College Swimming Previews: #7 Michigan Women Combat Losses With Bevy of Sprinters

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

#7 MICHIGAN WOLVERINES

Key Losses: Maggie MacNeil (39 NCAA points), Olivia Carter (25.5 NCAA points), Victoria Kwan (NCAA Qualifier), Allie Klein (NCAA Qualifier – diving), Kaitlynn Sims (NCAA qualifier)

Key Additions: Katie Crom (Freshman – CA), Devon Kitchel (Freshman – IN), Brady Kendall (Freshman – MI), Malia Amuan (Freshman – MA)

Returning Fifth Years: None

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

Michigan had another strong showing in 2021-2022, finishing second at the 2022 Big Ten Championships and seventh at NCAAs. That came after a second place showing at the 2021 Big Tens and a sixth-place finish at the 2021 NCAAs. That being said, Michigan more or less held steady last season in terms of the team’s performance.

Sprint superstar Maggie MacNeil was just a tiny bit off her usual excellence at NCAAs this last season, finishing third in the 50 free and 100 fly, and 10th in the 100 free. MacNeil revealed later on that she slipped on the deck at NCAAs, sustaining a small fracture to her elbow, which would go a long way in explaining why her performances were just slightly off what she’d done in previous years.

Olivia Carter also had another strong NCAAs for the Wolverines, finishing second in the 200 fly and winning the ‘B’ final of the 100 fly (ninth place). MacNeil and Carter combined for 64.5 individual points at last year’s NCAAs.

While Michigan dropped from sixth at the 2021 NCAAs to seventh at the 2022 Championships, they performed a little better at the 2022 Big Ten Champs than they did in 2021. Michigan finished second behind Ohio State at both meets, however, they nearly cut the gap between themselves and Ohio State in half last season. The Wolverines also won six Big Ten titles last year, breaking the Big Ten Championships Records in three of them.

SPRINT FREE: 

The loss of Maggie MacNeil, who has opted to use her fifth year of NCAA eligibility at LSU under former Michigan coach Rick Bishop, is no doubt a massive blow to Michigan’s sprint group. MacNeil was an NCAA title contender in both the 50 and 100 free, a loss which would be huge for any program.

That being said, things are still looking good for the Wolverines sprinters this season. They return Lindsay Flynn, who had a phenomenal season last year as a freshman, posting the team’s #2 times in the 50 free (21.94) and 100 free (47.50). Flynn finished 11th in the 100 free at NCAAs last year, and her season and lifetime best of 47.50 also came at NCAAs, leading off Michigan’s 400 free relay, which tied for fourth. Importantly, Flynn’s 21.96 in the 50 is faster than it took to qualify for the ‘B’ final at NCAAs last year (21.99) and her 47.50 100 is faster than it took to qualify for the ‘A’ final (47.55).

Rising junior Claire Newman also had a solid season last year as a sophomore. Last season, Newman turned in top times of 22.17 in the 50 free and 48.43 in the 100 free, making her Michigan’s #3 performer in both events last season. Both those times are just off what it took to qualify for the ‘B’ final at NCAAs last year.

Michigan’s prospects in the sprint free events aren’t limited to Flynn and Newman, however. The Wolverines bring in a massive group of sprinters with this freshman class. In fact, it appears Michigan head coach Mike Bottom may be returning to his roots, as all eight freshmen in this class are fast in at least one of the sprint events. While none of these freshmen come in with times that are fast enough to score at NCAAs, many of them could get down to that range with typical freshman season time improvements.

The Wolverines bring in three freshmen who are already under 23 seconds in the 50 free. They’re led by Michigan native Brady Kendall, who grew up just outside of Ann Arbor, in Canton, MI. Kendall has been 22.63 in the 50, making her the fastest pure sprinter in Michigan’s freshman class. She’s not quite as elite in the 100 free, but still very solid, having swum a 50.75 before. Riley Francis is good in nearly all freestyle events, including a 22.80 50 free. Devon Kitchel has also been sub-23 before, coming in with a personal best of 22.97. It should be noted that it’s more likely Kitchel will be racing the 200 IM than the 50 free individually, however.

The 100 free has a number of bright spots as well, highlighted by Katie Crom, who has only been 23.11 in the 50 free but is a 48.64 in the 100. She’s the only freshman coming in who has been under 49 seconds before, however, Riley Francis has been 49.51, Devon Kitchel 49.72, and Malia Amuan 49.73.  Additionally, Ella Jo Piersma has a personal best of 50.04.

The 200 free is trickier, as it was Michigan’s weakest of the sprint free events last year. Megan Glass was the fastest 200 freestyler on the team last season, topping out at 1:44.87. She’s joined by Katii Tang (1:45.66) and Sophia Kudryashova (1:45.67), both of whom were under 1:46 last season as well.

