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.
#7 Georgia Bulldogs
Key Losses: Olivia Carter (transfer – 17 NCAA points, 4 NCAA relays)
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.
After a few notable graduations, Georgia brought an extremely young team into the 2018-2019 season, led by one of the nation’s better recruiting classes. But things did not come together quickly for Georgia. Former #1 overall recruit Eva Merrell didn’t compete all year while dealing with medical and mental health issues.
At NCAAs, individual scoring tapered off as only two swimmers scored in double digits and only six athletes scored at all. Harder to overcome were the relays, which scored a combined 17 points, with three of five relay teams missing NCAA scoring.
After a disappointing 11th-place showing in 2018 (Georgia’s first time outside the top 10 in more than 20 years), the Bulldogs slid even further, taking 18th: their worst finish as a team since 1983.
The good news is that the team is extremely young. Zero of 20 relay legs were handled by seniors, and in fact, the bulk of the team’s points came from freshmen and sophomores: 41 combined points for those underclassmen, compared to 8 combined points from juniors and seniors. Freshmen flyers Olivia Carter (17) and Dakota Luther (9) scored big points, while sophomore Courtney Harnish (15) was the second-highest scorer.
Sprint Free: ★★
Georgia returns essentially all of its sprint free talent, including one returning NCAA scorer. Veronica Burchill had another solid year, dropping a few tenths in the 50 and 100 frees to finish at 22.1/47.4 individually. Burchill was 12th in the 100 at NCAAs, and factoring out seniors moves her up into the top 8. She also scratched the 50 free, though her season-best would have been on the bubble to score. The decision last year allowed her to swim five relays, but with UGA failing to score in three of them, the better bet was probably to let her swim three individuals.
New Zealander Gabrielle Fa’amausili should be a big contributor looking for a bounce-back year. She was 22.1/48.9 as a freshman, but fell off to 22.3/49.0 last year – not a huge step back, but not the step forward the Bulldogs needed. At the very least, she’s consistent across her college career, and on the cusp of NCAA invite status in both.
In the 200, junior Courtney Harnish returns as a projected NCAA scorer. She was 1:43.5 at SECs last year and 1:43.8 leading off the 800 free relay at NCAAs. But she faded to 1:45.6 individually and missed scoring. Even with that worse time, she projects among the top 16 returners, and has a shot to be an A finalist if she’s on her game.
A lot of the depth has disappeared from the roster: Katherine Aikins (22.6/50.0/1:48.7), Donna Blaum (23.0/50.2), and Caroline Aikins(50.3) are all absent from the 2019-2020 roster. Tatum Smith (23.2/50.2) does return.
The 200 free depth is great. Behind Harnish is senior Jordan Stout, who was within a half-second of an NCAA invite last year with a 1:45.5 at a last chance meet. Senior Meryn McCann (1:45.7) was also on the cusp.
Then there are a couple of new additions. Eva Merrell could be a huge-impact addition, but she’s hard to project after not swimming a single race since August of 2017. She’s been 22.2 in the 50 free, though, and could be an NCAA scorer if she’s back to form. Louisiana freshman Jillian Barczyk is 50.6/1:48.4 and in-state rookie Mady Bragg 50.7/1:49.3.
Distance Free: ★★★
Harnish also returns as a distance free scorer. She was 4:35.5 at SECs last year and came into NCAAs as the third overall seed. She wound up making the A final and placing 8th, and should project to score double digits again this year.
Meryn McCann was also an NCAA invitee last year – she was 4:38.06 at SECs – good enough to score at nationals – but faded badly at the national meet, to 4:50.3. She’ll need a much better meet to score in her senior year.
There aren’t a lot of prospects in the mile after a tough year for the top distance swimmers. Harnish was the team’s top miler last year, but probably won’t swim it after scoring in the 200 fly last year. Canada’s Olivia Anderson was 16:07 as a freshman but only 16:18 last year. Maddie Homovich was a high profile prospect at 4:39 and 16:03 out of high school, but in her freshman year went just 4:45 and 16:30.
Backstroke is a relatively weak point for this Bulldog roster. Gabrielle Fa’amausili was 52.7 back in 2018, but fell off to 53.4 last year. Their top backstroker was Olivia Carter, who is transferring out and taking a redshirt season. And their fastest returner is Portia Brown at 53.3.
Brown had a great freshman year, though, dropping more than a full second from 54.4 to 53.3. And youth is the name of the game. In the 200, the top returners were also freshmen last year: Homovich (1:53.1) and Callie Dickinson (1:53.3). Dickinson had a huge drop from 1:56.0 last year, and the 200 back was actually a good drop for Homovich as well, even as her distance free gained time.
McCann (1:54.9) could be near NCAA invite level, too.
In the 100, Dickinson (53.9) is another solid returner. Merrell remains a wild card. She was 52.2 out of high school and could be a massive boost, but expecting her to immediately return to her bests after two years off is probably not a great bet.
The team shored up what was a breaststroke weakness with transfer Sofia Carnevale last year, and they recruited well enough to turn breaststroke into a strength for the 2019-2020 season.
Carnevale went 59.1 and 2:10.2 last year, and though she was not at her best at NCAAs, she still managed to score in the B final. Meanwhile Danielle Della Torre had a huge sophomore year, going from 1:01.1 and 2:11.0 to 1:00.4 and 2:08.8. She’s just a tenth off of NCAA scoring range in the latter.
Enter the rookies. Zoie Hartman ranked as our #2 overall recruit in the class, and the only one with NCAA A final times in three events out of high school. Two of them are breaststroke races. Hartman’s bests (58.9/2:07.5) would have placed 8th in both NCAA A finals last year, and with plenty of seniors ahead of her in those fields, she could be a 25+ point scorer by herself between the two races.
