2024 College Swimming Previews: Depth, Relay Power Aids #5 NC State With Key Departures

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

#5 NC State Wolfpack

Key Losses: Emma Muzzy (18 NCAA points), Heather MacCausland (15 NCAA points, 2 NCAA relays), Kylee Alons (12 NCAA points, 4 NCAA relays), Abbey Webb (9 NCAA points, 2 NCAA relays), Andrea Podmanikova (2 NCAA points)

Key Additions: #13 Miriam Sheehan (IA – free/back/fly), Bettina Fabian (Hungary – distance free), BOTR Keelan Cotter (NC – free), BOTR Madeleine Hebert (NV – free), Tyler Driscoll (AZ – free), Bella Answeeney (FL – fly), Bayleigh Cranford (NC – diving)

Returning Fifth Years: Katharine Berkoff (45 NCAA points, 4 NCAA relays), Brooke TravisHelene Synnott (NCAA qualifier)


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.

2022-2023 LOOKBACK

The NC State women essentially repeated their 2021-22 performance last season, placing 2nd to Virginia at ACCs for the fourth straight time before matching their NCAA finish by taking 5th.

Relative to 2022, the Wolfpack scored slightly fewer points at both championship meets, with one key loss in breaststroker Sophie Hansson, and they were also disqualified in the 200 free relay where they initially touched 5th (would’ve been good for 28 points and moved them into 4th in the team standings), but they did have some very impressive swims across the board when it mattered most.

Katharine Berkoff didn’t repeat as NCAA champion in the 100 back, finishing as the runner-up to Gretchen Walsh, but she essentially matched her individual point total (45 points to 48 in 2022) thanks to two 5th-place finishes in the 50 and 100 free.

The breakout performer of the season for NC State was Kennedy Noble, who thrived in her freshman year by winning the ACC title in the 200 back before scoring in all three of her events at NCAAs (23 points), including a 5th-place showing in the 200 back.

The Wolfpack also got double-digit points from Emma MuzzyAbby ArensHeather MacCauslandGrace Sheble and Kylee Alons, and they picked up 108 relay points, with 98 of those coming from the 200 medley, 400 medley and 400 free relays.


NC State had one scorer in each of the sprint free events last season, led by Katharine Berkoff, who returns to use her fifth year of eligibility after leading the squad with 45 points last season.

Berkoff’s clear specialty is the 100 back, but she’s also been a reliable top-tier scorer in the 50 and 100 free, having placed 5th in both events last season for a total of 28 points. She managed to hit personal best times of 21.54 and 46.87 in the NCAA ‘A’ final, showing she’s still on an improvement curve.

Beyond Berkoff, Kylee Alons was the only other swimmer on the Pack who was sub-22 in the 50 free last season, and with her departure, the 2nd-fastest returner is Abby Arens, who clocked 22.22 last year but races the 200 IM on Day 2 of NCAAs.

Meghan Donald swam on the 200 free relay last season as a freshman, and despite jumping early (-.04 RT), she split 21.79 which shows her capabilities. Donald earned that spot after she split 21.99 on the relay at the Bulldog Qualifying Meet (where she also swam a flat start PB of 22.59), having not even been named to the ACC roster.

In addition to Donald, NC State reloads with incoming freshmen Tyler DriscollMiriam Sheehan, Madeleine Hebert and Keelan Cotter who own best times in the 22.4 to 22.9 range, led by Driscoll at 22.40.

In the 100 free, trailing Berkoff’s 46.87 last season was Abbey Webb, though she does not appear on this season’s roster. Webb had a season-best of 48.05 and was 32nd at NCAAs in 48.50.

Although NC State has lost their two other sub-49 swimmers from last year, they gain two more with the additions of Hebert (48.78) and Sheehan (48.89), while Annabel Crush (49.01) made the ACC ‘B’ final last season.

Webb topped the 200 free consolation final last season to place 9th overall in 1:43.48, and those will be points the team needs to fill in this season.

Crush put up a PB of 1:45.10 at the Bulldog Qualifying Meet to get under the cutline, putting her within striking distance of NCAA scoring (1:44.47), though she added last season and placed 35th.

Katherine Helms returns for her sophomore year after hitting a PB of 1:45.94 last season, while Hebert (1:45.76) and Cotter (1:46.92) join the fold with competitive times.

They’ve also got incoming Hungarian recruit Bettina Fabian, who is primarily a distance freestyler but owns a long course 200 free best of 1:59.7, converting to 1:45-mid.

Berkoff in the sprints remains the only surefire scorer, but there’s plenty of potential elsewhere.


NC State had no scorers last season in distance free, though Emma Hastings showed signs of promise after racing both the 500 and 1650 at NCAAs, placing 36th and 25th, respectively, with best times of 4:41.26 and 16:08.90 set at ACCs where she earned top-six finishes.

