2024 College Swimming Previews: #9 Florida Women Welcome Bella Sims, Isabel Ivey to Crew


Key Losses: Talia Bates (transferred to Miami), Kathleen Golding, Nina Kucheran (seven NCAA points, one NCAA relay), Maha Amer (five NCAA points), Tylor Mathieu (two NCAA points, one NCAA relay), Katie Mack (two NCAA relays, transferred to Tennessee), Hayden Miller (transferred to Texas A&M),

Key Additions: #1 Bella Sims (NV – free/back/IM), Isabel Ivey (Cal transfer – free/IM), #12 Michaela Mattes (FL – free/IM), #16 Julia Podkoscielny (FL – IM/back), #17 JoJo Ramey (IN – back/free), #19 Grace Rainey (NC – breast/IM), HM Lainy Kruger (KY – fly/free), BOTR Carly Meeting (OH – back), BOTR Catie Choate (GA – back), Caroline Pennington (USC transfer – distance free), Summer Smith (Tennessee transfer – distance free)

Returning Fifth Years: None

  • 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


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.

2022-23 LOOKBACK

Florida is coming off a breakthrough season that saw the Gator women capture their first SEC title since 2009 and go on to place 9th at the 2023 NCAA Championships, their best finish in nearly a decade.

Florida got it done with a team effort of 17 women contributing to their 179 points, including nine individual scorers. Leading the way was sophomore Emma Weyant, who made a pair of NCAA A-finals in the 400 IM (3rd place – 4:03.50) and 500 free (6th place – 4:38.46) en route to 33 individual points. The Gators also got a double-digit scoring performance out of junior Mabel Zavaros, who placed 4th in the 400 IM (4:04.08) and 11th in the 500 free (4:40.40) on her way to 21 points.

Fifth-year Nina Kucheran tallied seven points courtesy of her 10th-place finish in the 200 breast (2:06.59). Florida boasted three other NCAA B-finalists in the pool — freshman Zoe Dixon in the 400 IM (11th – 4:06.92), sophomore Ekaterina Nikonova in the 200 free (13th – 1:44.05), senior Tylor Mathieu in the 500 free (15th – 4:41.18), and sophomore Olivia Peoples in the 200 fly (16th – 52.04) — and one in diving thanks to senior Maha Amer on the 1-meter (12th).

The future looks bright for Anthony Nesty’s Gators as they return 10 of their 17 NCAA contributors, six of their nine individual scorers, and welcome a talented group of newcomers headlined by top recruit Bella Sims and Cal transfer Isabel Ivey.


Florida is losing two of its top two sprint freestylers to the transfer portal between Katie Mack (Tennessee) and Talia Bates (Miami), but the program has reinforcements on the way. Ivey will be back for her fifth and final year of NCAA eligibility after placing 2nd in the 200 free (1:41.59), 3rd in the 200 IM (1:53.02), and 13th in the 100 free (47.71) at the 2022 NCAA Championships for Cal. Sims owns an even better time in the 200 free (1:40.78), but it remains to be seen whether she’ll swim the event with three other lifetime bests that would have won NCAA titles last season (500 free – 4:28.64, 1650 free – 15:40.68, and 400 IM – 3:56.59).

Nikonova should provide depth behind Sims and Ivey as she returns her 48.30 100 free and 1:43.93 200 free from last year, the latter of which put her in the B-final at NCAAs. Rising junior Micayla Cronk is also back with her 48.42 100 free and 1:45.75 200 free along with incoming freshmen recruits Lainy Kruger (1:46.14 200 free from last February) and Michaela Mattes (1:47.52 200 free). Like Sims, Mattes may also forgo the 200 free from her NCAA lineup with qualifying times in the 500 free (4:39.93), 1650 free (16:00.20), and 400 IM (4:10.37).


The Gators will be without Tylor Mathieu (15th in 500 free – 4:41.18) next season, but Sims will more than fill that gap with personal bests of 4:28.64 in the 500 free and 15:40.68 in the 1650 free – both of which would have won NCAA titles last season by several seconds. As tempting as it is to #LetBellaSprint, it’s hard to argue against her scoring potential in distance events.

Weyant is back for her junior campaign after placing 6th in the 500 free at NCAAS with a 4:38.46 — half a second slower than her time from SECs and more than three seconds off her lifetime best from last March, when she placed 2nd at NCAAs while at Virginia.

Behind Sims, No. 12 recruit Michaela Mattes brings best times of 4:39.93 and 16:00.20 to Gainesville, both of which would have earned top-8 finishes at NCAAs last season. There’s also rising senior Mabel Zavaros, who placed 11th in the 500 free last season (4:40.40) along with her 4th-place showing in the 400 IM (4:04.08).

