Earlier this week, the final rankings for the boys’ and girls’ high school class of 2023 were revealed, and two recruits in this class made history in a big way.
In these newly-published rankings, Navy commit Ben Irwin and UC San Diego commit Asia Kozan were (coincidentally) ranked 14th respectively in their respective recruiting classes. With Navy being a part of the Patriot League and UCSD being a part of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF), these two swimmers became the first non-Ivy League mid-major commits in history to get ranked as a top 20 recruit by SwimSwam—and this accounts for all of the swimmers that SwimSwam had ranked as either sophomores, juniors, or seniors since they first debuted their high school recruit rankings back in 2013.
Although the class of 2023 had already been ranked twice in the past, it was only this year that Irwin and Kozan were able to make history, as Irwin was initially committed to Georgia Tech (a power five program) when he was ranked #17 overall as a junior (he did not re-commit to Navy until January 2023) and Kozan did not appear in any rankings as a junior or sophomore.
So, why are Irwin and Kozan’s milestones significant?
Swimming, like most other Division I sports, has always been dominated by Power Five schools. The only small exceptions to this are Ivy League schools (Harvard, Princeton, and Penn in particular), which attract top swim recruits for their academic prestige. However, beyond Ivies, it’s very rare to see mid-majors see success at the very highest level of NCAA swimming. To put things into perspective, a non-Ivy League mid-major male swimmer hasn’t won an individual NCAA title since Cincinatti’s Josh Schneider did back in 2010. On the women’s side, it was SMU’s Flavia Rigamonti who was the last non-Ivy mid-major NCAA title winner when she pulled off the feat in 2005.
Irwin and Kozan’s commitment to non-Ivy mid-major schools aren’t just significant because of the lack of historical success these schools have seen compared to Power Five/Ivy League programs. It’s the fact that they chose to commit to these programs as high schoolers. Many of the NCAA’s top mid-major swimmers currently such as Towson’s Brian Benzing, Akron’s Maddy Gatrall, and Miami-Ohio’s Nicole Maier didn’t get super fast until college—the reality is that most Non-Ivy mid-major success at a DI level is a product of a swimmer not being quick enough to get recruited by top programs as a high schooler, but then seeing massive drops as they got older and decided to still with their team because they didn’t want to transfer. For top recruits like Irwin and Kozan to decide on going to a Non-Ivy mid-major program out of high school shows trust in these programs to help them get faster throughout college even if these programs don’t have a big brand.
The above mantra holds especially true for Irwin, who decided on Navy even though he was capable of competing for and even initially committed to a Power Five school like Georgia Tech. Kozan is a bit of a different situation, considering that she didn’t really come into her own until late her senior year, which was way past national signing day. But either way, smaller programs like Navy and UCSD to be taking the nation’s coveted recruits as high schoolers is a big, big, deal.
At their respective schools, Irwin and Kozan will have immediate impact. Irwin’s 200 back time is faster than the Navy team record, while Kozan’s 100 free, 200 free, 200 fly, 200 IM, and 400 IM times are all faster than the UCSD team records. In addition, with her 400 IM time being fast enough to ‘B’ final at 2023 NCAAs, Kozan has an opportunity to become the first Triton to compete at and score in the DI NCAA Championships when UCSD completes it’s full transition to DI in the fall of 2024 (UCSD’s Katja Pavicevic qualified for NCAAs in 2023, but was not eligible to compete as the school was still in a transition from DII to DI).
Kozan’s Best Times:
- 400 IM: 4:07.27
- 200 IM: 1:57.60
- 200 free: 1:45.80
- 100 free: 48.58
- 200 fly: 1:56.93
- 100 fly: 54.15
Irwin’s Best Times:
- 200 back: 1:41.86
- 100 back: 46.31
- 100 fly: 46.82
- 200 fly: 1:43.68
- 50 free: 19.99
- 100 free: 44.54
- 200 free: 1:36.59
Every year, we always say to not count out swimmers from programs that aren’t traditional powerhouses. Now that non-Ivy mid-major schools are recruiting some of the top high schoolers in the country, that saying just became even more true.