2024 W. NCAA Preview: Sims Looks to Lead Gators to 800 FR-R Title, Unless G. Walsh Swims


Women’s 800 Free Relay

  • U.S. Open Record: 6:45.91 – Stanford (S. Manuel, L. Neal, E. Eastin, K. Ledecky) 2017
  • American Record: 1:31.51 – Stanford (S. Manuel, L. Neal, E. Eastin, K. Ledecky) 2017
  • NCAA Record: 1:31.51 – Stanford (S. Manuel, L. Neal, E. Eastin, K. Ledecky) 2017
  • 2023 NCAA Champion: 6:49.82 – Virginia (A. Canny, A. Walsh, R. Tiltmann, E. Nelson)

Last year’s NCAAs saw the University of Virginia claiming the title back from Stanford after the Stanford Cardinal in 2022 had prevented Virginia from sweeping the relays, a feat UVA accomplished last year.

The longest of the relays contested at NCAAS, the 800, was actually the closest of them, with the margin of victory just .95 as compared to the 200 free relays, in which UVA won by 1.19 seconds. The closeness of the relay likely comes down to two factors: 1) UVA didn’t swim two of their superstars, Kate Douglass and Gretchen Walsh, and 2) Stanford, who has been a perennial powerhouse in the event had a loaded front half consisting of Torri Huske and Taylor Ruck.

UVA and Stanford are near the top of the event rankings this year, but UVA has the distinct advantage of returning its entire line-up. Aimee Canny (1:42.34), Alex Walsh (1:41.18), Reilly Tiltman (1:43.38), and Ella Nelson (1:42.92) all return for the Cavaliers, but Todd DeSorbo and his staff may be taking a different approach this year.

“Sweet Virginia”

As addressed ad nauseam in the Medley Relay Preview, Virginia faces the really unenviable task of deciding which relays to use G. Walsh on. Eschewing swimming an 800 free relay at mid-season, we only have one point of reference to try to deduce their plans. At ACCs, UVA opted to load the 800 free instead of the 200 medley, and the quartet of G. Walsh (1:40.23), A. Walsh (1:40.23), Canny (1:42.24) and Nelson (1:42.58) posted a time of 6:46.28. G. Walsh’s lead off casual ranks her as the 3rd fastest performer of all time.

A time that not only broke the ACC record but also came within spitting distance of the fabled NCAA record of 6:45.91 set by the Stanford squad of Simone Manuel, Lia Neal, Ella Eastin, and Katie Ledecky. Virginia may have loaded this relay so as to see if they could chase the record at ACC and revert to last year’s line-up for NCAAs, or they may believe that the line-up they have in the 200 Medley is strong enough to contest for the title and this line-up is a second shot at the record. Or perhaps UVA will use G. Walsh on both relays and have her miss a different one.

Both A. Walsh and Nelson were faster at the ACCs than at last year’s NCAAs, as was Canny, but she shifted from 1st to 3rd, gaining a relay start. Tiltmann has been right around her flat start times from last year, so UVA should easily be able to replicate a 6:48 high and 6:49 low. However, that may not be enough, as last year, no team had an entry time under 6:53, and this year, there are two under 6:50.


While Stanford is still a top three seed, they find themselves having been replaced by Florida as the main opposition to UVA relay dominance. Last year, the Gators placed 6th with a time of 6:57.72, adding time from their seed (6:57.11), but head into this meet with three new legs, all of whom drastically improve the relay.

The only remaining leg from the 2023 NCAAs to 2024 SECs, where the Gators took down the record with a time of 6:49.65, is Micayla Cronk. Cronk, who anchored at NCAAs in 1:43.53, took on the same role but swam .3 of a second quicker and was preceded by the trio of Bella Sims (1:40.90), Isabel Ivey (1:42.19) and Emma Weyant (1:43.33). Both Sims and Ivey have been faster individually than their splits here, so Flordia could drop close to another second and easily jump into that 6:48 high / 6:49 low range (if not lower).

“West Coast”

Despite losing two of its fastest-ever swimmers, Stanford still finds itself in contention to place highly. At the very last Pac-12s, the team of Natalie Mannion (1:43.67), Lillie Nordmann (1:43.38), Aurora Roghair (1:43.41), and Kayla Wilson (1:42.87) took the title in 6:53.33, bouncing back after DQing in the 200 medley. Nordmann was nearly a second faster last month than last year, but Wilson was half a second slower. If Wilson can get back down to 1:42.22 and if Nordmann and Mannion can replicate their great swims, then the Stanford Cardinal can maybe hold onto 3rd.

