College Swimming Previews: #10 USC Powered by Hansson and Breaststroke

We’ll be previewing the top 12 men’s and women’s programs for the 2018-2019 season – stay tuned to our College Swimming Previews channel to catch all 24. Can’t get enough college swimming news? Check out the College Preview issue of SwimSwam Magazine for more in-depth college swimming coverage, including a bird’s-eye view of the flood of coaching changes and our ever-popular rankings of the top 50 individual swimmers in college swimming.

#10 USC Trojans

Key Losses: Hannah Weiss (2 NCAA relays), Lexie Malazdrewicz (1 NCAA relay), Becca Mann

Key Additions: Erica Sullivan (Las Vegas, NV), Courtney Caldwell (NC State transfer)


As the NCAA finish order is determined by points, we base our grading scale on projected NCAA points. Versatility and high ceilings are nice, but they don’t win you NCAA titles unless they bring points with them. Bear in mind that all of these grades are projections more than 6 months out – and as none of us has a working crystal ball, these projections are very subjective and very likely to change over the course of the season. Disagreeing with specific grades is completely acceptable; furiously lashing out at a writer, commenter or specific athlete is not.

  • A = projected to score significant (10+) NCAA points per event
  • B = projected to score some (3-10) NCAA points per event
  • C = projected on the bubble to score likely only a few (1-2) or no NCAA points per event
  • D = projected to score no NCAA points

We’ll grade each event discipline: sprint free (which we define to include all the relay-distance freestyle events, so 50, 100 and 200 plus the 200, 400 and 800 free relays), distance free, IM, breaststroke, backstroke and butterfly.

Sprint Free: A-

Louise Hansson is nearly reason enough to make a case for an ‘A’ grade for USC in sprint free by hersef, but she had no freestyle in her individual lineup at the 2018 NCAA Championships. Hansson collected a 100 fly national title and finished 3rd in the 200 fly, giving up her third event (which probably would’ve been the 200 IM) to instead race on all five USC relays. Hansson is still a 21-second 50 freestyler and a 47-second 100 freestyler, making her a potential A finalist in either event at NCAAs, but if she’s focusing more so on fly in her next season, USC is without a surefire scorer in this event. She also ripped a 1:41.81 relay lead-off at Pac-12’s this past season in the 200 free, so she’s really a sprint free weapon that has simply been utilized elsewhere.

Sophomore Marta Ciesla was just off of scoring in the 50 free last year and was a solid relay contributor, and the Trojans pieced together B final scoring free relays anchored by 200 fly specialist Catherine Sanchez and mid-distance freestyler Tatum Wade.

Enter Courtney Caldwell, though, a fantastic sprinter and transfer from NC State. She didn’t race for the Wolfpack last season, but has bests of 21.99/47.75 from 2017. Caldwell will make for a potential NCAA scorer in the 50 and 100 free, and will be a significant relay addition.

Distance Free: A

Big up for USC is freshman Erica Sullivan, the top junior distance swimmer in the country right now. Sullivan has had a busy summer, winning the U.S. National 5K title in open water in May, racing at Pan Pacs, and hitting best times in yards and meters in almost all of the distance free events. Among returners in the mile, Sullivan ranks 2nd based on 2018 NCAA times behind only Penn State senior Ally McHugh with her 15:40.42. Her 4:38.13 best in the 500 free would’ve snuck into the B final last year, too, making her a rare instant threat for USC. The fact that she has a very legitimate shot for a national title is huge for the Trojans, especially with the recent news of Becca Mann finishing up swimming in college to focus on her open water professional career.

Mann and senior Elizabeth Stinson were within five seconds of scoring in the mile last year, so Stinson will return with a possibility to pick up a few points there next season.


USC has a pretty deep IM group, especially in the 200. The only thing is that their top IM’ers typically focus on other events when it comes to NCAAs.

