College Swimming Previews: #10 Tennessee Brings in 10 Freshmen and 3 Transfers

by Spencer Penland 14

September 29th, 2021 College, News, Previews & Recaps, SEC

After a one year-hiatus to the uncertainty surrounding the 2020-2021 season, our college previews back! We’ll be previewing the 2021-2022 seasons for the top 12 men’s and women’s programs from the 2021 NCAA Division I Championships – stay tuned to our College Swimming Previews channel to catch all 24. 

#10 Tennessee Volunteers

Key Losses: Amanda Nunan (2 NCAA points), Bailey Grinter (NCAA qualifier + relay swimmer), Kaitlin Harty (NCAA qualifier)

Key Additions: Josephine Fuller (back), Julia Mrozinski (free), Brooklyn Duouthwright (free), Summer Smith (IM), Anna-Julia Kutsch (transfer – free), Emma Carlton (transfer – back), Bayley Stewart (transfer – back)

5th Years: Tjasa Pintar, Alexis Yager, Emily Sykes, Alex Gebel, Megan Sichterman

GRADING CRITERIA

Two years ago, we unveiled a new, more data-based grading criteria based on ‘projected returning points’, a stat of our own making that involved a lot of manual calculations involving departing seniors, redshirts, freshmen, etc. We liked the objectiveness of that stat, but given that there’s still a lot of uncertainty for this year, we’re adopting a hybrid approach this year. The “stars” will rely heavily on what swimmers actually did last year, but we’ll also give credit to returning swimmers or freshmen who have 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.

Preview:

Tennessee lost 3 of their NCAA qualifiers from last year, but the Vols have made up for those losses, bringing back a handful of 5th year swimmers, 3 transfers, and 10 freshmen. Starting with the 5th years, Tjasa Pintar, Alexis Yager, Emily Sykes, Alex Gebel, and Megan Sichterman, all NCAA qualifiers, have opted to return to the team. Gebel is technically a redshirt senior this year, but she’s now listed as being in grad school, meaning she could have potentially transferred elsewhere for graduate school, but instead will be staying in Knoxville to finish out her NCAA eligibility.

The Vols also pick up 3 key transfers, all of whom are individual NCAA qualifiers. Bayley Stewart joins the Vols from Notre Dame, after qualifying for the B final in the 200 back at NCAAs last season. Emma Carlton comes to Tennessee from Texas A&M, while Anna-Julia Kutsch comes from Auburn. Both Carlton and Kutsch only competed in the fall semester of last season, before announcing their plans to transfer to Tennessee. Both women also qualified for NCAAs back in 2020, although those NCAA Championships were ultimately cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tennessee also brings in a sizable freshmen class, with 10 freshmen listed on their roster. The first years include a couple of high-profile international recruits, like Germany’s Julia Mrozinski, England’s Lauren Wetherell, Canada’s Brooklyn Douthwright, and Ellen Walshe from Ireland. The Vols also bring in the class of 2021’s top 200 backstroker in Josephine Fuller, and two of the top IMers in Summer Smith and Kate McCarville.

2020-2021 LOOKBACK

Facing some significant losses due to graduation, including NCAA star Erika Brown, the Vols still managed their 3rd-straight top 10 finish at NCAAs. They did so by the slimmest of margins, beating SEC champions Kentucky by a single point at NCAAs to come in 10th. They also had individually success at NCAAs with both Mona McSharry and Kristen Stege earning A finals appearances.

At SECs, the Vols had a bit of a down year, getting off to a fairly slow start. They recovered, but the 2020 SEC Champs ultimately finished 5th, 290 points behind the Kentucky.

Sprint Free: ★★★

Tennessee enters the season looking excellent in the 100 and 200 free, along with considerable depth in the 50, although they don’t have a sub-22 swimmer in the event. 5th-year swimmer Tjasa Pintar led Tennessee in the 100 free last year, swimming a 47.82 lifetime best at SECs. The Vols had 5 swimmers under 49 seconds in the 100 last year, although one of those swimmers was Mona McSharry, who doesn’t compete in the 100 free individually. McSharry is a breaststroker who led off the Tennessee 400 free relay in 48.44 at SECs last year.

Pintar also led the Vols in the 200 free last year, swimming a 1:44.40. She was the only sub-1:45 swimmer on the team last year, although Tennessee is bringing in backup this year. Julia Mrozinski, a native of Germany, could make waves in her first NCAA season. Hailing from Europe, she’s never raced yards before, but her 200 free converts to a 1:43.6 in yards. Meanwhile Canada’s Brooklyn Douthwright enters the NCAA with a meters time that converts to 1:44.4. That leaves Tennessee in the position of potentially having multiple NCAA scorers, but it also boosts the outlook for the 800 free relay, after they finished 16th in the event last year at NCAAs.

