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 2023 NCAA Championships. Follow along with the College Swimming Preview Channel. Want to read even more? Check out the latest edition of the SwimSwam magazine.
#3 Stanford Cardinal
Key Losses: Claire Curzan (51 NCAA points, 4 NCAA relays), Torri Huske (50 NCAA points, 4 NCAA relays), Taylor Ruck (20 NCAA points, 4 NCAA relays), Lucie Nordmann (3 NCAA points), Morgan Tankersley (2 NCAA points), Allie Raab (2 NCAA relays), Emma Wheal (1 NCAA relay)
Returning Fifth Years: None
Over the years, we’ve gone back and forth on how to project points, ranging from largely subjective rankings to more data-based grading criteria based on ‘projected returning points.’ We like being as objective as possible, but we’re going to stick with the approach we’ve adopted post-Covid. The grades will rely heavily on what swimmers actually did last year, but we’ll also give credit to returning swimmers or freshmen who have posted 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.
Also, keep in mind that we are publishing many of these previews before teams have posted finalized rosters. We’re making our assessments based on the best information we have available at the time of publication, but we reserve the right to make changes after publication based on any new information that may emerge regarding rosters. If that does happen, we’ll make certain to note the change.
Last season, the Cardinal took a big hit when NCAA Champion Regan Smith unexpectedly left Stanford to turn pro. However, they were able to defend their Pac-12 Championship and repeat a 3rd place finish at the NCAA Championships, as they were uplifted by arguably the best freshman class in the country—of course, headlined by Olympian Claire Curzan.
As expected, Curzan and sophomore Torri Huske led the charge, scoring 51 and 50 points respectively at NCAAs. Curzan was the 200 back national champion, while Huske scored runner-up finishes in the 200 IM and 100 free in addition to a 3rd place finish in the 100 fly. Redshirt senior Taylor Ruck also contributed to the trophy count, earning a title in the 200 free. Huske, Curzan, and Ruck led the charge on scoring and were mainstays on all the Stanford relays, but freshmen Lucy Bell, Charlotte Hook, and Kayla Wilson all racked up double-digit points. On the other hand, the Cardinal lost a lot of the points that they were projected to score because swimmers across several events were adding time from Pac-12s.
However, unlike 2022, the battle for second between Stanford and Texas wasn’t really close. In 2022, Texas beat Stanford by a narrow margin of six points, but this year, they beat them by 82 points. The Cardinal were also upset in the 800 free relay, which they had been heavily favored to win headed into NCAAs. They took second to Virginia in all the freestyle relays, and they also were fourth in the 400 medley relay and ninth in the 200-medley relay.
In their own conference, the Cardinal were dominant. At the 2023 Pac-12 Championships, they won by 458 points, with Huske, Ruck, and fifth-year Morgan Tankersley topping the team in scoring. They’ll have to enjoy their reign at the top of the Pac-12 while they can, because it’s only a matter of time before the conference ceases to exist.
Sprint Free: ★★★
Similar to most of the other event disciplines, Stanford has gotten considerably thinner in sprint freestyle. Without 2023 100 free NCAA runner-up Huske, 200 free NCAA champ Ruck, and 200 free ‘B’ finalist Tankersley, sophomore Wilson remains the only returning sprint free scorer from Stanford. That being said, the Cardinal still has a few contenders in this discipline that can score at NCAAs if they hit their full potential.
Arguably the best pure sprinter on this team is junior Amy Tang, who is the team’s fastest-returning 50 and 100 freestyler. She didn’t have the greatest NCAAs but set season-best times of 22.17 and 47.89 in the 50 and 100 free respectively at Pac-12s, with the latter time being fast enough to make the ‘B’ final at the 2023 NCAAs. However, Tang won’t be the fastest 50 freestyler at Stanford this season due to the arrival of freshman Lucy Thomas. Thomas might be better known as a breaststroker, but she recently set a 50 free PB of 21.89 that would also ‘B’ final at NCAAs and make her faster than any of her team’s returning swimmers.
Wilson also races the 100 free, but she swims up to the 200 and 500 free rather than down to the 50. Wilson had a breakout year last season, setting a personal best time of 1:42.90 to finish 4th overall in the 200 free—a finish that makes her one of just three returning ‘A’ finalists. She also finished 39th in the 100 free (48.86), though she holds a personal best of 48.21 that would have had her a few places away from scoring.
