Mid-Season Check In: How Are the NCAA Freshman Women Faring So Far?
Noelle Peplowski was just another incoming breaststroker for IU. Half a year after graduating high school, she's a realistic candidate for making the 100 breast A final at NCAAs. Archive photo via Jack Spitser/Spitser Photography
How freshmen do as they break into the NCAA is always a hot topic. You have the set of stars who have been killing it at the age group level, or the international standouts who are making a name for themselves at big meets. You have the swimmers with less national name recognition who hit their stride and blow up in college. Athletes respond differently to their new campus, new training atmosphere, new schedule, new friends, and new challenges. A freshman who starts off the year hot might not close out on a high note, and vice versa.
So, here’s a look at the top 10 in every NCAA event. Freshmen only.
Many of these names are familiar.
We’ve heard about Stanford’s freshman class, with Canadian Taylor Ruck at its helm. We’ve expected big things from Grace Ariola and Julia Cook down in Austin. Florida’s Vanessa Pearl, NC State’s Emma Muzzy, the duo of Dakota Luther and Olivia Carter from UGA– they’re all doing incredibly well.
Canadian Maggie MacNeil is the best Big Ten swimmer in history in the 100 fly, and she was a very impressive meters swimmer coming in, but who could’ve guessed she’d be popping a 49-second 100 fly in her very first semester?
Meanwhile, it’s incredibly refreshing to see quite a handful of names from mid-major schools.
Sarah Watson of Akron, Martina Thomas and Kelly Huffer of Navy, and Kelly Montesi of Villanova are just some of the mid-major swimmers on this list. Watson ranks in the top 10 in two different events, the 100 fly and 200 IM. Thomas is hundredths off of being the 2nd-fastest freshman in the 200 free in the country. Huffer is 6th in the 200 fly and Montesi 5th in the 400 IM.
A few Big Ten swimmers have quietly been making their mark this season.
Lillie Hosack and Tara Vovk are having great freshman years at Big Ten schools with new head coaches. Hosack, of Wisconsin, is ranked top 10 in both the 200 free and 200 IM, and she had a huge 1:44 split on Wisconsin’s 800 free relay at the Texas Invite. Vovk is ranked top 10 in both breaststrokes, already a great breast weapon for a Northwestern team that is looking better than ever.
Noelle Peplowski has shot to the top of the breaststroke rankings nationally in her first semester with IU. While the Hoosiers have struggled a bit to develop a strong sprint and backstroke base which could spell trouble by the year’s end, Peplowski has gone from 1:01.3 to 59.1 in a very short amount of time in the 100 breast. The Hoosiers’ Mac Looze, ranked 3rd in both IM’s amongst freshmen, and Maggie Wallace, who sits 5th in the 1650 free, are showing that the IU freshman class deserves a nod.
Finally, several international swimmers are finding speed in their first yards seasons.
Sophie Hansson and Ida Hulkko, both breaststrokers from Nordic countries, lead the way in the 100 breast for freshmen. Hansson, of NC State, and Hulkko, of Florida State, are also in the top 5 for all grades this season.
Sprinters Kalia Antoniou of Cyprus/Alabama and Kertu Alnek of Estonia/Florida State both rank in the top 10 for freshmen.
Canadian Mabel Zavaros of Florida and Briton Alicia Wilson of Cal have also excelled thus far in the year.
Every team has its year-long plan, and we might have seen the best times we’ll see from some of these swimmers this year, while some will probably end up improving by year’s end. A good amount of your favorite swimmers (Mallory Comerford, Kelsi Dahlia, and Kevin Cordes, to name a few) were not very close to being able to score at NCAAs before college, and have since won national titles.