College Swimming Previews: #12 Kentucky Women Strong in the Stroke 200s + 400 IM

It’s that time of the year again. SwimSwam will be previewing the top 12 men’s and women’s teams (and then some) from the 2022 NCAA Championships. Follow along with the College Swimming Preview Channel. Want to read even more? Check out the latest edition of the SwimSwam magazine

#12 Kentucky Wildcats

Key Losses: Riley Gaines (18 NCAA Points, 4 NCAA relays, 90 SEC points), Bailey Bonnett (19 NCAA Points, 3 NCAA relays, 76 SEC points), Sophie Sorenson (4 NCAA points, 3 NCAA relays, 75 SEC points), Parker Herren (NCAA qualifier)

Key Additions: BOTR Lydia Hanlon (Back/Fly), BOTR Denise Phelan (Breast/IM), BOTR Jordan Agliano (Free/Fly)

Fifth Years: Izzy Gati and Kyndal Knight 

GRADING CRITERIA

Three 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.

2021-2022 Lookback

The Wildcats were coming off of a SEC Championships and 11th place finish at NCAAs during the 2020-2021 COVID-19 season. They only lost one NCAA qualifier for the season. 

The team had another exciting season, squeaking out a second place finish at SECs (finishing ahead of Alabama by five points) and moving on to finish 12th at NCAAs. Notably, they were one of three teams to finish in the top 12 that did not have any first, second, or third place finishes. 

Sprint Free: ★

The team loses Riley Gaines who finished fifth at NCAAs in the 200 free. At SECs, she won the 200 free and was fourth in the 100 free as well. 

Based on SEC scoring, the team was the weakest in the sprint free events as they scored 0 points in the 50 free and only 26 in the 100 with all of the points in the 100 coming from Gaines. This means, they not only have 0 points returning in the 50, 100, and 200 frees at the NCAA level but also 0 points returning in the 50 and 100 just at the conference level. 

The good news for the team is that they return fifth year Izzy Gati who swam the 200 free at NCAAs last year swimming a 1:45.57 to finish 22nd and was only slightly over half a second off of making the B final. Gati has a best time of 1:44.27 which she swam leading off the team’s 800 free relay back at the 2021 NCAA Championships. That best time would have made the B final in 2022. 

Also good news for the team is that they bring in numerous girls as freshmen who have potential in the sprint freestyle events. 

Incoming Best 50 Frees:

Incoming Best 100 Frees:

Incoming Best 200 Frees:

The group of incoming freshmen is slightly faster than last year’s sprint freestyle freshman and also displays more depth in the 200 free. 

Distance Free: ★

The distance free group had three swims at NCAAs with two in the 500 and one in the 1650, although they scored 0 points.

Sophomore Megan Drumm had a huge season for the team, dropping almost two seconds in the 500 free as she swam a 4:46.97 at midseason. She was unable to hit that time again at SECs or NCAAs, but is on the right trajectory from season to season. 

In addition to having a solid season in the 500, Drumm also had a huge season in the 1650 as she swam the event for the first time this season. Not only did she swim it for the first time, but she also qualified for the event at NCAAs and swam a 16:10.90 to finish 23rd. With some experience under her belt in the event now, Drumm could have a huge season in the event this upcoming winter.

Izzy Gati swam the 500 at NCAAs but was slightly off her time of 4:42.71 from SECs. Her time at SECs was a best time. Like Drumm, Gati also changed her event lineup this season and this was the first season for her to swim the event.

Potentially joining the distance group will be Jordan Agliano who has a best time of 4:47.22 in the 500. Notably, she swam that in March so she is on a positive trajectory in the event. 

Backstroke: ★★

The team had numerous backstroke qualifiers at NCAAs but will be on the thinner side as most of them were seniors. Fortunately, the team has multiple solid backstroke recruits coming in. 

Leading the way in the 100 was Caitlin Brooks who swam a 52.16 at NCAAs to finish 24th. Brooks was slightly off her season best as she swam a 51.46 leading off a relay at SECs. 

Also key for the team this past season in the 100 back were seniors Sophie Sorenson (52.11) and Parker Herren (53.23). Neither will be taking a fifth year, so the depth in the 100 back will be getting smaller from the returning-swimmers perspective. 

Sorenson and Brooks were also leaders of the 200 backstroke as both swam in the B final at NCAAs. Sorenson swam a 1:52.50 for 13th and Brooks swam a 1:52.90 for 15th. 

Brooks has been much faster though as she swam a 1:50.73 to finish second in the event at SECs. That time would have finished seventh at NCAAs so if she is able to replicate that time again, she could be a huge boost in backstroke points. 

The incoming class has some great backstroke recruits to replace Herren and Sorenson especially in the 200. Jordan Agliano has a best time of 1:58.29 in the 200. Lydia Hanlon has bests of 53.59 and 1:55.64 and is less than two seconds off what it took to make NCAAs in the 200 this past season. Gracie Frericks has times of 54.33 and 1:59.60, and Paige Taber has times of 54.28 and 1:57.30. Overall, the class has multiple girls under the 55 second mark in the 100 and under 2:00 in the 200 and should be able to fill the gaps left behind. 

Breaststroke: ★★★

The team had no swimmers in the 100 at NCAAs but scored big time in the 200. Junior Gillian Davey swam a 2:06.03 to finish fifth, junior Lauren Poole swam a 2:06.52 for 10th, and fifth year Bailey Bonnett swam a 2:08.15 for 13th. Notably, Bonnett was the team’s fastest 100 breaststroker as she was the only one under the 1:01 mark with a best time of 59.11. 

