Huske, Douglass and MacNeil Seem Destined for 2022 NCAA Showdown

by Michael Hamann 44

January 12th, 2022 ACC, Big Ten, College, Pac-12

With just over two months to go until the NCAA Championships, there are several potential big storylines to follow. One of the more unique storylines to these championships is how several of the nation’s top swimmers seem primed to go head to head for the national title in March. 

While many of the nation’s top swimmers are versatile and can contend for the win in multiple events, the potential overlap this year seems notable, especially between Kate Douglass, Torri Huske, Maggie MacNeil and Regan Smith. Keeping in mind that each swimmer can elect to swim a maximum of three individual events (with four relays, 2 individuals if swimming five relays), four of the top swimmers in the nation, the true superstars of college swimming, will likely go head to head in multiple events in March. A few potential matchups include:

50 free: Torri Huske, Kate Douglass, Maggie MacNeil

100 fly: Torri Huske, Kate Douglass, Maggie MacNeil, Regan Smith

100 back: Maggie MacNeil, Regan Smith

100 free: Torri Huske, Kate Douglass, Maggie MacNeil

200 IM: Torri Huske, Kate Douglass

The intrigue comes when considering the entry limit and the versatility of each of these swimmers. The easiest event lineup to project is Stanford freshman Regan Smith, who could potentially opt for a 100 fly/back double, but seems much more likely to lock into both backstrokes and the 200 fly. The others, though, are harder to project and have several routes they could go down when picking their final events. The event lineup the others choose adds to the meet’s intrigue and may come down to coach strategy to maximize individual points. 

Kate Douglass– Virginia

2021 NCAA Results

  • 50 free: 1st
  • 100 fly: 2nd
  • 100 free: 2nd

2022 NCAA Ranks

  • 50 free: 1st
  • 100 free: 3rd
  • 100 fly: 7th
  • 200 IM: 1st
  • 200 breast: 1st

We’ll start with Virginia junior Kate Douglass, perhaps the most versatile swimmer on this list. 

Last year, Douglass swam the 50 free, 100 fly and 100 free, taking the title in the 50 and finishing as runner-up to Michigan’s Maggie MacNeil in both the 100 fly and 100 free. 

This season, Douglass holds the top time in the nation in 3 events, two of which she didn’t even swim at NCAAs last year: the 50 free, 200 breast and 200 IM. She also sits at 3rd in the 100 free and 7th in the 100 fly, though her 100 fly time comes from UVA dual meet with Cal in October as she did not swim the event at the Tennessee Invite. 

In projecting her event lineup, the 50 free and 200 IM sit back to back, as do the 100 free and 200 breast, so it is highly unlikely she does a double on either day. With freshman sprinter Gretchen Walsh now in the fold, don’t be surprised if Douglass drops one or both of the sprint freestyles in favor of the 200 IM or 200 breast. 

Maggie MacNeil– Michigan

2021 NCAA Results: 

  • 50 free: 2nd
  • 100 fly: 1st
  • 100 free: 1st

2022 NCAA Ranks

  • 50 free: 2nd
  • 100 free: 1st
  • 100 back: 3rd
  • 100 fly: 1st

Michigan’s Maggie MacNeil is perhaps the most versatile sprint talent the NCAA has seen since Natalie Coughlin, being the SCM World Record holder in the 50 back, the fastest woman in history in the SCY 100 fly and the defending NCAA champion in the 100 free. The 100 fly Olympic gold medalist seems destined for a showdown in any event she chooses, as Douglass and Huske potentially await her in the 50 free, 100 fly and 100 free and Olympic bronze medalist and former World Record holder Regan Smith sits with the top time in the 100 back. 

The interesting question for MacNeil is does she stick with her 2021 lineup, or does she attempt to double on day 3 with both the 100 back and 100 fly? If she chooses to double, does she drop the 50 free or the 100 free? 

Currently, Michigan has Lindsay Flynn projecting to score in the 50 free and 100 free and Olivia Carter projected to score in the 100 fly, while MacNeil is the Wolverines’ only projected 100 back scorer. Given Michigan’s depth in the sprint frees and fly, don’t be shocked if MacNeil opts to challenge Smith in the 100 back, though choosing an event to drop is a challenge. 

Torri Huske– Stanford

2022 NCAA Ranks

  • 50 free: 3rd
  • 100 free: 2nd
  • 200 free: 2nd
  • 100 fly: 3rd
  • 200 IM: 2nd

Torri Huske has made a huge splash in her first semester on The Farm, posting national top 3 times in five different events. Coming off of breaking the LCM American Record in the 100 fly this summer, Huske has demonstrated her versatility this fall with all five of her top rankings coming at the NC State Invite. 

