Overreacting To Day 1 Of The 2023 NCAA Division I Women’s Championships


Now that the first session of the 2023 NCAA Division I Women’s Championships have concluded, it’s time to play our favorite game once more: overreacting and jumping to massive conclusions solely based on one day of racing!

The Dave Durden Taper Is Hitting

The Cal men and Cal women came into this season in very different positions. While the Cal men were fresh off an NCAA championship, the women were in a rebuilding phase following the exit of head coach Teri McKeever and their best swimmer Izzy Ivey. People weren’t sure how the Cal women would fare, and under new head coach Dave Durden, they have certainly proved their doubters wrong.

Durden, who has been the longtime head coach of a very successful Cal men’s team, is certainly carrying over his success to the women. The Golden Bears finished sixth in the 200 medley relay in a time of 1:34.75, dropping 0.65 seconds from their entry time of 1:35.40. Out of all teams, they actually dropped from their seed by the significant margin. Similar drops occurred in the 800 free relay, where Cal improved from a 6:58.62 seed time to a 6:57.08 final time en route to a fourth place finish.

With some of the Cal mens’ success carrying over to the women, we ask: how big is Durden effect really? Is Cal going to upset UVA for the NCAA title (after all, they ARE beating Stanford in scoring, so who REALLY is the best team in the Pac-12?!?!??!?!)? Is Isabelle Stadden going to sweep the backstroke events (she makes the ‘A’ final through a re-swim because her backstroke wedge broke in prelims, of course)? Will we find out that Rachel Klinker is secretly a golfer? Is Cal going to reclaim the 200 free relay NCAA record by unveiling four 6’7 sprinters that we never knew about?

The answers to these questions are probably all a hard “no”, but hey, that’s the whole point of this game.

Bow Down To The Relay Goddesses: Zoie Hartmann, Aimee Canny, And Lexi Cuomo

Note: This isn’t really an overreaction, but I just really wanted to recognize these relay stars.

We love our relay stars. Jason Lezak‘s 46.06 relay split still remains one of the most iconic American swims of all-time. James Guy is highly-respected for always putting relays before his relay swims. Mollie O’Callaghan was our pick for clutch relay performer at the 2022 World Championships and now she’s become the main talking point for Australians on this site trying to cause arguments (this is a JOKE). So it’s only fair that we give a big round of applause for our clutch relay swimmers from tonight: Zoie Hartman of Georgia, and Aimee Canny and Lexi Cuomo of Virginia.

Cuomo has been dropping more than the stock market in 2008, splitting 22.10 on the fly leg tonight after going 22.72 at NCAAs last year. Her time was the fastest in the field for her stroke, and allowed for UVA to catch up to NC State after trailing them by half a second at the 100-yard mark. Had Cuomo replicated her split from last year, Kate Douglass would have had to make up 0.67 seconds on her anchor, which could have added more pressure to the situation, left more room for an upset, given UVA less clean water, and cost the team an NCAA record. In addition, Cuomo got off the blocks with a 0.01 reaction time, showing that she was quite literally sacrificing everything for Virginia. Despite being overshadowed by her three superstar teammates on this relay, it’s clear from tonight that Cuomo is a star of her own.

Canny pulled what her South African compatriot Matt Sates did last season, showing up for UVA in January and suddenly becoming a star for her team. She led off the 800 free relay in a time of 1:42.34, just 0.06 seconds behind Stanford giant Torri Huske to put Virginia in a position to take the lead. Canny was very much needed for UVA to upset Stanford, being a huge second sub-1:43 swimmer for a team that only had Alex Walsh being fast enough to challenge the Cardinal last year. Now, let’s just hope that Canny doesn’t do what Sates did AFTER last year’s NCAAs meet….

Finally, let’s talk about Hartman, who probably needs a chiropractor after carrying Georgia’s 800 free relay on her back for the second straight year (overused joke, but you’re just gonna have to deal with it). In the second heat of the 800 free relay, Hartman brought her team from sixth to first with a 1:42.50 anchor, clocking the fourth-fastest rolling split of the field and helping Georgia to an eighth-place finish. She did something similar last year, splitting 1:42.37 to lead Georgia to sixth place. With Stetson Bennett (finally) out of the NCAA, I think it’s finally time that we talk about who the next hero for the Bulldogs is, and that’s Hartman.

“Stanford Curse”

I’m not going to sugarcoat it: Stanford did not perform up to expectations today. They added 0.02 seconds from their Pac-12s medley relay to place 9th in a time of 1:35.44, and were upset by Virginia in the 800 free relay after being heavily favored to win the event. On that 800 free relay, Torri Huske led off in a 1:42.28 after going 1:41.93 last year, Taylor Ruck split 1:42.23 compared to 1:40.49 last year, and Lillie Nordmann split 1:44.04 with a 1:42.63 flat start best time. With Stanford historically being one of the best-performing teams at NCAAs, a lot of us are left wondering—what’s going on?

