2023 W. NCAA Previews: Maggie MacNeil Looks to Chase Down Gretchen Walsh in 50 Free


The absence of defending NCAA champion Kate Douglass has turned this year’s 50 freestyle battle into a head-to-head showdown between Virginia sophomore Gretchen Walsh and LSU fifth year Maggie MacNeil.

Sub-21 Club

Walsh is fresh off a new NCAA record in the event after blazing a 20.83 en route to the ACC title last month. MacNeil is also coming off a personal-best 20.98 at SECs, where she joined the exclusive sub-21 club (only Walsh, Douglass, and Abbey Weitzeil have broken the 21-second barrier).

Walsh first broke 21 seconds at last year’s NCAA Championships with a 20.95 that earned her a runner-up finish. MacNeil placed third in last year’s race with a 21.38. Walsh has since been sub-21 two more times: a 20.94 at November’s Tennessee Invitational before her historic 20.83 at ACCs.

After reuniting with former coach Rick Bishop at LSU last year, MacNeil nearly went sub-21 at November’s Art Adamson Invitational (21.03) before sneaking under that mark at SECs. She’s also set to clash with Walsh in the 100 free later in the meet.

Even though Douglass is opting for the 200 IM over the 50 free, she could still take a run at the NCAA record in the event if she leads off the Cavaliers’ 200 free relay.

Other Top Contenders

Before the ACC Championships, the final podium spot behind Walsh and MacNeil was wide open. Then Louisville junior Gabi Albiero threw down a 21.36 on her way to a second-place finish behind Walsh at ACCs, clinching the third seed by a .22-second margin. Albiero dropped .33 seconds off her previous best from last year’s NCAAs.

Louisville teammate Christiana Regenauer could be Albiero’s closest challenger for the bronze medal. Regenauer, a senior, had a personal-best time of 21.89 before posting a 21.58 at ACCs, which makes her the fourth-fastest performer this season. Similar to Albiero, her lifetime best at ACCs shaved .31 seconds off her previous best.

North Carolina senior Grace Countie owns the fifth-fastest time this season at 21.64, but she has been faster in the past. At last year’s NCAAs, she placed sixth in 21.54 while also clocking a 21.44 leading off the Tar Heels’ 200 free relay.

Another returning A-finalist from last year’s race is NC State senior Katharine Berkoff, who went a personal-best 21.55 for a seventh-place finish last year. Her season-best time is a 21.66, just off her 21.63 from last season heading into NCAAs, so she likely has another tenth or so left in the tank.

Watch out for Tennessee junior Mona McSharry, who notched her first sub-22 swim ever with a 21.74 en route to SECs silver behind MacNeil. Her previous-best was a 22.02 from last year’s NCAAs, where she dropped nearly two-tenths, so we could be in store for another drop next week. Alabama fifth year Kalia Antoniou also has a season-best time of 21.74 from her opening leg of the 200 free relay at SECs. She placed third in the individual event with a 21.75 behind McSharry.

Ohio State has a pair of swimmers seeding just outside A-final range in sophomore Teresa Ivan (21.78) and senior Amy Fulmer (21.79), but they might not need much of a drop to get there. Ivan achieved her first sub-22 time during prelims last month at Big Tens, where she ultimately placed second in the final behind Buckeyes teammate Katherine “Kit Kat” Zenick (seeded 12th at 21.85). Fulmer posted a personal-best 21.71 at last year’s Big Tens before adding .17 seconds at NCAAs, so she’ll be looking for redemption this time around.

The last returning A-finalist from last season is NC State fifth year Kylee Alons, whose season-best of 21.93 from ACCs is a couple tenths slower than years past, but there’s always a chance she’s saving up for a big swim here.

Top 8 Picks:

Place Swimmer School Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Gretchen Walsh Virginia 20.83 20.83
2 Maggie MacNeil LSU 20.98 20.98
3 Gabi Albiero Louisville 21.36 21.36
4 Katharine Berkoff NC State 21.66 21.55
5 Christiana Regenauer Louisville 21.58 21.58
6 Mona McSharry Tennessee 21.74 21.74
7 Grace Countie North Carolina 21.64 21.44
8 Kalia Antoniou Alabama 21.74 21.64

Dark Horse: Louisville’s Julia Dennis is the only freshman seeded within the top 15, but she has a legitimate shot at making the A-final if she can find enough energy for another time drop at NCAAs. Dennis ducked under 22 seconds for the first time last month at ACCs with a 21.83, slicing a good chunk off her previous-bet 22.10 from January. A drop of similar magnitude next week could sneak her into the A-final as the youngest in the field.

In This Story

Leave a Reply

Notify of

oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
6 months ago

G Walsh would have to mess up something to lose. If she nails her start and turn, its hers.

Octavio Gupta
6 months ago

Not happening

6 months ago

Unpopular opinion: Lexi Cuomo goes 21.5 and slides into the A

6 months ago

Go Maggie!

I love it when shorter swimmer beat much taller swimmer.

6 months ago

Mona’s been 22.0-22.1 so many times—that 21.7 is still crazy to me. Would love to see her replicate!

6 months ago

Maggie also split a 20.44 iirc vs Walsh’s 20.48. This should be a really good race, probably faster than last year even without Douglass

Sherry Smit
6 months ago

I have the same top 3, but I expect Maxine Parker to swim a fast 50.

Lab Counter
Reply to  Sherry Smit
6 months ago

Why do you think that?

Reply to  Sherry Smit
6 months ago

Do you think she will final?

Sherry Smit
6 months ago

World JR’s Silver medalist, PB sub 22, and UVA sprinter.

Lab counter
Reply to  Sherry Smit
6 months ago

World jr long time ago and no turns and her walls are average at best at this level. Almost everyone is sub 22

Say's Phoebe
6 months ago

Small correction, there are two freshmen seeded in the top 16. Ella Welch (also from Louisville) is one of four women seeded 15th. (Four swimmers entered at 21.89.)

About Riley Overend

Riley is an associate editor interested in the stories taking place outside of the pool just as much as the drama between the lane lines. A 2019 graduate of Boston College, he arrived at SwimSwam in April of 2022 after three years as a sports reporter and sports editor at newspapers …

Read More »