Gator Women Continue Relay Progress, Tie With USC & Texas For NCAA Relay Qualification Lead

Midseason invites are over and we’re beginning to get a picture of how events might look at the 2024 NCAA Championships. And as relays are a big part of any collegiate championships, it’s time to get a look at what teams have already earned NCAA relay qualification status.

Related:

First, in case you don’t know–or need a quick refresher–here are the bullets on how schools can qualify relays for NCAAs.

How to Qualify Relays for NCAAs:

  • The easiest way to qualify relays for NCAAs is to hit an “A Cut” in a relay formally known as the “Qualifying Standard”.
  • Once a team has an ‘A’ cut in one relay, they can also enter all relays where they’ve earned the ‘B’ standard, formally known as a “Provisional Standard.”
  • Teams with four individual swimmers qualified can swim relay events in which they have at least a ‘B’ standard.
  • Relays are qualified “to the team”, not the individual swimmers which means teams can take whichever swimmers they want to use on the relay.
  • Teams must have at least one individual invite to send relays. For purposes of this article, we’ve assumed that all of the teams below will get an individual invite.

Why does this matter? Most importantly, the NCAA scoring structure values relays highly. Relays are worth double an individual event at NCAA Championships so for teams looking to place high in the standings, it’s important to have as many relays as possible qualified and in scoring position.

Beyond the scoring implications, qualifying relays for NCAAs is a mark of depth for any collegiate program, regardless of division. It means that the team is not just relying on one or two stars, they’ve got at least four swimmers contributing to the depth of a program.

At this point in the season (post-invitationals) the list of schools with at least one ‘A’ cut is all teams capable of finishing in the top 25. That speaks to the depth of their programs as they (likely) did not fully taper for midseason and therefore did not need to be fully rested to qualify a relay. Last year, 29 schools qualified at least one relay for women’s NCAAs. We’re only at 18 right now, so expect that number to rise after conferences.

Schools with 1+ 2023 NCAA ‘A’ Cut

School # of ‘A’ Cuts # of ‘B’ Cuts Total A’ Cut Event(s) B’ Cut Event(s)
Florida 5 0 5 200 FR, 400 FR, 800 FR, 200 MR, 400 MR
Texas 5 0 5 200 FR, 400 FR, 800 FR, 200 MR, 400 MR
USC 5 0 5 200 FR, 400 FR, 800 FR, 200 MR, 400 MR
Cal 4 1 5 200 FR, 400 FR, 200 MR, 400 MR 800 FR
Indiana 4 1 5 200 FR, 400 FR, 200 MR, 400 MR 800 FR
NC State 4 1 5 200 FR, 400 FR, 200 MR, 400 MR 800 FR
Ohio State 4 1 5 200 FR, 400 FR, 200 MR, 400 MR 800 FR
UVA 4 1 5 200 FR, 400 FR, 200 MR, 400 MR 800 FR
Wisconsin 3 2 5 400 FR, 800 FR, 400 MR 200 FR, 200 MR
Louisville 3 1 4 200 FR, 400 FR, 200 MR 400 MR
Tennessee 3 1 4 200 FR, 400 FR, 400 MR 200 MR
Michigan 2 3 5 200 FR, 400 FR 800 FR, 200 MR, 400 MR
Alabama 2 1 3 200 FR, 400 FR 400 MR
Georgia 2 1 3 400 FR, 800 FR 200 FR
Stanford 2 1 3 400 FR, 800 FR 400 MR
ASU 1 3 4 800 FR 400 FR, 400 MR
Texas A&M 1 2 3 400 MR 400 FR, 800 FR
Duke 1 1 2 400 MR 200 MR

Though the schools on the list are all concentrated in the Power 5, looking at the qualifications still tells us worthwhile things about a program’s strength.

Trending Up

One of the biggest things to pull from the list is which teams are trending upwards from last season and the big winners are Florida, USC, Cal, and Texas.