Mona McSharry led the team in the 50 free last year, swimming a 22.07. Bailey Grinter, who has since graduated, swam a 22.08 in the 50 last year. Auburn transfer Anna-Julia Kutsch comes to Tennessee with a 22.09 flat-start 50, giving the Vols a pair of 22.0 50 freestylers entering the season. Mrozinski and Doutwright both have SCY conversions of 22.4 in the 50. Coming into the season, McSharry and Kutsch are both right at what it will likely take to qualify for the B final at NCAAs this year, though it will almost certainly take a sub-22 to make the A final.

Distance Free: ★★★

Kristen Stege has had an exceptional first two years of her NCAA career. Starting at ECU her freshmen year, Stege improved exponentially, winning the AAC title in the 1650, and qualifying for NCAAs in both the 500 and 1650. She then transferred to Tennessee for the 2020-2021 season, where she dropped from 4:43.85 to 4:38.38 in the 500, and 16:11.96 to 15:47.72 in the 1650. Those improvements led Stege to win the SEC title in the 1650 free, breaking the Tennessee program record. Afterwards, she took 4th in the mile at NCAAs. In the 500, Stege came in 2nd at SECs, then went on to win the B final at NCAAs.

Tennessee lost Amanda Nunan, who posted a 16:10 1650 last year, but Claire Nguyen remains on the roster. Nguyen was the 2nd-fastest 500 freestyler on the team last year, swimming a 4:43.06, and swam a 16:13.30 mile. It took a 16:13.59 to score at NCAAs last year, so, Nguyen enters the season right on the edge of scoring position.

The Vols also added to their distance free group with the additions of freshmen Lauren Wetherell and Summer Smith. Wetherell, another freshman from England, has converted freestyle times of 4:44 in the 500, and 16:27 in the mile. Smith is primarily an IMer, but she has a 16:21 personal best in the mile. For Sanders, the decision that remains to be seen is whether she opts for the 200 back or the 1650 on the final day of the championship meets.

In terms of SEC scoring potential, Stege is the defending champion in the mile, while Nguyen is on the edge of being a top 8 finisher, and Smith’s personal best would probably earn her a top 16 finish. Wetherell’s 16:27 conversion puts her well within scoring range, keeping in mind that the SEC scores through 24 places. In the 500, Stege is a clear A finals contender, while Nguyen sits right on the 4:43 it took to make the A final last year.

At the start of the season, a 3-star rating seems most appropriate for this distance squad, although it could easily end up in the 4-star, 15-24 points per event category. A 4th-place finish at NCAAs is worth 15 points, and we know Stege is capable of that in the 1650. If she can swim fast enough in prelims of the 500 to make the A final, it’s possible Stege could lift Tennessee to 30+ distance points by herself. Improvement from Nguyen, Smith, and Wetherell, particularly in the mile, could turn Tennessee into one of the top distance squads in the NCAA.

Backstroke: ★★★

The Vols have taken a weakness from last year – backstroke – and strengthened it greatly. Despite losing Kaitlin Harty, a 1:53.8 200 backstroker last season, the Tennessee back squad is looking significantly improved from last year. The highlight of the backstroke newcomers is freshman Josephine Fuller, who enters the NCAA as a 1:52.73 200 backstroker, which is already fast enough to score at NCAAs. Additionally, Fuller comes to Tennessee with a 52.9 100 back.

The Vols also picked up a significant transfer from Bayley Stewart, the former Notre Dame standout. Stewart was a B finalist in the 200 back at NCAAs last year, swimming a lifetime best of 1:53.08 to take 14th.

Another freshman, Brooklyn Douthwright, could be a factor in bolstering the backstroke squad. Douthwright, who comes to Tennessee from

Canada, is both a freestyler and backstroker. If she ultimately ends up racing the 200 back on day 4 of the championship meets, her LCM lifetime best converts to 1:55.3 SCY, which would have been the 2nd-fastest time on the Vols roster last year.

Transfer Emma Carlton, who started her career at Texas A&M, is set to provide some sprint back power to the roster. Carlton has a personal best of 52.7 in the 100 back, which would have led Tennessee last year. She’s also a 1:57.4 200 backstroker.

Olivia Harper led Tennessee in the 100 back last year, swimming a 52.90. That means the Vols enter the season with potential NCAA scorers already in the 200 back with Fuller and Stewart, plus a 52.7, and 2 52.9 100 backstrokers. Although the 100 backstrokers are sitting just outside scoring at NCAAs (52.26 last year), they’re close enough that it’s plausible one or more could improve down to scoring range. The additions are huge when we examine the SEC Championships, however, as it took a 53.16 to qualify for the A final in the 100 back last year, meaning Stewart’s 53.18 was just outside.

