2023 W. NCAA Previews: Erica Sullivan Chasing First NCAA Title In 500 Free


As always, the first individual event of the 2023 Women’s NCAA Championships will be the 500 free. The defending champion in the event, Lia Thomas, has since graduated, meaning we’re assured to be crowning a new champion in the event this year.

On top of defending champion Thomas, last year’s fourth-place finisher Brooke Forde and fifth-place finisher Evie Pfeifer have also graduated after using their fifth year of eligibility last season.

Last year’s ‘B’ final winner, Tennessee’s Julia Mrozinski does return this year. Though she was in the consolation final last year, Mrozinski swam a 4:37.35 in finals, which would have tied for sixth in the ‘A’ final.


There are five ‘A’ finalists from last year who will be competing again at these NCAA Championships. Leading the way is the top seed, Texas sophomore Erica Sullivan, who swam an NCAA-leading 4:35.88 at Texas’ dual meet with NC State in January. That time is notably faster than Sullivan swam for third at NCAAs last year (4:35.92).

Erica Sullivan (photo: Jack Spitser)

Sullivan has been as fast as 4:34.07 in her career, which she swam in April of 2021 prior to her arrival at Texas. Her personal best is the fastest in the field this year. It does appear Sullivan has some momentum heading into this year’s NCAAs. She swam well at the championships last year, taking almost three seconds off her seed in the 500 and eight seconds off her seed in the 1650. A similar performance this year would put Sullivan well under her lifetime best.

Another returning All-American is Emma Weyant, who finished second in the event last year with a PB of 4:34.99. Weyant was competing for Virginia last year as a freshman but has since transferred to Florida. She didn’t officially join Florida’s roster until the second semester, so we haven’t seen her race a ton as a Gator. She swam in two dual meets in January, then the SEC Championships in February.

That being said, Weyant swam quite well at SECs, posting a 4:37.96 in the 500, which is right at the 4:37.23 she swam at the ACC Championships last year when she was with the Cavaliers. Weyant has historically been very good at dropping time from prelims to finals, so as long as she makes it into the ‘A’ final this year, she will be well set up to make some noise.

Wisconsin’s Paige McKenna came in sixth last year as a freshman in 4:37.35.  For what it’s worth, she also won the 1650 last year convincingly. Now a sophomore, McKenna didn’t look quite as sharp in the 500 free at Big Tens last month as she did last year. She clocked in at 4:40.98 at Big Tens, making her the 37th seed heading into NCAAs. It’s also worth noting that McKenna’s time was a bit off the 4:38.09 she swam at last year’s conference meet. Truthfully, that’s making it difficult to make predictions for McKenna, as she still had a very good 1650 at Big Tens last month, posting an NCAA-leading 15:46.90, which is also faster than she swam at the 2022 meet.

Emma Weyant (photo: Fabio Cetti)

Alabama’s Kensey McMahon came in seventh in the 500 last year, swimming a 4:40.06. That time came after she swam a 4:38.76 in prelims to advance to the ‘A’ final. Her lifetime best in the event is a 4:38.34, which she swam at last year’s SEC Championships. This year, McMahon clocked a 4:40.03 at SECs, a bit off her time from last year. In order to make it into the ‘A’ final this year, McMahon will have to drop from her seed time.

Stanford’s Morgan Tankersley took eighth last year with a 4:40.08. Tankersley made it into the ‘A’ final last year after finishing seventh in prelims with a 4:38.65. She was actually a bit off last year, as Tankersley’s personal best in the 500 free is 4:35.99, which actually makes her the third-fastest swimmer in the field based on lifetime bests. That time was set three years ago, however, coming at the 2020 Pac-12s.


If we’re talking about new faces in the NCAA 500 free, we have to start with Texas junior Olivia Bray. Historically, Bray has not been a 500 freestyler. In fact, she didn’t officially swim the race in 2019, 2020, or 2021. Despite that, Bray is the fourth seed coming into these NCAA Championships, after swimming a huge lifetime best of 4:37.31 at Big 12s a few weeks ago.

Bray began her career at Texas with a personal best of 4:52.02 in the 500. She didn’t race the event as a Longhorn until January of last year, where she clocked a huge personal best of 4:44.32. Bray then swam the event at the Sterkel Classic in early February of this year, bringing her personal best down to 4:40.80, before she would go on to take another few seconds off that time at NCAAs.

It makes Bray probably the most interesting swimmer in the 500 this year, from the standpoint that we don’t really know what to expect from her. She’s raced the event so infrequently that for all we know she could have significantly more left in the tank. It’s also entirely possible that 4:37 is right about what she’s capable of in the 500 right now. Texas not having to do a full taper for Big 12s also makes it tricky to project just how fast someone like Bray could go this week.

