2024 W. NCAA Previews: Walsh Has A Grip On Title, Texas Flexes Fly Depth In Race For 2nd

2024 WOMEN’S NCAA SWIMMING AND DIVING CHAMPIONSHIPS

Women’s 100 Butterfly

  • U.S. Open Record: 48.25 – Gretchen Walsh, Virginia (2024)
  • American Record: 48.25 – Gretchen Walsh, Virginia (2024)
  • NCAA Record: 48.25 – Gretchen Walsh, Virginia (2024)
  • 2023 NCAA Champion: Kate Douglass, Virginia (48.46)

At first glance, it may seem like the women’s 100 butterfly is going to be all about Gretchen Walsh. And that’s true to some extent–she’s been on fire all season long. Her first time under her teammate Kate Douglass‘ NCAA and American record of 48.46 came at midseason, when she swam butterfly during the 100 freestyle and posted a blistering 48.30.

Walsh’s swim there did not officially count for the record books but she wrote herself in at ACCs, bypassing her time from the Tennessee Invitational with a 48.25. Her ACCs swim does count as new U.S. Open, American, and NCAA records. She leads the NCAA by over two seconds. This year, one of the big draws is the question: can Walsh lower her records again?

Last year, this one of the most anticipated events of the women’s championships because of a stacked field that included Douglass, Maggie MacNeilTorri Huske, and Claire Curzan. Now, a field that was filled with top-end talent just one year ago has loosened up. None of those four swimmers–the top four at 2023 NCAAs–are competing collegiately this year.

Walsh has the NCAA title tightly in her grip, but rest of the podium is wide open, which makes this event an attractive one for swimmers who are looking to help push their team up the standings–it may be easier to score here as opposed to another Day 3 event.

Texas Tough

The Longhorns have four swimmers with a realistic shot at making it back for a second swim. Three of them–Emma Sticklen, Kelly Pashand Olivia Bray–are seeded in the top 5. The Texas flyers have become known for their depth in the 200 fly over the last few seasons, but they’re showing here that they can also do some damage in the sprint.

Sticklen, the 2023 200 butterfly champ, comes in as the second seed. She owns a season-best 50.36 from the Texas Invite. We know she can break that 50 second barrier though; her personal best is 49.79 from Texas’ dual meet against NC State in January 2023. She added from that time at NCAAs last year, swimming 50.00 in prelims then 50.15 in finals and tying for 5th with Gabi Albiero. Sticklen’s best time makes her a solid pick for second place if she’s able to put it together at the right time.

Pash has typically taken on the 200 freestyle on Day 3 of NCAAs. She had a largely off NCAA last year in her individual events, but she’s historically had success in the 200 free with two 3rd-place finishes to her name (2021, 2022). But at the Texas Invitational, she swam a big PB in the 100 fly, dropping from 51.01 to 50.37.

Pash is a great example of someone pouncing on the opportunity the 100 fly presents this season. Her new PB would’ve easily qualified for the 2023 ‘A’ final (it took 50.85 in 2023) and stacks up nicely against the returners in the field. In addition, the 200 freestyle field is deep, and Pash’s progress in the 100 fly makes her a real contender and gives the Longhorns the opportunity to put up some serious points.

After bypassing the 100 fly/100 back double in 2023, Bray is back to that schedule this year. The 100 fly comes first on the schedule and it’s also the event Bray has a higher seed in; she’s tied with Florida’s Olivia Peoples for the 4th (50.47). That swim came at the midseason Texas Invite, and is just four-tenths off her 50.07 PB from February 2023.

Finally, senior Ava Longi is sitting at 18th seed, just outside of a scoring position. Like Pash, she swam her lifetime best at this season’s Texas Invite, which was her first time breaking 52 seconds. That’s well inside the 51.62 it took to make the ‘B’ final last year, potentially giving the Longhorns their fourth scorer in this event. Last year, they only had Sticklen.

2023 ‘B’ Finalists Aim To Move Up

While there are just three 2023 ‘A’ finalists returning, six of the 2023 ‘B’ finalists return. All of them are aiming to take advantage of the offseason departures and move up into the championship final.

Peoples is one of the 2023 ‘B’ finalists with the best chances of doing not just that but of landing herself high up on the podium. It’s taken a couple seasons, but the Florida junior is finally seeing her hard work in Gainesville pay off. She won the 2023 SEC crown with a lifetime best of 50.47.

Olivia Peoples (courtesy: Florida Athletics)

She’s been dropping time all year after coming into the 2023-24 season with a personal best of 51.62 from placing 16th in the 2023 ‘B’ final. Peoples looks poised to join the battle for second behind Walsh and one of the people most likely to break up the Texas party.

