Major Women’s DI NCAA Storylines to Watch In The 2023-24 Season

The calendar has flipped to October, and the NCAA season is kicking off in earnest. Before we get too far into the season, we’re highlighting some of the major storylines that you should keep an eye on throughout the 2023-24 season, from now all the way through the 2024 NCAA Championships in March.

Texas Takes Aim at Virginia

Texas Earns 2nd Place (photo: Jack Spitser)

The Virginia women are eyeing the 4-peat this season. They’ve put themselves in prime position to pull off the feat, and are more than capable of sweeping the five relays again.

However, Texas is capable of keeping them honest. It would be surprising if the Cavaliers did not win the meet, but especially with Kate Douglass turning pro, the meet be a lot closer than the blowout that it was last season.

It’s not just Douglass’ departure, though. The Longhorns have brought in a recruiting class that will make an immediate impact, largely because the class includes the sprint freestylers that have been missing from the Texas roster and are essential to building a national title team. With additions like Erin Gemmell, Emma Davidson, Alexa Fultonand Emma Kern, Texas has added serious depth in the sprint freestyles. It gives them the possibility of more individual points, but also and given a ton of options to add to relays that have fifth-year Kelly Pash as a strong swimmer to build around.

Adding these pieces to one of the most complete rosters in the NCAA gives Texas a serious opportunity to take a run at the crown.

Can The Walsh Sisters Go 6-for-6?

That’s not to say that Virginia doesn’t have some serious firepower of their own. This season, they’ll be lead by the Walsh sisters, who return for their senior (Alex Walsh) and junior (Gretchen Walsh) campaigns. Heading into 2023 NCAAs, one of the main questions was about Virginia’s roster decisions. How often would Douglass and the Walsh sisters go head-to-head? Would Virginia purposefully spread the wealth and try to go 9-for9 with the three, or even sweep the day 2 events?

A. Walsh and Douglass both entered the 200 IM, meaning that the answer to the last two questions was a ‘no’. But the Walsh sisters themselves do not overlap in their events, meaning that this year, we’ll see each aim to sweep her three individual events.

G. Walsh has set the bar high already, dropping some sizzling times at the UVA Intrasquad meet and a 50.05 100 backstroke at the end of practice. Her lineup is likely set, but A. Walsh has some decisions to make: does she stick with the 200 fly or switch to the 200 breast on day 4?

The Rise of the Cardinals

Louisville 200 free relay (photo: Jack Spitser)

At 2023 NCAAs, the Louisville Cardinals notched a program-best 4th place finish, scoring the most points at an NCAA championship in team history. Gabi Albiero and Christinia Regenauer both made the 50 free ‘A’ final, marking the first time the team landed two swimmers in an ‘A’ final. In addition to stellar individual performances, four of their five relays finished in the top 8.

Sprint freestyle once again powers the Cardinals as they look to take another step up the podium this year. Albiero, Regenauer, Abby Hay, Julia Dennis, and Ella Welch will be called on once again this season, as Louisville continues to rely on their relays to provide the bulk of their points.

Both Stanford and NC State have suffered losses that make this year a prime opportunity for Louisville to assert themselves as a top three program and once again make program history–if they can take advantage of it.

Stanford Women Try To Stay Afloat

Stanford Cheering (photo: Jack Spitser)

This is perhaps the biggest storyline heading into the women’s NCAA season. Claire Curzan and Taylor Ruck have both departed, and Torri Huske is taking an Olympic redshirt year. With those three swimmers gone, Stanford loses the bulk of its individual points and the driving force behind all five relays. With their three biggest names gone, Stanford has found itself in a rebuilding year. Quite simply, they aren’t the team that the used to be, or were even last year when they finished 3rd at NCAAs.

In their stars absence, Stanford needs its depth swimmers to step up. They have potential scorers in almost every discipline, but it will take their swimmers being at their best at NCAAs–not at midseason, not at PAC-12s–for the Cardinal to keep themselves in the top 10 at NCAAs.

