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.
#8 Tennessee Volunteers
Key Additions: #8 Camille Spink (VA – free/back), HM Sophie Brison (GA – back/free), Emelie Fast (Sweden – breast), Tori Brostowitz (WI – breast), Katie Mack (Florida transfer – free), Laura Littlejohn (New Zealand – free)
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.
After consecutive 10th-place finishes at NCAAs, the Tennessee women moved up to 8th last season with a strong showing at the national championships, highlighted by two individual runner-up finishes and eight different swimmers scoring.
During her junior year, Irish native Mona McSharry was on career-best form at NCAAs, placing second in the 100 breast and fourth in the 200 breast while also scoring in the 50 free (16th).
A pair of sophomores, Brooklyn Douthwright and Josephine Fuller, also performed well, as Douthwright was the runner-up in the 200 free and Fuller scored 33 points, placing fourth in the 200 back, seventh in the 100 back and 11th in the 200 IM.
The Vols’ NCAA performance saw a bit of a change of pace compared to what we saw the season prior, when the athletes clearly peaked for the SEC Championships, winning the 2022 conference title in dominant fashion. Last season the team was 2nd, well back of a revamped Florida squad, though Tennessee got the better of the Gators at NCAAs.
Tennessee was facing an uphill battle to match their 2022 performance given the departure of Ellen Walshe, their top performer during the previous season as she won SEC titles in the 100 fly, 200 IM and 400 IM as a freshman while also being an NCAA scorer and a major relay asset.
The team appears to be without Walshe again, as she’s not listed on the 2023-24 roster.
SPRINT FREE: ★★★
Tennessee’s sprint freestyle corps will get a big boost this season with the additions of top-tier recruit Camille Spink and grad transfer Katie Mack, giving them a group with a lot of depth and multiple potential scorers.
The 50 free was a weak event for the team last season outside of Mona McSharry, who was 16th at NCAAs and her quickest time of the year (21.74) was nearly seven-tenths faster than anyone else on the squad. As a result, they didn’t even field a 200 free relay at NCAAs.
But that could very well change this season with the addition of Mack, who owns a PB of 21.82, and Spink, who comes in with a best time of 22.16. They also have rising senior Jasmine Rumley, who came back from a second shoulder surgery last season after swimming a PB of 21.82 in February 2022.
Coming back from injury, Rumley had a season-best of 22.42 in 2022-23, but is coming off a promising summer that included nearly hitting a lifetime best in the long course 50 (25.95).
While that still makes the Vols one of the weaker top-10 NCAA teams in the event, they still have a good chance of having 2-3 swimmers earn a second swim in the 50 free to put some points on the board.
In the 100 free, the team now has six 48-point swimmers (from the past season), led by Brooklyn Douthwright (48.08), Spink (48.12) and Mack (48.53). McSharry (48.60) and Julia Mrozinski (48.94) were also sub-49 last season, giving them a good base for the 400 free relay.
There’s also Laura Littlejohn, a Kiwi native who joined the Vols and swam in a few meets towards the end of last season unattached. Listed as a freshman on the roster, Littlejohn went 48.75 in the 100 free last season (and 22.71 in the 50), and has been as fast as 25.5/55.4 in long course meters.
Rumley also owns a career-best of 48.41 from the 2021-22 campaign.
From an individual perspective, Douthwright missed out on scoring last season by 12 one-hundredths of a second, tying for 19th at NCAAs in 48.11, while Mack (representing Florida) and Mrozinski both added from SECs and tied for 51st (49.19) and 55th (49.30), respectively.
Spink set her PB of 48.12 in March, and would only need a small drop to score based on last year’s results (there are also at least six scorers from last season who won’t be in the field next year), giving the Vols two swimmers in range of the top 16.
Douthwright nearly became the national champion in the 200 free last season, placing 2nd by five one-hundredths behind Stanford’s Taylor Ruck (who won’t return this season), making her the top returner and arguably the favorite to win NCAAs in 2024.
Tennessee could easily have two swimmers in the 2024 ‘A’ final with Spink coming in with a PB of 1:43.82, under the 8th-place time from last year’s prelims (1:43.90), and they’ve also got returning swimmers Julia Mrozinski (1:44.71), Elle Caldow (1:45.13) and Kate McCarville (1:46.71) who raced the event at NCAAs last season.