Hansson is elite in the 200 IM – 1:53.72 is no joke. She didn’t swim it last year, but it would be an obvious day 2 event for her if she isn’t needed for five relays again. Meanwhile, Riley Scott was 1:55 last year at in December, and Tatum Wade 1:56 at Pac-12’s. Scott didn’t race the 200 IM at NCAAs, though, and Wade gained considerable time and wasn’t near scoring.

Maggie Aroesty dropped a PR 4:10.18 at the SMU Classic in October, a rare early-season best time, and that stayed as the team’s best time for the entire year. She’s focused on the 100 breast on day 3 of NCAAs, though, so the IM strength for USC doesn’t really materialize come NCAAs.

Butterfly: A

Hansson will try to defend her 100 fly title and she is a pretty good bet for another top 3 finish in the 200 fly. She delivered absolutely terrifying speed on the medley relays for USC at NCAAs – 22.33 on the 200 medley relay fly leg and then an absurd 49.24 on the 400 medley relay.

The Trojans are set-up for more contributions in the butterfly, too. Madison Wright returns after a 6th place showing in the 200 fly last year at NCAAs and almost scoring in the 100 fly, while Catherine Sanchez is a bubble scorer in both fly’s, too.

Backstroke: B

USC had to say goodbye to Hannah Weiss, who led off their medley relays last year. She was also their only entrant in the 100 and 200 back at the 2018 NCAA Champs.

Hanni Leach is listed on the roster, and she has lifetime bests from 2017 of 52.00 and 1:52.58, which are both very solid (she’d have scored at NCAAs in the 100 back B final). Her last swim in the USA Swimming database is from the summer of 2017, though, meaning she probably sat out last NCAA season for some reason.

Leach racing at her best would be a nice benefit, but Hansson is also a 51.83/1:52.26 backstroker, so she could (at the very least) opt-in as backstroker for the medley relays. Meanwhile, Caldwell is also a fantastic sprint backstroker who hit a 51.35 at ACCs in 2017, and she should score in the 100 back individually while also being an option to lead-off or anchor the medleys.

Breaststroke: A-

Scott and Aroesty are a great 1-2 punch in both breaststrokes, and both are capable of A-finaling in both breast races at NCAAs. Scott won the 100 breast B final with Aroesty within a tenth of making that final, while Aroesty won the 200 breast B final as Scott was three hundredths off of 16th place in those prelims. If they both are on at NCAAs and swim well in the morning (lots of ifs there), this could end up being a huge two events for USC.

Freshman Lara Bate, a Briton training at NBAC and living in Baltimore, was 2:26 in LCM in the 200 breast back in 2015. Her yards best is a 2:15, and she hasn’t hit a PR in long course since 2015, but she could be a diamond in the rough with a new training location and routine. In-state product Isabelle Odgers comes in at 1:01/2:11 from high school, so some development from her could be useful.

2018-19 Season Outlook:

Louise Hansson, Madison Wright, and breaststrokers Scott and Aroesty are the big returners for the Trojans. This team is very strong in butterfly and breast, but isn’t incredibly deep in backstroke. Caldwell helps the backstroke hole and makes the sprint free group considerably stronger.

Kirsten Vose (a 47/1:42 free split on relays, and a 59/2:07 breaststroker) and Leach are both on the roster for the upcoming season, and the Trojans will be hugely supported if both are back and near their bests.

Sullivan is the blue-chip addition of the freshman class who should be a great individual scoring option, but the Trojans may need to employ some interesting relay choices and bank on their stars delivering to stay afloat in the top ten nationally this season.

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4 years ago

an intriguing roster this year. What is up with Vose and Leach? anyone know why they didn’t really swim last year?

Reply to  a_trojan
4 years ago

Leach tore her ACL last year. She’s back in the water now and is pumped to get back.

About Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon studied sociology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, graduating in May of 2018. He began swimming on a club team in first grade and swam four years for Wesleyan.

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