College Swimming Previews: #4 Alabama Women Return All NCAA Scorers, Relay Legs

 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

#4 ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE

Key Losses: Morgan Liberto (NCAA Qualifier), Tanesha Lucoe (NCAA Qualifier – diver)

Key Additions: Laci Black (Freshman – TX), Charlotte Rosendale (Freshman – CA), Stella Grace Watts (Freshman – FL), Lockett Bowley (Freshman – FL), Kylee Grafmiller (Freshman – TX)

Returning Fifth Years: Rhyan White (38 NCAA points), Morgan Scott (32 NCAA points), Kensey McMahon (28 NCAA points), Kalia Antoniou (9 NCAA points), Cat Wright (NCAA Qualifier), Ashley Voelkerding

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 Alabama Crimson Tide women’s swimming & diving team is coming off a historic season. At the 2022 women’s NCAA Championships, Bama finished fourth, marking the highest finish in program history. In her first year as head coach of the program, Margo Geer led the Crimson Tide to a 288-point performance at NCAAs, including a whopping 158 points from individual events. In addition to the top-four finish, Alabama was the highest finishing SEC team at nationals.

At the 2022 SEC Championships, Bama finished third with 1,038 points, marking their highest finish since 1994, when the Crimson Tide also took third. Bama won eight SEC titles, including the 200 free relay, 400 free relay, 200 medley relay, and 400 medley relay. In the 400 medley, the Crimson Tide broke the SEC Record. Individually, Rhyan White won the 100 and 200 backstroke, while Morgan Scott took the 50 free and 100 free.

Perhaps the highlight of the season came in the 200 free relay, where Alabama finished second at NCAAs with a blistering 1:25.47, just 0.06 seconds off the SEC Record. The Crimson Tide finished 0.51 seconds behind Virginia, but they were 0.90 seconds ahead of third-place NC State. Importantly, all four of Bama’s legs from that relay return for the 2022-23 season.

SPRINT FREE: 

Five-star ratings are rare, but this Alabama sprint group is probably the best in the country in terms of NCAA scoring. If they were a little stronger in the 200 free, there would be no doubt Alabama has the deepest sprint group in the NCAA. At the 2022 NCAAs, Bama had three scoring swimmers in both the 50 free and 100 free. The sprint group was led by senior Morgan Scott, who was exceptional with a fourth-place finish in the 50 free (21.43) and second in the 100 free (46.78). Cora Dupre was right behind in both events, taking fifth in the 50 (21.47) and fourth in the 100 (47.08). Additionally, Kalia Antoniou finished 10th in the 50 free (21.73) and 15th in the 100 (47.93).

It’s notable that Alabama returns all three of those NCAA-scoring sprinters. Dupre is entering her senior season, while Scott and Antoniou are using their fifth years of eligibility this season. The trio was able to score a combined 70 points in the 50 and 100 free at NCAAs last season, which was the highest of any team in those events.

We should also note that Dupre has a lifetime best of 1:43.61 in the 200 free, which she swam at the 2020 Big Ten Championships when she was at Indiana. Her season-best last year was 1:43.93, which she swam at the Tennessee Invite at midseason. 1:43 is fast enough to qualify for at least the ‘B’ final at NCAAs in any given year, but Dupre was a bit off in the event at NCAAs last season, swimming a 1:45.94 for 28th place in prelims. It took 1:44.93 to advance to the ‘B’ final.

Morgan Scott is also a good 200 freestyler, boasting a lifetime best of 1:43.69 from the 2021 SECs. Her season-best last year was 1:44.15, which she swam leading off the 800 free relay at NCAAs. That was plenty fast enough to have qualified for the ‘B’ final in the event, however, Scott didn’t get the opportunity, as she was needed to swim on all five Bama relays, which limited her to just two individual events.

Things are still looking promising for Alabama in the 200 free, even though Scott is unlikely to race the event individually at NCAAs again this season. Last year, freshman Mela Delmenico was the third-fastest swimmer on the roster, clocking a best time of 1:45.42 at the SEC Championships. Now in her sophomore season with the Crimson Tide, a little more improvement in the event and Delmonico will have a good shot at not only qualifying for NCAAs, but potentially making it back for finals.

Bama also brings in a number of good 200 freestylers with this freshmen class. Lockett Bowley is the fastest incoming 200 freestyler, entering her collegiate career with a personal best of 1:48.09. She’s one of three freshmen who come to the team with 1:48-point personal bests. Stella Grace Watts has a best time of 1:48.23, while Kylee Grafmiller is 1:48.79. Laci Black (1:49.03) and Charlotte Rosendale (1:49.82) also come to Alabama having already been under 1:50 in the event.