Her 200 free time came as the leadoff leg of Stanford’s 800 free relay and overlaps with the 100 fly on day 3 of NCAAs, so she seems likely to opt towards her signature event on that day. Her second day events are more interesting though, as she would have to choose between the 200 IM and 50 free. Regardless of her choice she seems likely to have a showdown with either MacNeil, Douglass or UVA Olympian and 200 IM defending champion Alex Walsh. Her final day event seems locked into the 100 free based on her early season results, though she could also opt for the 200 fly, where her lifetime best of 1:53.71 would put her in the mix for an A final appearance. 

The “A Beautiful Mind” Scenario in the 50 free:

In a nod to the 2001 movie about the economic theory known as “Nash Equilibrium” in Game Theory, there is a realistic scenario that the 50 free becomes completely wide open and features no showdown between these swimmers at all. Douglass could opt to let teammate Gretchen Walsh handle sprint duties for Virginia and swims the 200 IM instead, while Huske seeks to avoid a showdown in the oftentimes unpredictable splash and dash and favors her higher ranked 200 IM. Meanwhile, MacNeil continues to ride her backstroke wave and opts to swim the 100 back/fly double on day 3 and defend her NCAA title in the 100 free. 

Prediction: 

Douglass: 50 free, 100 fly, 200 breast

My bet with Douglass is based almost purely on UVA’s roster and lineup. One of the biggest strategies college coaches employ is trying maximize 8th and 16th place prelim finishes and minimize 9th and 17th place finishes. 

With that in mind, UVA had both Alex Walsh and Ella Nelson in the A final of the 200 IM last year, with Walsh winning and Nelson finishing 5th in the final. Considering all four swimmers ahead of Nelson return, and adding in freshmen Ellen Walshe and Torri Huske, along with the potential of Izzy Ivey swimming the IM (she did not contest it last year but holds the 3rd fastest time in the nation this season), having Douglass swim the IM would put Nelson squarely on the bubble of making the A final. Meanwhile in the 50, UVA has to be confident that Gretchen Walsh will make the A final even with Douglass swimming. 

Douglass’ third day pick of the 100 fly seems to be a no-brainer, as she is by far UVA’s best 100 flyer and is her best event on the day. For the final day, Douglass holds the top time in the nation by over a second and a half in the 200 breast. Passing up a likely event win in favor of a showdown with Huske and/or MacNeil in the 100 free doesn’t make a ton of sense. 

Huske: 200 IM, 100 fly, 100 free

My bet is Huske opts for the IM over the 50. Despite her sprint freestyle speed, she was the fourth place finisher at Wave II Trials this past summer in the 200 IM and was only a second off of making the US Olympic team in the event. She also will likely be Stanford’s only scorer in the event, while Anya Goeders and Emma Wheal both have scoring potential in the 50 for the Cardinal. On day 3 I bet she opts to attack the 100 fly over the 200 free, partially to avoid “crowding out” teammates Taylor Ruck and Lillie Nordmann from finals swims. She also opts to focus on the 100 free on the final day over the 200 fly, opting to let Regan Smith and Lillie Nordmann handle the 200 fly. 

MacNeil: 100 fly, 100 back, 100 free

MacNeil is the fastest 100 SCY flyer in history and the defending world and Olympic champion, so that is a no brainer. My bet is that she will drop the 50 free in favor of the 100 back, pitting her 50 meter World Record speed against Regan Smith’s 200 meter World Record endurance. She also chooses to defend her title in the 100 free as opposed to trying to unseat Douglass in the 50. 

Smith: 100 back, 200 back, 200 fly

As alluded to in the beginning, my bet is that Smith goes 100 back, 200 back and 200 fly. She should be the favorite to win all three, with lifetime bests of 49.16 in the 100 back, 1:47.16 in the 200 back and 1:49.78 in the 200 fly, with both backstroke races being the fastest of all time and the 200 fly sitting second all time, only behind former Stanford swimmer Ella Eastin. While she also owns a blistering 49.88 in the 100 fly, it doesn’t make much sense to swim a race where she could conceivably go a best time and finish fourth, while matching her best in the 200 fly would all but guarantee a win. The 200 back/200 fly double is extremely tough, especially considering she will likely also swim on Stanford’s 400 free relay, but Smith is as prepared as anyone to tackle it. 

In This Story

44
Leave a Reply

Subscribe
Notify of
44 Comments
oldest
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Joe
3 days ago

You think Regan will do the 200 fly/back double?

Ferb
Reply to  Joe
3 days ago

I think she’ll crush the 200 fly/back double, setting new American records in both.

There's no doubt that he's tightening up
Reply to  Joe
3 days ago

I think she has enough margin for error to pull it off.

