College Swimming Previews: #4 NC State Women Building Title-Contending Relays

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.

#4 NC STATE WOLFPACK

Key Losses: Elise Haan (1 NCAA point, 3 NCAA relays)

Key Additions: #3 Katharine Berkoff (MT – back/free), Katie Mack (NC – back/free), Parker Timken (OH – sprint free), Kay Foley (IN – distance free), Maddy Flickinger (NC – back/free), Heather MacCausland (PA – sprint free/breast), Victoria Fonville (Oklahoma Baptist transfer – sprint free), Faith Hefner (NC – free), Elle Giesler (MI – free), Abby Kriegler (NC – distance free), Helene Synnott (WA – diver), Katelyn Cook (NC – diver)

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 LOOKBACK

’18-’19 was a major bounce-back year for the NC State women, who had been steadily rising but saw a disastrous ’17-’18 derailed by injuries. Coming off an 18th-place NCAA finish, NC State had a big ACC showing and entered NCAAs with the 5th-most psych sheet points.

The Wolfpack ultimately went backwards 55 points from seed, but still pulled off a 7th-place finish – just a half-point out of sixth and three points out of fifth.

Even better for the Wolfpack was their points distribution by year. Contrary to the rest of the NCAA (where the most points by a longshot are scored by upperclassmen), NC State got just one point from its senior class compared to 47.5 from its freshmen. The highest individual Wolfpack scorer was Swedish freshman Sophie Hanssonwho was 3rd in both breaststrokes, and fellow rookie Kylee Alons scored double digits with an 8th-place 50 free and 12th-place 200 back.

Alons paired well with established sprint star Ky-Lee Perrywho came back from a season-ending injury in 2018 to make A finals of the 50 and 100 free. At the same time, NC State finished four of the five relays in the top 10, owing in part to a strategic scratch of the 800 free relay that allowed the Pack to use all of their best swimmers on the remaining four relays.

Sprint Free: ★★★

This is one area where the star rating probably doesn’t do justice to how good NC State is. The Wolfpack are right on the edge of four-star “no senior” points with a ton of depth.

Now a senior, Ky-Lee Perry is the fifth-best returner from last year’s 50 free A final and fourth-best returner in the 100 free A final. She’s a true top-flight sprinter (21.5/47.4), and pairs extremely well with now sophomore Kylee Alons (21.8 last year after dropping six tenths as a rookie).

The Wolfpack also return junior Sirena Rowea 22.2/49.3 sprinter who improved her 100 moderately last year, but was actually faster in the 50 (22.0) with Marshall in 2017.

The 50 free depth is amazing. There’s Olivia Calegan (22.5), plus Oklahoma Baptist transfer Victoria Fonville (22.3) and incoming freshmen Parker Timken (22.5), Katie Mack (22.6), Heather MacCausland (23.0) and Maddy Flickinger (23.0).

On the other hand, most everyone is a sheer speedster, and the 100 depth isn’t quite the same strength, though it’s far from bad. Alons split 47.3 on a relay last year, but might still be more likely to swim 100 fly or 200 back individually. The newcomers go Mack (49.0), Fonville (49.4), Timken (49.6) and MacCausland (49.8), with returning senior Vasiliki Baka 49.9 last year.

Most of the sprint points are coming in the 50 and 100, with the 200 still decent, but well behind. Julia Poole has been 1:45.5 and Kate Moore 1:46.9, but both will probably swim other events individually. Junior Mackenzie Glover dropped more than a second to go 1:47.9 last year at mid-season, but scratched all her events at ACCs. She could be a factor in her senior year. Meanwhile distance swimmer Tamila Holub was the team’s only ACC scorer in the 200, going 1:48.1.

Distance Free: ★★

Kate Moore was previously a backstroker, but had a big breakthrough in the 500 free last year to go 4:38.3 and score at NCAAs. Her improvement curve is excellent, and she could challenge for an A final spot this year. She swam the 400 IM and 200 back last year, though, so her distance impact is probably just the one event.

The Wolfpack graduated distance swimmer Anna Jahns, and NCAA qualifier. But Tamila Holub returns for her junior season after going 4:40.9 and 15:56.9 last year at ACCs. Holub went backwards big-time at NCAAs (4:46.0 and 16:18), so she’s going to need to iron out her post-season rest to contribute the way her times suggest.

Another swimmer looking for distance redemption is Kay Sargent a great IMer who was 16:06 in the mile at ACCs, but faded to 16:24 at NCAAs.

Meanwhile NCAA qualifier Summer Finke no longer appears on the roster for NC State.

Backstroke: ★★★★

Katherine Berkoff (photo: Mike Lewis)

Elise Haan graduates the team’s fastest 100 back time from last year by a second and a half, but NC State still comes out better in backstroke. How? Katharine Berkoff.

