Ranking the 2016 Women’s NCAA Recruiting Classes: #1-4

This is a three-part article.  If you missed the two articles, check out where we covered teams #9-12 and teams #5-8.

Did we say we’d post this Wednesday?  We meant Thursday.  Our top four 2016 women’s NCAA recruiting classes consist of a trio of Pac-12 teams and a surprising Big Ten (!) squad whose fortunes for the next 3-4 years just shifted dramatically.

To recap, here’s our order for #5-#12:

#12: Florida Gators
#11: Duke Blue Devils
#10: Kentucky Wildcats
#9: Arizona Wildcats
#8: Georgia Bulldogs
#7: Louisville Cardinals
#6: Tennessee Volunteers
#5: Texas Longhorns

Rankings #1-4:

#4:  Wisconsin Badgers

Top-tier additions: #2 Beata Nelson, Cierra Runge (transfer from Cal), Abby Jagdfeld (transfer from Purdue), Abby Kochevar, Megan Doty, Hannah Lindsey
The rest: Kendall Smith, Elise Roediger

Our lone Big Ten team represented in our rankings.

Following another impressive short course season, we could be convinced that Beata Nelson is the top recruit if we were to re-rank everyone.  While Tennessee-bound Meghan Small was #1 last July, Nelson cut nearly a half-second off her best 50 and 100 freestyle times to add to her super-elite-level sprint butterfly and backstroke.

Overall, Nelson is the three-event, four-relay sprint star that NCAA coaches salivate over during the recruiting process.  Her 51.08 in the 100 fly is the fastest prep swim in history by nearly a half-second, and her 51.67 backstroke is well inside the top 10.  At 22.1 in the 50 free, would already have a spot on every 200 free relay in the country (and score individually at NCAA’s), and her 48.6 100 is fast enough for all but one or two teams.  Wisconsin getting Nelson (and Runge) shifts the landscape of the Big Ten conference, dramatically changing the Badgers’ destiny from being definitively middle-of-the-pack, to a team that should vault to 3rd in the conference and have a chance at battling Michigan and Indiana if they recruit well again next season.

The Badgers also managed to nail down not one but two high-impact transfers.  Cierra Runge is the more prominent name, and for good reason: she’s the former NCAA record holder in the 500 freestyle, and was a triple A-finalist for the Cal Bears in the 2014-15 season.  Her bests of 1:42.7/4:31.9/15:40.2 are in a different realm than any other Big Ten swimmer, and also gives Wisconsin a seven second upgrade on their 800 free relay.  The jury is still out on how she will do at Olympic Trials, but she certainly hasn’t slowed down in her redshirt year, as demonstrated by her lifetime best 1:57.97 in the 200 LCM free earlier this month.

Abby Jagdfeld–the other Wisconsin mid-distance transfer–has flown under the radar, but is a vital pickup for the Badgers to bolster their freestyle group and adding to their relay depth.  With personal bests of 49.5/1:46.2/4:43.4 in the 100/200/500 freestyles, Jagdfeld is good for at least two individual B-finals and an A-final at Big Ten’s and two relay swims for her new squad.

The class is solid beyond these three names, as well.  Wisconsin addressed their huge backstroke need (they have just one returning swimmer in the top 24 of the 100 back and 200 back at Big Ten’s) by adding Abby Kochevar (54.2 100 back) and Hannah Lindsey (25.3/54.5/1:58.0).  Those 100 times both land in the B-final at Big Ten’s.

Megan Doty is the other notable addition.  At 53.6/1:58.6 in the 100/200 fly, Doty is a likely double A-finalist at Big Ten’s, and within striking distance of an individual NCAA birth.   She’ll join Nelson and Dana Grindall in the fly group to form what should be the Big Ten’s best fly trio.

#3:  USC Trojans

Top-tier additions: #3 Becca Mann, #4 Stanzi Moseley,  Louise Hansson, Tatum Wade
The rest: Piper Brockley, Catherine Sanchez, Maddie Meisel (transfer)

The Badgers have a slightly better 1-2 punch than the Trojans, but the quality of the third and fourth swimmers made us give USC the nod here.  To be fair, we shouldn’t undersell USC’s top two: Becca Mann and Stanzi Moseley.  Mann is easily the fastest distance recruit graduating high school this year, and despite having a significantly larger focus on long course than the average high schooler, Mann has already shown she can do plenty of damage in short course yards.  Her 4:34.8/15:43.3 in the 500/1650 are some of the fastest prep swims in history, and she’s also been 1:57.2 in the 200 back, 1:57.0 in the 200 fly, and 4:05.5 in the 400 IM.  In short, Mann is a likely NCAA triple A-finalist from day one.

