2024 W. NCAA Previews: Will Alex Walsh Challenge The 1:50-Barrier In Athens?

2024 WOMEN’S NCAA SWIMMING AND DIVING CHAMPIONSHIPS

Women’s 200 IM

The landscape of the women’s 200 IM will look much different at this year’s NCAA Championship meet.

Kate Douglass has since graduated and Torri Huske has opted to take an Olympic redshirt, meaning Alex Walsh enters the meet as the heavy favorite to reclaim her 200 IM title from 2022. Nobody else in this year’s field has ever cracked the 1:52-barrier, with only two entrants (besides Walsh) ever dipping under 1:53. Douglass shattered the NCAA record a year ago, hitting the wall in 1:48.37 to become the first individual under the 1:50-barrier.

While many absences are evident in this event, many new additions and breakthroughs will make the event as deep as ever. Florida’s Isabel Ivey, Stanford’s Caroline Bricker, and Tennessee’s Josephine Fuller are three of those names, and will have the opportunity to challenge for a top three spot in a few weeks time.

Alex Walsh (photo credit: Matt Riley/UVA Athletics)

Alex Walsh Approaching A Sub-1:50 Performance

UVA senior Alex Walsh enters the 2024 NCAA Championships with a comfortable lead on the women’s 200 IM field. After winning the 2022 NCAA title (1:50.08) in record-breaking fashion, Walsh placed 3rd behind teammate Kate Douglass (1:48.37) and Stanford butterfly star Torri Huske (1:5o.06) at the 2023 national meet. All three broke Walsh’s record from the previous NCAA championship meet, comprising the fastest women’s 200 IM field in history.

Walsh has posted several great swims throughout the season, notably swimming much quicker in-season (in multiple events) than she ever has prior to NCAAs. She swam at the TYR Pro Swim Series stop in Knoxville, where she checked-in at 2:07.63 for the 200 LCM IM, her fastest ever in-season swim.

Walsh continued her momentum at the ACC Championships, where she took down the Ella Eastins NCAA record in the 200 fly and became the 2nd fastest performer in 200 breast history. Given she had big drops at ACCs and was 1.7 seconds off her 200 IM time, it seems that she has more in store for the big show. With the exception of freshman year, where she went two best times at NCAAs, she’s recorded three best times in her three individual events at the last two NCAA Championships. She’s been 1:50.0 in the final for the past two years and will have the opportunity to dip under the elusive barrier next week. If Walsh claims victory this year, it would mark her 3rd NCAA crown in the event.

Splits Comparison:

Alex Walsh At The 2024 ACC Championships Alex Walsh‘s Best Time From The 2023 NCAA Championships Alex Walsh‘s Former NCAA Record At The 2022 NCAA Championships
Butterfly 24.27 23.95 23.95
Backstroke 52.49 (28.22) 51.52 (27.57) 51.45 (27.50)
Breaststroke 1:24.62 (32.13) 1:23.24 (31.72) 1:23.09 (31.64)
Freestyle 27.14 26.83 26.99
Total Time 1:51.76 1:50.07 1:50.08

 

Izzy Ivey (photo: Jack Spitser)

The Ivey Factor

After graduating high school early in 2019 to join the Cal Bears at the NCAA Championships, Isabel Ivey has been a constant, consistent factor. After leaving Cal to use her final year of eligibility at Florida, Ivey broke through in the 200 IM at this year’s SEC Championships, where she cracked 1:53 for the first time in 1:52.50. She was runner-up to teammate Bella Sims (1:51.86) at the meet, but Sims has opted to swim the 500 free instead of this short IM distance.

Ivey was a two-time individual SEC Champion this year, winning the 100 back (50.40) and 200 free (1:41.85) events. The backstroke swim was a milestone for Ivey, who undercut her previous best time of 50.42 from nearly five years ago. She clocked her previous lifetime best at the 2019 NCAA Championships, her first ever NCAA meet where she tackled the 100 fly/100 back double.

Ivey is ranked 2nd on the NCAA psych sheets, and she has a history of dropping from her seed time at the big show. In the two previous occasions where she’s contested the 200 IM at NCAAs, she dropped a best time at the conference meet before dropping another half second a few weeks later. This holds true for her other events as well, as she’s dropped best times in multiple events at the National Championship meet.

2018-2019 2021-2022
Pre-NCAA Season Best 1:54.31 PB 1:53.54 PB
Time at NCAAs 1:53.87 PB 1:53.02 PB

Returning ‘A’ Finalists

In addition to Walsh, 4th through 8th in 2023 will all return to the NCAA Championships this year. Ella Nelson (4th), Phoebe Bacon (5th), Emma Sticklen (6th), and Sally Foley (8th) are those returnees, with Nelson holding the highest seed of the four.