There’s also incoming recruit Sophie Brison, who owns a PB of 1:46.86, and Littlejohn, who went 1:46.15 last year.
In addition to Douthwright and Spink, Mrozinski and Caldow are also within striking distance of the scoring cut-off last season, which was 1:44.47.
Big performances from newcomers Spink and Mack could easily push Tennessee into four-star territory in the sprint free events, but for now, they’re comfortably at three, projecting Douthwright to finish near the top of the heap in the 200 free to go along with some others chipping in.
DISTANCE FREE: ★★★★
Distance free was a strength for Tennessee last season, with three swimmers sub-4:39 in the 500 free and two finishing inside the top six at NCAAs in the mile.
Kristen Stege had a memorable battle with her younger sister, Georgia’s Rachel Stege, in the 500 free at SECs, ultimately placing 2nd in a time of 4:36.35.
Stege, who added time and failed to earn a second swim at NCAAs, has graduated, but the Vols will return scorers Julia Mrozinski (4:37.34) and Kate McCarville (4:38.99), who placed 9th and 12th at NCAAs to combine for 14 points.
Tennessee also had Aly Breslin (4:41.14) nearly earn a second swim at NCAAs, placing one spot behind Stege in 19th, and despite the loss of Claire Nguyen (4:42.42), there’s additional depth in junior Lauren Wetherell (4:43.45) and Julia Burroughs (4:44.05) who are within striking distance of NCAA qualification.
In the 1650 free, Stege was 4th at NCAAs and Breslin was 6th, both putting up times in the 15:50 range to combine for 28 points. McCarville hit a PB of 16:05.58 to take 9th at SECs, a time that’s just two and a half seconds outside of what it took to score at NCAAs.
The loss of Stege diminishes this group’s scoring potential, but they’ve still got three swimmers with a good chance of scoring in the 500, and Breslin should be able to recreate her 6th-place showing in the mile. And for what it’s worth, both Mrozinski and McCarville swam fast enough last season to make the ‘A’ final at NCAAs (4:39.51 cut-off), though there’s a stacked incoming recruiting class in the event.
Behind the surefire scorer that is Josephine Fuller, Tennessee’s backstroke group is brimming with potential.
In her sophomore year, Fuller was an ‘A’ finalist in both backstroke events at NCAAs, placing 4th in the 200 back (1:50.22) and 7th in the 100 back (51.18), having hit lifetime bests of 51.00 and 1:50.12 in the prelims (her 200 back swim tied her PB set in November at the Tennessee Invitational).
Fuller alone scored 27 points last year, a number that could rise with the redshirt of Claire Curzan, and they’ve got several others who could find their way into the top 16.
Rising senior Elle Caldow raced both events at NCAAs and placed 28th in the 100 (52.25) and 30th in the 200 (1:53.84), while incoming recruit Spink (52.76) and rising senior Olivia Harper (52.86) give them two more sub-53 100 backstrokers.
In the 200, first-year swimmer Sophie Brison figures to be a likely scorer given her PB of 1:53.29, just over half a second shy of the 16th-place time from the NCAA prelims (1:52.76). If she’s able to improve, Brison will also be one to look out for in the 100 back (53.62).
There’s also Caldow, and we can’t forget about rising sophomore Regan Rathwell, a Canadian native whose times (54.4/1:55.4) could catch up to her bests in short course meters (57.7/2:04.1) in her second season racing yards.
Spink likely won’t race the 100 back at NCAAs given her ability in the 200 free, nor will grad transfer Katie Mack, who also holds solid back times (53.09/1:54.1), though it gives the team options for dual meets.
Fuller alone puts the backstroke group at three stars, and while this could easily end up being a four-star group, it’s hard to bank on significant points coming from anyone else for the time being.
From an NCAA scoring perspective, Tennessee breaststroke started and stopped with Mona McSharry last season, as no one else on the team cracked the top 16 at SECs, but there’s a good chance it will be a different story in 2023-24.
Joining forces with McSharry is fellow European Emelie Fast, who joins the Lady Vols from Sweden with an impressive pedigree in meters.
McSharry was on fire in her junior year, sweeping the breast events at SECs before establishing personal bests at NCAAs, ultimately placing 2nd in the 100 breast (57.16) and 4th in the 200 breast (2:04.59) for 32 points.