Moseley trends towards the other end of the race spectrum.  Her 50-to-200 range is among the best ever coming out of high school (22.1/48.1/1:44,5), with all three slated to score at NCAA’s.  The Trojans had great freestyle relays last season (including a 400 free relay win and an 800 free relay runner-up) and are returning 11 of 12 legs, but Moseley is fast enough to jump on all of them.

Dave Salo also landed maybe the most impactful women’s international recruit this year: Louise Hansson from Sweden.  Hansson has minimal (if any) short course yards experience, but at 54.6/1:58.4 in the 100/200 LCM freestyle and 58.3 in the 100 fly, it may not matter.  For reference, Abbey Weitzeil, Katie Ledecky, and Cierra Runge are the only American swimmers in this class to have beaten any of those times.

Lastly, there’s Tennessee native Tatum Wade, a rangy freestyler (23.1/49.8/1:45.6/4:44.0 from 50-500), who also happens to be a 1:57.5 200 IMer.  Those times don’t blow the doors off, but Wade should score big Pac-12 points as a freshman, and lies well within range of an NCAA individual appearance.

#2:  California Golden Bears

Top-tier additions: #2* Abbey Weitzeil (deferral), #13 Keaton Blovad, Maddie Murphy, Courtney Mykkanen, Chenoa Devine
The rest: Anina Lund, Alexa Buckley, Aislinn Light

Abbey Weitzeil was the #2 recruit from the Class of 2015, but she may even be the #2 overall recruit in history.  Sprinters are the difference-makers at the NCAA level, and Weitzeil is the best prep sprinter in history.  She currently holds the American and U.S. Open record in the 50 free (21.12), and also she dropped a 46.29 over 18 months ago at Winter Juniors to temporarily own the 100 free records, as well.  So… she’s incredibly fast, and there’s no doubt the Bears will be jockeying primarily with Stanford (who gets back Simone Manuel) and USC across all five relays next year.

She’s not the only sprint addition, either.  Teri McKeever also landed Keaton Blovad (22.7/49.0 in the 50/100) and Maddie Murphy (22.5/48.6).  Blovad carries more freestyle endurance (1:46.6 200 free), but Murphy adds a 100 butterfly to the mix (52.1) that would have scored at NCAA’s.  That fly adds important long-term depth to the Cal fly group, as Noemie Thomas will be the loan threat remaining after Farida Osman graduates this year.

Two more serious assets for Cal: Courtney Mykkanen, a 53.9/1:56.0 backstroker and 2:00.9 IMer, and Chenoa Devine, a 4:44.3/16:20.3 distance freestyler.  While not at the NCAA individual scoring level right now, both will be key at Pac-12’s, particularly Devine; recent graduations and the transfer of Cierra Runge have left the distance cupboards rather bare (no pun indended) for Cal.

#1:  Stanford Cardinal

Top-tier additions: #1* Katie Ledecky (deferral), #6 Katie Drabot, #8 Allie Szekely, #11 Erin Voss, #14 Megan Byrnes
The rest: Brooke Stenstrom, Haley Farnsworth (diving), Hannah Boyd

Our unquestioned number one.  Five top 20 recruits, including Katie Ledecky, who needs no introduction.  Barring disaster, she’ll win a minimum of 10 individual NCAA titles in her four years, and will be huge on at least two relays every year.

Stanford also picked up this class’s most versatile duo in Katie Drabot and Allie Szekely.  Drabot is excellent across eight different events (22.4/48.3/1:44.2/4:40.5 freestyles, 2:11.1 in the 200 breast, 52.4 in the 100 fly, 1:56.0/4:08.7 IMs), and Szekely has been 2:10.2 in the 200 breast (though she’s actually shied away from breaststroke in recent years), 1:53.4 in the 200 back, 1:48.2 in the 200 free, and 1:58.4 in the 200 fly.  Put those together, and it’s no surprise she’s been 1:57.7/4:06.3 in the 200/400 IM.  Between these Drabot, Szekely, and Ella Eastin, Stanford went from not having a single 400 IMer qualified for NCAA’s two years ago, to fighting it out with Texas A&M over who has the nation’s deepest group.

