of the top breaststrokers in the NCAA, for her junior season. However, behind McSharry, they don’t have a ton of depth. That’s mainly due to their other top breaststrokers, Alexis Yager and Alex Gebel, having graduated after last season. Both Yager and Gebel were sub-1:00 100 breaststrokers and Yager was a 2:07 in the 200 to boot, meaning Tennessee’s depth has taken a solid hit here.

Asia Minnes is the next-fastest returning 100 breaststroker, having swum a 1:01.65 last year. She’s followed by Jordan Aurnou-Rhees, who was 1:01.98 as a sophomore last season. Both swimmers will have to improve to make a big impact in the event at SECs this year.

Unfortunately, Tennessee’s incoming freshmen class does very little to bolster this breaststroke group. It’s not a “break glass in case of emergency” situation, though, since McSharry truly is one of the breaststroke stars of the NCAA. She won the 100 breast at SECs in 57.50 last year, then went on to finish 4th at NCAAs in 57.18, breaking the SEC Record in the process.

McSharry had an off year in the 200 breast last season, only coming in at 2:07.24, but she shouldn’t be overlooked in the event. As a freshman at the 2021 NCAAs, McSharry finished 3rd in 2:05.01, setting the Tennessee program record in the event.

BUTTERFLY: ★★★

This Tennessee fly group lost a lot of its talent, but they still have Ellen Walshe to lead the way. Walshe was the fastest 100 and 200 flyer on the team last year, winning the SEC title in the 100 fly. She posted times of 50.24 in the 100 and 1:53.96 in the 200, which she notably didn’t do at a championship meet. It will be interesting to see if Walshe decides to stick with the 400 IM/100 fly double again this year, or if she might drop the 100 fly in favor of the 200 fly to balance her schedule out a little. Assuming she keeps things the same, we know Walshe is fast enough to repeat at SEC champion in the 100 and qualify for the ‘A’ final at NCAAs.

The Vols lost Trude Rothrock, Mallory Beil, and Megan Sichterman to graduation after last season, hurting them in the 100 fly in particular. Rothrock was a 51.26 100 flyer last year, fast enough to score at NCAAs. Beil was 52.12, while Sichterman was 52.56, meaning Tennessee has lost quite a bit of depth in the event.

They still have Walshe, however, and Sara Stotler was a bright spot in the event last year, swimming a 52.22 as a freshman. Emma Carlton was 52.72 in the 100 fly last year as well, and will be returning for her senior season this year. They’re also bringing in freshman Libby Russum, who is a 54.34 100 flyer entering her freshman year.

Stotler was also great in the 200 fly last year, swimming a 1:54.60. Summer Smith and Kate McCarville, both freshmen last year, swam 1:56.20 and 1:57.88 respectively. It took 1:54.83 to score at NCAAs last year, so Stotler is already in that range.

IM: ★★★★

This Tennessee IM squad could turn out to be a 5-star group, but as things stand heading into the season, we’ll leave them at 4. They’re led by Ellen Walshe, who took the NCAA by storm as a freshman. Walshe pulled off something incredible at SECs last season, winning the 400 IM and 100 fly in back-to-back events. She had only the awards and the men’s 400 IM between her races, but managed to win both events by wide margins. She tried the same double at NCAAs, where she was able to qualify for the ‘A’ final in both events, but she wasn’t able to match her times from SECs.

Nonetheless, Walshe clocked a 4:01.53 at SECs, which would have been fast enough for 3rd at NCAAs. She also won the 200 IM at SECs, swimming a 1:52.97. She was pretty off in that event at NCAAs, swimming a 1:55.63 in prelims before swimming a 1:56.89 in finals to finish 16th. Her 1:52.97 from SECs would have been fast enough for 3rd at NCAAs as well though.

