2024 W. NCAA Previews: Virginia Continues To Raise Bar With Free Relay Dominance

2024 WOMEN’S NCAA SWIMMING AND DIVING CHAMPIONSHIPS

WOMEN’S 200 FREESTYLE RELAY

  • U.S. Open Record: 1:23.63 – Virginia (Nocentini, G. Walsh, A. Walsh, Parker), 2024
  • American Record: 1:23.87 – Virginia (Douglass, G. Walsh, L.Cuomo, A. Walsh), 2023
  • NCAA Record: 1:23.63 – Virginia (Nocentini, G. Walsh, A. Walsh, Parker), 2024
  • 2023 NCAA Champion: Virginia (Douglass, G. Walsh, Cuomo, Parker) – 1:24.51

The UVA women have had the luxury of fielding various lineups in the 200 free relay en route to back-to-back national titles, leaning on the prowess of 2023 NCAA champion in the 50 free, Kate Douglass, and current U.S. Open Record holder in the event, Gretchen Walsh.

Aligning with Douglass and Walsh on the relay across the 2022 and 2023 ACC and NCAA Championships have been Alex WalshMaxine Parker and Lexi Cuomo, and filling in the massive hole left by Douglass this season seamlessly has been Northwestern transfer Jasmine Nocentini.

The Cavaliers first broke the all-time record at the 2022 ACCs in 1:24.47, and brought it down to 1:23.87 last season before blasting a new mark of 1:23.63 in February.

That quartet featured Nocentini on the lead-off, G. Walsh unleashing the fastest split in history and the first by a woman under 20 seconds, A. Walsh splitting sub-21 for the first time and Parker closing it out by nearly matching her career-best anchor leg from the 200 medley relay one night earlier (21.27).

It is incredible that the Cavaliers managed to break the record in their first real attempt without Douglass, but while Nocentini was crucial, the key differences came from the Walsh sisters, who combined to be 1.01 seconds faster than they were last season.

Record Split Comparison

2023 ACCs – Former Record 2024 ACCs – New Record
Kate Douglass – 20.95 Jasmine Nocentini – 21.55
Gretchen Walsh – 20.48 Gretchen Walsh – 19.95
Lexi Cuomo – 21.14 Alex Walsh – 20.82
Alex Walsh – 21.30 Maxine Parker – 21.31
1:23.87 1:23.63

There could be more time to drop, too, as Nocentini went 21.13 in the individual 50 free at ACCs for a new best time. That, coupled with Parker’s medley relay split, tells us the record could be dropped another half-second or so. But the real point here is to drive home the fact that UVA wins barring a DQ.

ACC CHALLENGERS

The top contenders to round out the podium at NCAAs saw UVA’s record performance firsthand at ACCs, as both Louisville and NC State had strong performances to rank 2-3 in the nation.

2023-24 NCAA Rankings, Women’s 200 Free Relay

  1. Virginia, 1:23.63 – 2024 ACCs
  2. Louisville, 1:25.39 – 2024 ACCs
  3. NC State, 1:26.24 – 2024 ACCs
  4. Texas, 1:26.31 – 2023 Texas Invite
  5. Florida, 1:26.51 – 2024 SECs
  6. Indiana, 1:26.66 – 2024 Big Tens
  7. Michigan, 1:26.75 – 2024 Big Tens
  8. Tennessee, 1:26.87 – 2024 SECs
  9. Ohio State, 1:27.00 – 2023 OSU Invite
  10. USC, 1:27.07 – 2023 Texas Invite

The Cardinals were the clear #2 seed behind Virginia last season but were upended by a Stanford squad that featured a sub-21 split from Claire Curzan. The Cardinal are missing three-quarters of that team, which also had Torri Huske and Taylor Ruck, and Louisville returns their entire quartet, making them the frontrunners for 2nd.

At ACCs, Gabi AlbieroChristiana RegenauerJulia Dennis and Ella Welch clocked in at 1:25.39, pulling away from NC State thanks to a pair of 21.0 splits in the middle 100.

The Wolfpack had a monster lead-off from Katharine Berkoff in a new best time of 21.14, but had one else under 21.6.