Another completely fresh face is Georgia Tech freshman Deniz Ertan. A native of Turkey, Ertan is competing in her first yards season this year. She swam well at the ACC Championships last month, clocking a personal best of 4:38.04 in the 500, which landed her the sixth seed for NCAAs. Moreover, Ertan’s 4:38.04 lines up pretty well with her LCM 400 free lifetime best of 4:09.38, though SCY-to-LCM conversions are admittedly not an exact science.

Wisconsin sophomore Abby Carlson has also entered into the conversation. Carlson qualified for NCAAs last year as a freshman but came in 25th in prelims with a 4:43.20, which was just off her then-best time of 4:43.08. This year, however, Carlson has made huge strides in the 500, having clocked a 4:38.15 at Big Tens last month, which makes her the seventh seed coming into the meet. If Carlson is able to more-or-less match her seed time in prelims, she’ll more than likely make it through to the ‘A’ final.

This is also a good place to mention Michigan freshman Katie Crom, who won Freshman of the Meet at the Big Ten Championships last month. Crom has improved tremendously in a number of events, including the 500, in her first year with the Wolverines. She began her college career with a personal best of 4:44.39 in the event and has now brought that time down to 4:39.05, which she swam at Big Tens. She would likely need another lifetime best in order to make it into the ‘A’ final, but it looks like scoring is very much on the table for the freshman.


In case you missed it, sisters Rachel Stege and Kristen Stege had an awesome race with each other in the 500 free at SECs last month. Rachel, a sophomore at Georgia, touched out her older sister Kristen, a Tennesse junior, 4:36.31 to 4:36.35, to win the title. Both swimmers earned lifetime bests with their performances and also earned the second and third seeds for NCAAs.

For Rachel, it was a massive breakthrough, blowing away her previous personal best of 4:40.03, which had stood since October 2020. Kristen’s time also marked a PB, taking a little over two seconds off her previous mark of 4:38.38.

The swims also suddenly vaulted both women into title contention in the event this year, with Erica Sullivan, Emma Weyant, and Morgan Tankersley the only athletes in the field who have been faster than 4:36.3 in their career.

One thing is for sure: it would be incredibly exciting to get to watch these sisters battle it out again in the 500 free this week, only this time it will be for an NCAA title.

SwimSwam Picks

Name Team Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Erica Sullivan Texas 4:35.88 4:34.07
2 Emma Weyant Florida 4:37.96 4:34.99
3 Rachel Stege Georgia 4:36.31 4:36.31
4 Kristen Stege Tennessee 4:36.35 4:36.35
5 Morgan Tankersley Stanford 4:38.36 4:35.99
6 Olivia Bray Texas 4:37.31 4:37.31
7 Deniz Ertan Georgia Tech 4:38.04 4:38.04
8 Abby Carlson Wisconsin 4:38.15 4:38.15

Dark Horse: Olivia McMurray, Texas – McMurray comes in as the 17th seed in the 500 with a 4:39.38. She swam the time at the Sterkel Classic, marking a huge lifetime best for the sophomore. McMurray entered her second season with the Longhorns as a 4:43.73 in the event. She first clocked a lifetime best this season at the Minnesota Invite in early December, where she swam a 4:42.72. In the few months since then, McMurray has managed to drop all the way down under 4:40. If she has one more lifetime best in her this season, she could have a shot at breaking into the top eight in prelims. 

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19 days ago

It hasn’t hit the news yet, but SMU was just granted 3 wild card entries in to this race. While the mustang men tend to get more hype around here, I fully expect a 1-2-3 sweep from their women here.

Christine Breedy
19 days ago

Was Sullivan the Swimmer who outspokenly supported Thomas’ participation?

Sherry Smit
Reply to  Christine Breedy
19 days ago

McKenna, Sullivan, and Forde

19 days ago

Weyant- Solid swim last year NCAA and training with UF

Circle swim
Reply to  Joe
19 days ago

Weyant with a 4:33.20 for the win.

19 days ago

the 7 fastest 500s this year have been swum outside of the ncaa: the 5 at winter juniors (mcintosh, sims, grimes, wienstien, hartman) plus ledecky’s first 2 500s in her mile yesterday.

Sherry Smit
19 days ago

Agree with top 3. Kensey McMahon is one to watch. She’s had a phenomenal season in long course this last summer, taking bronze in the 400 Free at nationals (4:08.3). She also went bronze in the 1500 at worlds in december. Could certainly challenge for top 8.

Reply to  Sherry Smit
15 days ago

Wow you nailed that one!