After a one-year hiatus due to the uncertainty surrounding the 2020-2021 season, our college previews are back! We’ll be previewing the 2021-2022 seasons for the top 12 men’s and women’s programs from the 2021 NCAA Division I Championships – stay tuned to our College Swimming Previews channel to catch all 24.
#8 Georgia Bulldogs
Key Additions: #10 Rachel Stege (IL – free), HM Abby McCulloh (GA – free), Mia Abruzzo (PA – IM/fly), Elsa Fretz (IN – free), Lily Gardner (OR – free/fly), Angharad Evans (GBR – breast), Eboni McCarty (AL – free/back), Dune Coetzee (RSA – free), Peyton Palsha (Arkansas transfer – free/IM), Mary Martin (IA – breast)
Fifth-Years: Danielle Della Torre (3 NCAA Points, 2 NCAA Relays), Gabi Fa’amausili (4 NCAA Relays)
Two 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.
The Georgia Bulldog women saw a turn-around after their shock 18th-place finish at the 2019 NCAA championships, boosting up to placing 8th at the most recent NCAA championships. Stepping up for the Bulldogs to earn three A-final swims, including a national runner-up finish in the 200 IM, was sophomore Zoie Hartman. At the 2021 SEC Championships, Hartman was also a three-time champion in the 200 IM and both breaststroke events.
Giving her last hurrah for Georgia with two NCAA A-final appearances and the SEC 500 free title was senior Courtney Harnish. Along with Harnish, two more seniors, Gabi Fa’Amausili and Danielle Della Torre, were instrumental to the majority of Georgia’s NCAA relays, which all scored. Della Torre was also a B-finalist in the 200 breast. A fourth senior, Olivia Anderson, had also picked up some solid individual points in the 1650 free. While Harnish and Anderson graduated, both Fa’Amausili and Della Torre will be returning to the roster for a fifth year, keeping a few crucial relay spots intact.
Standing out for the freshmen was Maxine Parker, picking up a pair of 12th-place finishes in the sprint free events as well as contributing to a number of relays. Junior Dakota Luther was the sixth Bulldog to score at NCAAs, finishing a valiant third in the 200 fly.
Georgia is set to welcome a big incoming class of 16 newcomers, but will certainly need the guidance of these strong upperclassmen.
SPRINT FREE: ★★★
Maxine Parker, now a sophomore, headlines the Georgia women’s sprint crew with a sub-22 50 free and sub-48 100 free. At SECs, Parker was a 47.75 in the 100 free, which could have placed in the A-final if she had replicated that time. Nonetheless, Parker looks to be in a great position to improve upon her NCAA swims now that her debut season is in the books.
Fifth-year Gabi Fa’Amausili returns with a strong 22.09 in the 50 at SECs last season, but couldn’t repeat that at NCAAs. She also was 49-low at SECs, but did not swim that event at NCAAs. Fa’Amausili is more known for her relay contributions, however, has a rare opportunity to better her own performances with this fifth-year decision.
The strongest gains from the newcomers’ side include 22.6-capable Eboni McCarty and 22.7-capable Elsa Fretz, who can also put together 49.4 in the 100 free. In due time, one or both of these freshmen could see improvements that near Parker’s standards.
As for the 200 free, transferring from Arkansas is Peyton Palsha, who is a 1:45.2-capable swimmer on top of her distance free talent (more on that shortly). Freshman Dune Coetzee of South Africa has been 2:00 in the LCM pool, translating to roughly 1:45.8, another sub-1:46 addition for the 200 free squad. Both women’s times would have placed in the top 16 at NCAAs. Lily Gardner (1:46.2) and Fretz (1:46.6) are more incoming options for SEC scoring and/or potential NCAA scoring along with returner Sloane Reinstein (1:46.26 at SECs).
DISTANCE FREE: ★★
Peyton Palsha‘s transfer in from Arkansas could not have come at a better time for the Bulldogs as they lose SEC champion and two-time NCAA finalist Courtney Harnish from the distance free crew. At the 2021 SEC Championships, Palsha swam 4:38.97 to place third behind Harnish in the 500 free. Palsha also broke 16:00 in the 1650 free (15:58.42) to again place third. At NCAAs, Palsha was unable to repeat her sub-4:40 500 free but did place 12th in the 1650 free at 16:09.26.
On a different note, No. 10 class recruit Rachel Stege has been as fast as 4:40 in the 500 free, which is the fastest of all incoming NCAA freshmen this season, as well as 16:21 in the mile. Pending if Stege can either better her times or at least replicate her bests at the NCAA Championships, Georgia could see an influx of distance free points.
At the same time, fellow newcomer Abby McCulloh has been sub-16:10 in the 1650 free before and 4:41.5 in the 500 free. Both swimmers have the potential to find themselves in NCAA scoring position in these events. Joining the duo in the distance crew will be South Africa’s Dune Coetzee, whose best SCM 400 time of 4:07.9 translates to 4:43.3 in the SCY 500 free, another scoring potential.