It is a big maybe, as Stanford is seeded just .21 ahead of rival West Coasters USC. The Trojans were disqualified at the PAC-12s but still enter with a speedy 6:55.54 from the Texas Invitational. There, Claire Tuggle (1:44.54), Vasilissa Buinaia (1:43.75), Justina Kozan (1:43.75), and Minna Abraham (1:41.52) beat out squads from Stanford and Texas. If USC can repeat that form and Abraham can get under her flat start season best of 1:41.38, then USC could be in contention for 3rd.

Coming in as the #8 seed is Stanford and USC’s soon-to-be former PAC-12 rival, Cal. The Cal Bears finished 4th last year in a time of 6:57.08 but have already been faster this season (unfortunately, so have eight other teams). Cal brings back all but one leg of their relay from last year and will likely rely on freshman Ava Chavez to help fill that role. Chavez led off their relay at conferences in 1:45.64, leading the team to a runner-up finish in a time of 6:56.81, but will need to drop some time to secure a podium finish.

“The Contenders”

Camille Spink (courtesy: Tennessee Athletics)

I couldn’t think of a catchy connection between the remaining top eight seeds so apologies. Lurking between Stanford and USC is Tennessee. Entering as the #4 seed with an entry time of 6:53.43, the Lady Vols, like so many other teams, have already improved upon their time from last year, 6:57.49, which was good for 5th. From last year’s NCAAs to SECs, Tennessee made two changes, bringing in junior Josephine Fuller, who anchored in 1:43.37, and first-year star Camille Spink, who threw down a fast second leg of 1:41.56. With the new additions and if Julia Mrozinski can swim closer to her 1:43.69 from NCAAs than her 1:45.14 from SECs, then Tennessee will likely be in the thick of it with Stanford and Cal for 3rd.

After USC’s seed time of 6:53.54, there is a bit of a jump to our next set of podium contenders. Indiana, the Big-Ten champ, clocks in as the #6 seed with a 6:55.45, highlighted by Anna Peplowski’s lead-off of 1:42.04. Texas follows as the #7 seed with an entry time of 6:56.37, a time from their mid-season invitational. Texas added a little time at Big-12s but faced much less competition and may not have been fully rested for it.

It is worth noting that, as they are both within a second of 7th place, the teams from Georgia and Michigan will both look to post times in the penultimate heat that are fast enough to supplement one or two of the teams ahead of them. Georgia placed 3rd at SEC (6:57.10) but is entered with a 6:56.96 and saw their former record bite the dust. Michigan clocks in just behind them with their 6:57.09 from their 2nd place finish at Big-Tens. The two teams have a contrasting nature, with Georgia lacking that one true freestyler but have enough swimmers under 1:45, whereas the Wolverines relied upon Stephanie Balduccini’s 1:41.69 to help bring their team into podium range.

The Verdict

I lean towards UVA, regardless of whether or not they use Gretchen Walsh on this relay. Their quartet from last year should be able to get into the 6:48s, and while Florida will press them hard, they could still eke out the win. The fight for 3rd is going to be close, but I’ll give the nod to the speed and pick Tennesse, as Spink’s 1:41 may be able to overcome Stanford’s need for four consistent legs. USC could jump both as Abraham is a great anchor, but their relay at PAC-12s that was DQed had a time of just 6:57.88, so that is a factor to consider. With so many teams faster than they were last year, it’s going to be very interesting to see which squads get left off the podium.

SwimSwam’s Picks

Place Team Entry Time 2023 NCAA Results
1 Virginia 6:46.28 1st – 6:49.82
2 Florida 6:49.65 6th – 6:57.72
3 Tennessee 6:53.43 5th – 6:57.49
4 Stanford 6:53.33 2nd – 6:50.77
5 USC 6:53.54 N/A
6 Texas 6:56.37 3rd – 6:55.55
7 Indiana 6:55.45 7th – 6:59.01
8 Cal 6:56.81 4th – 6:57.08

Dark Horse – Arizona State: Perhaps now is the time that the ASU women start to show some of the growth and strength that the men’s program has been flaunting. Seeded 12th, the ASU women enter with a seed time of 6:58.41. If Lindsay Looney and Ieva Maluka can repeat what they did at PAC-12s and if the other legs can dip under 1:45, then it is certainly in the realm of possibility. ASU doesn’t have a 200 medley, so they should not run into any conflict with doubles or making difficult line-up decisions like Michigan and Wisconsin will. 

