College Swimming Previews: Relay Strength Bolsters The #9 Ohio State Women

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

#9 OHIO STATE BUCKEYES

Key Losses: Emily Crane (3 NCAA relays), Kristen Romano (18 NCAA points, 1 NCAA relay), Sally Tafuto (NCAA qualifier), Katie Trace (NCAA qualifier)

Key Additions: honorable mention Lucy Malys (MI — distance free), Felicia Pasadyn (Harvard transfer — back/IM),  Sanna Peterson (VA — distance free), Jessica Eden (OH — IM), Lena Hentschel (Germany — Diving)

GRADING CRITERIA

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.

2021-22 LOOKBACK

Riding on their depth, the Ohio State women took home their third straight Big Ten title in a row last year. They scored 1303 points, beating runners-up Michigan by 118 points and further proved their dominance on a conference level.

At Big Tens, the Buckeyes were led by sophomore Amy Fulmer, who emerged as the team’s next sprinting star at the meet. She broke the 22, 48, and 1:44-second barriers in the 50, 100 and 200 free for the first time, taking first in the latter event and second in the former two. Also getting individual titles were senior Kristen Romano and junior Hannah Bach, who won the 200 IM and 100 breast events respectively.

Ohio State managed to crush Big Tens despite only having three individual event winners, largely due to the fact that they had won three out of the five contested relays. That trend of relay strength continued into NCAAs, where their third-place finish in the 200 medley relay and their fourth-place finish in the 200 free relay were their highest placings from the entire meet.

Individually, Bach and Romano were the only Buckeyes to score double-digit individual points, as Bach scored 13 points and Romano scored 18. In addition, Bach was their only swimmer to make an ‘A’ final.

Overall, Ohio State was ninth at 2022 NCAAs with 165 total points, two steps down from their seventh-place finish in 2021 where they scored 215.5 points and had their best NCAA showing in program history.

SPRINT FREE: ★★★

With how good their sprint relays are, you’d expect us to rate Ohio State sprint freestyle a little higher than three stars. And yes, it’s true that senior Amy Fulmer is a relay monster, having split as fast as 20.98 in the 50 free off a flying start. However, the Buckeyes just aren’t as strong individually. They only scored 9 points across the sprint freestyle events at NCAAs last year—an 11th place finish from Fulmer in the 50 free and 14th place finish from junior Katherine Zenick in the 100 free.

In this situation, Ohio State’s sprint free is rated three stars—but there’s a lot of untapped potential.

In both the 50 and 100 free, Ohio State should be led by Fulmer and Zenick. Fulmer has lifetime bests of 21.71/47.46 while Zenick has been as fast as 21.91/47.40. But the thing is, none of those best times were set in their individual NCAA finals, where going personal bests matter the most. Had they swum those times at NCAAs, both of them would have made the A-final in the 100 free, and Fulmer and Zenick would have made the A and B final respectively in the 50. This is a duo that could very well combine for 20+ points instead of just 13, and it’s just a matter of what they can do on the big stage.

Fulmer also comes into the college season with a lot of long course success from this summer, going best times in the 50/100 free and 100 back at U.S. Nationals (including a massive 54.57 time in the 100 free) and getting selected for the U.S. Duel in the Pool team. Making an international team is a huge boost of confidence for NCAA swimmers, and sometimes will be followed by major time drops in yards (for example, Kate Douglass and Alex Walsh last year).

The potential extends beyond the very top swimmers as well. Especially in the 50 free, Ohio State has sophomores Teresa Ivan and Nyah Funderburke, who improved as freshmen and have best times of 22.23 and 22.40 respectively. In fact, Funderburke dropped over a second from her high school best time of 23.49 last year. In the 100 free, Ivan was the third-fastest on the team behind Fulmer and Zenick, holding a best time of 48.48. If both Ivan and Funderburke can improve off their freshmen campaigns from last year, they could possibly contribute a few more sprinting points for their team.

Ohio State will hurt from the loss of 22.71/48.78 sprint freestyler Emily Crane, but their depth is still good enough without her.

However, the 200 free is where Ohio State is lagging behind. Fulmer has a best time of 1:43.46 from leading off the 800 free relay at Big Tens last year, but she didn’t swim the event individually in order to be on all five relays. If she opts to do the same this year, the Buckeyes could potentially have zero NCAA scorers in the event. The next-fastest Buckeye in the event is actually Harvard transfer Felicia Pasadyn, who has been as fast as 1:45.31. She’s going to be a useful piece of the 800 free relay, but she’s far from NCAA scoring range and probably won’t swim the event individually.