The #2 overall recruit in the class, Berkoff is an incredible backstroke talent, with times that would have made the NCAA A final last year. Berkoff dropped from 51.9/1:51.4 to 50.7/1:50.1 as a senior in high school, and could be a top-3 finisher at NCAAs in both, especially with Taylor Ruck taking a redshirt year.

This is a deep group for NC State, too. Kylee Alons scored in the 200 back at NCAAs last year (1:52.3 for 12th) and then-freshman Emma Muzzy was actually faster than her with a 1:51.5 season-best. Muzzy hit that time at the IU Invite, then won the ACC title in 1:51.6 as a freshman. Muzzy wore down a bit over NCAAs and was just 1:53.4 to miss scoring, but if she’s at a lifetime-best at nationals, NC State could score three or more in the 200 back.

(“Or more” because Kate Moore was also 1:53.2 last year, Danika Huizinga 1:54.0 and Mackenzie Glover 1:54.2, plus incoming freshman Katie Mack is 1:54.1).

In the 100, Alons went 52.7 mid-season, but didn’t swim the event at NCAAs. Muzzy was 52.1 in high school, but will probably focus on the IMs and the 200 back, so there isn’t as much depth behind Berkoff. Mack is 53.8 out of high school, though, and Maddy Flickinger 54.2.

Breaststroke: ★★★★

Sophie Hansson was a freshman revelation last year, and is the fastest returner from NCAAs in both the 100 and 200 breast. With 57.7/2:06.1 speed, Hansson is a force to be reckoned with, and was mostly at her best at NCAAs – her 200 dropped six tenths, but her 100 gained two tenths at nationals.

Now a junior, Olivia Calegan was sub-minute last year (59.4) as well as 2:11.5 in the 200. There’s some depth developing in the 200. IMer Julia Poole swims the 200 breast as her tertiary event and dropped from 2:11.5 to 2:10.1 last year. Junior Olivia Fisher was 1:01.0/2:11.8 last year, and fellow junior Anna Shumate 1:01.0.

Freshman Heather MacCausland is a solid prospect at 1:01.4/2:11.6, though she went backwards a bit (1:01.9/2:14.6) in her senior year of high school.

Butterfly: ★★

Alons returns as the team’s most likely fly scorer. She’ll probably supplment her 50 free/200 back combo with a 51.6 in the 100 fly. She could challenge for an A final spot, though she’ll need to be at her best at NCAAs, unlike last year when she faded slightly to 52.1 and missed scoring.

The 100 depth isn’t great. Rowe (54.2) probably finds this as her third event. In the 200, the top two Wolfpack members from last year will probably swim other events. (Alons was 1:55.1 in a dual meet and Sargent 1:56.8 in a time trial at ACCs). No one besides those two was under 1:59 last year.

Berkoff has been 53.8 in the 100 fly and could potentially find her third event here, though we think the 50 free or 200 IM is probably more likely.

IM: ★★★★

The IMs are outstanding for NC State. Julia Poole projects to score in both IMs, even with NCAA times (1:56.4/4:08.9) that are well off her season-bests (1:55.1/4:07.6). Same goes for Kate Moore in the 400 – she was 4:08.7 at NCAAs but 4:05.2 at ACCs. And then there’s Emma Muzzywho went 4:05.6 in the fall, 4:06.8 at ACCs and just 4:12.1 at NCAAs. The freshman Muzzy was a season-best 1:57.7 in the 200 IM at NCAAs, but was still a few tenths off her career-best from high school.

Our star projections are based on actual NCAA performances last year, and NC State still gets four stars; if those three perform the way they did at other times, this could be a true five-star group.

Kay Sargent scored at NCAAs in the 400 IM last year, going 4:05.8, which was a season-best.

Sophie Hansson could score in the 200 IM; she was 1:56.6 at ACCs, but stuck to the two breaststroke races at NCAAs. It took 1:56.5 to score in the 200 IM at nationals. The freshman Berkoff could be a 200 IM factor, too – her career-best is 1:57.0.

Diving: ★

NC State had no divers at NCAAs last year, but that might be changing. Madeline Kline was the ACC champion on platform and missed NCAA qualifying by just one spot at Zones. Taylor Bennett also competed at Zones. Making NCAAs and scoring at NCAAs are two very different things, but Kline has a very outside shot to do both in her senior year.

NC State also brings in two freshman divers: Katelyn Cook and Helene Synnott. Both were high school state runners-up as seniors: Cook in North Carolina’s 3A class and Synnott in Washington’s 3A class.

Relays

As you’d expect, that massive sprint group combined with just three graduated relay legs from last year make for some outstanding relay potential.