Two other returning ‘B’ finalists are Meghan Lee and Mia Kragh. At SECs, Lee swam a personal best of 50.66–her first swim sub-51 seconds. She repeated as the SEC silver medalist for the second straight year. The time also moved her up the NCAA standings and she holds the 6th fastest seed time.

Like Lee, Kragh put together her first sub-51 performance at her conference championship meet. The Cal junior dropped a 50.89, cutting .49 seconds off her best to win the last 100 fly PAC-12 title. Both will need to be at their best in the morning. Breaking 51 seconds makes you an ‘A’ final contender, though both likely will have to be a few tenths from their PBs to make the ‘A’ final.

ACC Depth

The ACC made up half of the 2023 ‘B’ final and all but one of those swimmers (Lexi Cuomo) return. That means the makeup of the returning ‘B’ finalists is still half ACC swimmers.

Like Peoples this year, Abby Arens made big improvements in 2022-23. After adding time from ACCs and not earning a second swim in 2022, Arens came out strong last year in Knoxville. She made the ‘B’ final just tw0-hundredths off her PB, then won the ‘B’ final in a new best of 50.60. She’s gotten close to that this season with a 50.72.

The other two back in the field from the ‘B’ final are Christiana Regenauer and Tristen Ulett who, along with Albiero, will aim to show that it’s not just Texas with a deep fly group.

Albiero looks set to return to the ‘A’ final and like Peoples, is one of the strongest contenders to get ahead of the Texas stars. She owns a lifetime best of 50.04 from 2023 ACCs, making her one of the fastest swimmers in the field. She’s seeded 7th in 50.68 and will look to improve on her 5th place finish in 2023.

Her teammates Regenauer and Ulett will do their best to join her in the ‘A’ final. The pair have almost matching personal bests; Ulett’s been as fast as 51.02 while Regenauer’s swum 51.03. Ulett’s personal best comes from 2022; this year, her season best stands at 51.48. She’s seeded 20th, so she’ll need to pass a few swimmers to make it back for another final. Regenauer is seeded in the ‘B’ final range at 13th after a season-best 51.20 at ACCs.

Pitt’s Sophie Yendell did not make the ‘B’ final last year. But, she’s the only sub-51 swimmer we haven’t mentioned yet and she’s worth paying attention to. In a year, she’s dropped 1.75 seconds in this event. At ACCs, she powered to a 50.87 and a 4th place finish. She was 40th last year and it seems certain that she’ll move up from that place, the question is by how much. If she’s at her best in the morning, she could land herself an ‘A’ final berth.

SwimSwam Picks

Place Swimmer School Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Gretchen Walsh Virginia 48.25 48.25
2 Emma Sticklen Texas 50.36 49.79
3 Olivia Peoples Florida 50.47 50.47
4 Kelly Pash Texas 50.37 50.37
5 Gabi Albiero Louisville 50.68 50.04
6 Olivia Bray Texas 50.47 50.07
7 Abby Arens NC State 50.72 50.60
8 Meghan Lee Auburn 50.66 50.66

Dark Horse: Kamryn Cannings, Freshman (Liberty) — There are some events that have lots of freshmen ready to disrupt the status quo. The 100 fly is not one of those events. But Kamryn Cannings is going to give it her best shot. In 2023, Cannings was named to Canada’s World Juniors team but ended up not competing. She has found her yards groove over the course of the season, which culminated in her popping a 51.26 at the ASUN Championships. She’s sitting 14th–the highest seeded freshman in the event–and if her taper hits could take a run at a spot in the top 8. 

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Fast and Furious
3 months ago

This title would’ve been perfectly accurate for the 200 too(I know Alex opted out but still).
Crazy that they each own a fly record, would love to see an all out 150 fly between the sisters

ALEXANDER POP-OFF
3 months ago

Well, we know GW is about to pop off video game times. But I am intrigued about how the confidence from this season will translate to long course. Will her back half improve enough to be a contender? Can she go (at least) 52 mid and 55 high?

Horses
Reply to  ALEXANDER POP-OFF
3 months ago

Why can’t we just enjoy SCY for now and you can worry about her LC swimming later.

ALEXANDER POP-OFF
Reply to  Horses
3 months ago

We can walk and chew gum in an Olympic year!

jeff
3 months ago

Lmao if Alex were swimming the 200 fly, the title of this article would’ve worked decently well for that event as well. My first thought was actually for the 200 fly and I was like “wait didn’t that article already come out”

About Sophie Kaufman

Sophie Kaufman

Sophie grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, which means yes, she does root for the Bruins, but try not to hold that against her. At 9, she joined her local club team because her best friend convinced her it would be fun. Shoulder surgery ended her competitive swimming days long ago, …

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