Nelson, who owns a best time of 1:53.13 from the 2023 final, enters the meet with a season best time of 1:53.60. Nelson dropped 0.56 off her seed at the last NCAA meet, and had a similar drop from her season best effort at the 2022 Championships. Another drop of that caliber this year would put her in the conversation for a top five finish, at the very least. Nelson was 4th at the meet last year, and looks to be in contention to repeat that feat, if not move up.

Wisconsin’s Phoebe Bacon is another name to really keep an eye on in Athens. Bacon is known to get better as the season progresses, and has peaked at the NCAA Championships in each of her years with the Badgers. Last year, she entered the meet as the 14th seed, but ultimately ended up rocketing to 5th overall in the championship final. Bacon has been as fast as she’s ever has before the NCAA Championships (1:54.29) this year, and if she can dip a bit under her 1:53.56 lifetime best, then she’ll be in the mix for the top three.

Other Names To Watch

  • Tennessee’s Josephine Fuller has showcased a steady progression over the past few years, which culminated in a massive best time (1:52.58) at the SEC Championships. The elite backstroker chopped more than a full second off her previous best time, earning her a bronze medal at the championships. Fuller competed for Team USA at the Pan American Games (LCM) in October, where she scored gold in the 100 back.
  • Stanford freshman Caroline Bricker had some big time drops at the Pac-12 Championships, which included both IM events and a time trialed 200 fly. If she can simply repeat her time from those championships, she’ll should be in the ‘A’ final. If she can challenge the 1:53-barrier, a top three finish is definitely in the conversation.
  • Cal’s Lea Polonsky was 2nd to Bricker at Pac-12s, checking-in at a new best time of 1:53.58. Matching that time in Athens should propel her into the ‘A’ final.
  • Zoie Hartman of Georgia is seeded 8th in 1:53.65, but owns a best time of 1:53.05 from 2020. Although she added from her entry time in the event last year, she has dropped in the years prior to that. Anywhere between her best time and entry time should see her into the championship final.
  • Texas’ Kelly Pash recorded a new best time of 1:53.18 at a midseason invite in Austin, but was a bit off that marker at Big 12s (1:53.80). Her midseason time will almost certainly make it back to the ‘A’ final, but her Big 12s time will most likely not.

SwimSwam Picks:

PLACE SWIMMER SCHOOL SEASON BEST LIFETIME BEST
1 Alex Walsh Virginia 1:51.76 1:50.07
2 Isabel Ivey Florida 1:52.50 1:52.50
3 Phoebe Bacon Wisconsin 1:54.29 1:53.56
4 Ella Nelson Virginia 1:53.60 1:53.13
5 Josephine Fuller Tennessee 1:52.58 1:52.58
6 Lea Polonsky California 1:53.58 1:53.58
7 Caroline Bricker Stanford 1:53.31 1:53.31
8 Kelly Pash Texas 1:53.18 1:53.18

Dark Horse: Lucy Bell (Stanford) — The Cardinal sophomore had a promising midseason meet in Austin, recording a new best time in the 400 IM (4:03.25). Bell has posted best times in the 100 breast (59.00), 100 fly (51.76), and 200 fly (1:52.62) this season as well, while she owns a 200 IM best time of 1:54.89 from 2023 NCAAs. She was a bit off her best at the Pac-12 Championships, but she did drop from Pac-12s to NCAAs last year. If she clocks a best time and makes a similar drop to her other events, she’s a clear ‘A’ final threat.

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richteller
2 months ago

It’ll be fun to root for The Queen! Alex is terrific people and I’m hoping that she amazes!

Cannonball
2 months ago

Would be fun to see Alex and Phoebe right next to each other in the final … Phoebe’s front half is right on par w/ Alex’s, and if Alex is going to break 1:50, she’s gonna need someone who is rocketing out at the front with her.

I can see Phoebe showing up & throwing down a 1:51 – that 50.3 fly split was no joke @ Big 10s!

Swim Dad
2 months ago

I would expect Alex to add time in the 2IM as she won’t have anyone to push her this year. Last year the race with Tori was epic!

Aragon Son of Arathorne
Reply to  Swim Dad
2 months ago

she doesn’t need it.

swimfan
2 months ago

i want KD to stay in the record books for a little longer 🥺

Aragon Son of Arathorne
2 months ago

1:49 mid.

Swamtoday
2 months ago

Walsh goes 1:49 and wins by three seconds. Kinda hope I’m wrong and it’s more exciting, but this feels like where we’re headed.

Octavio Gupta
2 months ago

1:49.11

Eddie
2 months ago

I can see her going like 1:48.8 but I really hope she breaks that record