Meanwhile, names like junior Lillie Nordmann, sophomore Natalie Mannion, and junior Aurora Roghair aren’t exactly sprinters, but they all race the 200 free. Nordmann had an “off year” last season, finishing 17th in the 200 free (1:44.53) after taking 4th in 2022 with a personal best time of 1:42.63. If she’s on form this year, she could score double-digit points, but if she isn’t, she won’t bring anything to the table. She’s also capable of splitting a 47-point 100 free on a relay but opts to swim the 200 fly on day four instead. Roghair is more of a distance swimmer, but she still set a 200 free personal best time of 1:44.77 at NCAAs to miss scoring by 0.3 seconds. Mannion holds a best time of 1:44.88, but then added two seconds at NCAAs and was well away from scoring territory.
With the exception of Wilson and a 2022 Nordmann, Stanford doesn’t have the major players in sprint free that they used to have. However, if all the team’s sprint freestylers perform their best at NCAAs (which did not happen last year), they could squeeze in more points by virtue of several ‘B’ final appearances. And sometimes, in a tight team race, those points could be the difference. Even without Huske, Tankersley, and Ruck, the Cardinal still have a very deep 200 freestyler contingent—two 1:42s and two 1:44s is no joke and make for a top three 800 free relay if everyone is on form.
Though they only scored a singular point at NCAAs last year, Stanford’s 500 free group is actually relatively deep when firing on all cylinders—but like in sprint free, they lack any top contenders. They lose Tankersley, their fastest performer from last year, but return Roghair, who finished 30th at NCAAs but holds a best time 0f 4:39.77 that would have placed 11th at NCAAs. Mannion did score at NCAAs, placing 16th in a time of 4:41.31. However, her best time of 4:40.54 from prelims would have been good enough to place 12th. She saw major improvements in the 500 free last season, coming into Stanford with a personal best of 4:45.20 and then nearly dropping five seconds.
Wilson set a season-best of 4:42.45 to finish 32nd at NCAAs, but she has been as fast as 4:42.10. She’s still a little bit outside of scoring range, but only needs to drop just over a second to get there. Nordmann also raced the 500 free at NCAAs, but her best time of 4:43.22 doesn’t factor into scoring yet.
The Cardinal are a little bit thinner when it comes to the mile. Without Tankersley, Roghair, last year’s 17th-place finisher, is the team’s only returning NCAA qualifier in the event. She swam a time of 16:03.15 at NCAAs, but her personal best of 16:01.55 from Pac-12s would have been able to give her a few points.
Overall, Stanford isn’t going to score much in distance free. But if Roghair has a strong meet and can make the 500 free ‘A’ final while scoring in the mile and Mannion continues her upward trajectory in the 500 free, they will earn much-needed points for their team.
Let’s get straight to the point here: there is a very real possibility that the Cardinal will not score a single backstroke point next year at NCAAs.
Curzan, the defending 200 backstroke NCAA champ, is gone. Lucie Nordmann, a ‘B’ finalist in the 100 and 200 back, is gone as well. So is Ruck, who made the final in both backstrokes at the 2022 NCAAs. Alexandra Crisera, the next-fastest 100 backstroker last season behind Curzan, Huske, and Ruck, has also graduated. So that leaves only two swimmers on the team who even have a chance at swimming, let alone scoring, in backstroke on a national level.
The most promising candidate is Mannion. She was already a strong 200 backstroker out of high school but then took the event to the next level when she dropped over a second and set a best time of 1:53.08 in the event in a Pac-12s time trial her freshman season. Though she proceeded to add over a second at NCAAs, her personal best would have had her just 0.32 seconds away from scoring range. She also holds a 52.97 100 back best time from high school, but seems to be prioritizing the 200 free over the 100 back in college.
Sophomore Gigi Johnson is also an interesting prospect. She wasn’t an NCAA qualifier last season, but improved her best time in the 100 back from 53.92 to 52.77 at Pac-12s. Her 100 back time is still a few tenths away from NCAA qualification, but as the fastest returning 100 backstroker on the team, she might be brought to 2024 NCAAs even if she doesn’t qualify for the meet individually–there’s a strong chance she’ll be needed to lead off the medley relays.
Aside from Johnson and Mannion, Stanford doesn’t return any other swimmers who were under 53 seconds in the 100 back or under 1:57 in the 200 back.
Compared to years prior, Stanford backstroke has gotten considerably weaker. But that doesn’t mean they have no shot at making an impact—if Mannion just drops a bit more from her best time, she can score NCAA points. Meanwhile, Johnson has an opportunity to take on a big role for her team, which is something that she likely wouldn’t have been able to do if Curzan stayed.
The arrival of Thomas and her teammate Caroline Bricker, who are arguably the best freshman breaststroke 1-2 punch in the nation, comes at a very unfortunate time. In past years, Stanford has been strong in fly, free, and back, but weak in breaststroke. And now that they have the two best freshmen breaststrokers in the country, they lose all of their big pieces in the other three strokes.