Speaking of Rosendale, her best event is the 50 free, where she’s already been 22.64. Given Margo Geer‘s ability to produce sprinters, she may just have an explosive freshman season.

Diana Petkova was the team’s fourth-fastest 100 freestyler last season, swimming a lifetime best of 47.69. That time was fast enough to qualify for the ‘B’ final at NCAAs, but Petkova was just a bit off, finishing 20th in prelims with a 48.20.

We also need to keep an eye on Kailyn Winter, who was on that runner-up 200 free relay at NCAAs last year as just a freshman. Though Winter didn’t qualify for NCAAs individually, she threw down a sizzling 21.42 split on the third leg of the relay. Winter’s season-best was a 22.30 from SECs, but given that NCAA relay split, we can very reasonably expect her to be under 22 seconds individually in the event. If that relay split doesn’t turn out to just be a freak performance by Winter, the Crimson Tide may just have another NCAA scorer in the 50.

DISTANCE FREE: 

This distance group has quickly become incredibly deep. They’re led, of course, by Kensey McMahon, one of the top milers in the NCAA currently. McMahon has been a model of consistency in the 1650, having swum under 15:50 in each of the last 3 seasons. At last year’s NCAAs, McMahon finished third in 15:47.60, which marked her top time of the season. Her lifetime best comes in at 15:43.74, which she swam at the 2020 SECs.

Notably, last season the Crimson Tide only has one other swimmer race the 1650 over the course of the season: Selina Reil, a sophomore who swam a 17:16.38 at midseason. That’s going to be vastly different this season, as Bama is bringing in a bevy of distance swimmers with this freshmen class.

Alabama has 3 incoming freshmen who have already been under 16:30 in the 1650. The freshmen class is led by Laci Black, who comes in with a personal best of 16:21.66. She’s followed closely by Stella Grace Watts and Kylee Grafmiller, who have been 16:26.94 and 16:28.47 respectively. On top of that, Mackenzie Brandt has a personal best of 16:38.25. Given that, Bama suddenly has a very deep group of milers, which should help them from a training perspective.

In the 500 free, McMahon is also the top swimmer for Alabama. Last season, she swam a 4:38.34 at SECs, which stands as her lifetime best in the event. She was able to qualify for the ‘A’ final at NCAAs, where she finished seventh. McMahon was excellent in the LCM 400 free this summer as well, swimming a 4:08.57 at U.S. Nationals in July, which marked her first time under 4:10 in the event.

Mela Delmenico was excellent in her freshman season last year, coming in as the Crimson Tide’s #2 500 freestyler with a 4:43.86, which she swam at SECs. If Delmenico is able to continue improving in her sophomore season, it wouldn’t take a ton for her to get into NCAA qualifying range in the event.

Laci Black is also the leading 500 freestyler among the incoming freshmen, bosting a personal best of 4:46.40. She’s followed again by Stella Grace Watts, who has been 4:46.86. Mackenzie Brandt and Lockett Bowley are a bit further back from that, coming in with lifetime bests of 4:52.87 and 4:54.39 respectively.

Given the sustained success of McMahon, and the promise of this freshmen class and Delmenico, things are looking up for this distance squad.

BACKSTROKE: 

The team lost their second fastest backstroker from last year in Morgan Liberto, who has since graduated. Liberto was particularly fast in the 200 back, where she swam a 1:52.63 at SECs to qualify for the ‘A’ final. She went on to finish fifth in 1:53.31 in the finals. Liberto swam at NCAAs last season, clocking a 1:53.38 in prelims to finish 18th, just outside qualifying for finals. She was also a quality 100 backstroker, swimming a 52.99 last season.

Of course, the loss isn’t a terrible hit to Alabama, as they still have Rhyan White, one of the top backstrokers in the NCAA currently. Not only did White take third in the 200 back (1:49.36) and fourth in the 100 back (50.34) at NCAAs last season, she’s become one of the top American LCM backstrokers. Last summer, White won silver in the 4×100 medley relay at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, also placing fourth in both the 100 and 200 back individually. At the 2022 World Championships this summer, White won gold on the 4×100 medley relay and bronze in the women’s 200 back.