None of the incoming freshmen are faster than Glass was last year, however there’s a ton of incoming depth there, which should at the very least be incredibly helpful at Big Tens. Riley Francis is the top newcomer, boasting a personal best of 1:46.84. Malia Amuan is 1:47.32, Katie Crom 1:47.57, and Ella Jo Piersma 1:47.69.

There’s another layer to the incoming sprint depth. Michigan has a pair of international freshmen coming in as well, who have never swum yards before. Christey Liang, a freshman from Canada, looks to be a huge contributor for the Wolverines. She has LCM personal bests of 26.09 in the 50 free, 55.98 in the 100 free, and 2:01.62 in the 200 free. While meters to yards conversions aren’t always the most accurate, Liang’s yards conversions come out to 22.78. 48.99, and 1:46.68.

Additionally, Victoria Bergeli out of the United Arab Emirates comes in boasting a 25.93 LCM 50 free, which converts to 22.63 in yards. She’s also a 57.37 LCM 100 freestyler, which comes in at 50.24 via the conversion.

DISTANCE FREE: 

If I could give this Michigan distance group 1.5 stars, I would. They have one swimmer who is fast enough to score in the 500: Kathryn Ackerman, who swam a lifetime best of 4:40.00 as a sophomore last season. That time was swum at Big Tens last year, and had she matched it in prelims at NCAAs, she would have been 12th, solidly in the ‘B’ final.

Ackerman was the only Wolverine who had a time in NCAA scoring range in the 500 last season. Notably, Kaitlynn Sims has a personal best of 4:37.31 in the 500 free, which is well within ‘A’ finals contention at NCAAs. Sims will not be racing for the Wolverines this coming season.

Kathryn Shanley was the second fastest on the team last year as a freshman, swimming a 4:44.47.

Michigan doesn’t bring in any milers with this freshman class, though there are a few solid 500 freestylers. Katie Crom is a 4:44.39 in the event, while Riley Francis comes in at 4:49.49.

Leading the group last year was Kathryn Shanley, who swam a personal best of 16:10.40 as a freshman. Ackerman was right behind her in the team standings, swimming a 16:10.72. With a bit of improvement, Shanley and Ackerman could score at NCAAs, as it typically takes somewhere between 16:05-16:10 to break into the top 16.

All in all, this mile group has the potential to score multiple swimmers at NCAAs, but it’s definitely set up for a solid haul of points at Big Tens.

BACKSTROKE: 

The backstroke group took a hit losing Maggie MacNeil, who was the fastest 100 backstroker on the team with a 50.33 last season. However, MacNeil didn’t usually race the 100 back individually at championship meets, so the impact isn’t actually that great. Sophie Housey, the third-fastest 200 backstroker on the team last year (1:55.16), is also no longer on the team.

Casey Chung, a rising junior, was Michigan’s fastest 200 backstroker (1:54.62) and second-fastest 100 backstroker (52.53) last season. Chung won the ‘B’ final of the 100 back at Big Tens last season and finished sixth in the ‘B’ final. She didn’t qualify for NCAAs, however.

Mariella Venter and Noelle Kaufmann were 1:55.20 and 1:55.73 in the 200 back last year, respectively, and return to the team this season. Both women competed in the ‘B’ final of the event at Big Tens last season.

Michigan is getting a bit of a boost with this freshman class, particularly in the 200 back. Malia Amuan comes in with a personal best of 1:56.71 in the 200 back, while Devon Kitchel is a 1:57.09. Riley Francis also comes in under 2:00 in the 200 back, having a lifetime best of 1:59.75.

Amuan is a 54.71 100 backstroker as well.

BREASTSTROKE: 

There isn’t too much to say about this breaststroke group, not because it isn’t good, but because it’s small. This is easily the team’s thinnest discipline this season. Michigan had 12 swimmers who raced the 100 breast at least once last season, though only swimmer raced the event at Big Tens. That swimmer was Letitia Sim, who had a fantastic freshman season, getting down to 58.34 in the 100 breast and 2:08.19 in the 200. Both of those times came at NCAAs, where she finished 10th in the ‘B’ final after swimming a 59.24 in prelims, and was 18th in the 200.

Sim was great at Big Tens, taking third in the 100 breast and sixth in the 200. Though Michigan only had a single 100 breaststroker in Sim, Claire Donan swam the 200 breast at Big Tens, where she won the ‘C’ final in 2:13.56.

The group is getting a boost from incoming freshman Devon Kitchel, who enters her first year with the Wolverines as a 1:00.53 100 breaststroker. If she can dip under 1:00 this season, she should be down in NCAA scoring range as well.