One of the big improvements the Florida women made last year was their relays. It was a large reason why they won their first SEC conference title since 2009 and they’ve only continued get better this season. They’ve added relay depth with known stars like Bella Sims and Izzy Ivey, but huge performances from breaststroker Molly Mayne and butterflyer Olivia Peoples have been crucial as well. Florida is one of three teams to already have all five NCAA ‘A’ cuts after only having two (and no ‘B’ cuts) after last midseason.

USC and Texas are the other two teams with all five ‘A’ cuts. USC’s resurgence has been one of the biggest talking points of the first half of the season and the fact that they’ve got all five ‘A’ cuts proves that they should be taken seriously. For Texas, the five ‘A’ cuts are less of a surprise; they had four at this point last season and are heavy favorites to repeat as national runners-up.

But getting the 200 free relay ‘A’ cut at midseason is huge for them. Sprinting has been their weak point for a few seasons but they seem to have remedied that thanks in large part to Grace Cooper‘s breakthrough this season. Their 1:26.31 at the Texas Hall of Fame Invite broke a five-year-old school record and Cooper broke the individual 50 free record leading off.

Cal is also beginning to see the benefits of their rebuild pay off. Adding coach Josh Huger, who worked with sprint stars like Jordan Crooks at Tennessee, has paid dividends for their relays so far. They’ve secured four ‘A’ cuts and a ‘B’ cut in the 800 free relay. They had all five relays qualified last year as well but with only two ‘A’ cuts. Already having four points to them being much more of a factor in March.

New Names on the Block

18 schools have qualified a relay so far, up three from this point in the 2022-23 season. UNC has not qualified a relay yet, giving us a total of four new schools that have gotten in on the action: Arizona State, Duke, Michigan, and Texas A&M.

It’s taken a while for the Sun Devil women to rebuild themselves. They’ve still got a ways to go before matching what their men’s team is doing, but they’ve shown serious signs of life this season thanks to a mix of both their returning stars and new faces. That depth is showing in their relays as well. For the first time since 2020, they’ve swum an NCAA relay ‘A’ cut courtesy of their 7:00.45 in the 800 free relay. They’ve also hit ‘B’ cuts in the 400 free and 400 medley relays.

Both Michigan and Duke put up strong performances at their midseason invites under first-year head coaches. You can see that reflected in their relay qualification too. Both teams qualified relays last year, but neither had done so by midseason. Now, under head coach Matt Bowe, Michigan has two ‘A’ cuts, including the 2nd fastest 400 free relay time in the NCAA (3:10.30). The Wolverines have secured ‘B’ cuts in the other three relays (800 free, 200 medley, 400 medley) which guarantees them a lane in all five relays.

Texas A&M and Duke both swam their relay ‘A’ cut in the 400 medley relay. Duke’s 3:31.33 performance was a new school record–one of many they took down at the NC State Invitational. In addition to their reliable star Sarah Foley, they’re also getting big value out of underclassmen like Ali Pfaff and Kaelyn Gridley, which goes back to out earlier point about how relay qualification is a barometer for a team’s depth.

Work to Do

Compared to last year, the Stanford women are the team that has lost the most. But that’s not exactly news–losing heavy hitters like Torri Huske, Claire Curzanand Taylor Ruck was always going to hurt their relays. The Stanford women have looked better than expected this season thanks to big performances from individual swimmers but that has not yet translated to their relays.

At this time last year they were the only school with all five ‘A’ cuts and lead the NCAA in the three freestyle relays. They’ve only hit two ‘A’ cuts this season: the 400 and 800 free relays. They DQed their ‘A’ 200 medley at midseason (1:36.45) which makes their stat line look grimmer than it actually is. But even with that factored in, their relay qualification status shows a team that has very different NCAA standing potential than it has for the last six years.

UNC and Alabama have also lost a lot of ground compared to last season. Like Stanford, neither team’s regression is that much of a surprise. Both teams lost major relay pieces; UNC graduated Grace Countie and Sophie Lindner while Alabama lost their three top NCAA scorers.

