College Swimming Previews: #12 Louisville Women Approach Life After Comerford

We’ll be previewing the top 12 men’s and women’s programs for the 2019-2020 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.

#12 Louisville Cardinals

Key Losses: Mallory Comerford (56 points, 4 relays), Alina Kendzior (4 points, 2 relays)

Key Additions: Abbie Erickson (CO – diving),  Abby Hay (OH – IM/fly), Maddie Luther (MI – free),  Christiana Regenauer (NY – sprint free)

GRADING CRITERIA

We’re unveiling a new, more data-based grading criteria in this year’s series. Our grades this year are based on ‘projected returning points’, a stat of our own making. We started with our already-compiled “no senior returning points” (see here and here), which is effectively a rescoring of 2019 NCAAs with seniors removed and underclassmen moved up to fill those gaps. In addition, we manually filtered out points from known redshirts and swimmers turning pro early, while manually adjusting points for outgoing and incoming transfers and adding in projected points for incoming freshmen with NCAA scoring times, as well as athletes returning from injury or redshirts who are very likely NCAA scorers.

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. Bear in mind that our grades and painstaking scoring formula attempts to take into account all factors, but is still unable to perfectly predict the future. Use these grades as a jumping-off point for discussion, rather than a reason to be angry.

2018-2019 Look Back

Last year, we postulated that with virtually no major losses to graduation or immediate impact-type freshmen , the Cardinals would finish close to where they had in 2018. Sure enough, with essentially the same roster as they had in the 2017-2018 season, they continued their climb up the NCAA ranks, finishing a program-best 4th place after finishing 5th the year before.

At NCAAs, Mallory Comerford made the most of her final campaign, taking 3rd in the 50 free and sweep the 100 and 200 freestyle events. Only four other Cardinals scored individually, but every single relay finished between 4th and 6th, as Louisville finished comfortably ahead of the teams that were bunched between 5th and 9th in the final standings.

Sprint Freestyle: ★★

First, the bad news: a star of Comerford’s caliber is nearly impossible to replace. The 56 points she scored individually in the sprint free events would have placed 21st in the team standings last season, and no other Louisville swimmer cracked the top 20 in any of these three events.

The good news, however, is that while it’ll be tough to replace Comerford, she was the only senior on any of the free relays, and the Cardinals still have some potential scorers. Rising senior Lainey Visscher scored in the 50 free as a sophomore, and her season best last year was only 0.06s away from scoring. Avery Braunecker and Casey Fanz both split sub-22 on the 200 free relay, and incoming freshmen Christiana Regenauer holds a lifetime best of 22.59, as does rising sophomore Katie Schorr.

Outside of Comerford, Louisville has opted to have most of its likely 100 free swimmers focus on the 400 free relay the past few years, a move that has by and large paid off and will probably continue. However, they do stand a chance of netting some points in the 200 free.

Arina Openysheva put up a 1:45.1 at the SMU Classic and split sub-1:45 on the 800 free relay at NCAAs. At the 2018 NCAAs, Sophie Cattermole led off the 800 free relay in 1:44.3, a time that would’ve put her in the 200 B-final if she’d be able to do that individually last year. Rising sophomore Diana Dunn went 1:46.4 at the IU Invitational last fall, but wasn’t able to match that time once the calendar rolled over. Incoming freshman Maddie Luther sports a lifetime best of 1:47.69 from almost two years ago, making her an intriguing addition to Cardinal’s mid-distance crew.

Distance Freestyle: ★

The outlook is bleaker on the distance end of the spectrum, where the Cardinals didn’t earn any points last year and don’t appear to be bringing anyone in who’s likely to make an immediate impact.

That’s not to say it’s pitch black. Cattermole did score in the 500 as a sophomore, and she, Alena Kraus, and Openysheva all swam the 500 at NCAAs last year, so it’s not as if the Cardinals don’t have any NCAA qualifiers. Additionally, Cattermole holds the school record  in the 1650, with a 16:00.78 from 2018, and that time would’ve put her 14th at 2019 NCAAs.

Backstroke:★

The Cardinals take another big hit here, as Alina Kendzior was the only Cardinal who swam the 100 back at NCAAs, and she’s completed her college career. Their next-fastest 100 back swimmer was Ashlyn Schoof, whose season-best time of 53.85 was over two seconds slower than Kendzior’s. Schoof did go 52.47 in 2018, and her ability to get back into that range will be critical for the Cardinals’ relays.