That’s not to say that they are now a bad team; 10th at NCAAs is a dream for plenty of programs. And, they can certainly be better than the 10th place we’ve got them at in our pre-season rankings, but it will be a battle that takes the entire team to pull off.

In the midst of this storyline, one more to keep an eye on is their freshman breaststrokers. Stanford has been missing a breaststroker for years, and its a cruel twist that two arrive on campus just as the rest of their medley relay stars depart. But how Lucy Thomas and Caroline Bricker develop will be crucial for the program’s future.

How High Can Florida Rise With Super-Freshman Bella Sims?

The Florida women had a big year last year. They won their first SEC conference title since 2009, and went on to place 9th at NCAAs, their best finish in nearly a decade. Yes, they had transfer Emma Weyant boosting their score with a pair of NCAA ‘A’ final appearances, but what really made the difference for the Gators–both at SECs and NCAAs–was their massively improved relays.

This year, they’ve lost some pieces to the transfer portal, but they return 10 of their 17 NCAA contributors, including six of their nine individual scorers. They get two valuable additions in Bella Sims and Izzy Ivey. And, they have our top ranked recruiting class on the women’s side.

So, with their retained talent plus two huge additions, it seems fair to expect that they’ll exceed last year’s 9th place finish. The question is by how much?

If you looked at our pre-season power rankings, SwimSwam writers’ answer to this question varies wildly. One writer put them 4th, another 8th, and eventually everything averaged out to put them 6th in the power rankings, up three spots from their 2023 finish.

Sims is such a versatile yards swimmer that there’s plenty of options for her in the NCAA format, but it’s possible that she could win three events as a freshman. Ivey will certainly factor in multiple ‘A’ finals, and both will be key additions to their already much improved relays.

They have momentum from last season and an influx of new swimmers that deepen the roster. How these two factors combine should be one of the most intriguing storylines for the 2023-24 season.

Other Storylines to Watch

  • Is Wisconsin poised to become another Freestyle University? With the additions of sprinter Hailey Tierney and distance swimmer Maddie Waggoner, they could make a strong case.
  • Michigan’s sophomores performed well last season, and the Wolverines have a stellar freshman class arriving on campus. Coupled with a new-look coaching staff led by Matt Bowe, could Michigan reverse their fortunes from the last couple seasons?
  • Are the ASU women going to be nationally relevant this season? There’s been a big disparity between the development of the men’s and women’s teams so far, but is this the year the Sun Devil women begin to close that gap?
  • Almost every event at women’s NCAAs this season has a clear favorite to win. As the season develops, keep an eye out for potential upsets that could play spoiler in March.
  • Margo Geer got a contract extension and her freshmen are off to a good start at ‘Bama. Can the Crimson Tide bounce back and silence the critics?

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HOO love
5 months ago

Swim dad is the bane of my existence.

5 months ago

I doubt Alex Walsh swims the 200 breast with Ella Nelson back, unless they want to try to go 1-2 and have someone like Howley rise up in the 200 fly

Reply to  Swimfan27
5 months ago

She’ll swim the event she has the best chance at winning. The Texas women are still very fast so the 2 breast might be the better choice.

Reply to  ArtVanDeLegh10
5 months ago

That statement applies in the 200 breast as well. Elendt was 2:03.2 at NCAAs, just a tick slower than Walsh’s best time

Sherry Smit
5 months ago

Pre Season Favorites to win
50 Free: G. Walsh
100 Free: G. Walsh
200 Free: B. Sims
500 Free: B. Sims
1650 Free: C. Pennington
100 Back: G. Walsh
200 Back: B. Sims
100 Breast: L. Jacoby
200 Breast: A. Walsh
100 Fly: E. Sticklen
200 Fly: E. Sticklen
200 IM: A. Walsh
400 IM: A. Walsh
200 FR: UVA
400 FR: UVA
800 FR: Toss-up, but FLORIDA (Sims and Ivey split 1:40’s, Cronk a 1:42, and Russian girl a 1:42.)
200 MR: UVA
400 MR: UVA