We know Walshe has the ability to score huge points at NCAAs, but Tennessee has a ton of depth behind her as well. Also a freshman last year, Sara Stotler was 1:56.36 in the 400 IM last season. She swam that time in prelims at SECs, qualifying for the ‘A’ final, where she would go on to finish 8th. Josephine Fuller, yet another freshman last year, was 1:57.89 at SECs last year, qualifying for the ‘B’ final.

Neither Stotler or Fuller swim the 400 IM as a championship event, but Summer Smith and Kate McCarville, both of whom were also freshmen last year, do. Smith finished 6th at SECs in the event last season, swimming a 4:09.97. McCarville was 4:13.51 last season, but has a lifetime best of 4:12.22.

With this big group of returning sophomores, Tennessee is set for a massive haul of IM points at SECs. We know Walshe is potentially a double ‘A’ finalist at NCAAs in both IMs, but with a little improvement, some of these other IMers could break through into NCAA scoring territory as well.

It’s not just this group of sophomores that Tennessee has to be excited about, however. They also have Regan Rathwell coming in as a freshman. Rathwell is from Canada, and hasn’t yet competed in a yards season, but her LCM times are great. Primarily a backstroker, Rathwell also has a lifetime best of 2:16.37 in the LCM 200 IM and 4:47.57 in the 400 IM. LCM to SCY conversions aren’t always the greatest indicators, but for our purposes, they’ll work. Her SCY conversion in the 200 IM comes in at 1:58.77, while her 400 IM comes in at 4:12.81. Since she’s a backstroker, it’s more likely we’ll see Rathwell in the 200 IM this season than the 400 IM, but either way, she’s another case where with some improvement she could be a big contributor.

DIVING: ★

Last year, Grace Cable was Tennessee’s top diver. She qualified for NCAAs for the first time in her career, and ended up finishing 18th in prelims of 3-meter, just outside of advancing to the consolation final. That being said, one more small step forward for Cable in her final season and she could score a few points at NCAAs for the Vols.

That would be huge, since Tennessee, often considered one of the higher-end diving programs in the NCAA, didn’t score any diving points at NCAAs last season.

The Vols have reloaded their women’s diving squad as well. They bring in 3 freshman divers, any of whom could break through and help the team in a big way. Hannah Duncan is a notable addition. She was a semifinalist at the 2021 Junior National Diving Championships, indicating she has experience at high levels of junior diving. She’s joined by Callie Borda in the freshman class, as well as South Africa’s Bailey Davenport, who is a redshirt freshman.

Returning for Tennessee diving outside of Cable are Kara Holt, Tanesha Lucoe, Madison Reese, Elle Renner, and Emily Ann Wolfson.

RELAYS: ★★★

Tennessee was very strong in the 800 free relay last season, winning SECs and finishing 8th at NCAAs. They look primed to continue that success this year, despite losing two of their legs from last year. Trude Rothrock and Tjasa Pintar were on the SEC-winning relay last year, and both have graduated. That being said, Tennessee is so deep in the 200 free, and they bring in Julia Burroughs with a 1:46.9 personal best, so they should be able to reload that relay without a problem.

Pintar is a big loss for the Vols, as she provided great relay legs throughout her career. Replacing her and AJ Kutsch will be a tough task in the sprint free relays, but it could be done. Burroughs will be key in this, as she was a 22.65 50 freestyler and 49.31 100 freestyler in high school.

Tennessee was top 16 in all 5 relays at NCAAs last season, and top 8 in the 800 free relay. Since they’re returning most of their legs, it looks like their relays should be right around the same times they were last year.

2022-2023 OUTLOOK

Total Stars: 24

Tennessee is a tricky team to project, since they tend to perform at their best at SECs then take a little bit of a dip at NCAAs. That being said, they’re in good shape to make a run at repeating as SEC Champions this year. If they perform at their best at NCAAs, they would certainly move up from their 10th place finish last year. If they perform along the same lines as they’ve been performing at NCAAs, they’ll probably be right around 10th again.