Breaststroke: ★★

Mariia Astashkina scored in the B-final in both events a a freshman, but struggled last year and didn’t score individually. Louisville does have another pair of sub-1:00 100 breast swimmers in Kaylee Wheeler and Morgan Friesen. Wheeler split 26.9 on the 200 medley relay, putting her solidly in the middle of the pack compared to other splits in that A-final, and she could very well pick up some points in the 100 breast this year. Friesen is a little better at the longer distance, finishing 21st in the 200 last year. At least one of the three should be able to net some points, and there’s a reasonable chance that all three could score.

Butterfly: ★★★★

Fly is clearly the Cardinals’ strongest discipline in the post-Comerford era. Grace Oglesby was a double A-finalist as a junior last year, racking up 27 points with a 8th-place finish in the 100 and the 3rd in the 200.

Kraus dropped three seconds in 200 fly compared to her senior year of high school, ultimately finishing 14th last year as just a freshman. Her lifetime best of 52.52 is just over half a second off what it took to make the 100 fly B-final last year, so it’s certainly possible that we could see her switch from the 200 free to the 100 fly this year at NCAAs.

IM: ★

This discipline is a great example of how a team could clearly outperform the rating we’re assigning them based on projected returning points, as the Cardinals have some tantalizing prospects. At the top of that list is Oglesby, who was entered in the 200 IM with a seed time that would’ve scored, but opted to focus on the 400 medley relay instead.

Freshman Maria Eduarda Sumida swam both IMs at NCAAs, and while she ultimately finished well out of scoring range, her seed time in the 400 IM would’ve put her on the edge of the B-final. Just like in the 200 free, Dunn looked great in the 200 IM early in the season, going 1:58 at the IU Invite, but didn’t qualify for NCAAs.

Incoming freshman Abby Hay has been 2:00 in the 200 IM, so while she’s still a ways off from NCAA scoring, she could be one to watch in future years.

Diving: ★★★

It’s understandable if you’re a bit surprised that diving currently projects as Louisville’s 2nd-strongest discipline. But Molly Fears has steadily improved through each of her three years as a Cardinal and finally cracked the top 16 last year with a 12th-place finish in platform diving. That, plus her 23rd place on the 3m, has her projected to score double-digit points this season.

While not currently projected to score any points, the Cardinals also return Michaela Sliney, who finished 37thy in both the 1m and 3m last year. They also add freshman Abbie Erickson, who specializes in platform.

Relays

Louisville Team Celebration Stock (photo: Jack Spitser)

Bottom line up front: it’s nearly impossible to overestimate the impact that Comerford had on Louisville’s relays, and similarly nearly impossible to replace someone like her. Still, the Cardinals have enough depth that the free relays should all still score.

Visscher, Braunecker, and Fanz form a strong core for the 200 free relay. Opensheyva, Regenauer, and Schorr all have lifetime bests of 22-mid, so one of them should be able to drop a sub-22 relay split, which would keep them on the edge of the A-final.

Similarly, subbing in Braunecker for Comerford in the 400 free prelims costs 2-3 seconds, which should still qualify for the B-final, but it’d be a bit closer.

It’s a little dicer in the 800, where subbing in Dunn’s 1:46 for Comerford’s 1:39 split would drop the Cardinals from 6th to 19th.

The medleys are a little more of a mess, and as we mentioned earlier the Cardinals are going to need a solid replacement for Kendzior to have any hope of scoring.

Outlook

At this point, you may have picked up on the fact that it’s going to be a challenge to replace Comerford. In fact, if we were basing these initial power rankings solely on projected points using last year’s results, the Cardinals would probably be closer to 17th.

This leaves Louisville in an interesting position. On one hand, this is a program that’s had a lot of success despite a lack of big name recruits, which indicates they do a good job of developing swimmers. On the other hand, it seems like a lot of the “second tier” swimmers who could be NCAA scorers or come up big on relays failed to match their best times last year.

If two or three things break right for the Cardinals — previous NCAA scorers who had a down year return to form, a few underclassmen develop into solid relays legs or individual scorers, and/or they bring in an international swimmer we’re not yet aware of (much like Bart Piszczorowicz on the men’s team last year) — they could outperform our projections and make a return to the top ten.

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Nonrevhoofan

I miss Mallory already. But at least she’ll be there for Tokyo 2020.

Chaitha D.

Hopefully

Sccoach

THERE IS NO LIFE AFTER COMERFORD

come back malllllory

Well

Zero chance this team finishes top-12

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