But to the Crimson Tide’s credit, their young sprinters are holding down the fort. Cadence VincentJada Scott, and Kailyn Winter have all been excellent for Alabama this season and are the big reason why they got two ‘A’ cut relays (200 free, 400 free).

2023-24 WOMEN’S POST-INVITE NCAA RELAY QUALIFICATION STATUS

Post-Invite NCAA Relay Qualification Status - 23-24 Women

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jeff
5 months ago

I’m curious now, has there ever been a school that made an A cut but had zero swimmers qualify individually?

jeff
Reply to  jeff
5 months ago

hm actually looking at the average split times to hit an A cut, that seems decently plausible. The team would need to average 22.3 / 48.53 / 1:45.23 to hit the freestyle relay A cut vs 22.15 / 48.37 / 1:45.31 to qualify individually at the past NCAAs.

So if you have 4 swimmers who average about a 22.6 flat start with none of them faster than 22.2 or who average a 48.8 flat start with none faster than 48.4, that would work

Dave Rollins
Reply to  jeff
5 months ago

That was us! A few years back our 200 free relay at FGCU got the A cut, with four ladies who were between 22.2 and 22.9, but none of them qualified individually.
At the time you needed an individual qualifier (any event) to bring an A cut relay. Thankfully, our top 200 flyer also qualified.
The relay finished 15th, those four ladies became All-Americans and it was a pretty cool experience.

PA Swammer
5 months ago

But I thought USC was terrible and Lea Mauer was one of the worst coaches in the NCAA?

Taa
Reply to  PA Swammer
5 months ago

As good as the womens team is doing the mens team is the exact opposite.

Mike
Reply to  Taa
5 months ago

Wasn’t that the case with ASU the previous couple of seasons? I know Bowman wasn’t getting the same comments that Maurer has been getting

IMO
Reply to  PA Swammer
5 months ago

Two really fast foreign freshman are making all the difference for the USC women. I’m not sure her coaching has anything to do with it at this point, but her recruiting skills for the non-US athletes are looking good right now.

JimSwim22
Reply to  IMO
5 months ago

U mean recruiting is an integral part of the head coach job? U don’t say

oxyswim
Reply to  IMO
5 months ago

Kozan had been largely stagnant for a long time and has gone some big best times this fall. Famous has dropped a ton of time this fall. Tuggle and Hodges are domestic newcomers who have only been on campus a few months and have gone bests as well. They have a couple international studs, but the team is more than that.

Nonrevhoofan
5 months ago

Virginia’s stand-up add-up is 6:52.75 (G Walsh, Canny, A Walsh, Gormsen). Not putting money on Gretchen swimming this at NCAAs, but they could sub in any of Nelson, Tiltmann, Parker, Howley and still be under 7 minutes.

Ervin
Reply to  Nonrevhoofan
5 months ago

Does anyone know their rational for not fielding a 800 free relay till ACC’s every year?

Swim Dad
Reply to  Ervin
5 months ago

Because if you have an A cut you can swim the event with a B cut so it is not a big deal.

Admin
Reply to  Ervin
5 months ago

UVa coach sent me a long list of reasons in response to your comment, but the only one he wanted on the record was “not doing it gets your entire team out an hour earlier on that night. Dinner earlier. Bed earlier.”

They’ll qualify it without a problem at ACCs, and because this is swimming and we only value one event a season, the scoring component didn’t matter.

Steve Nolan
Reply to  Braden Keith
5 months ago

Damn look how the mighty have fallen.

Braden Keith, Comment Intermediary.

swimgeek
Reply to  Nonrevhoofan
5 months ago

Nelson regularly goes 1:43 on this relay

About Sophie Kaufman

Sophie Kaufman

Sophie grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, which means yes, she does root for the Bruins, but try not to hold that against her. At 9, she joined her local club team because her best friend convinced her it would be fun. Shoulder surgery ended her competitive swimming days long ago, …

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