DISTANCE FREE: ★★★

The distance free at Ohio State is going to see a major improvement from last year, because most of their incoming freshmen specialize in the discipline. The biggest one coming in is SwimSwam High School Class of 2022 honorable mention Lucy Malys, who goes 4:42.55 in the 500 free, 9:39.58 in the 1000 free, and 16:09.22 in the 1650 free—with all of her best times being set in the spring of 2021. Both her 500 and 1650 time would have placed 22nd in the prelims at NCAAs last year, which is just a little slightly out of scoring range. If she hits her times from last year, she should fill in the shoes of graduated swimmer Sally Tafuto, who didn’t score last year but has been as fast as 4:39.58/16:07.36 and put up 21 individual points at 2021 NCAAs.

Joining Malys in the 2022 recruiting class is Sanna Peterson, who is a 4:47.23/9:49.84/16:25.95 freestyler and adds to the team’s distance free depth.

Rising junior Maya Geringer is Ohio State’s only returning distance free scorer, who went a best time of 15:59.82 to finish ninth in the 1650 free last year. In addition, her best time of 4:39.55 in the 500 free, which was set at Big Tens, would have finished 10th in the 500 free NCAA prelims. She had massive improvements in both events, dropping nearly 5 seconds in the 500 and 12 seconds in the 1650. With Geringer having final-worthy times and Malys closely approaching, the Buckeyes could be in to store for a lot more distance free points than they did last year.

BACKSTROKE: ★★

Ohio State backstroke is going to be hit hard by the graduation of Emily Crane and Kristen Romano, who both had major contributions to the team last year in the 100/200 back. Crane finished fourth in the 100 at Big Tens, and went 51.79 leading off the 400 medley relay—which would have earned herself a ‘B’ final a NCAAs. Romano didn’t race any backstroke events at championship meets last year, but has been as fast as 1:52.86 in the 200 back, a time that also would have put her in NCAA scoring contention.

Now, the Buckeyes will be led by two swimmers in the backstrokes: Nyah Funderburke in the 100 and Felicia Pasadyn in the 200.

Funderburke turned heads at last year’s Big Ten meet, where she was entered in as an exhibition swimmer in the 100 back but ended up swimming a time of 51.67, which was the fastest time in prelims and would have taken second in finals. That time was over a second drop from her previous best time of 52.92, which was set when she was in high school. She later went on to improve even more at NCAAs, tying for 16th in prelims. And although she missed the ‘B’ final at that meet by losing a swim-off to Sophie Lindner, she set a best time of 51.55, which makes her the only returning Buckeye underneath the 52-second barrier.

Pasadyn was last year’s 200 back Ivy League champion, who later went on to finish 28th at NCAAs in a time of 1:54.02. However, she has been as fast as 1:52.56 before, a time that was set at the 2020 Ivy League Championships. That meet took place weeks before competitive swimming shut down due to COVID-19 and the Ivy League cancelled the 2020-21 season, which likely left Pasadyn out of the pool for a longer period of time compared to more swimmers. After a NCAA berth last year and two straight seasons of continuous swimming, this season could be Pasadyn’s opportunity to get back into 200 back scoring territory.

Other Ohio State backstrokers on the cusp of making an impact include junior Tristian Harrison, who set a best time of 52.73 in the 100 back at the CSCAA National Invite and goes 1:54.04 in the 200 back (just 0.02 seconds off Pasadyn’s 2022 NCAA time), as well as Big Ten 100/200 back B-finalist and junior Morgan Kraus, who has been as fast as 52.86/1:54.27. There’s also Fulmer, who went a best time of 59.87 in the long course 100 back at Nationals this summer, but isn’t quite there in yards. If she begins to swim the 100 back at more major collegiate meets instead of her usual freestyle lineup, we could see her improving a lot from her best time of 53.40 that was set back in 2020.

BREASTROKE: ★★★

Now that her 200 breast has caught up a little bit to her 50/100 breast speed, senior Hannah Bach is single-handedly capable of bringing Ohio State’s breaststroke ratings to three stars.

In the 2020-21 season, Bach was an elite sprint breaststroker, but her abilities in the 200 (like many sprint breaststrokers) just were not there. However, that’s a different story now, as she dropped her best time from a 2:10.98 to a 2:07.40 in the event and ended up finishing third at 2022 Big Tens. She was a bit slower at NCAAs, finishing 26th in a time of 2:09.02 (her PB would have placed 13th), but that doesn’t take away from the fact that she now has national-level scoring potential in not one but two events.