Sprinkle in veteran transfers Caroline Pennington, the 2022 Pac-12 champion in the 1650 free (15:48.69), and U.S. National Open Water Team member Summer Smith (4:43.34/16:09.81 at Tennessee), and Florida’s distance unit could be truly elite this season.


Rising senior Aris Runnels is back as Florida’s top returning 100 backstroker after firing off a 51.57 to make the NCAA B-final last season.

In the 200 back, the Gators have a pair of returners who were only about a second away from NCAA scoring range last season. Rising senior Mabel Zavaros placed 25th in the 200 back at NCAAs with a 1:53.48 while soon-to-be sophomore Zoe Dixon was right behind her with a 1:53.62.

Florida also has a few newcomers who could make an immediate impact in the backstrokes if they find their footing as freshmen. No. 17 recruit JoJo Ramey owns a lifetime best in the 200 back that would have scored at NCAAs last year (1:52.42), and No. 16 recruit Julia Podkoscielny goes a respectable 53.30/1:55.39. “Best of the Rest” backstrokers Carly Meeting (52.91/1:55.40) and Catie Choate (53.34/1:54.90) are only a couple seconds away from NCAA scoring range as well, so the Gators’ backstroke crew could be deep and dangerous before too long.


Florida will be without its best breaststroker this season after fifth-year Nina Kucheran earned seven NCAA points with her 10th-place showing in the 200 breast (2:06.59) in March. The Florida State transfer also posted a top-25 time nationally last season in the 100 breast (59.12).

Fortunately for the Gators, there’s help on the way. No. 19 recruit Grace Rainey arrives with best breaststroke times of 59.71 and 2:08.69 from last December — within a second of NCAA scoring range in both events. It took a 59.19 and 2:08.30 to score in the 100 breast and 200 breast, respectively, at NCAAs last season.

Florida is also adding Melissa Cowen, who set the New Zealand national record in the SCM 200 breast almost three years ago at 2:23.47. She clearly has short course potential, but remains a bit of a wild card this season as it’s her first time competing in yards.


The Gators bring back junior Olivia Peoples, who snuck into the NCAA B-final last season with a 51.62 in the 100 fly to take 16th place. They also return their top 200 fly specialist from last season, Amanda Ray, who was within a second of NCAA scoring range with a 1:55.88 last season. However, they bid farewell to their second-fastest 200 fly specialist, senior Kathleen Golding (1:56.98).

Incoming freshman Lainy Kruger should add depth to Florida’s butterfly group this season. Kruger’s best 200 fly time (1:55.55) is within half a second of NCAA scoring range while her 100 fly (53.81) is a couple seconds shy. She’s listed in the honorable mention section of SwimSwam’s class of 2023 recruits re-ranking, but Kruger could make a big impact on this thin group during her first year on campus.

IM: ★★★★★

What happens when you add top recruit Bella Sims and former top recruit Isabel Ivey to an already impressive IM group in Gainesville? Well, we’re about to find out.

Last season, sophomore Emma Weyant and junior Mabel Zavaros went 3-4 in the 400 IM at NCAAs with times of 4:03.50 and 4:04.08, respectively. Florida also had a third scorer in the event courtesy of freshman Zoe Dixon (11th place – 4:06.92) for a total of 37 points. And that’s before factoring in the impact of Sims and Ivey.

Sims’ best time in the 400 IM would have won the NCAA title last season while Ivey is coming off a 3rd-place finish in the 200 IM at the 2022 NCAA Championships (she didn’t compete for Cal last season). Sims’ best times in the 200 free, 500 free, and 1650 free also would have won NCAA titles last season, but it makes sense to keep the 400 IM in her lineup to continue developing her versatility.

There’s also No. 16 recruit Julia Podkoscielny, a local Florida talent whose best 400 IM time of 4:08.01 would have scored at NCAAs last season. Podkoscielny also boasts a 200 IM lifetime best of 1:58.72.

No. 12 recruit Michaela Mattes’ best 400 IM time (4:10.37) would have only barely missed the NCAA B-final last season. Mattes has some difficult lineup decisions to make, too, with the 200 free (1:47.52), 500 free (4:39.93), and 1650 free (16:00.20) all viable options.


The Gators are missing their lone NCAA scoring diver from last year, Maha Amer, who collected five points via a 12th-place finish on the 1-meter. That means they’ll be relying on their supporting cast to step up on the big stage this season.

Carina Lumia might be ready to make a leap during her junior campaign after placing 11th on the platform and 12th on the 3-meter at Zones last season.