Yes, we are very aware that’s there’s many Stanford naysayers on this site. And let me just say that it’s way too early to talk down on this team just yet. With the exception of 2021, they haven’t had a relatively poor NCAAs meet in years. Plus, it’s only day one, and they’ve still got many more events to go. Right now they are in fourth just 4 points behind Cal, and if they can run away with a third place finish, they are going to finish exactly how we predicted them to finish (NOT a disappointment).

Plus, there were a few bright spots on Stanford’s relays. One of them was freshman Kayla Wilson, who recorded a big 1:42.22 split and could possibly enter the 200 free contender conversation now that we know just how wide open that race is.

Not So Much Depth Compared To Last Year

Did someone pour soul sand into the pool? Did something happen when Maggie MacNeil and LSU scratched the 200 medley relay? We don’t know for sure, but what we do know is that the depth in these first two relays is not as strong as last year.

In the 200 medley relay, UNC was 8th with a 1:35.01. Last year, Louisville was 8th with a 1:34.62. This year’s 16th place Duke swam a 1:36.72 compared to Indiana’s 1:36.16 that was 16th last year. A similar trend occurred in the 800 free relay, where 6:59.12 was good enough for 8th compared to 6:57.79 last year, and a 7:04.82 placed 16th this year compared to 7:01.71 last year. In addition, only 9 out of 18 teams dropped from their seed in the 800 free relay, while 8 out of 23 did in the 200 medley relay.

So what happened? Is it the pre-meet jitters, or has women’s NCAA swimming just gotten super top-heavy? That being said, just because the first two events weren’t as deep as they were a year prior doesn’t meet that this meet is slow. We still had an NCAA record set on day one, and we will still be in for some very fast and competitive races between the best swimmers in the country coming up in the next few days.

Ben Dornan Can Actually Win This Draft

Perhaps the biggest surprise of tonight was that SwimSwam’s Ben Dornan was actually WINNING this NCAA Championships fantasy draft after the very first event. After the 800 free relay though, that lead became a three-way-tie for first between Ben, Braden, and Yanyan (myself). Given his draft luck, Ben’s position at the top probably won’t last long, but we’ll let him celebrate while he can.

For live scoring updates of the draft, click here.

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16 days ago

Yanyan crushing those articles and I’m loving it
Genuinely had to double check that it wasn’t written by Coleman (compliment to both of you)

16 days ago

Good chance Ruck is trying to walk the tightrope between fast here and making the Canadian team at their Trials in 12 days and may be trying to run this week not fully tapered.
The Canadian field is now full of competitive 100 and 200 girls and an individual spot is no longer assured for her if she is not at peak form. Oleksiak is obviously the huge question mark if she is even going to compete or if she is any sort of shape. But if she is, added in McIntosh as now the heavy favorite for the 200 top spot, Ruck could be on the outside looking in as a relay only swimmer.
Sadly this is… Read more »

Last edited 16 days ago by justanopinion
Reply to  justanopinion
16 days ago

Omg true.

16 days ago

A Minecraft soul sand joke on swimswam what a world we live in

16 days ago

It’s not so much that the depth of teams have changed but more and more teams are too focused on swimming with tech suits multiple times per season (now occurring even in some dual meets), which has resulted in less time drops or even no time drops. Throughout the season, teams are swimming faster but that means those magical tapers and time drops we used to see are not going to happen as often or if at all.

Reply to  StuartC
16 days ago

Are you saying they are swimming slower than they would or dropping less from in season times?

Reply to  Coach
16 days ago

I think it’s a combination of both. It’s fairly common now for coaches to have their swimmers suit up during the week for a swim off the blocks during practice BUT if you are always doing drop tapers and swimming with tech suits every month, I wonder if that magical mental edge and full body sensation feedback is lost or diminished?

16 days ago

Another overreaction: Is Taylor Ruck focused on Canadian trials more than this meet? Should we be worried about MacNeil for that reason too? Wiseman? Bach?

Side note, I hope Ruck finishes the semester and joins the ASU group. Isn’t she from Arizona?

Tea rex
16 days ago

Alex Walsh was the only Cavalier who didn’t put up the fastest split in the 200 MR. So she went the fastest 800 FR split 😂

16 days ago

of course one race does not make it a trend but it is a good question, has the sport became more top heavy, with quick glance seems so but then again we are still feeling effects of 5th years etc…

Sherry Smit
16 days ago

It was more to do with Stanford’s lineup than anything. I feel like if they would have used Curzan, she could’ve gone 1:42-1:43 easily and put them in contention to win.

Reply to  Sherry Smit
16 days ago

Possibly but then she’s off another relay that Stanford has less depth in and needs her more in.

About Yanyan Li

Yanyan Li

Although Yanyan wasn't the greatest competitive swimmer, she learned more about the sport of swimming through scoring countless dual meets, being a timer, and keeping track of her teammates' best times for three years as a team manager. She eventually ventured into the realm of writing and joined SwimSwam in …

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