Louisville NC State
Gabi Albiero – 21.81 Katharine Berkoff – 21.14
Christiana Regenauer – 21.05 Abby Arens – 21.60
Julia Dennis – 21.07 Meghan Donald – 21.89
Ella Welch – 21.46 Miriam Sheehan – 21.61
1:25.39 1:26.24

For Louisville, there’s also some time to drop given that Albiero was two-tenths quicker individually at ACCs (21.61), coupled with the fact she’s been as fast as 21.30 from a flat start.

NC State is dealing with the departure of Kylee Alons, who was a relay staple for the team throughout her career. She was their top split on last season’s NCAA relay in 21.12, but they were ultimately disqualified after initially touching 5th in 1:25.92.

Freshman Miriam Sheehan has stepped in seamlessly, and they’ll need Meghan Donald to continue to be sub-22 with a takeover—she set a flat start PB of 22.56 at ACCs—if they’re to be in the hunt for 3rd.

THE FIELD

With Virginia a clear-cut #1 and Louisville firmly entrenched in the #2 spot, the battle for spots behind that is wide open.

NC State ranks 3rd in the nation, but there are seven teams within 83 one-hundredths of them this season, with Texas and Florida leading that charge.

The Longhorns have a well-rounded quartet that split between 21.4 and 21.6 at the Texas Invite in November, as Grace CooperAva LongiEmma Sticklen and Kelly Pash combined for a time of 1:26.31.

The team was 6th at NCAAs last season (1:27.11), and slot in Longi for the graduated Kyla Leibel, which figures to be a gain of about three-tenths. Cooper has also shown improvement, with her lead-off time of 21.66 from that November relay marking a new best time.

Florida has no swimmers ranked in the top 16 this season in the 50 free, but find themselves in the hunt for a top-three finish after Isabel Ivey dropped a 21.03 split at SECs. That, coupled with Micayla Cronk‘s blistering anchor of 21.21 that secured the conference title over Tennessee, make the Gators a relay player, and they’ve got another 21-point swimmer in the ever-versatile Bella Sims (21.88). Olivia Peoples was the other SEC member, splitting 22.39, and getting her to 22.0 or better would go a long way. Ekaterina Nikonova, who led off the NCAA relay last year, is out injured.

Other teams sub-1:27 this season are Indiana, Michigan and Tennessee, while Ohio State and USC are right there at 1:27.0.

The caveat with that is Ohio State touched first over Indiana and Michigan at Big Tens, but was DQed for an early takeoff. Prior to the false start (-.06), the Buckeyes initially clocked 1:26.10 to IU’s 1:26.66 and Michigan’s 1:26.75.

OSU boasts a strong quartet that includes three of the 14 fastest swimmers in the country this season—Teresa IvanAmy Fulmer and Katherine Zenick. The fourth member, Catherine Russo, was 21.66 at Big Tens with the early takeoff, and they also have the option of Nyah Funderburke, who was 21.63 on the NCAA relay last season.

The Hoosiers have an ace with Kristina Paegle, who anchored in 21.03 at Big Tens, and Michigan had Lindsay Flynn go 21.26 on the end.

Tennessee has consistency across the board, putting them firmly in the mix, as does USC.

For the Trojans, along with Michigan, getting a sub-22 lead-off will be crucial—something neither had in their season-best swims—to avoid falling behind early and getting caught up in the wash.

SWIMSWAM PICKS

PLACE SCHOOL SEASON BEST
2023 NCAA FINISH
1 Virginia 1:23.63 1st (1:24.51)
2 Louisville 1:25.39 3rd (1:25.73)
3 Ohio State 1:27.00 4th (1:25.80)
4 Texas 1:26.31 6th (1:27.11)
5 NC State 1:26.24 DQ
6 Florida 1:26.51 7th (1:27.31)
7 Michigan 1:26.75 15th (1:28.60)
8 Indiana 1:26.66 8th (1:27.48)

WOMEN’S 400 FREESTYLE RELAY

  • U.S. Open Record: 3:05.84 – Virginia (Douglass, A. Walsh, Parker, G. Walsh), 2023
  • American Record: 3:05.84 – Virginia (Douglass, A. Walsh, Parker, G. Walsh), 2023
  • NCAA Record: 3:05.84 – Virginia (Douglass, A. Walsh, Parker, G. Walsh), 2023
  • 2023 NCAA Champion: Virginia (Douglass, A. Walsh, Parker, G. Walsh) – 3:05.84

The UVA women have repeatedly raised the bar in the 400 free relay over the last two seasons.

