2023 NCAA WOMEN’S SWIMMING AND DIVING CHAMPIONSHIPS
- March 15-18, 2023
- Allan Jones Aquatic Center–Knoxville, Tennessee
- SCY (25 yards)
- Meet Central
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- Pick ’em Contest
Other than Cal’s demolition of the field in 2019, the 200 freestyle relay has been a tightly-contested race over the last decade at the Women’s NCAA Championships.
Virginia won the title last year by just over half a second, the second-largest margin of victory since 2016, but the Cavaliers appear to be en route to obliterating the field this year. That checks out when you’ve got the two fastest 50 freestylers of all-time on your side.
The UVA quartet of Kate Douglass, Alex Walsh, Lexi Cuomo and Gretchen Walsh first broke the NCAA, U.S. Open and American Record at the 2022 ACC Championships, combining for a time of 1:24.47 to lower the 1:24.55 mark established by that 2019 Cal team that had a pair of 20-point splits come from Amy Bilquist and Abbey Weitzeil.
The Cavaliers then secured the NCAA title last season in 1:24.96, thanks to a scintillating 20.58 anchor from G. Walsh to fend off Alabama, and the team has raised the bar once again in 2023.
VIRGINIA’S 1-2 PUNCH SETS THEM APART
Shortly before leading off Virginia’s 200 free relay at NCAAs in 21.06, Douglass broke the all-time record in the individual 50 free at last year’s NCAA Championships in a time of 20.84, with G. Walsh the only other swimmer sub-21 in the field at 20.95.
That mark established by Douglass stood until last month’s ACC Championships, where the younger Walsh sister blitzed her way to a time of 20.83 in the individual final.
Earlier that session, Douglass led off in 20.95, G. Walsh recorded the fourth-fastest relay split of all-time in 20.48, and Cuomo (21.14) and A. Walsh (21.30) finished things up to give the Cavaliers a new NCAA and American Record by six-tenths of a second in 1:23.87.
Cuomo and A. Walsh are in the upper echelon of sprinters any team in the NCAA has to offer in this event, and they happen to be teaming up with the two fastest women of all-time. No one can match them here. It took four perfectly-executed legs for Alabama to get mildly close last year, and the Crimson Tide have lost two of those swimmers this season.
Barring an early takeoff—and these four swimmers have gotten a ton of experience doing exchanges under pressure with one another over the last few seasons—UVA has this one sewn up.
UVA Split Comparison
|UVA, 2022 ACCs (Former US Open Record)||UVA, 2022 NCAAs (Title Winning Swim)||UVA, 2023 ACCs (Current US Open Record)|
|Kate Douglass — 21.10||Kate Douglass — 21.06||Kate Douglass — 20.95|
|Alex Walsh — 21.38||Alex Walsh — 21.46||Gretchen Walsh — 20.48|
|Lexi Cuomo — 21.48||Lexi Cuomo — 21.86||Lexi Cuomo — 21.14|
|Gretchen Walsh — 20.58||Gretchen Walsh — 20.58||Alex Walsh — 21.30|
To add to the excitement of another potential U.S. Open Record in the relay, Douglass has opted to race the 200 IM individually this year, meaning we’ll see her race the 50 free for the last time in collegiate competition on the lead-off leg as she aims to reclaim the all-time record from teammate Walsh. With that extra bit of motivation for Douglass, we could very well see a 1:23-mid here.
THE RACE FOR SECOND: CARDINALS V. CARDINAL
Maybe not to the extent that Virginia’s a lock for first, but at least on paper, the race for the runner-up position is firmly in the grasp of Louisville, as the Cardinals reeled off a time of 1:25.29 at ACCs, the fastest time from anyone outside of Virginia since Cal in 2019.
Albiero (21.36) and Regenauer (21.58) rank fourth and seventh in the nation this season in the individual 50 free, while first-years Julia Dennis (21.43) and Ella Welch (21.26) dropped some blistering relays splits at the conference championships.
Dennis and Welch have both been 21.8 from a flat start this season individually, so it’s certainly possible they might be a touch slower in the relay at NCAAs after things seemingly went perfect at ACCs, though Louisville usually performs well at NCAAs as a whole.
The only other school sub-1:26 this year is Stanford, as the Cardinal went 1:25.90 at the Wolfpack Invitational and then followed up by picking up a dominant win at Pac-12s in 1:25.98.
With Stanford’s lineup consisting of accomplished international relay swimmers Torri Huske, Claire Curzan and Taylor Ruck, along with sophomore Amy Tang, the team is in good shape and could conceivably challenge Louisville for the runner-up spot.