Kylee Alons is the biggest chess piece for NC State, elevating any of the five relays (photo: Jack Spitser)

The Wolfpack were 3rd in the 200 medley and 4th in the 400 medley relay last year. In the 200, they lose Haan’s 23-high backstroke leg, but Berkoff is probably an instant upgrade: she was 24.4 to her feet during her lifetime-best 100. Hansson returns a 26-mid breaststroke split that might be the field’s best, and with Alons (22.9 at NCAAs) or Rowe (23.2 at ACCs) on fly and Perry (21.0 at ACCs) on free, the Wolfpack might just be the NCAA favorites in this event. Their top competitors are Cal, who beat them by four tenths last year and return all four legs.

Things look even better in the 400 medley. Berkoff might be a full second faster than Haan (51.5) was leading off this relay at NCAAs. Hansson is only getting better (and was 57.3 last year). Alons (51.4) and Perry (47.5) return on fly and free, and the three relays ahead of NC State last year all lose impact legs: Cal back and fly, Indiana a key breast leg and Michigan back and free. Consider the Pack another NCAA title contender here.

In the 200 free relay, NC State was 5th last year and only graduates its slowest leg: a 22.0 from Haan. Calegan was 22.1 in prelims and Hansson 21.9 at ACCs, so the dropoff shouldn’t be too noticeable. Perry (a likely 21-mid leadoff), Alons (21.1 at ACCs) and Rowe (21.4 at ACCs) are the returners.

The only question is whether NC State tries to beef up its 800 free relay. They scratched last year to allow Alons to swim the other four relays, but Alons split a wicked 1:43.3 at ACCs and could really buoy that team if NC State wants to score in all five relays. The 200 free relay can probably still float without Alons (the 50 free depth is excellent with 22.3 transfer Fonville, 22.5 freshman Timken and 22.6 freshman Mack), but it could be a national title contender with her. Tough decisions for coach Braden Holloway.

The 400 free relay is simpler. All four legs return from the 10th-place relay last year. Perry and Alons are both good for 47-second legs. Hansson went 48.3 at NCAAs. Calegan was 48.8 at NCAAs, but could be fighting for her spot with the freshman Berkoff, who is 48.7 in the individual 100 free. This is probably an A final relay, but might be right in the 6-10 range like last year and need to get the job done in prelims.

The 800 free relay might actually have scoring chances this year, but it’s much more up in the air. Poole and Moore both put up 1:45 legs at ACCs last year. Berkoff has been 1:46.1 out of high school. But it may rely on Alons giving up a different relay, because her 1:43 split is probably the difference between scoring (which took basically an average of 1:45.1s last year) and missing by a lot, given the next-best 200 freestyler from last year was 1:47.9 individually. But maybe the freshman Mack comes around: she was 1:47.1 last year individually.

2019-2020 Outlook

Two ACC programs are on a major rise in the women’s NCAA this year. Both graduate just one scorer from last year and both bring in outstanding recruiting classes. NC State is in line to smash it’s best finish in program history: 7th, set both last year and in 2017.

The relays are maybe the most exciting. When you look at individuals, NC State returns the sixth-most points of any team from 2019. When you factor out seniors across the nation, they move up to 4th. But then consider that NC State scored 104 relay points last year, graduate just three legs and likely get better at each of those graduated legs.

The Wolfpack could be in the hunt for three national relay titles. They have a bunch of good, young A final contenders. Between the freshman Berkoff and the sophomore Hansson, they’ve got top national talents in back and breast. Their IM group is stout. Their sprint group, deep. This is an extremely exciting roster, and even with a handful of good seniors (Perry, Sargent, Fonville), 2020 should only be the beginning for this NC State program.

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Club Coach

Summer Finke is not on the roster because she graduated in May and is now in grad school at the University of Florida.

SwimGeek

Holloway has built an impressive program with the women now probably matching the men. The ACC battle between the NCST-UVA women should be fun

Greg

UVA should be included with NC State and Cal as 200 MR title contenders, with the addition of Cuomo (22.7 fly split) and Douglass (21.6 flat start) to a Gmelich-Wenger combo that had them at the front of the race at the halfway point at NCAAs. Should definitely be a thrilling race at ACCs and NCAAs!

Swimfan97

Don’t forget about rocky top either

Really

Vals would have to swim the correct strokes, though

volmenusa

Glad we got some props here to put UVA girls in our class is insulting as far as the Medley goes. We are elite in that area for sure.

Wondering

When the Vals don’t get DQ’d….

(Of course, the Wuffies also know how to hump early….)

GrantJ

Wandering why ewe post an old and tired dis of the Pack..nobody cares about it anymore. Looking forward to seeing the Pack and a very competitive ACC light it up this year.

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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