Bach also set a best time in the 100 breast, her premier event. She finished sixth at NCAAs in a time of 57.32, becoming the tenth-fastest performer of all time. With last year’s top breaststrokers like Sophie Hansson and Alexis Wenger (who both finished ahead of Bach in the 100 and 200 breast) graduating, Bach could have an opportunity to move up the rankings in her events and potentially score nearly 20 individual points for the Buckeyes.

But Ohio State breaststroke strength doesn’t stop with Bach. They also have senior Josie Panitz, who’s not much slower than Bach in the 200 breast and holds a best time of 2:07.97. In addition, she has also been as fast as 59.05 in the 100 breast. Having swum both of those times at Big Tens, Panitz didn’t score any points at NCAAs. However, her 100 breast PB would have tied for 13th at NCAAs, while her 200 breast would have also been 13th.

Also be on the lookout for 59.90/2:08.30 breaststroker and junior Janessa Matthews, who is almost there in terms of NCAA scoring.

BUTTERFLY: ★★

With only one swimmer capable of scoring at NCAAs, butterfly is Ohio State’s worst stroke.

Katherine Zenick, the swimmer that finished 13th at NCAAs in the 100 fly and holds a personal best of 51.35, looks to be the Buckeyes’ go-to butterflyer for the medley relays. Behind her is junior Catherine Russo, who clocked a 51.92 at the 2022 OSU Last Chance meet and would have tied for 22nd at NCAAs, which is just a few steps away from making a B-final.

And while Ohio State has a few potential scorers in the 100 fly, the 200 fly is where things become a problem. Kristen Romano and Katie Trace, the team’s two fastest swimmers in the event last year, have both graduated. The swimmer who came the closest to their shared season-best time of 1:55.12 last year was Morgan Kraus, who recorded a 1:57.04 at the 2022 CSCAA invite. The issue is that Kraus’ time was nearly a second slower than the NCAA qualifying mark last year, and Ohio State doesn’t have any incoming freshmen who are good at the 200 fly. So until the Buckeyes develop a 200 flyer that can actually make NCAAs (let alone score), they won’t be able to earn more than two stars in the butterfly discipline.

IM: ★★

This one has got to sting for Ohio State, because all 18 individual points scored by graduating seniors at NCAAs last year came in the IM events. Although Kristen Romano didn’t make any ‘A’ finals, she did win the ‘B’ finals in the 200 and 400 IM, and her time of 4:02.13 in the latter event would have been good enough for third. The graduating Katie Trace also went 4:06.79 last year, a time that would have scored at NCAAs. And while losing Romano and Trace is huge for the Buckeyes, fear no less, because their fastest new addition, Felicia Pasadyn, is also an IMer.

Pasadyn scored in the 400 IM at NCAAs last year, finishing 15th in a new personal best time of 4:08.29. She also set a season-best time of 1:57.36 to finished 35th in the 200 IM, although the fastest she’s been in that event is 1:55.88, a time she clocked at 2020 Ivies. She’s going to need to improve a bit more in order to make up for Romano’s loss, but this is a good starting point. After a year of training uninterrupted by COVID, we can hopefully see her return to 2020 form in the 200 IM so she can score across both IM events.

Aside from Pasadyn, both the 200 and 400 IM are relatively weak for Ohio State. In the 400 IM, the team has sophomore Krya Sommerstead, who clocked a 4:11.21 at the CSCAA Invite that would have been fast enough to qualify for NCAAs. However, she’s still far from scoring. Sophomore Mia Rankin has been as fast as 4:10.28 before, but that time was set back in high school and she hasn’t been near it since. It’s even worse in the 200 IM, where the Buckeyes don’t have anyone faster than the NCAA cut line (Panitz, the fastest returning 200 IMer, has a best time of 1;57.32 that was just a few tenths off the NCAA qualifying time of 1:56.86).

One thing going strongly for the Buckeyes in the IM is that their best non-distance free incoming freshman, Jessica Eden is an IMer. She goes 1:59.77 and 4:15.49 in the 200 IM and 400 IM respectively, times that are still a little far from NCAA qualification but would have made Big Ten ‘B’ finals.

DIVING: ★

Ohio State’s only diving scorer at Big Tens was Mackenzie Crawford, who finished sixth in the three-meter diving finals and 13th in the ten-meter finals.. She went on to compete in the same event at NCAAs, finishing 34th in the three-meter and 33rd in the one-meter, failing to make it out of prelims.