Split Comparison: Louisville vs Stanford (Season Bests)
|Gabi Albiero – 21.57||Torri Huske – 21.54|
|Christiana Regenauer – 21.03||Taylor Ruck – 21.40|
|Julia Dennis – 21.43||Emma Wheal – 21.81|
|Ella Welch – 21.26||Claire Curzan – 21.15|
Tang was 21.61 at Pac-12s, and Huske (flat start) and Ruck (flying start) have consistently been 21-mid, which figures to push the Cardinal into 1:25-mid territory, right on Louisville’s heels, if Curzan can be 21-low once again.
OTHER TOP CONTENDERS
Due to the chaotic nature of this relay, while Virginia, Louisville and Stanford appear to be the clear favorites for the podium, anything can happen and there are several teams who will be in the hunt and in a position to capitalize if any of the top three slip up.
At the ACC Championships, Berkoff led off in 21.66 and Alons (21.31), Crush (22.13) and Arens (21.44) provided swift splits for a final time of 1:26.54, just shy of their NCAA time from one year ago. There’s not much to suggest there’s a significant amount more for this lineup to drop, though a tenth or two from each swimmer could bring them under 1:26.
Ohio State and LSU are tied for fifth in the nation this season at 1:26.70, with the Buckeyes having four solid legs and the Tigers relying heavily on Maggie MacNeil.
MacNeil dropped a 20.44 leg at SECs in what was an emotional win for LSU at the conference championships. Will the post-meet comedown affect the team here? We know MacNeil performs best when the lights shine brightest, but it remains to be seen if the likes of Peyton Curry (22.23 split) and Michaela De Villiers (21.69 anchor) can match what they pulled out at SECs.
Funderburke split 21.86 at Big Tens, but was nearly the same individually in 21.95, suggesting OSU may have more in the tank than their conference time of 1:26.70. In addition to that, Zenick was over two-tenths slower on the relay lead-off (22.08) than she was individually (21.85).
OSU has four swimmers who have been sub-22 from a flat start this season—only Virginia and Louisville can say the same.
Split Comparison: NC State, LSU & OSU (Season Bests)
|NC State||LSU||Ohio State|
|Katharine Berkoff – 21.66||Katarina Milutinovich – 22.34||Katherine Zenick – 22.08|
|Kylee Alons – 21.31||Maggie MacNeil – 20.44||Nyah Funderburke – 21.86|
|Annabel Crush – 22.13||Peyton Curry – 22.23||Teresa Ivan – 21.69|
|Abby Arens – 21.44||Michaela De Villiers – 21.69||Amy Fulmer – 21.07|
FIGHT FOR THE TOP EIGHT
There are a number of teams in contention for a top-eight spot in this relay behind the top-six seeds, with UNC, Texas, Alabama, Florida and USC all in the hunt.
At the midseason Tennessee Invitational, the Tar Heels nearly upset Virginia with a standout performance in 1:26.99, which included a 21.92 lead-off from Olivia Nel and a blistering 20.96 anchor from Grace Countie.
At ACCs, the team couldn’t quite match that in 1:27.69, opting to lead off Countie (21.64), while Nel’s relay leg was only slightly quicker than her flat start in November.
Alabama’s got three 21 splits but will need their fourth swimmer to be closer to 22-flat, compared to the 22.3 we saw at SECs, to comfortably claim a top-eight spot.
Florida has a solid foursome that had a trio of 21-high legs at SECs, and Katie Mack was 21.36 anchoring the 200 medley relay at the conference meet compared to her 21.62 on the free relay, so the Gators might be poised to venture into the 1:26s and score some big points. Lead-off swimmer Ekaterina Nikonova was also slightly quicker in both prelims and finals of the individual event compared to the her relay swim.
USC could also become a factor here—the Trojans haven’t done it in the same race, but if we combine their four fastest legs split across the Art Adamson Invite and Pac-12s, the team of Anicka Delgado (21.97), Hanna Henderson (21.57), Kaitlyn Dobler (21.37) and Elise Garcia (21.83) have a 1:26.74 add-up.
For Texas, the team went 1:27.05 in a dual against NC State in January, which came with a 22.28 lead-off from Grace Cooper. Cooper has been as fast as 21.89 this season, so the Longhorns are another team that could easily be in 1:26-mid territory. Emma Sticklen was on fire at that meet and split 21.37, giving the Longhorns a huge boost from a swimmer not regarded as a 50 freestyler.
2022 NCAA Finish (Time)
|4||Ohio State||1:26.70||4th (1:26.74)|
|5||NC State||1:26.54||3rd (1:26.37)|
|7||LSU||1:26.70||Did Not Qualify|