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 2023 NCAA Championships. Follow along with the College Swimming Preview Channel. Want to read even more? Check out the latest edition of the SwimSwam magazine.
#2 TEXAS LONGHORNS
Key Additions: Emma Davidson (Cal transfer – free), Alicia Wilson (Cal transfer – IM/back), #9 Jillian Cox (FR – TX), #15 Berit Berglund (FR – IN), #7 Erin Gemmell (FR – MD), #2 Campbell Stoll (FR – WI), HR Emma Kern (FR – MN), BOTR Alexa Fulton (FR – PA), BOTR Angie Coe (FR – IL)
Over the years, we’ve gone back and forth on how to project points, ranging from largely subjective rankings to more data-based grading criteria based on ‘projected returning points.’ We like being as objective as possible, but we’re going to stick with the approach we’ve adopted post-Covid. The grades will rely heavily on what swimmers actually did last year, but we’ll also give credit to returning swimmers or freshmen who have posted 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.
Also, keep in mind that we are publishing many of these previews before teams have posted finalized rosters. We’re making our assessments based on the best information we have available at the time of publication, but we reserve the right to make changes after publication based on any new information that may emerge regarding rosters. If that does happen, we’ll make certain to note the change.
The 2022-2023 campaign was another successful one for the Texas Longhorns. Though they performed slightly under expectations at the NCAA Championships, Texas still managed another 2nd place finish, doing so by nearly 100 points over 3rd place Stanford.
At NCAAs, the Longhorns were led by junior Emma Sticklen, who racked up 46.5 points and won the 200 fly. Meanwhile, fellow junior Olivia Bray was the 2nd leading scorer on the team, ending up with 42 points. Bray topped out with a 3rd-place finish in the 500 free.
Anna Elendt was another top performer for the team, grabbing a 2nd place finish in the 200 breast and taking 3rd in the 100 breast. She was joined by freshman teammate Lydia Jacoby, who won the 100 breast.
In all, Texas was clearly the #2 team in the NCAA last season. The Longhorns saw 12 swimmers and divers score points individually at NCAAs and all of their relays posted top-seven finishes, with the 200 medley, 400 medley, and 800 free relays each taking 3rd.
SPRINT FREE: ★★★½
Sprint free is one of the most interesting areas of this Texas team. While Texas has been good in the 200 free of late, the 50 and 100 free have been some of the weaker events for the team for a few seasons now. However, it looks like things might be changing.
The team returns their top sprinter from last year in Grace Cooper, who is entering her senior season. Last season, Cooper was excellent clocking career bests in both the 50 free (21.89) and 100 free (48.43). While her 50 free PB is plenty fast enough to score at NCAAs, Cooper came in 22nd in prelims of NCAAs last season, clocking 22.10 in prelims. That being said, she still has NCAA ‘B’ final speed in the event as we enter this season.
Though Cooper was off in the 50 at NCAAs, that’s not to say she didn’t swim well at the meet, including setting a new PB of 48.43 in the 100 free heats, placing 30th. Additionally, Cooper clocked a 21.96 leading off the Texas 200 free relay at NCAAs.
While the return of Cooper is significant for Texas, they do suffer a loss in Bridget Semenuk, who was their 2nd-fastest 50 freestyler last season at 22.06. While Semenuk was right there with scoring speed in the 50 free last year, she didn’t end up scoring in the event and she also wasn’t on any relays at NCAAs.
Of course, Texas also benefits in a huge way from the return of Kelly Pash for her fifth year of eligibility. Pash was the L0nghorns’ fastest 100 freestyler (47.35) and 200 freestyler (1:42.73) last season, boasting NCAA ‘A’ finals speed in both events. Now, that’s a little overstated, because we know that Pash is highly unlikely to race the 100 free individually at NCAAs this season, since she’ll be in the 200 fly. On the other hand, Texas is loaded in the 200 fly, so perhaps s Pash is swimming well in the 100 free they could choose to make the switch.
Either way, we know she’ll be racing the 200 free, where she has the ability to be an ‘A’ finalist, as she was in 2022. Last season, Pash ended up finishing 9th in the 200 free in prelims before placing 11th overall.
The reason this sprint group is so interesting is that Texas is bringing in, both through their freshman class and grad transfers.
Perhaps the most notable swimmer in this group is Erin Gemmell, an incoming freshman with some serious speed in a number of events. The 50 free is probably Gemmell’s worst of the free events, though she’s still been a respectable 22.73. Outside of that, Gemmell has been 48.19 in the 100 free and 1:43.45 in the 200 free, both of which are extremely fast times for incoming freshmen. It’s worth noting that Gemmell also posted a lifetime best of 1:55.97 in the LCM 200 free this summer, which she swam while leading off the U.S. women’s 4×200 free relay at the World Championships in Fukuoka. She would go on to help the U.S. relay to a silver medal.