However, the Buckeyes are getting a new addition this year: 3-meter synchro 2020 Olympic bronze medalist Lena Hentschel. She’s untested on the collegiate scene, but if she can translate her international success to NCAA, she could have a huge impact on the team.

RELAYS: ★★★★

Out of the 165 points that Ohio State scored at NCAAs, 112 were from relays. They scored in all five relays and finished in the top eight for four of them, with their lowest finish coming from the 800 free relay where they placed 14th. Even with the loss of key relay piece Crane, every Ohio State relay aside from the 800 free relay should either remain the same or get stronger.

In fact, in the 200 medley relay, the Buckeyes could even have a chance of dethroning defending national champions Virginia—who will have their lineup thrown into disarray following the loss of sprint breaststroker Alexis Wenger. Why? Because they don’t have a single “weak” stroke. Hannah Bach is the second-fastest 50 breaststroker of all time, Katherine Zenick‘s 22.51 fly split at NCAAs beat out UVA flyer Lexi Cuomo by 0.21 seconds, and Fulmer can anchor in a 20-point freestyle leg. Swap out backstroker Emily Crane with Nyah Funderburke, a 51.55 100 backstroker who’s also good at 50 sprints, and you’ve got a relay where the sky’s the limit. Ohio State’s 1:33.16 time was a second slower than UVA last year and just 0.2 seconds off second-place finishers NC State, and 2023 could be their year to close the gap.

Funderburke-Bach-Zenick-Fulmer is a strong combo in the 400 medley relay, although their chances of a national title are slimmer here, as UVA is stronger in the 400 medley and other schools such as Stanford and Texas are competitive as well. They managed to finish eighth last year with Bach being nearly a second slower than her flat start best, so there’s a lot of wiggle room for success in this relay.

The 200 free relay is in relatively good shape as well, with Zenick, Fulmer, and Teresa Ivan all capable of splitting 21-point and 22.40 flat start 50 freestyler Funderburke once again being a strong replacement for Crane. Ohio State finished fourth in this race at NCAAs last year, and with most of their sprinters returning and improving, they will be a top contender once again this year.

The same can’t be said for the 400 free relay, where the Buckeyes will be hurt a bit more by Crane’s absence. They barely squeaked into the top eight last year with a Zenick-Fulmer-Crane-Ivan lineup, with Crane’s 48.49 being the slowest leg on the team. That being said, there’s nobody on the team with a flat start time within a second of Crane’s split. Unfortunately, Funderburke isn’t as good as the 100 as she is in the 50, holding a best time of 49.85 in the former event. The fastest returning Buckeye not on the 400 free relay last year was Catherine Russo, who has been as 49.53. That’s not enough for us to trust that she can go over a second faster on a relay start, so look to see Ohio State moving down a few spots in this relay even with Fulmer, Zenick, and Ivan returning.

The relay that is going to downgrade the most from last year is the 800 free relay, which was already their weakest relay. Fulmer happened to be their fastest leg at 2022 NCAAs over half a second (off a flat start), but is she even going to swim this relay next year? It falls on the same night as the 200 medley relay, where the Buckeyes have a legit shot at a national title, so she could be putting all her energy in that race. Plus, she had to give up an individual event to swim on all five relays, so if she decides to swim three individuals this year, the 800 free relay would probably be the first she’d give up.

Aside from Fulmer, Zenick (who also swam on five relays), Kristen Romano and Katie Trace were on last year’s NCAAs 800 free relay. Romano and Trace are gone now, so Pasadyn and one of the distance-swimmer freshmen (Sanna Peterson or Lucy Malys) could probably take their place—although neither Peterson nor Malys have been faster than 1:48 in the 200 free, and clearly trend towards longer-distance events.

Total Stars: 22/40

2022-23 Outlook

Ohio State didn’t get too many strong recruits this year, and Kristen Romano, their top NCAA scorer from last year, is graduating. But despite that, this team is one that has several stars and a ton of potential.

They should earn the four-peat as Big Ten Champions again, with their rivals Michigan losing big stars like Maggie MacNeil and Olivia Carter.

Seniors Hannah Bach, Amy Fulmer, and incoming transfer Felicia Pasadyn will lead as three of the team’s top swimmers. Katherine Zenick, Teresa Ivan, and Nyah Funderburke add depth in sprinting and stroke events, while Geringer and Malys can score in the distance events. If the Buckeyes can keep their relay momentum and have all their stars performing their best at NCAAs, they could move up into seventh or sixth—potentially beating out their best-ever finish from 2021.