It took 4:40.81 to score at NCAAs last season in the 500 free, which puts Hastings within striking distance, and joining her this season is Fabian, who holds a long course PB of 4:07.8 in the 400 free which converts to a scoring-worthy 4:38.0. Fabian’s been 16:29.6 in the 1500 free in LCM (16:14.8 conversion).

Fabian is expected to join the team later in the season, likely for the second semester, but she won’t be present in the fall, meaning she’ll have an even tighter window to get used to swimming in yards.

Yara Hierath enters her senior year after clocking 4:43.2/16:20.4 last season, while Brooke Travis (4:45.2/16:18.3) will use her fifth year as those two give the team some distance depth.

Domestic recruit Hebert has also been 4:44.6 in the 500, and although it’s very possible she will take on more of a sprinting focus in college, she performed better in the 400 free (4:16.11 for 12th) than she did in the 50 free (26.41 for 24th) at U.S. Junior Nationals in August.


NC State boasted an elite backstroke group last year that checked out as a five-star squad after they scored 55 points between the two events at NCAAs, with Katharine Berkoff and Emma Muzzy finding continued success and Kennedy Noble really coming into her own as a freshman.

Although the Wolfpack will be losing Muzzy this season, they still have a formidable 1-2 punch with Berkoff and Noble, who should be able to produce somewhere in the vicinity of 40 points combined. Last season, they scored 37, and Noble took a big step during the long course season, hitting times of 59.11/2:06.54 at U.S. Nationals.

As a sophomore, if Noble continues to improve, she’ll challenge for a top-three NCAA finish in the 200 back (5th last season in 1:50.24) and should be able to crack the ‘A’ final in the 100 back (11th last season in 51.32).

As for Berkoff, she’ll once again be fighting for the NCAA title in the 100 back, having followed up her victory in 2022 with a runner-up finish to Gretchen Walsh last season. Walsh will be tough to beat after she smashed Berkoff’s American Record in March, but Berkoff is still the frontrunner for 2nd.

Beyond those two, NC State had three other returning swimmers who were sub-53 last season in the 100 back, with rising senior Ashley Cusano (52.68), rising junior Annabel Crush (52.86) and rising sophomore Meghan Donald (52.90).

While that trio provides depth at the ACC level, someone who could make an instant impact at the national level is incoming freshman Miriam Sheehan, who owns a PB of 51.99 which puts her within four-tenths of NCAA scoring (51.60).

The 200 back is not quite as strong, especially with the departure of Muzzy, as Noble is the only returner who broke 1:55 last season (NCAA cut line was 1:53.94).

Sheehan owns a PB of 1:55.31, but it seems likely she would opt for the 100 free over the 200 back in a championship setting.


NC State will lose all of its breaststroke points from last season with the graduations of Heather MacCausland and Andrea Podmanikova, leaving big shoes to fill.

MacCausland was 5th in the 100 breast last season and also earned a second swim in the 200 breast, while Podmanikova took 15th in the 100 breast and narrowly missed the ‘B’ final in the 200 (after clocking 2:06.7 at ACCs).

In their absence, the top returning breaststroker is rising senior Abby Arens, who is well-rounded and tends to race fly and the 200 IM individually at NCAAs. Arens went a PB of 59.09 in the 100 breast last season (in-season), which is within two-tenths of what it took to score at NCAAs.

While we don’t expect her to change focuses individually, 59.0 makes Arens a solid replacement for the 400 medley relay…except she’s the top butterfly option by a wide margin.

If Arens is to swim fly, the next-best breaststroker is NCAA qualifier Aubree Brouwer, who cracked 1:00 as a freshman last year in 59.72 to sneak under the cut line (her best time is 59.37 from December 2021).

Brouwer was also a PB of 2:10.43 in the 200 breast to take 10th at ACCs, which makes her the fastest returner.

The team’s other breaststroker, Kaylee Hamblin (1:00.0/2:10.7 last season), transferred to East Carolina for academic reasons.

There aren’t any incoming recruits projected to make an immediate impact, though Teagan Steinmetz (1:02.7/2:14.8) has potential down the line.


The butterfly core of the team centers around Arens, who ranked inside the top 10 nationally in both events last season with respective times of 50.60 and 1:52.91.

Arens was locked out of the NCAA ‘A’ final in the 100 fly by .01, as teammate Kylee Alons took 8th, and Arens went on to finish 9th overall in the aforementioned 50.60 PB.

Including Alons, five of the eight swimmers who finished ahead of Arens won’t be racing in the NCAA this season (including the entire top four), opening the door for her to vie for a top-three finish.

In the 200 fly, Arens won the ACC title with a breakthrough lifetime best of 1:52.91, but she wasn’t able to match it at NCAAs, placing 14th (1:52.9 would’ve been good for 6th).

Grace Sheble was 26th in the 200 fly after swimming a season-best of 1:55.34 in late January, having scored in 2022 and set a best time in 2021 (1:54.43). Sheble is also the top returner behind Arens in the 100 fly at 53.50.