At this point, it seems pretty clear that White is a slightly better LCM backstroker than SCY, but her lifetime bests of 50.02 in the SCY 100 back and 1:48.06 in the 200 back very much make her a contender in both events in the NCAA this season.

Alabama will see Abby Koczo return for her senior season. Koczo was the third fastest 100 backstroker on the roster last season, swimming a 53.57. Additionally, Maddie Mechling was the third fastest 200 backstroker last season (1:57.18) and will be returning for her junior season. As a freshman last season, Mela Delmenico swam a 1:57.89 in the 200 back, making her the fourth fastest 200 backstroker on the team.

In terms of incoming freshmen, Mackenzie Brandt is a 1:59.50 200 backstroker, making her the fastest in this freshman class. However, Alabama is also bringing in Australian Emily Jones, who could quickly become the second-fastest backstroker on the team this season. Jones is a 1:02/2:16 LCM backstroker, which converts to 54/2:00 in yards, though we have to keep in mind those conversions aren’t always terribly accurate.

BREASTSTROKE: 

Freshman Avery Wiseman, who came to Tuscaloosa from Canada last season, had a phenomenal first season with the Crimson Tide. An accomplished LCM breaststroker in her days as a junior in Canada, Wiseman flourished in SCY racing, leading Bama in both the 100 (57.79) and 200 (2:05.46) breast last season. Notably, her season bests in both events came at the Tennessee Invite in November. She was a bit off in both events at NCAAs, swimming a 58.19 for ninth in the 100 and 2:06.57 in the 200 breast for a sixth-place finish. Her season bests would have been good for fourth in the 200 breast and seventh in the 100 breast at NCAAs.

Wiseman enters her sophomore season as an ‘A’ final threat in both breaststroke events, setting Alabama up for a nice haul of points.

Diana Petkova was the team’s second-fastest 100 breaststroker last season, posting A 59.01 at SECs. She swam a 59.70 in prelims at NCAAs, finishing 25th, not far outside what it took to advance to finals. Cat Wright was also under 1:00 in the 100 breast last season, swimming a 59.61 at SECs. Wright is returning for her fifth year of eligibility this season, keeping Bama’s depth intact.

Wright was also under 2:10 in the 200 breast last season, swimming a 2:09.15 at SECs.

Alabama notably brings in freshman Charlotte Rosendale this season, who enters her collegiate career with a personal best of 1:01.61 in the 100 breast.

BUTTERFLY:

There are things to be excited about with this Alabama fly group, but as things stand now, Rhyan White is the only swimmer at NCAA scoring speed. White finished 10th in the 100 fly at NCAAs last year, clocking her season best of 50.85. That was her second consecutive season under 51 seconds in the event, as her lifetime best of 50.75 was set at the 2021 NCAAs. White is a fringe NCAA ‘A’ finalist in the event, but Bama’s second fastest 100 flyer last season was Cora Dupre, who doesn’t swim the event at championship meets.

Gracie Felner swam a 52.37 at SECs last year, though the sophomore was just off her lifetime best of 52.33, which she swam at the 2021 SECs as a freshman. Felner was, however, Alabama’s top 200 flyer last season, swimming a lifetime best of 1:56.22 at SECs. That time was just off what it took to qualify for NCAAs. That being said, it took a 1:54.83 to qualify for the ‘B’ final at NCAAs last year, so Felner would need to drop over a second to get into NCAA scoring range in the event.

Bama brings in some flyers with this freshmen class, though the freshmen who swim fly are better in the 200 than the 100. Lockett Bowley is the leading incoming freshman, having a personal best of 1:58.17 in the 200 fly. Notably, she also went 2:13.61 in the LCM 200 fly this February, marking a new lifetime best for her. Bowley is followed closely by Laci Black, who has been 1:58.93 in the 200 fly. Unfortunately, Black is a very good miler, so it’s unlikely she’ll be racing the 200 fly at championship meets this year. Mackenzie Brandt is in a similar position. She’s been 2:01.57 in the 200 fly, making it one of her better events, but she’s also a very good miler, presenting a scheduling conflict.

IM: 

The Crimson Tide didn’t have any NCAA scorers in the IM events last season, but they did have three swimmers race the 200 IM at NCAAs. Diana Petkova was Bama’s leading 200 IMer as a sophomore last year, swimming a 1:56.01 to finish third at SECs. Freshman Avery Wiseman won the ‘C’ final at SECs, clocking her lifetime best of 1:56.27. Cat Wright, who was a senior last season and is using her fifth year of eligibility this season, tied for sixth at SECs, swimming a 1:56.67. They were all off of those times at NCAAs, finishing well outside qualifying for finals.