Thankfully for the Vols, they only lost 8 individual NCAA points from last year. Also, the relay swimmers they lost should be able to be replaced without an issue. Given that, and the addition of someone like Regan Rathwell, who could turn out to be a huge contributor for Tennessee, it’s very unlikely we would see Tennessee take a step back last year. At worst, it seems they’ll hold steady with last year’s position, and at best, they could move up a handful of spots.

Ellen Walshe and Mona McSharry will be critical to the team’s success. Walshe could be a an NCAA ‘A’ finalist in 3 events, while McSharry should be an ‘A’ finalist, a high-finishing one at that, in both breaststroke events. She could also be a ‘B’ finalist in the 50 free depending on how things shake out. Julia Mrozinski could be another massive contributor for the team at NCAAs. Last year, her individual performances didn’t match her relay swims. If she can change that this year, Mrozinski will be an ‘A’ finalist in both the 200 free and 500 free. Kristen Stege has as good a chance as anyone at winning the 1650 at NCAAs as well.

Women’s Preview Index

Team Sprint Free Distance Free Backstroke Breaststroke Butterfly IM Diving Relays Total Stars
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
#8 California Golden Bears ★★★ ★★★ ★★★ ★★★ 16/40
#9 Ohio State Buckeyes ★★★ ★★★ ★★ ★★★ ★★ ★★ ★★★ ★★★★ 22/40
#10 Tennessee Volunteers ★★★ ★★★★ ★★★ ★★★ ★★★ ★★★★ ★★★ 24/40
#11 Indiana Hoosiers ★★ ★★ ★★★ ★★ ★★★★ 16/40
#12 Kentucky Wildcats ★★ ★★★ ★★ ★★★ ★★ ★★ 16/40

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VFL
3 months ago

Also have Kailee Morgan for breast—1:00.89 D2 runner up.

Interesting
3 months ago

If Mrozinski and Walshe even come back…

VFL
Reply to  Interesting
3 months ago

Why would they not come back?

Interesting2
Reply to  VFL
3 months ago

Ellen has a post on her IG from two days ago. It looks like she’s in Ireland buying a new car. When does UT start school? Are they late or on quarters? She’s on the roster so she must be on the team this year. I wouldn’t worry.

oxyswim
Reply to  Interesting
3 months ago

They were never in the portal and are both listed on the 22-23 roster. Silly to put this out there with no basis in anything. People don’t just walk away from full rides unless there’s way more earning potential out there.

Soapy
3 months ago

Tenessee? Vols? More like ranked number Ten-NASTY-volunteers LOOKING to go to WORK if swimming!?

Soapy
Reply to  Soapy
3 months ago

?

oxyswim
3 months ago

Should handily win SECs again this year. Just a matter of if they can swim to that level at NCs in their home pool.

Radiogaga
Reply to  oxyswim
3 months ago

Smart money says they will fall off at NCAAs as usual. The worst performing team in NCAAs compared to seeds over the past 5 years. Hope not – GO Lady VOLS.

Hmmm
3 months ago

Rob Collins is very photogenic. Great picture

Time For Barta To Go
3 months ago

Couldn’t find a more enthusiastic photo?

Don Megerle
Reply to  Time For Barta To Go
3 months ago

My thought exactly 😀

VFL
3 months ago

Has it been confirmed AJ is no longer swimming? Her IG bio still has lady vols swimming listed.

RTR
3 months ago

Can’t wait to watch this season! Tennessee does seem to tear it up every year at SECs….It could be a very close SECs this year with some epic relay match ups with Bama, and tons of epic individual races, that could decide the SEC Team Championship, especially Stege/Mrozinski- McMahon, McSharry-Wiseman, Rumley-Scott, Walshe-White, & Douthwright-Dupree.

Swimfan
Reply to  RTR
3 months ago

It won’t be close. Bama’s 15-22 roster spots are nowhere near Tennessee’s. Tennessee repeats easily, though Bama finishes higher at NCAAs