If Thomas can maintain or improve the speed she had in high school, she will add a much-needed ‘A’ finals appearance to Stanford’s resume. Her best time of 58.65 was fast enough to finish 8th at the 2023 NCAAs—if she ends up finishing top eight at the 2024 NCAAs, she will be the first Stanford woman to do so since Sarah Haase placed 2ne in 2016. Thomas also has a strong 200 breast. Her best time of 2:09.16 makes her the second-fastest incoming freshman in the event behind Bricker, and is both faster than the 2023 NCAA cut line and less than a second off the ‘B’-finaling time.
While Thomas is the top 100 breaststroker in the freshman class, Bricker is the top 200 breaststroker. Her personal best of 2:08.01 would have been fast enough to ‘B’ final at the 2023 NCAAs, while her 100 breast personal best of 59.73 would have fallen right on the cut line.
Given Stanford’s lack of breaststroke depth in the past, it comes to no surprise that they don’t return a single NCAA qualifier in both the 100 and 200 breast—Allie Raab, a 2022 200 breast ‘B’ finalist who has been stepping up on Stanford’s breaststroke relays for the last two years, has graduated. But no worries. With Thomas and Bricker in the NCAA, Cardinal breaststroke is in good hands.
Obviously, 100 fly heavyweights Huske and Curzan are gone. But largely by virtue of the sophomore class, the Cardinal are expected to see some points and ‘A’ final appearances in the butterfly discipline.
Stanford returns both of their 2023 NCAA scorers from the 200 fly—Lillie Nordmann and sophomore Charlotte Hook, who finished 9th and 6th respectively at NCAAs. Hook has been as fast as 1:52.45 before, while Nordmann’s best time of 1:53.20 would have put her in the ‘A’ final (she went 1:54.29 in the 2023 NCAA prelims and finished tenth, while Hook barely made the ‘A” final in eighth). Sophomore Lucy Bell could also be a factor in the 200 fly. She finished 23rd at NCAAs in the event with a time of 1:55.84, but holds a best time of 1:53.73 (albeit, from an altitude meet in 2020) that would have made the ‘A’ final. She hasn’t broken 1:54 in nearly three years and seems to have shifted her focus toward the IMs, but one can hope. Even if she is a second off her best time, she’ll likely still be able to score.
The 100 fly, however, is a much weaker event for Stanford. Aside from Huske and Curzan, nobody on the team raced in the event at NCAAs. Bell went 51.89 in her senior year of high school, but did not swim the 100 fly at a championship meet her freshman season and had a season-best of 52.43. Hook has a 52.20 PB from 2020, but she also didn’t race the 100 fly at Pac-12s or NCAAs—and that’s not counting the 52.72 she time trialed at Pac-12s.
Johnson, who went 52.38 at Pac-12s, is the fastest returning 100 flyer on the team. However, she’s still over seventh-tenths off of the NCAA cut line in the 100 fly, which goes to show the weakness of Stanford’s 100 fly contingent right now.
Bricker is also a decent flyer, as she holds a best time of 52.66 in the 100 fly and a 200 fly best time of 1:55.66 which is under the 2023 NCAA cut line. However, the butterfly events conflict with the breaststroke events, so don’t expect her to race them at NCAAs—though she might be used as a lifeline on medley relays.
With three potential ‘A’ finalists, the 200 fly is arguably Stanford’s best event right now. In the 100 fly though, the team is on life support.
Not to sound like a broken record here, but Stanford’s IM group will also take a big hit without Huske, who was last year’s NCAA runner-up and also the second-fastest performer in history in the 200 IM. However, with returning NCAA scorers in both the 200 and 400 IM, Stanford fans still have a lot to look forward to when it comes to the IM discipline.
The team’s best returning IMer is arguably Bell. She finished 7th in the 400 IM at 2023 NCAAs, posting a personal best time of 4:05.56 in the ‘A’ final. She also went a 1:56.25 to finish 15th in the 200 IM ‘B’ final, but went a best time of 1:54.89 in prelims that would have placed 11th in finals. Her 14 individual points from scoring in both IMs make her the second-highest returning scorer from last year, only behind Wilson.
Stanford’s second returning IM scorer is junior Samantha Tadder, who broke 4:10 in the 400 IM for the first time since her junior year of high school to go 4:07.40 and finish 12th at NCAAs. She also went 1:57.86 in the 200 IM, finishing 40th. Prior to last season, Tadder had struggled to get near the form that she’d been in during high school, where she set her best times of 1:57.41 and 4:07.15 in the 200 IM and 400 IM. However, approaching them at 2023 NCAAs could give her the boost to finally get over her slump.