Gemmell is already capable of scoring in several events, including the 100 and 200 free, which is why she’s earned SwimSwam’s #7 recruit in the girls’ high school class of 2023.
Gemmell is not alone in this freshman class, however. Alexa Fulton, who is maybe the most ‘pure sprint freestyler’ in this freshman class, also joins the fold. Fulton boasts a personal best of 22.46 in the 50 free, 48.69 in the 100 free, and 1:47.29 in the 200 free. Emma Kern comes in with the exact same personal best in the 50 free as Fulton – 22.46. Kern isn’t quite as good as Fulton in the 100 free, but has still been 49.50.
Texas also gains Emma Davidson, a fifth-year grad transfer from Cal. Davidson is a very solid relay piece, who is also right on the NCAA scoring bubble in the three sprint free events. She holds personal bests of 22.21 in the 50, 48.27 in the 100, and 1:45.80 in the 200.
There’s simply a ton of sprint free depth in Texas’ incoming swimmers. Of course, we don’t yet know exactly which three individual events all these swimmers will end up racing, but the depth is very real regardless. Here is a table showing the career bests of the Texas newcomers for this season:
Note: this table only includes newcomers to the roster, not swimmers who were on the team last year
|50 FREE||100 FREE||200 FREE|
|22.21 (ED)||48.19 (EG)||1:43.45 (EG)|
|22.46 (EK)||48.27 (ED)||1:45.03 (AW)|
|22.46 (AF)||48.69 (AF)||1:45.31 (JC)|
|22.50 (AC)||48.70 (BB)||1:45.80 (ED)|
|22.73 (EG)||49.35 (JC)||1:47.29 (AF)|
|49.45 (AC)||1:48.06 (AC)|
|49.50 (EK)||1:48.34 (BB)|
Again, we don’t yet know who will end up swimming what with these freshmen, however, one thing is very clear: Carol Capitani and her staff have done an exceptional job of strengthening what was something of a weakness for her team in recent years. We’ve put the sprint group at 3.5 stars but they could easily end up being a four-star group by the end of the season, depending on how the new swimmers develop.
DISTANCE FREE: ★★★★★
The distance group was one of Texas’ greatest strengths last season, and they’ve actually improved the group going into this year. Starting with the returners, of course, there’s no one better to start with than Erica Sullivan. An Olympic silver medalist in the 1500 free, Sullivan is one of the top milers in the NCAA currently.
Sullivan led Texas in the 1650 last season with a 15:49.16, which she swam at Big 12s. She was just off that time at NCAAs, clocking a 15:50.52, but still managed a 5th place finish with that performance. The Longh0rns also return Abby Pfeifer, who had a breakout season last year. Pfeifer posted a lifetime best of 16:05.62 at NCAAs last season, which was good for a 21st-place finish and less than 3 seconds off what it took to score (16:02.99). Given that, Texas has an All-American and a bubble scorer returning in the 1650.
As good as they are in the mile, the real strength of the Texas distance group lies in the 500 free. The Longhorns had two ‘A’ finalists in the 500 free at NCAAs last year. Sullivan was one, finishing 4th (4:37.28) after clocking the top time in prelims (4:36.51). It’s worth noting that Sullivan’s time in prelims would have been fast enough to win the event in finals. The other Texas swimmer in that ‘A’ final was Olivia Bray, who came in 3rd with a 4:37.02.
Though she didn’t end up making it back for finals at NCAAs last season, Texas’ 3rd-fastest 500 freestyler was Olivia McMurray, who posted a new lifetime best of 4:39.38 last season. She came in 52nd at NCAAs with a 4:45.74, however, her 4:39.38 season best would have actually been fast enough to qualify for the ‘A’ final.
That takes care of the returners. In addition to what the Longhorns are bringing back, they’re also adding two heavy hitters, specifically in the 500. Jillian Cox, SwimSwam’s #9 swimmer in the class of 2023, joins the Longhorns with a career-best of 4:37.85 in the 500 free. That time would have been good for 6th at NCAAs last year.
Texas also adds #7 Erin Gemmell, who has a personal best of 4:40.63, which would have put her firmly in the ‘B’ final last year. Now, it’s not an absolute guarantee that Gemmell will swim the 500, as she also has a very fast PB in the 200 IM. That being said, her 500 free time is already scoring caliber, while her 200 IM is a bit outside that range, so as of now it seems most likely Gemmell will be racing the 500 over the 200 IM.