Not sure what the turnaround time at NCAAs is like, nor how well Regan can handle a double, but similar situations have been handled reasonably well by top swimmers in the past.

Most recently Zhang Yufei with 1:55 relay split in the 4×2 relay about an hour after going 2:03.8 in the 200 fly comes to mind. MP did the same (200 fly, hour rest, 4×200 free) four times in Olympics: 1:46/1:43 lead offs, 1:44/1:45 relay splits after 1:54/1:52/1:53/1:53 in the 200 fly.

Lochte twice swam the 200 IM Olympic final half an hour after the 200 back final, each time going about a second… Read more »

Coleman Hodges(@colemanhodges)
Admin

Yeah but that’s all at major international meets, which are 8 days. At NCAAs, you have 7 sessions and Regan would have 9-10 swims (3 individuals prelims/finals + 800 and medley relays for sure, which will all be timed finals). SO by the time she gets to the last night (2back/2fly double) she’d have 7 swims on her body in 72 hours, and then have to manage a 200 back and 200 fly, her 2nd of each on the day.

I do not see this as a viable option. The NCAA meet is just too taxing, physical and emotionally, esp if Stanford is in the hunt for a title. Every time we’ve seen someone try a double on the last… Read more »

Entgegen
Reply to  Coleman Hodges
3 days ago

Could Smith doing the double at US Open and crushing it be a sign for what to come at NCAAs???

oxyswim
Reply to  Coleman Hodges
3 days ago

Regan did the dirty double at the NC State invite and went times that would have been second in both events at NCs last year. That was with 2 500s on the first day and the 800 FR relay the night before.

You give her the 2 relays the first day, maybe 1 50 the second day, 3 100s the 3rd day and she’ll be just fine. Won’t go a best time in the 200 fly, but she doesn’t need to in order to win.

At the mid-season invite she even turned around after 4x200s and put together a 48.0 leg on a 400 FR relay.

We’ve never seen a swimmer who was world record holder in one 200… Read more »

MCH
Reply to  Coleman Hodges
3 days ago

Coleman – Teresa Crippen would like to have a word with you.

Braden Keith(@braden)
Admin
Reply to  MCH
3 days ago

Teresa was a great swimmer no doubt. And she did a nasty double at NCAAs. But I almost think she validates Coleman’s point. In her senior year, when she had 3 relays to swim versus just one, she wasn’t nearly as good in the double.

As a freshman, she didn’t final on the second leg of the double. Her sophomore NCAAs was her most successful, where she went best times in both races. Her drop from SECs in the 200 fly was much, much smaller than her drop in the 200 back, though (I think the time gap at a co-ed meet is bigger, though I guess I don’t know whether NCAAs was slowed down enough that year to make… Read more »

MCH
Reply to  Braden Keith
3 days ago

Braden – I don’t remember the year or the specifics, but UF needed Crippen to step up on that double. She did and they won the title.

Ferb
Reply to  Coleman Hodges
3 days ago

The flaw in your argument is that we are talking about Regan Smith.

James Beam
Reply to  Joe
3 days ago

if she does the 2 fly 2 back same day double, I wonder if this will make the powers that be re-evaluate what events are on what day for future NCAA meets…Does anyone recall the last time the event order was changed at NCAA’s?

Braden Keith(@braden)
Admin
Reply to  James Beam
3 days ago

I have no idea when the last change was, but, I would think at this point, the only way to change the event order was to expand more individual races into that 4th day.

I can’t see a better way to do it in the current 3.5 day format – and I’ve spent a lot of time trying.

jim
Reply to  Braden Keith
1 day ago

consideration of adding 1 day. Making it a 4.5 day format. Why not? International competition operates longer meets…why can’t the NCAA? Not asking for 8 days, but adding 1 could really soften the tough double days.

Braden Keith(@braden)
Admin
Reply to  jim
1 day ago

School would be the biggest reason.
Cost would be the next-biggest reason.

Less pragmatically, though I’m sure the NCAA doesn’t view it this way, but there becomes a point where stretching a meet out hurts its marketability. We can see how interest wanes in a meet as it gets longer on our traffic. I’m not sure what the breaking point would be for NCAAs, but at some point there would be an imapct.

snarky
Reply to  Joe
3 days ago

You’re overthinking it Michael,

The NCAA meet is all about energy economics. Most of these swimmers are running on fumes by March having rested and/or shaved for conference (I don’t buy the “unrested/unshaved” claims we hear every year regarding those top swimmers at conference who put up lights out times to which the peanut gallery makes unrealistic predictions for NCAA’s). And where the top swimmers could cruise prelims swims at conference, they can’t at NCAA’s. That means all prelims swims (both individual and relays) are close to full throttle. Doubling up, especially on Day 3, is just not a smart idea at the end of a long meet and the entire season.