Fast, 19, hasn’t been on the same form she showed two years ago, but can perhaps recreate some of what she showed in 2021 under a new training program.
At the European Championships in May 2021, Fast swam a PB of 1:06.64 in the LCM 100 breast to make the semis, which converts to 58.64 in meters (using the NCAA’s published formula). It’s possible that swim was a bit of an outlier, given the only other times she’s broken 1:08 also came in 2021 (two 1:07-highs), and her fastest time this past season was 1:08.8.
But she’s also been 1:06.1 in SCM this year (1:05.1 PB), which is promising, and she’s been as fast as 2:22.0 in the SCM 200 breast (2:28.3 LCM).
It’s a tall order to expect Fast to score, but she very well could, with the NCAA cut-off for points in 2023 sitting at 59.19 in the 100 breast.
Stotler, who will be a junior this season, swam lifetime bests at NCAAs to place 21st in the 100 fly (51.87) and 10th in the 200 fly (1:53.94), giving the Vols seven butterfly points.
The only other swimmer who scored top-16 points at SECs last season in fly was Brooklyn Douthwright, who took 12th in the 100 fly (52.58) but won’t race it at NCAAs given it’s the same day as the 200 free.
There’s not much fly pedigree coming from the new additions, leaving Stotler as their only scoring hope.
The Vols’ lone medley scorer in 2023 was Josephine Fuller, who dropped a big best time of 1:54.09 in the 200 IM SEC prelims and went on to finish 11th at NCAAs for six points (1:54.6 prelims, 1:54.9 final).
Their best swimmer in the 400 IM was Kate McCarville, who was 20th at SECs in 4:13.69 (16th at NCAAs was 4:09.61).
They lose their other qualifier, Grace Cable, who was 33rd on 3-meter and was also their top SEC scorer by double (64 points to Lucoe’s 32).
The Vols will add freshman Lynae Shorter to the mix this season, with the Woodlands Diving Academy product having finished as high as 7th at the USA Diving Junior Nationals in 2022 (1-meter).
Tennessee’s biggest strengths last season on the relays were the 400 medley and 800 free, having placed 5th in both events at NCAAs. They were also 10th in the 400 free relay and 11th in the 200 medley, scoring 82 points across four events.
They’ll be losing none of the 20 legs that produced those relay points, and those relays figure to only get stronger with the addition of Spink, who has splits as fast as 21.69 and 47.44 under her belt (quicker than Tennessee’s 200 and 400 MR anchors at NCAAs, and .01 off their fastest split in the 400 FR).
The Vols’ weakness in the 50 free last year resulted in them not fielding a team at NCAAs in the 200 free relay, but that could change this season with McSharry and Rumley being joined by Spink and Mack. Given that three of those swimmers have been 21-point from a flat start, and Spink has split 21.6, something sub-1:28 should be well within range for this team. A time of 1:28-flat last season would’ve scored eight NCAA points.
If they simply repeat what they did last season in the four other relays at NCAAs, and throw in a 13th-place finish in the 200 free, they come out as a three-point squad. That number seems to check out, as although they could improve last year’s performances, there won’t be any seismic drops, and a four-star relay team should be in the running for a top-two finish somewhere, and they aren’t right now.
Total Stars: 22/40
As a whole, the Tennessee women are largely keeping last year’s group intact, with the only NCAA scoring loss coming from Kristen Stege, and they’ve got several additions who figure to make an impact.
McSharry and Fuller will be relied upon to have repeat performances from last year individually, with the two of them combining for 66 points, and Douthwright (200 free) and Breslin (1650 free) backing up their 2023 results with top finishes in their specialty events will go a long way to keeping Tennessee in the mix for another top eight finish.
If the relays can make a slight improvement, the team should be in good shape to be right around where they were last year points-wise, with plenty of optimism to go better than that with the addition of Spink, and possibly Fast, Brison and Mack, also potentially scoring individually.
Tennessee really peaked for SECs in 2022, but given the newfound strength of the Florida women’s team, another conference title looks like a tall order right now and the Lady Vols are better off saving it up for NCAAs. Not only were they the top SEC team last year, but they were also just nine points out of 6th place (Ohio State).
Women’s 2023-24 College Preview Index
|Team||Sprint Free||Distance||Backstroke||Breaststroke||Butterfly||IM||Diving||Relays||Total Stars|
|#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|