On top of what Cox and Gemmell bring to the table in the 500 free, Cox is also an exceptional miler. She holds a personal best of 16:03.42 in the 1650, which is just 0.43 seconds off the time it took to finish 16th in the event at NCAAs last season.
That being said, Texas boasts what is easily one of the best distance groups in the NCAA, featuring what I have no problem calling the best 500 free group in the NCAA right now.
Texas is adding some much-needed depth to their backstroke group. Last year, it was all on Olivia Bray to score points in the backstroke events. To be fair, Bray was an ‘A’ finalist in both backstroke events last year, taking 6th in the 100 back (50.61) and 7th in the 200 back (1:51.95). Bray had a season-best of 1:50.09 in the 200 back.
Given that, Texas has an elite backstroker returning to the team this year, which already puts them in a good place. Bray is set to have help, however, namely in the additions of freshmen Berit Berglund and Emma Kern.
Berglund is a fantastic backstroke recruit, boasting personal bests of 51.32 in the 100 back and 1:53.52 in the 200. That has Berglund beginning her collegiate career with a PB in the 100 back that is fast enough to score at NCAAs. She’s also just outside scoring range in the 200 back based on her PB in that event.
Kern is right there as well. She holds a career best of 51.99 in the 100 back and 1:56.52 in the 200 back. With those PBs, particularly the 100, it would only take a little improvement this season for Kern to be a scoring-caliber backstroker.
Then, there’s Alicia Wilson, a fifth-year grad student who spent her undergrad at Cal. Wilson holds a career-best of 1:52.67 in the 200 back, which would have put her in the ‘B’ final at NCAAs last year.
We should also mention freshman Campbell Stoll, who has a career-best of 52.68 in the 100 back and 1:54.18 in the 200 back. While those times are very promising for a rising freshman, it seems unlikely that Stoll will be racing the backstroke events at championship meets.
The return of Anna Elendt and Lydia Jacoby automatically makes this a 5-star breaststroke group. Elendt was exceptional last season, taking 2nd in the 200 breast (2:03.26) and 3rd in the 100 breast (57.29). Meanwhile, Jacoby was a monster as a freshman, winning the 100 breast at NCAAs in 57.03. After an off swim in prelims of the 200 breast at NCAAs, Jacoby was left in the ‘B’ final, however, she had a season-best of 2:04.32 in the event, which would have been fast enough for 3rd.
Elendt, now a senior, and Jacoby, a sophomore, represent the strongest breaststroke duo in the NCAA this season. With Kate Douglass out of the picture in the 200 breast, it’s possible that this Longhorn duo could go 1-2 in both the 100 and 200 breast at NCAAs this season.
It’s not just what Texas returns, however, as they bring in some serious breaststroke speed. As is the case in basically every section of this preview, I have to point out that many of Texas’ incoming freshmen are so versatile that there’s no real guarantee as to what they’ll end up racing at championship meets when they’re limited to 3 events.
Nonetheless, there’s a lot of breaststroke talent in this freshman class. Freshman Campbell Stoll is a phenomenal breaststroke recruit. She holds career bests of 59.40 in the 100 breast and 2:08.23 in the 200 breast. Now, Stoll is exceptional in both IM events, so it would seem she likely won’t race the 100 breast individually at championship meets. That being said there is some chance she could race the 200 breast on day 4 of the NCAA championship schedule, however, she’s also a fantastic 200 flyer, so it’s hard to tell.
Another freshman, Angie Coe, boasts a PB of 1:00.22 in the 100 breast. Coe has the ability to race either the 100 breast, 100 fly, or 200 free on that day of the schedule, but it seems like the 100 breast will be a strong contender for her individual event on that day.
Even if Stoll and Coe don’t end up racing breast at the end of the season, this Texas squad is still as strong as they come. It’s worth mentioning that rising junior Channing Hanley had a great sophomore season last year, posting career bests in the 100 breast (1:00.48) and 200 breast (2:09.32).
Texas once again has the premier 200 fly group in the NCAA this season. The Longhorns had three swimmers in the ‘A’ final of the 200 fly at NCAAs last season, including the champion, Emma Sticklen (1:49.95), who set the meet record. Texas will not have Dakota Luther returning, as she’s used up her eligibility, however, Kelly Pash is back for her fifth year, which means the Longhorns return the NCAA champion in the event, as well as the 3rd-place finisher from last year.
Though they lost Luther, Texas is bringing in some talent in the 200 fly to keep it rolling. Freshman Campbell Stoll comes to Austin with a personal best of 1:54.41 in the 200 fly, which would have been fast enough for her to make the ‘B’ final in the event last year. Stoll should prove valuable as Texas continues to put multiple swimmers into finals in the 200 fly at NCAAs.