Both Hook and sophomore Sophie Duncan have promising best times in IM, but couldn’t quite produce them last season. Hook is like the antithesis of Bell—while Bell thrived in IM but struggled to replicate her high school fly times, Hook shined in fly but couldn’t do the same in IM. She holds best times of 1:54.79 and 4:06.43 in the 200 and 400 IM respectively, with the former being fast enough to ‘B’ final at the 2023 NCAAs and the latter being faster enough to ‘A’ final. However, she went 1:57.43 and 4:12.93 at NCAAs, which is far from scoring territory. In addition, she hasn’t broken 1:56 or 4:10 since 2021, so it’s hard to be confident in her rebounding to earn IM points this season.
Duncan didn’t qualify for NCAAs last season, posting a 400 IM season-best of 4:12.75 that was over a second off the invite time. However, her personal best of 4:09.80 from her junior year of high school would have qualified her comfortably and also put her just 0.19 seconds away from ‘B’ finaling. The same things said for Hook can be said for Duncan—we’re skeptical of whether she can return to top form, but she’s a contender if she does.
Stanford’s freshman breaststroke duo also happens to be very good at IM. Thomas’s 400 IM best time of 4:10.95 is under the 2023 NCAA cutline, but it’s unlikely that she’ll race the event at NCAAs with the 100 breast being on the same day. However, there’s a legitimate argument for Bricker to race both IMs at NCAAs. She’s been as fast as 1:57.91 (1:57.29 if her altitude-converted PB is counted) in the 200 IM and could race the event on day two, and has a 400 IM best time of 4:09.57 that would have scored at 2023 NCAAs. She’s probably better off swimming the 400 IM over the 100 breast at NCAAs, considering that her 100 breast time would have barely qualified her for the meet.
Don’t forget about sophomore Jamie Brennan, a transfer from Northwestern. She qualified for NCAAs by clocking a 1:56.87 200 IM at the Purdue Last Chance meet last March, and will add to Stanford’s Arsenal in the IM discipline.
IM is the discipline where Stanford has the most possible NCAA scorers—more names were mentioned in this category than in any other category. However, in order for them to live up to their full IM potential, names like Duncan, Hook, and Bricker have to be at least as fast as they were in high school, which seems to be a struggle for the team lately. However, the improvements of Bell and Tadder last season are a positive sign for the program.
Don’t expect Stanford diving to make that much of an impact at next year’s NCAAs, considering that their highest finish at last year’s meet was a 33rd place from junior Lauren Burch in the one-meter. However, they should be able to score points at Pac-12s.
At 2023 Pac-12s, Burch placed 6th in the one-meter, 8th in the ten-meter, and 8th in the three-meter to earn a total of 68 points, which made her the highest-scoring Stanford diver at the meet. Sophomore Emille Moore also contributed, scoring 20 points by virtue of an 11th-place finish in the three-meter.
Stanford does get hurt by the loss of Julia Wortman, who was 14th in the one-meter and 6th in the ten-meter at Pac-12s to earn 37 individual points.
Although we talk a lot about the loss of Huske, Ruck, and Curzan in the context of where Stanford stands in individual events, their absence will be felt most on relays. These three swimmers all raced on four different relays, and three out of Stanford’s five NCAA relays consisted of all three swimmers. They were largely responsible for the team’s three runner-up finishers and kept Stanford relays finishing no worse than ninth.
Without Huske, Ruck, and Curzan, Stanford relays will look a lot different this season, and they will be much more unpredictable.
Stanford’s 800 free relay is still in very strong shape. Two members of last year’s relay, Wilson and Nordmann, return, while Roghair and Mannion have 1:44-point flat start times that warrant them a place on the relay this year. It’s hard to envision them challenging Virginia and Texas for the top two, especially with Texas’s incoming freshman class, but they should still be good enough for a comfortable 3rd-place finish.
While the Cardinal’s 200 and 400 free relays likely won’t replicate their runner-up finishes from 2023, they should be well within scoring range. Tang was on both relays last year and will likely be needed again, and so will Wilson, who split 22.25/47.40 at Pac-12s last year.
Thomas is also a likely member of the 200 free relay with her sub-22 flat start speed, and Brennan is the team’s fastest 50 freestyler not named Tang, Wilson, and Thomas with her 22.06 split from last year. Meanwhile, Nordmann (48.21 split last year, but split 47.71 in 2022) and junior Anna Shaw (48.71 split last year) will be the next-best options for the 400 free relay.