Meanwhile fellow freshman Ashley McCauley is outstanding as well. She’s 2:09.5 in the 200 breast (good enough for an NCAA invite last year) and dropped a half-second to go 1:00.5 in the 100. With moderate improvements for all, UGA could have four breaststrokers under a minute in the 100 and perhaps four under 2:09 in the 200.
Veronica Burchill crosses over into butterfly along with her 50/100 free speed. She was 51.3 last year at midseason, though she was only 51.7 at SECs and 52.2 at NCAAs to miss scoring. On the other end of the spectrum is Courtney Harnish, who went 1:54.7 in the 200 fly at a last chance meet, and went 1:55.0 at NCAAs to score out of the B final. Those two are the single-event scorers.
UGA had two star freshman two-distance flyers, but Carter’s exit leaves them with just one. Her 51.7/1:52.7 speed will be missed, but Dakota Luther returns after going 52.1 and 1:52.9 last year. She’s projected to score in both, and moves up to 5th in the 200 with seniors (and Carter) factored out.
Once again, we’re not projecting any points from Eva Merrell, but she’s an extremely high-ceiling wild card. Merrell was 51.9 out of high school and could be an immediate scorer, depending on how long it takes her to get back up to speed.
Once again, Carter’s absence hurts, but the depth is still solid. Her 1:55.7 was the team’s top 200 IM time last year. But the breaststroker Danielle Della Torre returns at 1:56.6, and projects to move into scoring range. (Carter was just 2:00 at NCAAs last year and didn’t score, so the loss is somewhat mitigated). Callie Dickinson was another NCAA invitee, going 1:57.1 for a season-best there.
The big get, though is the freshman Zoie Hartman, whose lifetime-best of 1:54.6 would have made the A final last year. She cut more than a second in her senior year of high school, and with half the top 8 graduating from last year, Hartman could legitimately be in contention for a top-3 finish as a rookie.
The 400 IM is relatively weaker, which is odd for UGA, a noted 400 IM school. Sammie Burchill went 4:10.40 last year and was one of the first few swimmers outside the NCAA invite cut line. She’s only a junior and should have a shot this year. Portia Brown dropped an incredible 11 seconds to go 4:11.8 last year, and projects as a borderline scorer. (She also went from 2:00 to 1:57.5 in the 200, so keep an eye on her there.
Further back, the distance swimmer Homovich was 4:14.7 at NCAAs, and freshman breaststroker McCauley brings in a 4:14.4.
Georgia returns two NCAA qualifying divers, including platform scorer Freida Lim. Lim only competed on platform last year, so her points are somewhat capped, but she projects to move from 15th to 8th with seniors factored out.
Meanwhile McKensi Austin competed on both springboards last year, but was a ways back from scoring. Both will be seniors next year. Georgia does have a deep dive group with multiple athletes competing at Zones last year, so another invitee isn’t out of the question.
The relays were what really let Georgia down last year. The good news is that 20 of 20 legs were handled by underclassmen. On the downside, they lose 4 with the transfer of Carter.
The free relays might be in the best shape. The 200 free relay returns after taking 14th last year. Carter was 22.2, but the real power of the relay was Veronica Burchill‘s 21.8 and Fa’amausili’s 22.4 leadoff. The last two spots probably come down to Carnevale (23.1), Hartman (22.9) or even Harnish (22.9 last year). Merrell returning to form would make this a potential A final relay.
The 400 free relay was 18th last year, with 48s from Burchill and Fa’amausili and a 49.1 from Harnish. A sneaky option to improve the relay would be the freshman Hartman, who has been 49.1 individually and might be able to muster up another 48. Straight 48s will probably get you into scoring range, though A final will probably require a 47 or better somewhere in there.
The 800 free relay was the highest scoring team for Georgia last year, and should be again. Harnish and Burchill can both be right around 1:44.0 or better, Harnish even with a leadoff. Luther went 1:45.9 last year, and there are no shortage of potential 1:45 legs, including 1:45.5 Stout and 1:45.7 McCann.
The medleys probably improve with Hartman slotted into the breaststroke legs. Luther should be able to hold serve with what Carter did last year on fly. They’ll have to get a little creative on free if they don’t want Burchill swimming all five relays – maybe using Harnish to anchor one and Burchill the other. Fa’amausili could be a good freestyle option, too, especially if Portia Brown passes her up in the backstrokes. We’ll bet that the addition of Hartman is enough to get both into the B final, though the 200 really has its work cut out for it after going 24th last year.
Things should look up significantly for Georgia this year, with a massive boost in “no senior” points (76) compared to what they scored individually last year (49). The rub is going to be the relays. If Georgia only scores 17 relay points again, like they did last year, then they’re probably not scoring enough to make the top 12.
On the other hand, the relays return most of their firepower, and even the loss of Carter is mitigated by the team’s deep fly and 200 free groups. Expect the bulk of the relays to get back to scoring range.
It’s clear UGA didn’t have a great NCAAs last year. A number of top talents were off their marks, and points were left on the table. That should bounce back – even after two pretty disappointing years, Georgia’s coaching staff has proven enough (including three national titles between 2013 and 2016) that we don’t doubt them to have the team ready to go, now that the cupboards are a little more stocked with talent.
In some ways, last year’s performance might have been the product of the extreme youth on the team. With a full NCAAs under their belts as a group (and with a huge addition like Hartman joining the roster), Georgia should be in much better shape to return to the top 10 this season.