First breaking Cal’s U.S. Open, American and NCAA Record of 3:06.96 from 2019 at the 2022 NCAA Championships in 3:06.91, the Cavaliers brought that mark down to 3:06.83 at the 2023 ACCs and then ultimately blitzed their way to a time of 3:05.84 last season at NCAAs.

The departure of superstar Kate Douglass was something that UVA was bracing for this season, given that she’s played such a crucial role in leading the team to three straight national titles, but in the relays, the addition of Jasmine Nocentini has essentially offset that loss.

At the ACC Championships last month, we saw Nocentini combine with the Walsh sisters and Maxine Parker to log a time of 3:07.34, winning the conference title by nearly three seconds and ranking #1 in the country.

Unlike the 200 free relay, however, this race is less of a lock on paper for the Cavaliers, with Florida and Tennessee both in the 3:08 range at SECs.

However, the ceiling for Virginia is much higher than what we saw at ACCs. Gretchen Walsh has been faster from a flat start than what she did with a takeover, and both Alex Walsh and Parker have been significantly faster in the past. Nocentini led off in a best time of 46.75, which ranks her 4th in the country this season in the 100 free.

Split Comparison: ACCs vs Lifetime Best Splits

2024 ACCs Fastest Possible
Jasmine Nocentini – 46.77 Gretchen Walsh – 45.16
Gretchen Walsh – 45.40 Jasmine Nocentini – 46.75
Alex Walsh – 47.05 Alex Walsh – 46.49
Maxine Parker – 48.12 Maxine Parker – 47.04
3:07.34 3:05.44

GATORS, VOLS IN THE HUNT

The SEC Record in the 400 free relay had been on the books for seven years when Florida smashed it and Tennessee matched it last month at the conference championships.

The Gators had three 46-mid splits from Isabel IveyBella Sims and Micayla Cronk, finishing in a time of 3:08.00 to knock off the SEC Record of 3:08.97 set by Georgia in 2017.

Tennessee descended their splits, sitting nearly three seconds back of Florida at the halfway mark before closing with a 46.8 from Josephine Fuller and then a tantalizing 46.0 from freshman Camille Spink to finish in 3:08.97.

Split Comparison: SEC Championships

Florida, 2024 SECs Tennessee, 2024 SECs
Isabel Ivey – 46.61 Brooklyn Douthwright – 48.14
Bella Sims – 46.54 Mona McSharry – 47.92
Lainy Kruger – 48.43 Josephine Fuller – 46.83
Micayla Cronk – 46.42 Camille Spink – 46.08
3:08.00 3:08.97

Ivey and Spink essentially cancel each other out as both have been 46.6 in the 100 free this season, and even if we do the same with Kruger and Fuller, Florida having Sims as an ace in the hole puts them over the top.

The question might be more can Florida challenge Virginia than who prevails between the Gators and Tennessee, but it would take the Cavaliers being really off form for Florida to pull off an upset. At least looking at splits, the Gators were firing on all cylinders at SECs, and UVA was simply doing the job and winning the race at ACCs.

With that being said, Brooklyn Douthwright has been nearly four-tenths faster than she was on the relay (47.76 individually at SECs), so Tennessee can’t be counted out.

THE FIELD

Virginia, Florida and Tennessee have distanced themselves from the field. Walsh and Nocentini rank 1-4 in the 100 free this season in the NCAA, and Ivey and Spink sit 2-3.

But behind them, there’s a wild race developing for 4th, with the next four squads separated by less than three-tenths.