Stanford Freestyle Relay Add-Ups (2022-23 Season-Bests):
|800 Free Relay||400 Free Relay||200 Free Relay|
|Kayla Wilson – 1:42.90 (fs)||Amy Tang – 47.89 (fs)||Lucy Thomas – 21.89 (fs)|
|Lillie Nordmann – 1:44.04 (s)||Kayla Wilson – 47.40 (s)||Amy Tang – 21.61 (s)|
|Aurora Roghair – 1:44.77 (fs)||Lillie Nordmann – 48.21 (s)||Kayla Wilson – 22.25 (s)|
|Natalie Mannion – 1:44.88 (fs)||Anna Shaw – 48.71 (fs)||Jamie Brennan – 22.06 (s)|
If Stanford’s 2022-23 season-bests in the 200/400/800 free relay are added up, they would have finished 3rd in the 800 free relay, 5th in the 400 free relay, and 11th in the 200 free relay at 2023 NCAAs if their own results from that meet were excluded. That’s a total of 70 NCAA points, which will be much needed if they want to remain in the top 10.
However, the 200 and 400 medley relays are where things get ugly. Adding Thomas on breaststroke will be an upgrade, and Tang/Wilson will be formidable anchors. However, there will be big holes in backstroke and butterfly.
Johnson will likely have to swim back, while Bricker is the team’s best option on the fly leg. Neither of them is great at stroke 50 events though—Johnson’s fastest 50 back time is 25.09, while Bricker’s fastest 50 fly PB is 24.82 from the opening of a 100 fly swim. This will bring problems to Stanford’s 200 medley relay, which was already their worst relay.
Stanford’s 400 medley relay add up with 2022-23 season-bests (Johnson – 52.77, Thomas – 58.65, Bricker – 52.66, Wilson – 47.40) is 3:31.48, which would have finished 14th at NCAAs last year if the team’s own results are excluded. However, the 200 medley relay has a good chance of not scoring entirely.
Overall, Stanford will have a top-tier 800 free relay, decent 400 and 200 free relays, and heavily weakened medley relays. That’s a decent balance, which will provide them will plenty of NCAA points even with Huske, Ruck, and Curzan gone.
Total Stars: 20/40
It’s been repeated many times throughout this article, but Stanford is not the team that it used to be. That’s evident through the star system—the team went from earning 28 stars at the beginning of last season to 20 stars this season.
However, by no means is Stanford a bad team. They have potential scorers in every single event except for the backstrokes and diving, three returning ‘A’ finalists, decent freestyle relays, and one of the deepest 200 free groups in the country. If the majority of the team can even be near their best times, the Cardinal can be a top-ten team this season.
That being said, the issue that many had with Stanford was the inability of many of their swimmers to improve or come close to their past times. Stars like Nordmann, Bell, Roghair and Hook (amongst others) would have had much higher NCAA point totals if they were anywhere near their personal bests, and it leaves us wondering what could have been.
This season, Stanford fans will witness a rebuilding season for the team that will be unlike what they’ve seen in the past. Their reign at the top of the NCAA will have ended, and they no longer have superstars who can contend for NCAA titles. However, they still boast strong swimmers in almost every event, and gain two of the best recruits in the country.
If anything, this season is about how well Stanford can do with what they have. If they perform, they will only get better next season with Huske returning and the addition of several strong recruits in the high school class of 2024.
Women’s 2023-24 College Preview Index
|Team||Sprint Free||Distance||Backstroke||Breaststroke||Butterfly||IM||Diving||Relays||Total Stars|
#3 Stanford Cardinal
|#4 Louisville Cardinals||★★★★½||★||★★||★||★★★★||★★★||★★★||★★★★½||23/40|
|#5 NC State Wolfpack||★★★||★★||★★★★½||★||★★★||★★★||★½||★★★★||22/40|
|#6 Ohio State Buckeyes||★★★★||★★||★★||★★★½||★★★||★★||★★||★★★★½||23/40|
|#7 Indiana Hoosiers||★★★||★★★★||★★||★★||★||★||★★★★★||★★★★||22/40|
|#8 Tennessee Volunteers||★★★||★★★★||★★★||★★★★||★★||★★||★||★★★||22/40|
|#9 Florida Gators||★★★||★★★★||★★||★★||★★||★★★★★||★||★★★★||23/40|
|#10 UNC Tar Heels||★||★||★★||★★||★★||★||★★★★||★★||15/40|
|#11 Cal Bears||★★||★★||★★★★||★||★★½||★★★½||★||★★★||19/40|
|#12 USC Trojans||★½||★★||★||★★★½||★★||★★||★★★||★★★||18/40|