The only diver in this year’s recruiting class, freshman Ana Monroy of Mexico, could also be a breakout diving candidate for Florida. She racked up three top-10 finishes at the World Junior Diving Championships last year.

The Gator women have five divers on their squad this year with Lumia, Monroy, sophomore Casey Greenberg, junior Elettra Neroni, and senior Caroline Pagac rounding out that portion of the roster led by head diving coach Bryan Gillooly.

RELAYS: ★★★★

Florida will be without a few of their relay pieces — Katie Mack (freestyle), Nina Kucheran (breaststroke), Talia Bates (freestyle), and Tylor Mathieu (freestyle) — but the program’s gains far outweigh their losses.

Bella Sims’ versatility is astounding as she can absolutely crush any relay leg other than breaststroke on a medley relay.

Sims’ Top Times (Relay Events)

  • 50 back – 24.88
  • 100 back – 50.53
  • 50 fly – 24.29
  • 100 fly – 51.52
  • 50 free – 22.08
  • 100 free – 47.16
  • 200 free – 1:40.78

The only one of those times that isn’t a team-leading mark is the 100 free, where fellow newcomer Isabel Ivey has Sims beat by a couple tenths (46.95 vs. 47.16). The pair should slot in perfectly alongside Ekaterina Nikonova and Micayla Cronk on the Gators’ freestyle relays. Last year they placed 7th in the 200 free relay, 8th in the 400 free relay, and 6th in the 800 free relay at NCAAs.

The medley relays might be a bit more of a question mark, with No. 19 recruit Grace Rainey (59.71 100 breast) potentially replacing Kucheran (59.12 100 breast) on the breaststroke leg. But Olivia Peoples is back on the butterfly leg, Sims can go a full second faster than rising senior Aris Runnels on the backstroke leg (50.53 vs. 51.57), and Ivey can take over freestyle anchor duties. Last season, Runnels, Kucheran, Peoples, and Cronk combined for a 7th-place effort in the 400 medley relay. They were DQed in the 200 medley relay but that same lineup with Mack on free over Cronk would’ve finished 9th.

Total Stars: 23/40

2023-24 OUTLOOK

Momentum from last season. The consensus best freshman in this year’s class along with four other top-20 recruits. Reliable veterans from the transfer portal. The stars certainly seem to be aligning for Nesty’s crew this season. How the past, present, and future meshes in Gainesville — where Caeleb Dressel and Katie Ledecky also train as members of Florida’s pro group — promises to be one of the most intriguing storylines of the 2023-24 campaign.

Women’s 2023-24 College Preview Index

Team Sprint Free Distance Backstroke Breaststroke Butterfly IM Diving Relays Total Stars
#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

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3 months ago

Definitely underrating this team

Reply to  400IMLuvr
3 months ago

They are not ranking/rating them for where they think they will finish this year, the #9 is where they finished last year.

3 months ago

I believe Aris Runnels is a junior in 23-24

3 months ago

Ivey’s individual AND relay swims are being severely underestimated here. She has been faster in EVERY event that you listed for Sims. Add in her experience at NCAAs & the excitement of being back “home,” she will be a real threat in several events. Looking forward to big things from her this year.

3 months ago

All this to collapse at NCAAs…

PK Doesn't Like His Long Name
3 months ago

I feel like Sims backstroke is actually undervalued here, given that she’s been 55.8 in SCM.

3 months ago

This feels more than a 23/40 team!

Reply to  ScovaNotiaSwimmer
3 months ago

The women’s backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly say otherwise. For example, Florida can’t compete with Virginia in the breaststroke:

Keating, Anna
Nelson, Ella
Walsh, Alex
Weber, Emma

Samuel Huntington
Reply to  Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
3 months ago

This isn’t a head-to-head ranking.

Reply to  ScovaNotiaSwimmer
3 months ago

It’s because stars are not necessarily proportional to number of points expected and also because the amounts of points expected can vary greatly for a 5 star event (which is kinda just part of the first point).

As an extreme example, imagine the 2015 men’s fly squad if they had zero freestylers/backstrokers/flyers/IMers, and also ignoring diving and relays just for simplicity’s sake. They would have 5 stars in butterfly ofc and 1 star in the other 5 categories for a total of 10/30 stars even with 140 points scored. In comparison, a team that scores no points in butterfly or sprint free but earns 17-18 points in each event in the other 4 categories (for a total of 140… Read more »

3 months ago

Florida >>>>>>>>>>>>> Stanford

Nesty >>>>>>>>>>>>>> Meehan

The emperor has no clothes.

Sherry Smit
3 months ago

Is Mallory Schleicher still swimming for Florida? Haven’t seen her in a while.

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 …

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