That being said, Avery Wiseman had a phenomenal season as a freshman last year. Born and raised in Canada, it was Wiseman’s first time racing in yards. If she were able to take another second off her time this season, she would have a shot at qualifying for a second swim at NCAAs.

Petkova was also just a sophomore last year, so with another step forward, she could find herself in that 1:55 range as well. Wright’s 1:56.27 also marked a lifetime best, meaning all 3 of Alabama’s top 200 IMers last year clocked lifetime bests in the event, which bodes well for this season.

Alison Thome is the only incoming freshman who races the 200 IM as one of her primary events, but she comes in with a 2:02.64, which indicates she has a lot of work to do to get down to NCAA qualifying speed.

The 400 IM doesn’t look so great for Alabama. Mela Delmenico led the team last season as a freshman, swimming a 4:12.00. In her sophomore season, Delmenico will certainly have her eyes set on breaking 4:10. Laci Black could provide the boost the Crimson Tide needs in the event. She enters as the top incoming freshman in the 400 IM, having a personal best of 4:14.92.

DIVING: 

Diving was a weak point, perhaps the only weak point, on this roster last season. The Crimson Tide lost 3 of their senior divers to graduation: Halia Bower, Alli Boyd, and Natalie Donkle. Although, Bower was the only diver out of that trio who competed at the 2022 SEC Championships, and she didn’t score any points. Additionally, Tanesha Lucoe, the team’s lone NCAA qualifying diver, is no longer on the roster.

Courtney Russo is returning for her senior season, making her the only returning diver from last season. Russo competed at the 2021 Tennessee Invite, where she finished 11th in 1-meter and platform, and 17th in 3-meter.

Bama brings in a pair of freshmen divers this year as well. Ryleigh Rodgers is coming off a third-place finish at the UIL 6A State Championships this past season. Alexandra Warshaw has seen some success on the junior national scene, having finished ninth at the 2021 USA Diving Junior National Championships in 1-meter.

This is a small diving squad that has its work cut out for it to get into NCAA scoring range.

 RELAYS: 

Relays are a strength for this Alabama team. The team scored 130 points in relays at NCAAs last season and, most importantly, they return every single one of their legs from those relays. Since we can expect the same lineups in most relays, we should expect similar performances this year as we saw last year.

That’s great news for Alabama, as they had some exceptional performances at NCAAs last year, including a second-place finish in the 200 free relay, third in the 400 free relay, and fourth in the 200 medley relay.

Perhaps the best news is that Alabama’s weakest relay last year was the 800 free relay, where they finished 13th at NCAAs with a 7:01.05. That’s the relay where we could see the most lineup changes, which could also make it their most improved relay this season. Kalia Antoniou swam the third leg on the relay at NCAAs last year, splitting 1:47.34. Bama brings in 3 freshmen who have already been 1:48 individually in the 200 free before, as well as another 2 who have been 1:49, which indicates they’ll be able to find someone for a faster split this year.

In all, there’s no reason to think Alabama won’t be able to score 125+ points in relays again this season, given every swimmer is returning, and they’ve all been improving throughout their careers at Alabama.

Total Stars: 23/40

2022-2023 OUTLOOK 

Given Alabama didn’t lose any NCAA scores from last season, or even a relay leg, they’re in great shape heading into the 2022-23 season. They have possibly the best sprint free group in the NCAA currently, headlined by 2 NCAA ‘A’ finalists in both the 50 and 100 free with Morgan Scott and Cora Dupre. Additionally, Rhyan White is one of the best backstrokers in the NCAA, and frankly, in the world currently. Avery Wiseman was huge for Alabama in the breaststroke events in her freshman season and will be looking to build on that success in her sophomore season.

Perhaps the most intriguing discipline for Alabama this season is distance free, where Kensey McMahon suddenly has a whole training group. The Crimson Tide is adding three freshmen who have already been sub-16:30 in the 1650 to the distance squad, which features an NCAA title contender in McMahon. They also have a trio of mid-4:40s 500 freestylers to add to McMahon’s 4:38 in the 500 free.

They’ll look to take a step forward in the IMs this season as well. Bama had three swimmers race the 200 IM at NCAAs last season, though all three were off their season bests and none advanced to finals.

Diving is a weakness for this team, but they still managed a fourth-place finish at NCAAs last season without any diving points, so that shouldn’t stand in their way this season either.