Sheble’s sister, Caroline, was the next-fastest 200 fly swimmer on the team last year in 1:57.29.

In terms of incoming freshmen, Bella Answeeney (53.7/1:57.3) comes in with potential, specifically in the 200.

Miriam Sheehan enters with a PB of 51.67 in the 100 fly, and she also broke 1:00 in long course for the first time this summer. Whether or not she races it individually in the postseason, that pedigree does make her a potential medley relay replacement for Arens, if Arens needs to fill in on breaststroke.


The Pack will return all four swimmers who raced a medley event at NCAAs last season, with three of them having scored to combine for 22 points.

Abby Arens and Kennedy Noble grabbed the last two spots in the consolation final of the 200 IM in the prelims, and then both managed to move up to 12th and 14th, respectively, with season-bests standing at 1:54.93 and 1:55.48.

Grace Sheble also raced the event at NCAAs placing 25th in 1:56.93 (PB of 1:56.08, SB of 1:56.23), but her speciality lies in the longer event.

Sheble set a best time of 4:04.98 to finish as the runner-up in the 400 IM at ACCs, and then stepped up again at NCAAs with a PB of 4:04.65 in the prelims before placing 5th in the final (4:04.83).

The rising junior is a good bet to repeat as an ‘A’ finalist in the event, and NC State has another NCAA entrant in Yara Hierath, who enters her senior year after setting a PB of 4:11.36 at ACCs. She went on to take 30th at NCAAs in 4:12.84.


NC State had one diver qualify for NCAAs last season, Helene Synnott, who returns to use her fifth year of eligibility after placing 40th on 1-meter in March.

Simply having Synnott qualify for nationals again would likely be seen as a success (she was also their only diver to finish top-16 at ACCs), and there are a few freshman divers entering the fold as well, most notably Bayleigh Cranford.

Cranford finished in the top five of all three individual events at the 2023 USA Diving Junior Nationals, indicating she could be a scorer at the NCAA level.


NC State loses two key relay players this season which will force a reshuffling of the medley relays.

Without breaststroker Heather MacCausland and butterflier Kylee AlonsAbby Arens, who swam free last year, will need to fill in one of those slots, with breast perhaps the leading option at the moment given that freshman Miriam Sheehan has a strong pedigree in the 100 fly.

We could also see Arens on her best stroke, butterfly, if Aubree Brouwer has a good season and is able to assume breaststroke duties, which would open the door for someone like Sheehan to take over freestyle.

There’s also the small possibility that we see Katharine Berkoff take over on freestyle, shifting Kennedy Noble to backstroke, though there’s currently a two-second gap between in the 100, and there would need to be a similar gap between Berkoff (46.8) and the next-best option on free.

Essentially all of what happens with the medley relay will be decided during the season, but the takeaway is that NC State was the runner-up in both events last season, combining for 68 points, but will be hard-pressed to match that this year based on the splits we saw MacCausland and Alons throw down.

On the free relays, NC State will lose Alons in the sprint events and Sarah Watson from the 800 free relay. And with Abbey Webb also not competing, according to the team roster, there are more shoes to fill.

The team was DQed in the 200 free relay but would’ve been 5th, with Berkoff, Arens and Meghan Donald giving them a strong trio and they can turn to one of the recruits to fill in on the fourth leg.

The same goes for the 400 free relay, where Berkoff and Arens return and there are plenty of 48-point options to jump in. NC State was 4th in that event last season, and if it wasn’t for the 200 free relay DQ, they would’ve scored 58 points between those two races, and that likely falls a bit, especially with Alons having split 21.1 on the 200 free relay. (However, they should score more than the 30 points they ended up scoring due to the DQ.)

The 800 free relay has Annabel Crush and Katherine Helms returning, and have strong potential entrants in Madeleine Hebert and Bettina Fabian coming in with 1:45-point ability.

The relays might not be quite as strong as they were last year, but NC State has the pieces to field competitive teams across all five races. How each lineup shapes up will hinge on performances throughout the season.

Total Stars: 22/40

2023-2024 OUTLOOK

Given the losses incurred by Stanford, things appear to be wide open for a top-three finish at NCAAs this season, and despite a few key departures, NC State should be right in the thick of that battle.

Between Berkoff, Arens, Noble and Sheble, they have a good base of swimmers that can be relied upon to score individually, and there are plenty of candidates to join them this season to go along with numerous relay combinations that should produce elite results.

Women’s 2023-24 College Preview Index

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

See all of our College Swimming Previews with the SwimSwam Preview Index here.

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8 days ago

Missed one. Bayleigh Cranford, former Jr National champ and Junior World Finalist diver is a freshman this year. She will score on tower with Wes Mattice coaching.

8 days ago

Back should be five stars

Reply to  James Sutherland
8 days ago

“2-3”? Berkoff getting that title back. Sharpie that!

8 days ago

hey james, i’m wondering if there’s an error on the nc state website because abbey webb doesn’t appear on the roster anymore

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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