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3 months ago

Which relay should GWalsh skip?

I miss the ISL (Go dawgs)
Reply to  Meathead
3 months ago

200 medley. They (Tiltmann, Nocentini, Novelline, Walsh?) can still win it without her, in my opinion. Itll just be a lot closer. If she doesn’t swim 800 free, I think Florida gets by A. Walsh, Tiltmann, Canny, and Nelson. If they want to sweep and stay surely in the hunt for another championship, I think they should put her on 800 free.

Reply to  Meathead
3 months ago

If the goal is to win all 5, I’d say 400 medley. I feel very confident Tiltmann, nocenti, A walsh and Parker/canny could win that

Reply to  Meathead
3 months ago

I’d skip the 4 FRR since they can put in Parker, Canny, A Walsh, and Nocentini. All are 46-47 swimmers. I’m not sure any other team can beat these 4.

Reply to  ArtVanDeLegh10
3 months ago

You’re probably right, just feels wrong for the biggest name at the meet to not swim the last relay for some reason, but it makes the most sense

Michael Andrew Wilson
3 months ago

This relay is tonight. NCAA.com, where it will supposedly stream live, only has a reference to D3 swimming and diving.

We all know that this NCAA.com streaming is 99.99% about basketball. Does anyone think the swimming stream will actually function smoothly? Does anyone know where to watch the men’s meet next week?

Reply to  Michael Andrew Wilson
3 months ago

Agreed, not a great sign the D1 meet isn’t on there at all. Resigning myself to getting an espn+ subscription

Reply to  Greg
3 months ago

$11 gets you both NCAA Championship meets on ESPN+.

I’d say that’s not a bad deal.

Reply to  Braden Keith
3 months ago

Yep add it to the 78 other streaming services I already pay $10-$17 monthly. Sigh.

MIchael Andrew Wilson
Reply to  Greg
3 months ago

This is the problem that I was afraid of (for all of us). I actually got a month’s subscription on Sling hoping to watch Pac-12s and NCAAs, but had to look everywhere to learn that the women’s meet would allegedly be on NCAA.com, which predictably didn’t happen.

Can’t imagine why nobody (outside of this great little community) watches swimming more than every 4 years, when you have to be clairvoyant to find it on TV.

3 months ago

Agree. This is UGA best shot to have a top 8 relay!

I miss the ISL (Go dawgs)
3 months ago

I predict Georgia will be at least 2 seconds faster than their seed time and get on the podium. Dune Coetzee was not on their SEC relay, and with her fastest split of 1:43 mid, they can replace Helena Jones with her (1:45.1), and also Zoie Hartman is capable of going about a second faster than she did at SECs (1:43.5), because she split 1:42.5 at NCs last year.

Dark Horse ASU
3 months ago

I certainly hope recognition of ASU as the Dark Horse (Excellent choice!!) in your write-up gives them confidnece in support of a successful effort. But please note their third-place Pac-12 time, which is their seed, was not 6:48.51. I’m not sure where that was from but their actual time was 6:58.41. (4/5 dyslexia, rotating around the 8?)

ASU’s relay was made up of Maluka 1:44.14 (PB 1:43.94), Looney 1:43.25, C Brown 1:45.58 and Batchelor 1:45.44 (flat start PB 1:45.69).

Beyond just the potential for faster swims by each relay member, ASU also has the option to insert Erin Milligan, possibly for IMer/backstroker Brown. Erin later in the meet (4×200 first night; individual 200 day three) swam a flat start 1:45.12… Read more »

3 months ago

i think uva will use g walsh and go for the record

Last edited 3 months ago by whoisthis
Reply to  whoisthis
3 months ago

I think so too. If they decide to use her for the medley she can probably rip a 22 50 back in her sleep at this point.

Reply to  Yikes
3 months ago

I just want to see her rip a big hole in the current 50 back record. When she was 22.54 last fall, she was also 20.95 flat start and 20.78 relay in the 50 free. The record stands at 22.52 right now by MacNeil, maybe she can go 21. lol

Reply to  Yikes
3 months ago

If they want to use her in the medley as well, I mean.