As for Regan, I’m betting 500 free… Read more »

oxyswim
Reply to  snarky
3 days ago

Saying Regan will easily be 4:34 seems too optimistic after 4:43 at mid-season. And if you’re talking about conserving energy, 2 500s on the second day is not a small thing to take on, particularly when your ideal scenario of a 3 second pb has her likely getting 4th.

Can’t think of a scenario where a coach asked the American record holder and WR holder in an event to not swim it for the benefit of the team.

Ferb
Reply to  oxyswim
3 days ago

Teri McKeever in Missy Franklin’s freshman year?

oxyswim
Reply to  Ferb
3 days ago

Forgot about that one, but she wasn’t also American record holder in yards when she didn’t swim it. Her teammate was also the American & US Open record holder, as well as defending champ.

Ledecky will go 3:55 in Paris
Reply to  oxyswim
3 days ago

Plus stanfords got Forde in the 500

Ledecky will go 3:55 in Paris
Reply to  Ledecky will go 3:55 in Paris
3 days ago

^^ my point is, they wouldn’t waste regan in an event that she is relatively weak and unpredictable in (compared to backstroke and fly) when they already have a top 3 contender in that event

Steve Nolan
Reply to  Joe
3 days ago

I had this same question after reading this line early in the post:

The easiest event lineup to project is Stanford freshman Regan Smith, who could potentially opt for a 100 fly/back double, but seems much more likely to lock into both backstrokes and the 200 fly.

“Wait, aren’t the 200s also a double?” (I did see it was mentioned as a double in the last line of the post tho!)

She’s too big a favorite in both 200s to swim elsewhere.

Swammer
Reply to  Joe
3 days ago

I can see her pulling off wins in both, but after a day like that putting her on the 400 free relay would be a huge risk. I think she tries her hand with this double and doesn’t swim the relay

wow
3 days ago

Huske should strongly consider 200 Free

Last edited 3 days ago by wow
Ledecky will go 3:55 in Paris
Reply to  wow
3 days ago

Shed be so good at the event, perhaps a title contender compared to the fly where she has a high chance of placing second to MacNeil

I was upset that she scratched it at worlds, hopefully we see her swimming it more because I could see her going 1:41 or 1:40

snarky
Reply to  wow
3 days ago

Lia Thomas 1:41.93. That would create some front-page news.

Ledecky will go 3:55 in Paris
Reply to  snarky
3 days ago

I wonder what the news narrative would be if huske beat her

Last edited 3 days ago by Ledecky will go 3:55 in Paris
There's no doubt that he's tightening up
Reply to  Ledecky will go 3:55 in Paris
3 days ago

Daily Mail: Lia Thomas CRUSHED by female Olympian Torri Huske, who DESTROYS the world record of Federica Pellegrini

Willswim
3 days ago

These women are elite, and I’m excited for these great head to head showdowns, but a Walsh sister is gonna win 3 of the 5 events you listed.

Ledecky will go 3:55 in Paris
Reply to  Willswim
3 days ago

I don’t think GWalsh is a lock for the sprints just yet

Swimm
3 days ago

Something to note for Regan is that the 200 fly is after the 200 back. I think this is very important, because if it were reversed, I don’t think she takes that chance with White & Bacon looming.

Ledecky will go 3:55 in Paris
3 days ago

I think an American record is in reach for KD, she’s very close in the 2IM but I don’t think she’ll swim it, so maybe the 50? She’s been 20.6 on a relay before I believe

Tomek
3 days ago

Two more months, can’t wait for this year NCAA. Hope nothing gets cancelled this year

wow
3 days ago

What I THINK they’ll swim vs. What I HOPE they’ll swim
Maggie Mac – 50 FR/100FL/100FR vs. 100FL/100BK/100FR
Kate Doug – 50FR/100FL/200BR vs. 200IM/100FL/200BR
Reg Smith – 500 FR/100BK/200BK vs. 100BK/200BK/200FL
Torri Huske – 200IM/100FL/100FR vs. IDC 2IM or 50FR /200FR/100FR

swimfan27
3 days ago

If we’re talking versatility, Alex Walsh: could conceivably win the 200 IM, 400 IM, 200 breast, 200 fly, maybe even 200 free. Plus she’d be top 8 in literally any other event she swam besides maybe 50 free. Insane.

oxyswim
Reply to  swimfan27
3 days ago

She swam the 200 FR & Breast last year and got 5th in both. The winning time in both will be faster this year. Don’t see a world where she wins either.

Just assuming she could be top 8 in the 500 and 1650 is pretty silly when she hasn’t swum a 500 since 2014 as a 12 year old.