5 months ago

“Almost every event at women’s NCAAs this season has a clear favorite to win. As the season develops, keep an eye out for potential upsets that could play spoiler in March”

Wouldn’t say I agree with this:
50-g Walsh
100-g Walsh
200-I’d say sims as a decent favorite but with Gemmell and some people like canny idk if clear favorite
1650-wide open, I doubt sims swims it

100 back-g Walsh
200 back-pretty open without Curzan, probably bacon favorite

100 breast-jacoby slight favorite
200 breast-a Walsh or elendt

100 fly-wide open with sticklen and Albiero leading
200 fly-sticklen slight favorite if Walsh swims it, larger if she doesn’t

200 IM-a walsh
400 IM-a walsh unless sims swims it

Reply to  Klorn8d
5 months ago

2 fr definitely Sims, best PB in the NCAA by 2 seconds.

Reply to  Klorn8d
5 months ago

not clear favorite Sims in the 200? Her PB is over 2.5 faster then Gemmell and over 1.5 faster than Canny despite it being more outdated (by a little)

Reply to  Klorn8d
5 months ago

Sims is a big favorite in the 200 if she does stick with that over the 4IM. Gemmell is close to her in long course, and Gemmell’s short course best isn’t reflective of what she’s capable of, but the Sim’s underwaters are on a different planet.

5 months ago

A Walsh lost to Huske in the 200 IM at NCAAs. She should be a clear favorite to win this year without Huske.

Swim dad
5 months ago

Longhorns have top swimmers and much more depth than UVA. Longhorns year!!

Reply to  Swim dad
5 months ago

You can have all the depth in the world, but you can bring only 18 (?) swimmers and divers to NCAAs. Which means the actual top swimmers — the ones who win multiple events, like the Walsh sisters — mean more. And relays are a possible 200 points (freestyle depth plus the top sprinters across all strokes — adv. UVa).

As for depth, it’s cool to say you have depth, but you have to get those swimmers into scoring position. Maybe Texas is deeper, I don’t know.

In 2023, Texas had seven women who made A or B finals (12 A swims and 4 B swims). They lose one of them (Luther — A in 200 Fly). … Read more »

Christopher DeBari
5 months ago

Is Hayes competing for UVA this season?

Reply to  Christopher DeBari
5 months ago

Senior in HS.

Reply to  Christopher DeBari
5 months ago

No. Hayes is class of 2024

Reply to  Christopher DeBari
5 months ago

No, she’s a senior in high school.

Sherry Smit
5 months ago

How different is Nesty’s training than Ron’s? From what I understand, it seems very similar. My worst fear for Sims is that she falls in the same ball park than Sullivan. Not shaming anyone here (Erica is my favorite athlete ever), but Texas was not able to match Sand in their volume clearly.

Reply to  Sherry Smit
5 months ago

I was thinking the same thing… Truthfully, I think she could replicate her PB’s. Maybe in LC season, she trains with Ledecky.

Reply to  Sherry Smit
5 months ago

Bella and Erica are very different swimmers. A drop in volume and increase in speed work and strength training could do wonders for Bella.

Reply to  Sherry Smit
5 months ago

On that note….on the surface DeSorbo seems like a better fit for Sims. He knows a thing or two about training hyper versatile athletes who post cartoonish times in one event then do the same in another the following year. The event lineup for a versatile athlete doesn’t always pan out as planned….UVA seems to know how to handle that. But we shall see

Swim dad
Reply to  Ervin
5 months ago

Sims is where she wants to be. Her and Emma W. will be quite the duo.

Reply to  Sherry Smit
5 months ago

Sully has had major shoulder issues . . . I’m not sure that *Sully* would have been able to match the SAND volume regardless of where she was training

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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