The Longhorns were thinner in the 100 fly than the 200 last season, but once again, they are adding depth with their newcomers. Sticklen took 5th in the 100 fly last year and clocked a new lifetime best of 49.79 in the event. She comes into this season as a very likely ‘A’ finalist again, giving Texas a solid base for their 100 fly group.
On top of Sticklen, freshman Emma Kern joins the team with a career-best of 52.23 in the 100 fly. Kern is primarily a backstroker, however, her 100 fly is fast enough to warrant consideration as an individual event for her. Kern is a great 50 freestyler as well though, so Texas may choose to have her race the 50 individually, instead of doubling up with the 100 back and 100 fly on the same day.
Similarly, freshman Angie Coe has a personal best of 52.52 in the 100 fly. However, it’s not guaranteed that Coe will race the 100 fly either, as she has a PB of 1:00.22 in the 100 breast as well.
Campbell Stoll is in the same position. An IMer, Stoll is very fast in a ton of events. She holds a personal best of 51.65 in the 100 fly, but it doesn’t seem that likely that she’ll race the event at championship meets, because it seems most likely she’ll be swimming the 400 IM.
The Texas IM group suddenly looks incredible, thanks to the addition of two NCAA scoring caliber 400 IMers, improving what was an area of weakness for the team last year.
The Longhorns had a great 400 IMer on the roster last season in Kelly Pash, however, she opted to race the 200 free as her individual event on that day at NCAAs. That left Texas without a scoring swimmer, or even a swimmer with a PB that could score, in the event. But now things are looking up, thanks to the addition of freshman Campbell Stoll and fifth-year grad transfer Alicia Wilson.
Starting with Stoll, she’s an incredible IM recruit. Her personal best of 4:05.71 would have safely qualified for the ‘A’ final in the event at NCAAs last year. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, though, as Wilson’s PB in the event is even faster, coming in at 4:04.10. That means Texas went from no scoring-caliber swimmers in the event to having two swimmers who have ‘A’ final speed.
Texas’ IM struggles only existed in the 400 IM last season; they were fantastic in the 200 IM. Emma Sticklen was an ‘A’ finalist in the 200 IM, taking 6th in 1:54.09. Kelly Pash was the leading Longhorn in the event last season, posting a season-best of 1:53.81, however, she was a bit off in the event at NCAAs and ended up in the ‘B’ final, where she took 10th overall (1:54.32).
Olivia Bray is a great 200 IMer as well, having swum a 1:56.14 in the event last season, but she’ll almost certainly keep her focus on the 500 free.
Adding to this 200 IM group is Wilson, who is arguably even better at the 200 IM than the 400. Wilson boasts a personal best of 1:53.58, which makes her another ‘A’ final-caliber swimmer in the event for Texas. Stoll is incredibly fast for an incoming freshman in the event as well, coming in with a career-high of 1:55.93. That puts her just half a second off what it took to qualify for the ‘B’ final in the event last year.
Angie Coe is another freshman who is coming in with a very quick PB. Coe has been as fast as 1:57.38 in the event, making her another very promising swimmer for the Longhorns this season.
Texas is once again set to be one of the best diving squads in the NCAA. They return all their scoring divers from last year in Sarah Carruthers (6 points), Hailey Hernandez (24 points), Bridget O’Neil (6 points), and Jordan Skilken (13 points). In total, they accounted for 59 points, making them one of the top-performing diving teams.
Those are huge returns for Texas, as we’ve seen both Hernandez and Skilken perform better at NCAAs than they did last year. At the 2022 NCAAs, Hernandez came in 4th in 1-meter diving and 8th in 3-meter, while Skilken came in 3rd on platform and 10th on 3-meter. They were a bit off those finishes last year, but we know they still have the skill to be there.
Additionally, Carruthers managed to score as just a freshman last season, so we’ll be looking for some more growth in her sophomore season.
Texas is also bringing in two new divers with this freshman class. Caroline Kupka, a member of the Norwegian National team, is joining the roster. Kupka competed at the World Championships in Fukuoka this summer, where she came in 29th in 1-meter. The other freshman is Amanda Stalfort, a Virginia 6A State Champion in 1-meter diving.
Texas was excellent in the relays last season, finishing 3rd in the 200 medley, 400 medley, and 800 free relays. They were slightly less strong in the 200 free and 400 free relays, where they took 6th and 7th respectively. They’re poised to be just as good, possibly even better this season. One of the biggest things the Texas relays have going for them is that they only lost Kyla Leibel from last year. Leibel swam on all three of the free relays at NCAAs last season. It’s also worth pointing out that Leibel was the slowest of the four legs on all three of those free relays.
