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. 

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jeff
10 months ago

hopefully macneil stays for next year cuz a macneil-curzan-huske-douglass showdown in the 100 fly sounds absolutely insane

JimSwim22
10 months ago

Removal of prelim relays is always going to make me sad. Easier meet for everyone and faster finals but a big hit in excitement of fights for top 8 and 16 and knowing that the final heat actually counts. I always rated big international nets, college Nationals and YMCA Nationals highest because of prelimn/final relays

Old Swim Coach
10 months ago

I can’t wait to see how this plays out at NCAA’s!

Penguin
10 months ago

I really hope we can see Douglass in the 200 breast tapered.

Also, SwimSwam, lately I’ve been able to see comments labeled “awaiting approval” from other users. I imagine this is a bug.

swimswim4
Reply to  Penguin
10 months ago

I agree, between Douglass for women and Fallon for men, I’m definitely looking forward to the 200 breast this year

Greg
10 months ago

I will bet Ella Nelson opts for the 500 free over the 200 IM. She swam a 439 at the Tenn invite, so I’d project a mid 430s swim landing her in the top 5. This opens up a Douglass/Walsh tandem in the 200 IM, a la Olympic Trials and Olympics. I think that “Beautiful Mind” theory might bear itself out in the 50.

wow
Reply to  Greg
10 months ago

I think Ella will/should go for the 200 IM at ACCs to see where she’s at, and decide from there about 500 or 200 IM. As of right now though, I agree the 500 is the better option.

swimswim4
10 months ago

Can’t wait to see these strategies play out, NCAAs this year are gonna be quite the watch

swimfan27
10 months 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
10 months 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.

wow
10 months 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