BUTTERFLY: 

The Michigan fly group took quite a hit, losing their only two sub-2:00 200 flyers from last season. Olivia Carter, who won the NCAA title in the event in 2021 and finished second last year, and Victoria Kwan, who was an NCAA qualifier and swam a 1:55.56 last season, have both graduated and are no longer on the team. The fastest returner from last season is Megan Glass, who swam a 2:00.01 at Big Tens last year.

Thankfully for the Wolverines, incoming freshman Katie Crom has a lifetime best of 1:56.00, which is just off what it takes to qualify for NCAAs in the event. That being said, Crom is also a 48.64 100 freestyler, so there’s no guarantee she’ll race the 200 fly at championships meets in college.

Although the Wolverines also lost their top 2 100 flyers from last season in Maggie MacNeil (49.18) and Olivia Carter (50.82), they’re in better shape in that event than the 200. Noelle Kaufmann is the fastest returning team member in the event, having swum a 52.73 last season.

Additionally, Michigan is bringing in a number of 100 flyers with this freshman class. Katie Crom is the fastest incoming freshman, boasting a personal best of 52.82. That time would have been fast enough for 11th in prelims of the 100 fly at Big Tens last year.

Notably, Devon Kitchel comes in with a 52.85 in the event, though we don’t know if she’ll be racing the 100 fly or the 100 breast this season. With the number of other freshmen 100 flyers in this class, coupled with the lack of breaststrokers on the team, it would seem more likely that Kitchel will be on breaststroke duty, at least this season.

Brady Kendall is the next fastest incoming freshman, having a lifetime best of 53.35 in the 100 fly. She’s followed closely by Malia Amuan (53.21) and Ella Jo Piersma (53.43). Victoria Bergeli hasn’t raced in yards before, but she comes in with a personal best of 1:02.30 in the LCM 100 fly.

IM: 

Michigan was a little thin, particularly in the 400 IM last season, but they add a few IMers with this freshman class.. This is a discipline where losses weren’t a huge factor. The Wolverines do lose Olivia Carter, who was the team’s second-fastest 200 IMer last season (1:56.09), and Victoria Kwan, who was the third-fastest (1:56.80), but they bring in some more talent to replace them with this freshman class.

Letitia Sim was the fastest 200 IMer on the team last season, swimming a 1:55.99. Claire Donan swam her season best of 1:58.63 at Big Tens last season, finishing second in the ‘C’ final.

Devon Kitchel is the top addition to the team, coming in with a 1:56.39 in the 200 IM. That sets her up nicely to make an impact in her freshman season. Katie Crom has also been under 2:00 before, boasting a personal best of 1:59.59. Malia Amuan is close to breaking 2:00 as well, entering the NCAA with a personal best of 2:01.17.

In the 400 IM, Kathryn Ackerman led the team in 4:07.38 last year. Kwan was the second-fastest swimmer on the team and the only other swimmer under 4:10 (4:09.51). Crom is the fastest newcomer to the team, having a personal best of 4:15.34. Importantly, Ackerman has a personal best of 4:05.58 in the event.

DIVING: 

Michigan diving lost their top springboard performer last year in Allie Klein, who in her senior season finished 32nd in 1-meter and 45th at 3-meter at NCAAs. They do retain their top platform diver, however, as Lucy Hogan was 24th at NCAAs last year and is returning for her senior season this year.

They bring in freshman Kiarra Milligan from Australia, who has medaled previously at a FINA Diving Grand Prix. As a freshman last season, Evie Johnson was a ‘B’ finalist in 3-meter diving at Big Tens, narrowly missing out on qualifying for NCAA Zones in the event. She was also 19th in 1-meter.

 RELAYS: 

The loss of Maggie MacNeil will probably be felt most in the relays. MacNeil was not only one of the fastest sprint freestylers in the history of the NCAA, she’s also been leading off Michigan’s medley relay as fast as almost anyone in the NCAA. Additionally, MacNeil was swimming backstroke on the medley relays, leaving fly duties to Olivia Carter, who, while primarily a 200 flyer, was able to throw down excellent 50 and 100 splits as well.

Since the Wolverines are now down two of their medley legs, arguably their best two legs at that, let’s start with the medley relays. As things stand now, it looks like Casey Chung will be taking over the backstroke duties. Chung is a good 200 backstroker, but her lifetime best of 52.53 in the 100 back is a significant step down from MacNeil, who led off a relay in 49.76 once. Chung has been 24.83 in the 50 back, which again is well off MacNeil’s 23.02 lead-off split. It’s possible one of the incoming freshman, like Devon Kitchel for example, could provide a faster leg for the 200 medley relay, but right now, Chung looks like the best bet in the 400 medley for sure.