Replacing Leibel shouldn’t be a problem, since Texas has brought in a ton of new sprinters this season. (See the table in the sprint free section.)
Given those times, replacing Leibel’s 21.88 50, 48.50 100, and 1:44.63 200 splits shouldn’t be an issue. Taking that into account, Texas’ free relays are primed to be even faster than last year. The 800 free relay in particular could be great, as Texas will be adding Erin Gemmell, who is already a 1:43.45 flat-start 200 freestyler. Given her times in LCM from this summer, it seems like Gemmell could already be faster than that 1:43.45 in yards. On top of that, the promise of other new swimmers like fifth-year Alicia Wilson (1:45.03) and freshman Jillian Cox (1:45.31) means that it’s possible Texas is able to get all four of their legs under 1:44 this season, which would be huge for them.
The 400 free relay is poised for improvement as well. Gemmell is already faster flat-start (48.19) than Leibel split on the 3rd leg of the relay last year (48.50), so we can count on improvement there. Additionally, Emma Davidson, another fifth-year transfer from Cal, has a PB of 48.27 flat-start, which is faster than Grace Cooper split on the anchor of the relay last year (48.41). That points to Texas now having the ability to get all four legs under 48 seconds, with a chance of dipping under 3:10 in the relay, depending on how the new swimmers develop.
Moving on to the medley relays, there isn’t actually that much to talk about. Both relays came in 3rd last year and all 8 legs return. Texas is in the very beneficial position of being able to use either Anna Elendt or Lydia Jacoby on the breaststroke legs of their relay, which means they can simply go with the hottest hand.
They’re about to have the same dynamic in backstroke now as well, because they’ll be able to interchange Olivia Bray and Berit Berglund as needed. Bray led off the 200 medley relay in 23.72 last season. Berglund has been 23.89 already in her young career. Bray was 50.89 on the lead-off of the 400 medley last season, while Berglund comes in with a PB of 51.32.
Emma Sticklen is there to provide elite fly splits once again, after going 22.32 on the 200 medley and 50.19 on the 400 medley last year. Kelly Pash will all but certainly anchor the 400 medley once again, unless Erin Gemmell develops really well in the 100 free, in which case, she might take over those duties. Cooper anchored the 200 medley last year, and did so in a speedy 21.64, so Texas probably feels comfortable moving forward with her there as well.
That being said, Texas is looking at elite medley relays once again this year, along with improved free relays.
Total Stars: 36.5/40
Texas’ outlook heading into this season is great. The Longhorns are facing minimal losses and they bring in an excellent freshman class along with two key fifth-year grad transfers. The newcomers address the few weaknesses there were on last year’s roster: sprint free, backstroke depth, and the 400 IM. They’ve also strengthened a strength by adding Jillian Cox and Erin Gemmell to the distance free group.
In all, this Texas team is poised to score more points at NCAAs this season than they did last season, putting them in position to earn yet another top-two finish and maybe even take a run at the national title.
WOMEN’S 2023-24 COLLEGE PREVIEW INDEX
|TEAM||SPRINT FREE||DISTANCE||BACKSTROKE||BREASTSTROKE||BUTTERFLY||IM||DIVING||RELAYS||TOTAL STARS|
|#2 Texas Longhorns||★★★½||★★★★★||★★★★||★★★★★||★★★★★||★★★★★||★★★★||★★★★★||36.5/40|
#3 Stanford Cardinal
|#4 Louisville Cardinals||★★★★½||★||★★||★||★★★★||★★★||★★★||★★★★½||23/40|
|#5 NC State Wolfpack||★★★||★★||★★★★½||★||★★★||★★★||★½||★★★★||22/40|
|#6 Ohio State Buckeyes||★★★★||★★||★★||★★★½||★★★||★★||★★||★★★★½||23/40|
|#7 Indiana Hoosiers||★★★||★★★★||★★||★★||★||★||★★★★★||★★★★||22/40|
|#8 Tennessee Volunteers||★★★||★★★★||★★★||★★★★||★★||★★||★||★★★||22/40|
|#9 Florida Gators||★★★||★★★★||★★||★★||★★||★★★★★||★||★★★★||23/40|
|#10 UNC Tar Heels||★||★||★★||★★||★★||★||★★★★||★★||15/40|
|#11 Cal Bears||★★||★★||★★★★||★||★★½||★★★½||★||★★★||19/40|
|#12 USC Trojans||★½||★★||★||★★★½||★★||★★||★★★||★★★||18/40|