It’s also the first season where Geer will begin to make her own mark on the recruiting side.

All things considered, Alabama looks very live for another top-five finish, though it may be a challenge to break into the top three, given the talent Virginia, Texas, and Stanford have on their rosters. Given the gap between fifth and sixth last year at NCAAs, our prediction is that the Crimson Tide will be battling NC State for fourth place again this year, just as they did last year.

WOMEN’S PREVIEW INDEX

Team Sprint Free Distance Free Backstroke Breaststroke Butterfly IM Diving Relays Total Stars
1
2
3
#4 Alabama Crimson Tide ★★★★★ ★★★ ★★★★ ★★★ ★★ ★★★★ 23/40
#5 NC State Wolfpack ★★★★ ★★★★ ★★★ ★★★ ★★ ★★★★ 22/40
#6 Louisville Cardinals ★★★ ★★★ ★★ ★★★★ ★★★ ★★ ★★★★ 22/40
#7 Michigan Wolverines ★★★ ★★ ★★ ★★ ★★★ 15/40
#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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Wendy Donkle
7 days ago

Excited for the Bama swim and dive women. Last year at NCAAs there were points from diving. Tanesha Lucoe, first place in tower at NCAAs from Alabama. Natalie Donkle competed in the SEC meet also in diving.

JuanJ
12 days ago

Bama women will be done after this year after all of Coley’s women are gone.

RTR
12 days ago

Swim Swam, great analysis, as usual! So based on this article, it looks like Bama is definitely a strong contender for a top 5 NCAA finish again.💪💪💪

How about for an SEC title? While Bama returns a ton of individual points, and all 20 relay legs that swept 4 of 5 relays at last year’s SECs, perhaps it will the newcomers who make a bigger impact this year at SECs than at NCAAs? The new freshman class brings in a ton of potential new SEC points- especially in the distance free, where Black, Watts, and Grafmiller are already way under last year’s SEC scoring time in the mile of 16:35. Bowley is way under the SEC scoring time of 159.5… Read more »

Admin
Reply to  RTR
12 days ago

I think Alabama will again be the top-scoring SEC team at NCAAs. Making up the 300 points on Tennessee at SECs will be hard.

Alabama’s incoming freshman class is definitely deeper, from an SEC scoring perspective (though it would be tough for any to score at NCAAs as a freshman). Tennessee’s class is smaller but has the best of the two groups in Regan Rathwell. Tennessee also got a big diving transfer from SEC Champion Tanesha Lucoe. Kailee Morgan, a D2 transfer, will help Tennessee too.

Alabama should overtake Kentucky for #2, and only Florida really got enough better to chase them from behind. I foresee a close meet with Tennessee and Alabama within 100 points, but ultimately I’d put… Read more »

USA
12 days ago

“Alabama sprint group is probably the best in terms of NCAA scoring”

Laughs in Virginia

Reply to  USA
12 days ago

UVA 50/100 free individual points last year: 60
Alabama: 70

Virginia has better sprinters overall (emphasis on Douglass and G. Walsh), but Bama will likely score more ncaa points in the discipline.

Last edited 12 days ago by Yanyan Li
Greg
Reply to  Yanyan Li
12 days ago

Since the 200 free is included in this area, I disagree. Not only does UVA have Reilly Tiltmann in the 200 free, but they also have transfer Maxine Parker coming in, Olympian Aimee Canny, Carly Novelline, and Claire Tuggle. And we haven’t even mentioned Alex Walsh with her 21/46/141 free capabilities (she did do the 200 free individually at conferences).

Taa
Reply to  Greg
11 days ago

200 is not really a sprint, its more mid distance

Willswim
Reply to  Yanyan Li
12 days ago

Lol Kate Douglass got bored and had a tryst with the breaststrokers so now ‘Bama thinks they can claim best sprint group.

RamaJamaAlabama
Reply to  USA
12 days ago

We will beat Virginia in both the 200 Medley and Free relays, as well as the 400 Free relay – no question at all.

Noah
12 days ago

Relays should be 5 ⭐️

maximum mchuge
Reply to  Noah
12 days ago

Laughs in UVA’s four wins and a runner up for 194 points.

Last edited 12 days ago by maximum mchuge
maximum mchuge
Reply to  maximum mchuge
12 days ago

Btw ncs did 139, bama did 130, Stan did 146, mich did 107, Texas did 115, Ohio state did 112, etc. (I probably made a mistake)