The final two top 20 recruits, Erin Voss and Megan Byrnes, add vital depth in area across the mid-distance and distance events.  Both swimmers have been under 4:45 in the 500 free (4:44.7 for Voss, 4:43.4 for Byrnes), arguably Stanford’s weakest event the past couple of years.  Voss also brings in a superb 1:51.9 200 backstroke, while Byrnes has nearly cracked 16 minutes in the 1650 (16:01.8), and has five Olympic Trials cuts.

Greg Meehan and Tracy Duchac have stockpiled some incredible talent across his first four classes.  With the pieces from this class added to their core, expect a team title to be brought back to The Farm in short order


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5 years ago

Freshman Jess Unicomb a finaled in the 100 back this year. And Annie tamblyn b finaled. Tamblyn graduated though. So not accurate that they had no scorers. But great class for the badgers

Reply to  Klorn8d
5 years ago

I’m sure Jess is the swimmer the article is referring to as the only returning Badger in the top 24 in the 100 Back at Big Tens. Backstroke is about to be a strength for Wisconsin.

Reply to  SwimGuy
5 years ago

They corrected it after the comment, originally it said they had no scorers.

5 years ago

i’ve wondered if Szekely has gone away from breastroke due to low back issues? She has such a unique back and hip action that requires tremendous flexibility. I saw her first at a Grand Prix when she was 12 and had a little girls body and wondered how she could keep it up as she grew.

MA Swim Parent
Reply to  jman
5 years ago

Szekely has probably “gone away” from Breaststroke because she realized she was not legal.

5 years ago

Ledecky should have minimum of 12 individual victories instead of 10 right?

Derek Mead
Reply to  WOLFENSF
5 years ago

I assume they mean 200/500/1650. 10 titles because Manuel might win the 200 the next 2 years. That’s my interpretation of the wording v

Reply to  Derek Mead
5 years ago

I noticed that while reading the article, and that was my assumption as well. Although I would think Ledecky would still be the heavy favorite in the 200 over Manuel.

bobo gigi
5 years ago

Times will be really crazy in women’s NCAA the next 4 years.

bobo gigi
5 years ago

Interesting to see how Allie Szekely will develop at Stanford. I watch her swim for 6 or 7 years and I think she is far from her peak.
With a training partner like Ella Eastin, her 400 IM should improve a lot.

About the 400 IM, I think for a long time that Katie Ledecky targets the 400 IM gold in 2020. And Stanford is a perfect place for that challenge. Maybe she will be tired of distance freestyle before the next olympic games and the 400 IM could be a new playing field for her. Also a new goal to allow her to keep motivation.

5 years ago

This is like some school getting Michael Phelps in 2004

Reply to  Pvdh
5 years ago

Phelps focusing on yards would’ve been a blast to watch. He would’ve been able to win the 100 fly, 200 fly, 100 free, 200 free, 200 i.m, and 400 i.m with little competition, and I’m quite certain he could’ve won the 500 with like 4 weeks of distance focused training and the 200 backstroke if Lochte wasn’t swimming it.

bobo gigi
Reply to  Savannah
5 years ago

Phelps focusing on yards would not have been the same swimmer. Fortunately it didn’t happen.

5 years ago

Where does Texas A&M stand? seems like they should be somewhere on the list? Thoughts

5 years ago

You have to wonder if Katie will only put in 1-2 years on the team? Coming of what might be the Olympic performance of a lifetime – no pressure really 🙂 – you have to think the pressure to capitalize on her image will build a lot. And no disrespect to the high level swimmers in the NCAA, but it would be like Lebron James suddenly going back to college basketball when he can dominate at the next level.

Attila the Hunt
Reply to  James
5 years ago

As a mostly distance swimmer, Katie should have gone pro already. There is no point going pro in 2 years time when she can have Stanford full scholarships till she graduates.

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Morgan Priestley

A Stanford University and Birmingham, Michigan native, Morgan Priestley started writing for SwimSwam in February 2013 on a whim, and is loving that his tendency to follow and over-analyze swim results can finally be put to good use. Morgan swam competitively for 15+ years, primarily excelling in the mid-distance freestyles. While …

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