NU’s Maddie Smith Hits 3rd 50 Free Lifetime Best in 2 Months with A-Final Swim


It seems like every year, there’s a handful of swimmers who seemingly emerge out of nowhere to make an impact at the NCAA level. And while they may not all become immortalized in SwimSwam meme-land, it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on some swimmers who’ve had some strong improvement curves in a short period of time.

The last couple of months, we’ve been keeping an eye on Northwestern senior Maddie Smith, who seems to be firing on all cylinders in her first year under new Wildcat head coach Kate Robinson.

Smith, who graduated in 2017 from Lake Forest High School in Illinois (the same school from which another Northwestern Wildcat, Matt Grevers graduated), came out of high school with a 22.67 in the 50 free. As a freshman as UNC, she lowered her best to 22.42 that fall at the 2017 Tennessee Invite. 

Then, she didn’t hit another best time in this event for over three years. She scored a single point at the 2018 ACC Championships, with a 22.73 in the 50 free, but was instrumental on UNC’s sprint relays. In 2019, she went 22.67 at ACCs, then transferred to Northwestern, closer to home.

Her first year as a Wildcat didn’t bring any immediate improvement in the 50 free. She wasn’t at her best in this event at the 2020 Big Ten Championships, going 23.0 in prelims and missing out on scoring, (although she did make B-finals in the 100 fly and 100 free), then went 22.8 at a last chance meet. 

So, if Smith wasn’t on your radar for this even coming into this year, that’s totally undertatandable. But Smith has been on fire over the two months. She neared her personal best with a 22.45 in January and then a 22.50 in early February before dropping the hammer at the 2021 Big Ten Championships. There, she anchored the Wildcats’ medley really in 21.45, then ripped a 22.06 lifetime best in prelims en route to clocking a 21.94 in finals, good for 3rd overall.

She continued her strong performance at the rest of the Big Ten Championships, leading the Wildcat women with 81.5 individual points, taking 3rd in the 100 fly and 2nd in the 100 free, and swimming on four relays, all of which placed 2nd or 3rd overall.

Heading into NCAAs, Smith was seeded 12th in the 50 free, and she wasn’t an obvious choice to make the A-final. But this morning, Smith kept chugging right along with a 22.03 in prelims, just making into the A-final.

Tonight, Smith shaved another 0.02s off of her lifetime best, taking 7th overall with a 21.92.

We got the chance for a quick chat with Smith after tonight’s final session and asked her to explain what she thinks has made the difference this year. Smith told us that that she always thought she had the potential for the kinds of times she’s been swimming this year. And, as we’ve heard from other swimmers, she credited the time out of the water due to the pandemic with helping her refocus, focus on strength training, and helping her to “come back really really hungry.”

Smith also credited Northwestern’s coaching staff, led by Robinson, with helping her become a better swimmer in practice, leading to more confidence overall and becoming more a team leader as a senior. On he technical side, she’s also been working on her turns, especially getting her head down heading into the wall. Smith said she was primarily focused on last month’s Big Ten Championships, and while making an A-final at NCAAs “was just a cherry on top,” she wanted to do whatever she could to help the Wildcats.

After two days of racing, Northwestern sits in 18th with 28 points, with all of those points coming on Smith’s three swims tonight: the 200 free relay (14th), Smith’s 50 free, and the 400 medley relay (12th).

Smith’s 50 Free Lifetime Best Progression

  • 22.67 – 2017 (Illinois Senior Champs)
  • 22.42 – 2017 (Tennesse Invite)
  • 22.06 – 2021 (B1G Championships – Prelims)
  • 21.94 – 2021 (B1G Championships – Finals)
  • 21.91 – 2021 (NCAA Championships – Finals)

Best Times by Grade

  • HS Senior – 22.67
  • College Freshman – 22.42
  • College Sophomore – 22.67
  • College Junior – 22.66
  • College Senior – 21.91

Leave a Reply

Notify of
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Go cats
8 months ago

Yay Maddie!! Go Cats!!

8 months ago


Big Fan
8 months ago

Love the ‘Cats!! :))

8 months ago

This is a great story, I love the dedication throughout what must’ve been 2 tough years

8 months ago

Very cool story. Coming back hungry. Strength training. Technique improvements. Better practice habits. Refocus.

Hats off to her to bust through the wall. Elite NCAA A final All-American 50 free. Wow! What a fantastic cap to college career.

Very inspiring

8 months ago

Been watching her since she was a high schooler, always a class act and glad she had a phenomenal end to her senior year.