Replacing Carter’s fly leg will be difficult as well, but it’s not quite the hit losing MacNeil on backstroke is. Noelle Kaufmann was 52.73 individually last year, while freshmen Katie Crom (52.82), Devon Kitchel (52.85), Malia Amuan (53.21), Brady Kendall (53.35) and Ella Jo Piersma (53.43) all provide a lot of promise in the event. Between all those swimmers, the chances seem high one could break through and have a great season. For one of them to get down to 50-point like Carter will be a challenge, but someone could at least get close.

Letitia Sim appears set to resume her breaststroke duties, which is a great thing for Michigan. Sim is able to provide competitive splits at all levels, helping to buoy these medley relays. Lindsay Flynn was great for Michigan all season last year on relays. Even without more improvement, we can expect mid 21 splits on the 200 medley and 47-low splits on the 400 medley relay out of Flynn.

It’s unlikely Michigan is able to get back down to 1:34/3:27 in the medley relays this season, but they could possibly remain in NCAA scoring range if the freshmen pull through.

Losing MacNeil is of course a hit to the free relays as well, but with all the sprinters Michigan is bringing in, the hit doesn’t look as bad as it does on the medley relays. MacNeil is one of the fastest sprinters the NCAA has ever seen, so let’s be clear: Michigan won’t be able to replace her. That being said, the sprint core still looks really good. For example, on the 200 free relay at NCAAs last year, MacNeil (21.15) and Carter (22.29) were both racing, helping the team to a seventh-place finish. Lindsay Flynn and Claire Donan remain from that team. MacNeil’s split can’t be replicated, but Carter’s absolutely can. If Flynn and Donan are able to improve over last year, and one of the freshmen can better Carter’s split, Michigan could end up close to where they were in the relay last year.

Michigan was strongest in the 400 free relay last year, finishing fourth at NCAAs. That relay also featured both MacNeil and Carter. At NCAAs, MacNeil swam a 46.80 on the third leg, while Carter anchored in 47.81. Incoming freshman Katie Crom looks like a great fit here, as she’s already been 48,64 in the individual 100 free before entering college. Like the 200 free relay, Flynn, who led off in a lifetime best of 47.50 and Newman, who split 47.84 on the second leg, will both be returning this year and hopefully can improve on those splits.

The 800 free relay didn’t score at NCAAs last year and lost two of the legs: Victoria Kwan and Carter. The good news is the Wolverines have a number of incoming freshmen who are in the 1:46-1:47 range who should be able to help that relay stay under 7:00 again this year.

Total Stars: 15/40

2022-2023 OUTLOOK 

There’s no denying that this team suffered significant losses between Maggie MacNeil and Olivia Carter. The duo accounted for 64.5 out of Michigan’s 77.5 individual points at NCAAs last year. The loss of those two will also hamper the relays a bit, there’s just no getting around that.

That being said, Michigan brings in a very intriguing class of freshmen. It’s very sprint heavy, which should help to keep the relays buoyed, which is critical when we talk about team placement at NCAAs, and should provide them with a ton of depth in those events at Big Tens.

The roster has its holes, like very few breaststrokers and a lack of real backstroke and fly star power, but it still looks well-built all things considered. Have they done enough with the roster to reclaim the Big Ten title from Ohio State? It seems  unlikely at this moment, although they definitely look primed for another top 3 finish along with the Buckeyes and Indiana.

As far as NCAAs go, it will probably be tough for Michigan to retain its seventh-place finish from last year. However, if they’re able to score in all 5 relays, and one or two freshmen break out, they have a real shot at finishing in the top 10 again.

Women’s Preview Index

Team Sprint Free Distance Free Backstroke Breaststroke Butterfly IM Diving Relays Total Stars
1
2
3
4
5
6
#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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Mike
3 months ago

pure speculation here. I see Michigan no higher than tenth!

Coach MM
3 months ago

What happened to the Brazilian Olympian that was committed?

Noah
Reply to  Coach MM
3 months ago

She’s class of ‘27. A SR in high school right now.

Admin
Reply to  Coach MM
3 months ago

Class of 2023.

The Brazilian school year ends in December rather than May/June, so it’s common to see Brazilians start NCAA swimming a year later than Americans would (though it’s only a semester after they finish high school). She turns 18 later this month, so in fall 2023 would start college just shy of her 19th birthday.

Sherry Smit
3 months ago

Katie Crom seems to have had a career change from the 200 fly/400 IM to more of the 100 Free and 100 Fly. She’s really dropped a lot in the short course 100 free this season, and I honestly can see her doing this over the 200 fly. Her PB in the 200 fly comes from 2018.

user1049
3 months ago

Heard from a coach kaitlyn is in the transfer portal

maximum mchuge
3 months ago

Brady bout to be the Tom Brady of the pool, mark my words.