The main issue that Ohio State had last year was an inability to peak at the most important meet, as many of their best swimmers (Fulmer, Zenick, Geringer, etc.) missed finals in individual events at NCAAs because they added substantial time from Big Tens. For example, although Fulmer only scored 6 individual points at NCAAs, her Big Ten times would have given her 22. And while it’s sometimes hard for swimmers to do well at both conferences and nationals, this seems to be a prevalent issue amongst several Ohio State swimmers (and just Big Ten Sshools in general).

With their strength in relays and depth, it’s hard to believe that this is a team who only had one individual NCAA A-finalist last year. If the Buckeyes can figure this whole peaking thing out, they could be a much, much, better team than they are now.

That being said, these predictions are all based off swimming results, and don’t take into account the crazy summer Ohio State had coaching-wise. While head coach Bill Dorenkott returns, there will be a completely new assistant coaching staff. Former associate head coach Dorsey-Tierney Walker left in May 2022, Matt Bowe got hired as an assistant coach for the Cal men’s team, and Bryson Tansel joined Louisville as an associate head coach. These three will be replaced by newly-hired assistant coaches Ignacio Gayo, Brain Schrader and recently graduated swimmer Katie Trace. In addition, Mike Hulme was also promoted to associate head coach this summer.

A new coaching staff will considerably change the environment of the team, which could affect results in a positive or negative way. And while we don’t know what the exactly mpact of this new staff is going to be just yet, it’s going to be something to take into account when making predictions.

Women’s Preview Index

Team Sprint Free Distance Free Backstroke Breaststroke Butterfly IM Diving Relays Total Stars
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
#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
2 months ago

Obviously OSU will be very competitive but look for Indiana to dethrone them as BIG champions.

Oldmanswimmer
2 months ago

Your assessment of incoming 200 fly times seems to miss Lucy Malys who has been 1:57.+ in the 200 fly and 2:16 LC.

maximum mchuge
2 months ago

Hate to say they look good but they do

NotimeforTTUN
2 months ago

OSU women are set up to have their best season yet. Relays are king at the NCAA, and they have been the women’s calling card these past 2 seasons. Amy Fulmer has been developed and has come into her own! She is primed for a great senior season after this LC summer! The women have other contributing studs like Bach, Zenick, Pasadyn etc AND now they’ve landed an elite level diver too! They look good for another conference championship title and potentially their best NCAA finish in program history! Go Bucks!

Mike
Reply to  NotimeforTTUN
2 months ago

Their sprint relays are excellent but I’m not sure they have the depth in the individual medleys, the 200 back and the butterfly strokes to make it four in a row. Their 800 free relay will take a few steps backward. They have some young distance freestylers but the young swimmers are usually a crap shoot the first year.

B1G Fan
2 months ago

Diving is underrated. In part, because the article claims no new divers have been added to the roster. Not true.

https://swimswam.com/olympic-medalist-diver-lena-hentschel-set-to-join-ohio-state-this-fall/

oxyswim
2 months ago

No one is going to dethrone UVA in the 200 medley. They’ll slide Alex into BR, put Kate on fly, then pick who’s looked better b/n Cuomo and Parker for the anchor.

poolboy
Reply to  oxyswim
2 months ago

UVA’s problem will be deciding who to put on which leg. They have so much depth already and have some strong transfers who might really benefit from a change in training. As is always the case with relays, it’s going to come down to who shows up and gets it done when it matters.

Yaboi
2 months ago

Look to see their already strong relays step up to another level under incoming sprint coach Ignacio Gayo- turned Northwestern’s women’s team relays into a serious strength under his coaching, and is sure to do the same at Ohio State.

oxyswim
Reply to  Yaboi
2 months ago

He did a great job with the northwestern sprinters, but sprinting was already a strength of this team under Bowe. Assuming they’ll take a big step forward is silly.

swammer
Reply to  Yaboi
2 months ago

Coach Bowe and Coach Tansel are the reason why Ohio State sprint is doing so well, if anything coach Ignacio Gayo will just ride that wave.

About Yanyan Li

Yanyan Li

Although Yanyan wasn't the greatest competitive swimmer, she learned more about the sport of swimming through scoring countless dual meets, being a timer, and keeping track of her teammates' best times for three years as a team manager. She eventually ventured into the realm of writing and joined SwimSwam in …

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