Overreacting To Day 2 Prelims of the 2023 NCAA Division 1 Women’s Championships


The first individual session of the 2023 NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships has wrapped up in Knoxville. Now, it’s time to take a look at some of the biggest takeaways from day 2 prelims and play a fun game called “overreacting to anything and everything.”

Stanford Freshmen Taking Over the Reins

So far, one of the biggest stories of these Championships has been the Stanford women performing slightly under expectations. After losing the 800 free relay, an event that they were heavily favored to win last night to Virginia, Cardinal swimmers overall were off their best during today’s prelims session. The team only saw three swimmers qualify for finals across all of the events, with Stanford not having a single swimmer in the A-final of the 50 or 500 freestyle. Long gone are the days of the team having the likes of Simone Manuel and Katie Ledecky to carry them in these races. 

Despite some struggles, Stanford freshmen have been having a great meet thus far. On last night’s 800 freestyle relay, Kayla Wilson dropped a 1:42.22 split, well below her personal best of 1:43.17, which she swam back in high school. This morning, Natalie Mannion dropped over 2 seconds off of best time to make the final of the 500 freestyle, which is arguably the weakest event in her lineup this week as she was seeded 50th in the event coming into the meet. Lucy Bell also had a great swim in the 200 IM, dropping over a second off of her seed time to finish with a 1:54.89, also qualifying for the B-final. 

Hopefully, the team can use some of the momentum generated by their freshman class to turn the meet around, or the Cardinal risk falling out of the top 5 altogether after finishing 3rd last season. 

Introducing Lexi Cuomo, Not Just a Relay Superstar

Virginia’s roster just keeps getting deeper. Many hardcore swim fans knew who Lexi Cuomo was prior to the start of this meet, but to the casual fan, Cuomo has seemingly come out of nowhere to challenge for multiple NCAA titles. 

On last night’s 200 medley relay, Cuomo dropped a blazing 22.10 butterfly split for the Cavaliers, helping the team to an American, US Open, and NCAA Record in the event. With her speed, she was expected to make some noise in this morning’s 50 freestyle prelims, and she did not disappoint. With most eyes on the battle between Gretchen Walsh and Maggie MacNeil, Cuomo quietly dropped a huge best time in the event, swimming a 21.61 out of lane one to qualify 5th for the final (talk about outside smoke). 

With her swim, she sliced over three-tenths of a second off of her performance from ACCs and two tenths of a second off of her personal best from last season. Though the field for the 50 free is loaded, anything could happen in the splash-n-dash, so don’t count out Cuomo having another big drop tonight.

500 Freestyle Upset Brewing?

Coming into the competition, Texas swimmer Erica Sullivan was the clear favorite to win both the 500 and 1650 freestyle. The 2021 Olympic silver medalist in the 1500 freestyle, Sullivan was ranked as the fastest swimmer in the NCAA in both events. In fact, she still is, but there’s a whole crowd of swimmers clipping at her heels. 

This morning, Sullivan posted a 4:36.51 out of the final heat, retaining her first overall seed into the final. However, she added almost a second on to her seed time, leaving her potential for the final in question. Behind her, Wisconsin’s Abby Carlson had a huge swim to drop over a half second off of her seed time, claiming second in a 4:37.56. Carlson has had a strong meet so far, contributing an essential 1:44.62 lead-off leg on Wisconsin’s 800 free relay last night. Her upsetting Sullivan in the final would be very reminiscent of the 1650 freestyle last season, where Carlson’s teammate Paige McKenna swam to a surprising victory over Sullivan. So, it wouldn’t be unheard of for a Badger to have a big distance swim. 

Besides Carlson, there’s a whole cluster of 4:37 swimmers who are capable of challenging Sullivan with some drops. Sitting all the way in 8th place this morning, defending national runner-up Emma Weyant is also lurking after making it back to the A-final this morning as the eighth seed. 