Fifth-year Gabi Fa’Amausili went sub-53 at SECs to place sixth, but would not have even made the B-final at NCAAs if she had swum the event at the championships.
Similarly, Maddie Homovich won the SEC 200 back B-final with a 1:54.28, yet would not have made the B-final if she had repeated her time at NCAAs. Along with Homovich, Portia Brown and Sammie Burchill were way off their 200 back SEC times.
On a different note, freshman Eboni McCarty should be a great training addition for this group as she comes in with a 53.5-strong 100 back best.
Returning for her third season will be double breaststroke SEC champion Zoie Hartman. At SECs, Hartman was a fast 57.4 in the 100 breast and 2:05.0 in the 200 breast. Even with one second-plus time gains in each swim, Hartman was able to place in both A-finals at NCAAs. Her 58.25 in the 100 breast was good enough for sixth at NCAAs.
During the back-half of her career, Danielle Della Torre broke 1:00 for the first time in the 100 breast, putting her in NCAA scoring position for the first time. As a junior, during the cut-off 2019-2020 season, Della Torre was in top-8 contention along with Hartman in the 100 breast. Last season Della Torre missed NCAA finals in the 100 breast, however, she did manage a 14th-place finish in the 200 breast at 2:08.34.
Dakota Luther put up a 1:52.04 to win the SEC 200 fly title, as well as 52.3 in the 100 to secure another SEC A-final. Despite missing NCAA finals in the 100 fly, her 52.19 led the roster’s swims. Luther was second runner-up in the 200 fly at 1:53.01, however, bringing in key points.
South African newcomer Dune Coetzee owns a 2:10.89 LCM best in the 200 fly, converting down to 1:55.39, which is right on the bubble of NCAA scoring potential. Coetzee’s incoming 200 fly time will help push the paces of upperclassmen Tatum Smith and Callie Dickinson, who scored at SECs but underperformed at NCAAs.
The 2021 national runner-up in the 200 IM was Zoie Hartman, clocking in a statement 1:53.34 swim. She also went 1:53-mid at SECs, giving her another conference title. Placing fourth at SECs was Danielle Della Torre at 1:55.74, which could have placed in the A-final at NCAAs if she had repeated that time.
Doubling up the distance, Arkansas transfer Peyton Palsha was fifth in the 400 IM (4:08.42) at 2021 SECs, but did not swim it at NCAAs. Palsha’s addition to the long IM squad is still beneficial, though, since Callie Dickinson has also been at that 4:10-range and could find her own benefit training with Palsha.
Newcomer Mia Abruzzo is a solid 4:10 in the 400 IM as well, which is just outside of NCAA top-16 scoring. She has also been sub-2:00 in the 200 IM, which can be improved upon training with this experienced IM group. Mary Martin is another 200 IM addition, bringing in a quiet 2:02.96 best that could eventually go sub-2:00 with quality Bulldog training.
The quintet of Bulldog divers saw three qualify for the 2021 Zones rounds, but none advanced to NCAAs. There are four seniors in this group, but again, none have qualified for NCAAs. With this weak diving group, the Bulldogs will need to place more emphasis everywhere else to make up for these lost diving points.
The Bulldogs saw all five of their relays score at 2021 NCAAs, with their 800 free relay finishing fifth and 400 free relay placing seventh for All-American status. Gabi Fa’Amausili and Danielle Della Torre were on the majority of those relays and both will be making her fifth-year return to the Bulldogs’ benefit. Meanwhile, their 200 free relay finished 11th with only one sub-22 split, thanks to Fa’Aumausili.
Maxine Parker and Zoie Hartman were key members on those higher-placing freestyle relays, with Hartman blasting a 1:42.89 anchor on the 800 free relay as Parker remains the point-freestyler. Sub-1:46 team additions Peyton Palsha and Dune Coetzee will be great power-ups for Georgia’s 800 free relay, but there’s other relays that could use all the help they can get.
Their 400 medley relay took 11th as well, but will be looking to fill graduated senior Courtney Harnish‘s 52-mid butterfly leg. Fa’Amausili will be able to return her 53.0 backstroke lead-off leg on the 400 medley relay, as will 58-mid breaststroker Zoie Hartman and sub-48 freestyler Parker.
The Bulldogs’ weakest relay is their 200 medley relay, which placed 14th overall. Fa’Amusili (24.34) and Della Torre (26.86) will return their back/breast legs, yet the Bulldogs will still have to search for a replacement for Harnish’s 24-low butterfly leg. Dakota Luther has been 52-flat in the 100 before, making her the best candidate by far to take over the sprint fly legs.
Georgia has a great opportunity to stay within top-10 contention at NCAAs with the likes of some power swimmers who can score massive points placing in the event championship final. The squad will be able to retain the majority of their NCAA relays with two fifth-years returning, yet will need to work their large incoming class to get their times up with some of their experienced upperclassmen counter-parts.