2023-24 NCAA Rankings, Women’s 400 Freestyle Relay

  1. Virginia, 3:07.34 – 2024 ACCs
  2. Florida, 3:08.00 – 2024 SECs
  3. Tennessee, 3:08.97 – 2024 SECs
  4. Louisville, 3:10.18 – 2024 ACCs
  5. Michigan, 3:10.30 – UGA Fall Invite
  6. USC, 3:10.37 – 2023 Texas Invite
  7. Texas, 3:10.46 – 2023 Texas Invite
  8. Stanford, 3:11.11 – 2024 Pac-12s
  9. Indiana, 3:11.37 – 2024 Big Tens
  10. Georgia, 3:12.12 – 2024 SECs

Louisville was the runner-up to UVA at ACCs in 3:10.18, led by a 46.90 split from Christiana Regenauer, and they should have more time to drop with Gabi Albiero‘s split (47.18) only a tenth faster than her flat-start time from the meet (47.28).

Michigan had four 47s at the UGA Fall Invite resulting in a time of 3:10.30, but they were nearly a second slower at Big Tens (3:11.21), though they still edged out Indiana.

At the Texas Invite, USC and Texas both unleashed 3:10 swims with four 47s apiece as well.

Similar to Michigan, the Trojans were slower at their conference meet in 3:11.09, but did what they had to do to edge out Stanford for the victory (by just .02). At Pac-12s, Minna Abraham dropped a 46.82 anchor leg, four-tenths faster than she was at the Texas Invite, so USC has a ceiling pushing the 3:10 barrier.

At Big 12s, Texas didn’t use Grace Cooper and still went 3:12.01 (with a 49.2 lead-off from Emma Davidson), with Kelly Pash splitting sub-47 on the end.

Below, find the fastest add-up each of this next tier could field using their fastest splits from either their midseason invite or conference championship meets, only using splits done in the 400 free relay.

Split Comparison: Fastest Add-Up Between Midseason & Conference (Relay Only)

Louisville Michigan USC Texas
Lucy Mehraban – 48.32 Stephanie Balduccini – 47.40 Vasilissa Buinaia – 47.49 Kelly Pash – 47.44
Gabi Albiero – 47.18 Claire Newman – 47.90 Anicka Delgado – 47.79 Erin Gemmell – 47.52
Christiana Regenauer – 46.90 Christey Liang – 47.83 Hannah Kuechler – 47.86 Ava Longi – 47.86
Julia Dennis – 47.47 Lindsay Flynn – 47.09 Minna Abraham – 46.82 Grace Cooper – 47.64
3:09.87 3:10.22 3:09.96 3:10.46

Stanford and Indiana are also in the mix after going 3:11 at their conference meets, getting out-touched by USC and Michigan, respectively, in razor-thin battles.

The Cardinal had three splits between 47.38 and 47.56, while the Hoosiers had a blistering 46.65 anchor from Kristina Paegle, though they also had a 49.2 split in there.

The fastest swimmer in the country we’ve yet to mention is Katharine Berkoff, who went 46.81 at ACCs and led off NC State’s relay at that meet in 46.91. However, the Wolfpack didn’t have any other sub-48 splits, resulting in a 3:12.40 finish.

One team flying under the radar is Ohio State, which placed 5th at NCAAs last season but only ranks 14th this season at 3:12.70. The Buckeyes return the same lineup that went 3:10.52 last year, but will need their fourth swimmer, likely Catherine Russo, to be on point—she split 48.07 last year, but wasn’t on the relay at Big Tens and owns a flat start season-best of 49.28.

SWIMSWAM PICKS

PLACE SCHOOL SEASON BEST
2023 NCAA FINISH (TIME)
1 Virginia 3:07.34 1st (3:05.84)
2 Florida 3:08.00 8th (3:12.62)
3 Tennessee 3:08.97 10th (3:12.94)
4 Louisville 3:10.18 3rd (3:09.57)
5 Michigan 3:10.30 15th (3:14.58)
6 Texas 3:10.46 7th (3:12.59)
7 USC 3:10.37 11th (3:13.88)
8 Stanford 3:11.11 2nd (3:08.54)

In This Story

2
Leave a Reply

Subscribe
Notify of

2 Comments
newest
oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
MarshFAN
2 months ago

GBOT!

Aragon Son of Arathorne
2 months ago

LFG!!!!

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 …

Read More »