Breaststroke: ★★★★

Tennessee’s breaststroke squad remains almost completely intact from last season. They still have their leading breaststroker, Mona McSharry, and the only loss is Nikol Popov. Popov was the 2nd-fastest 100 breaststroker on the team last year, but she ultimately didn’t score at SECs or NCAAs in either breast event.

McSharry is chasing NCAA titles both breast events, after finishing 4th in the 100, and 3rd in the 200 at NCAAs last year. In her first season of yards racing, McSharry got down to 57.80 in the 100, and 2:05.01 in the 200. Her times are enough to account for another 30+ points at NCAAs this year, which alone makes this breaststroke squad impactful.

The Vols are also bolstered by the return of Alex Gebel, Alexis Yager, and Emily Sykes. Yager was a 2:08.14 200 breaststroker last season, which puts her just on the edge of being able to score in the event at NCAAs. Sykes was also under 2:10 in the 200 breast last year (2:09.23), though she didn’t end up competing at NCAAs. Gebel swam a 2:10.58 last season. In the 100, all 3 women were 1:00s last year.

Tennessee brings in freshman Sammy Huff, who enters the NCAA with a personal best of 1:02.33 in the 100 breast, which she swam at the Indiana high school state meet in February of this year. Her best time in the 200 is 2:20.15, although she hasn’t raced the event recently. This season is probably a bit soon for Huff to be a scoring threat at NCAAs, but she could end up making an impact at SECs this season.

As things stand now, McSharry is the only probable NCAA scorer in the 100 breast, but depending on how well the rest of the breast group races in the 200 this year, Tennessee could have anywhere from 1-4 scoring swimmers in the 200 breast.

Butterfly: ★★

Tennessee is adding a handful of swimmers to their fly, squad, all of whom should make an impact at the conference championships. In terms of the Vols’ SEC prospects, they’ve greatly improved the depth of what was a fairly thin fly group last year.

Trude Rothrock returns to the team after leading the roster in the 100 fly last year (51.77). Rothrock was sub-52 in prelims of NCAAs (51.95), qualifying for the B final, but was slower in finals, finishing 16th. She was the only Tennessee fly scorer last year. Mallory Beil also qualified for NCAAs in fly events, finishing 29th in prelims of the 100 fly, and 31st in finals. Beil led the team in the 200 fly last year with a 1:57.56.

Kate McCarville enters her freshman year with the fastest 200 fly on Tennessee’s roster. Primarily an IMer, McCarville also has a 1:56.6 200 fly personal best. Ireland’s Ellen Walshe hasn’t swum yards before, but her SCY conversions include a 1:56.05 in the 200, and 52.18 in the 100. If Walshe’s conversions are accurate, she’ll be right there with Rothrock and Beil in the 100, right on the edge of NCAA scoring range. Another freshman, Sarah Stotler enters the season with a 53.3 100 fly best, and 1:57.9 in the 200.

While this new crop of flyers may not necessarily end up being ready to pay dividends at NCAAs this season, Tennessee is primed to score significantly more fly points at SECs this year.

IM: ★★★

Alexis Yager was Tennessee’s only NCAA scorer in the IMs last year, and the Vols had 4 other swimmers entered in IMs at NCAAs. Yager qualified for the B final in both IMs last year, leading the team in both the 200 (1:55.67) and 400 (4:07.69) last season. Trude Rothrock narrowly missed out on advancing to the B final of the 200 IM as well, finishing 19th in prelims.

Yager enters this season in position to score in both IMs again, and the additions of Summer Smith and Kate McCarville will go a long way to strengthen the Tennessee IM group. Smith is a 1:55.07 200 IM, which would have led the team last year, and would have been fast enough to qualify for the A final at NCAAs. Smith is also a 4:12.18 400 IMer, followed closely by McCarville, whose best is 4:12.2. McCarville also has a 1:58.8 200 IM as she enters her freshman year.

Ellen Walshe also adds to this IM group, particularly in the 200. In LCM, Walshe is a 2:12.02 200 IMer, a time which she swam in July of this year. That time converts to 1:56.0 for yards.

If Smith and McCarville are able to each improve by a handful of seconds in the 400 IM this season, Tennessee could be looking at 3 finalists in the event at NCAAs. That would be in addition to the 200 IM, where Yager, Smith, and Walshe are each in position to potentially score already.

Diving: ★

In terms of NCAA scoring ability, diving is Tennessee’s weakest discipline. That’s not to say they can’t, or won’t, end up scoring at NCAAs. Kara Holt was the Vols’ only diver to qualify for NCAAs last year, and she narrowly missed out on finals, finishing 19th in platform. The team nearly had another NCAA qualifier with Grace Cable, who came in 9th in platform at the NCAA Zone B Championships.