Davey returns in good shape for her senior season and has a best time of 2:05.59 in the 200 from 2021 SECs. She has dropped almost a whole five seconds in her first three years and had a solid swim in the 200 long course at US Nationals where she swam a 2:28.13 for fifth place. 

Poole also returns in good shape for her senior year as she has dropped in the 200 breast all three seasons at Kentucky. She entered as a freshman with a best time of 2:13, dropped to a 2:11 freshman year, a 2:07 sophomore year, and now a 2:06 junior year. This progression is huge and notably her 2:06 in finals at NCAAs would have made the A final if she swam it in prelims. 

Joining Davey and Poole will be incoming freshman Denise Phelan who has a best time of 1:00.62 and 2:11.23 SCY. Notably, that time would have made Phelan the second fastest on the roster this past year only behind Bonnett who has since graduated. Phelan had a huge swim in the 200 LCM at US Nationals swimming a 2:30.54 in prelims which also was a best time by over a second. 

Butterfly: ★★

Caitlin Brooks was the team’s top 100 butterflier as she swam a 52.22 at NCAAs which was slightly off the 52.03 that she swam at SECs. Although Brooks was the only swimmer in the event at NCAAs, Izzy Gati also swam the event at SECs going a 52.69. 

Brooks swam a best time in the LCM 100 this summer at US Nationals which should set her up well for the fall. 

Riley Gaines made the B final at 2022 NCAAs in the 200 but has since graduated. Izzy Gati returns for a fifth year though and swam the event at NCAAs going a 1:56.90. She’s been as fast as 1:52.54 before back in 2020 at SECs. She went a 1:53.7 in 2021 and a 1:55.6 in 2022 but if she is able to get back into her form from 2020, she could be huge this season. Her best time would have made the A final at 2022 NCAAs. 

The incoming freshmen are very deep in the butterfly events, especially in the 100. Jordan Agliano is not far off making NCAAs in the 100 already. 

Incoming best 100s (SCY/LCM)

Incoming best 200s SCY

IM: ★★★

Bailey Bonnett and Lauren Poole both made the B final at NCAAs in the 200 IM, but only Poole will be returning. The also both had huge A final swims in the 400 as Poole was fifth and Bonnett was seventh. Poole went a 4:04.17 but has been as fast as 4:02.73 which she swam to finish third at 2021 NCAAs. 

Gillian Davey also made finals at NCAAs in the 400 as she finished 16th in a 4:08.46. She’s been as fast as 4:05.28 which she swam at 2022 SECs and that would have made the A final at NCAAs. 

Anna Havens Rice will be entering her junior year this fall and has swam the 400 IM in her first two years. She has a best time of 4:09.53 from 2021 SECs.

Joining the group will be Stella Todd (2:02.62/4:19.12), Denise Phelan (1:59.95/4:15.36), and Paige Taber (2:02.09). 

Diving: ★★

Kyndal Knight returning is huge for the diving squad as she scored in the B final of all three diving events at NCAAs scoring a total of 9 points. She wasn’t the only diver at NCAAs though as junior Morgan Southall was also in attendance. 

Both divers return this season which is huge as they were the only divers for the team at SECs.

Relays: 

The teams freestyle relays look to be very underclassmen heavy as the team brought in many sprint freestylers the last two years. 

Overall, the team is generally stronger at the 200s of each stroke than they are in the 100s, making scoring in the medley relays also slightly more difficult. If the 800 medley relay was a thing, the Kentucky women sure would be up there as a title contender.  

Their medley relays have potential especially if some of the incoming freshmen are able to step up in the short distances which can also shift some of the upperclassmen allowing them to focus on their more distance-oriented strengths. 

2022-2023 Outlook

The NCAA team was very upperclassmen heavy this past year, and is taking many more hits than it did this past year. The good news is that the team brings in strong recruits especially to replace where they scored points in at NCAAs such as the 200 backstroke, 200 breaststroke, and IMs. The team has at least one swimmer overlapping in most events they scored in at NCAAs which could potentially help develop the underclassmen and incoming freshmen.

Women’s Preview Index

Team Sprint Free Distance Free Backstroke Breaststroke Butterfly IM Diving Relays Total Stars
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
#8 California Golden Bears ★★★ ★★★ ★★★ ★★★ 16/40
#9 Ohio State Buckeyes ★★★ ★★★ ★★ ★★★ ★★ ★★ ★★★ ★★★★ 22/40
#10 Tennessee Volunteers ★★★ ★★★★ ★★★ ★★★ ★★★ ★★★★ ★★★ 24/40
#11 Indiana Hoosiers ★★ ★★ ★★★ ★★ ★★★★ 16/40
#12 Kentucky Wildcats ★★ ★★★ ★★ ★★★ ★★ ★★ 16/40

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John Hueth
3 months ago

Lauren Poole (pictured) swam for NBAC growing up. NBAC is Michael Phelps’s team.

About Anya Pelshaw

Anya Pelshaw

Anya has been with SwimSwam since June 2021 as both a writer and social media coordinator. She was in attendance at the 2022 Women's NCAA Championships writing and doing social media for SwimSwam. Currently, Anya is pursuing her B.A. in Government & Law and Economics at Lafayette College. There she is …

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