Speaking of the 500 freestyle… 

Concerning Lack of Distance Depth

Over the past decade, most events in the NCAA have been rapidly evolving as swimmers have continued to drop massive amounts of time. Remember when going sub-50 in the 100 butterfly or 100 backstroke was relatively unheard of? Well over the past few seasons, the distance events have not followed this trend, with the overall field showing little improvement from year-to-year. 

With the exception of some outliers, like Katie Ledecky and Leah Smith, the swimmers in the 500 freestyle at the NCAA Championships haven’t gotten significantly faster in several years. Last season, it only took a 4:40.78 to make it back for finals in the 500 freestyle, with a 4:38.16 making it back for the A-final, This year, both times actually got slower with a 4:40.81 qualifying for the last spot in the B-final and a 4:39.51 making it to the A-final. Prior to the pandemic at the 2019 NCAA Championships, 4:39.15 was the slowest time to make it back to finals in the 500 freestyle, with a 4:37.30 needed to qualify for the A-final. 

Overall, it seems as though NCAA distance swimming, particularly in the 500 freestyle, took a big hit due to the pandemic. It is unclear how long it will take for it to get back down to pre-2020 levels. 


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IU Swammer
7 days ago

My uneducated guess is that the 500 is getting slower because teams have shifted their focus toward maximizing value through sprinters. The latest philosophy for sprinting is “less is more.” And I imagine that is infecting the mid-distance training group, leading to a slightly lowered overall aerobic base.

Sherry Smit
7 days ago

It’s shocking that McIntosh, Sims, Grimes, Weinstein, Hartmann, and Gormsen would all have a serious chance at winning the 500 this year if they were in college.

7 days ago

What on earth happened to indiana diving this morning?

7 days ago

I think its just a flat ‘reacting’ to say the Florida Girls are off so far.
Maybe they peaked at SECs wanting to lock in the first conference title in a while. I cant imagine they care about that this year but next year with Sims and Ivey they will be much more competitive anyway.

Lab Counter
7 days ago

Pash and Zoie not making A final in 2im….still going to lead their respective teams?
I don’t think Covid had anything to do with lack of mid dist/dist elite swims. The rest of world caught up to Ledecky in 400. And now Sandpiper girls are getting there….maybe college programs aren’t doing enough work or the right work?!?

Reply to  Lab Counter
7 days ago

Literally only Titmus and Mcintosh.

Reply to  Calvin
7 days ago

Don’t forget the SCM world record holder Li Bingjie. The women’s 400m Free this summer/Paris ’24 could see a 3:58 not make the podium.

Georgia Rambler
Reply to  Calvin
7 days ago

And not by much… Not sure I am in favor of programs like the Sandpipers and I understand, Summer Mackintosh. where they are home schooled and most of their activities center around the pool.We won’t know for a while, but it does not seem like it would be the basis of a long career. No football games, few frends outside of swimming, don’t play other highschool sports,.. Seems like they are giving up alot.
They all seem to like each other, and their coach seems to maintain a healthy atmosphere but… Even Katie Lededky had a relatively normal 4 years of high school, taking time off to win races around the world but also swimming on her high school… Read more »

Becky D
Reply to  Georgia Rambler
7 days ago

What a weird criticism — that the Sandpiper girls aren’t “normal enough.”

Reply to  Lab Counter
7 days ago

i feel like there’s also something to be said about the fact that sprinters are so much more valuable to ncaa teams because they can swim relays & individuals. i mean the 50/100 free are among the deepest events here. all of this focus on developing sprinters for relays may affect the development of distance swimmers? even Erica Sullivan who definitely seems way stronger in the 500/1650 has to swim down to the 200 for the 800 free relay

About Nicole Miller

Nicole Miller

Nicole has been with SwimSwam since April 2020, as both a reporter and social media contributor. Prior to joining the SwimSwam platform, Nicole also managed a successful Instagram platform, amassing over 20,000 followers. Currently, Nicole is pursuing her B.S. in Biomedical Engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. After competing for the swim …

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