Relays

The influx of newcomers has given Tennessee the potential for significantly faster relays this year. Starting with the 800 free, the additions of international recruits Julia Mrozinski and Brooklyn Douthwright, should make a massive difference. At NCAAs last season, the Vols had splits of 1:46.36 and 1:47.89, while Mrozinski and Douthwright enter the season with SCY conversions of 1:43.6 and 1:44.4 respectively. Combine that with Trude Rothrock and Tjasa Pintar‘s high-1:44s from the relay last year, and Tennessee should have no problem taking the 800 free relay under 7:00 this year.

In terms of the medley relays, Tennessee’s backstroke legs should be improved. That improvement could come from Olivia Harper, the backstroker from last year’s relays, or from newcomers Emma Carlton and Josephine Fuller. Mona McSharry will provide elite breaststroke legs on the medleys, and Trude Rothrock or Ellen Walshe should be able to put up competitive fly splits. With a 47.8 flat-start 100 free, Tjasa Pintar will have the speed on the 400 medley anchor. The addition of Auburn’s Anna-Julia Kutsch will be huge for the 200 medley, as Kutsch has a history of blistering fast relay splits, including a 21.15.

Kutsch’s 50 speed in relays will also be significant for Tennessee in the 200 free relay, where she’ll likely team up with Mona McSharry, who is a 22.07 flat-start. Natalie Ungaretti was also a sub-22 relay swimmer last year, while newcomers Brooklyn Douthwright and Julia Mrozinski both appear capable of sub-22s on relays as well. That being said, Tennessee looks primed for a low-1:27 or even faster in the 200 free relay, after finishing 12th at NCAAs last year.

The Vols should also have an improved 400 free relay this year. Tjasa Pintar remains the top 100 freestyler with her 47.8 flat-start. McSharry was a 48.44 flat-start last year, while Trude Rothrock was 48.54. Mrozinski and Douthwright have the same SCY conversions in the 100 as well, both coming in at 48.2.

2021-2022 Outlook

After coming in 10th last year, Tennessee is looking to be in event better shape this year, as they’ve managed to keep a handful of swimmers as 5th years, pick up 3 key transfers, and bring in a massive freshmen class. Not only do the Vols look primed to move up in NCAA scoring, but the depth they’ve added will also make them a force at SECs.

In terms of their in-conference strength, Tennessee should be able to score significantly more points in disciplines where they not only struggled last year, but events that defending SEC champs Kentucky excels in. For example, backstroke is one of Kentucky’s most formidable areas within the conference, and Tennessee has greatly improved their backstroke squad.

The Vols also made strides in bolstering a fly group that was thin last year, and which will almost certainly lead to an increase in fly points at SECs. When all is said and done, Tennessee has entered the 2021-2022 season with an extremely well-rounded roster that should make them a difficult team to contend with both in dual meets and championship meets.

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Curious
1 year ago

Anyone see results posted from the orange white meet?

VFL
Reply to  Curious
11 months ago

They didn’t post times but did a recap. Several meet records broken by freshmen. Most encouraging piece of news IMO is that Rumley won the 50. Her 21. speed with AJK will definitely help our relay game.

RTR
1 year ago

These previews are fantastic. It’s interesting that Tennessee only came in 5th at SECs, but tore it up at NCAAs besting SEC champion Kentucky for 10th.

Also, the star system with the explanation of grading criteria is perfect for these previews.👍

DJTrockstoYMCA
Reply to  RTR
11 months ago

Tore it up for 10th by 1 point when they should have finished 2nd at SECs and 7th at NCAAs

SwimFan76
1 year ago

It also appears that Jasmine Rumley is competing for the Vols this year after not last year as a freshman. She should bring a big boost for the Vols relays as well with fast splits of 21 and 47 in 50 and 100 Freestyle events

ADB
1 year ago

Someone explain.
How does the class of 2020 not get their year back with the reasoning that they swam everything except their final championship meet, but the class of 2021 and 2022 get an extra year despite getting to swim their entire seasons?
NCAA needs to go.

VFL
1 year ago

Please explain how the distance free group isn’t projected to score 15-24 points required for 4 stars, when Stege scored 24 points alone last season…

Klorn8d
Reply to  VFL
1 year ago

It’s 15-24 per event I believe

Huh
Reply to  VFL
1 year ago

 a very, very good NCAA group projected to score 15-24 points per event”

Reading comprehension.

VFL
Reply to  Huh
1 year ago

Sorry. Don’t drink and swimswam.

Mmmmm
1 year ago

I think you forgot about Ellen walshe

SwimFan76
Reply to  Mmmmm
1 year ago

Yes correct! 2:12.0 Long Course 200 IM

bob
1 year ago

Brooklyn Douthwright is Canadian….no?

ACC fan
Reply to  bob
1 year ago

A?