Continuing with our Class of 2014 NCAA Recruiting Class Rankings, it’s time to reveal numbers 5 through 8 on the women’s side.
A quick disclaimer: the ranking numbers listed for each individual prospect are from our pre-recruiting season rankings done last July. There has obviously been some shake-up in the rankings since then based on each swimmer’s senior season, so the individual rankings are a rough sign of each prospect’s standing, though not as concrete as they’d appear. Those early rankings also do not include foreign athletes, as it’s often difficult to know exactly what semester an athlete will make the trip into the U.S. and therefore hard to classify them with a specific recruiting class. Foreign athletes signed on for the coming season are included in these new team rankings.
As with any ranking system, these placements are subjective. We do our best to research each class thoroughly and to justify each of our rankings, but if you see things differently, leave your thoughts in the comment section. (We know we won’t have to ask you twice!)
Without further ado, here are #5-8:
8. Minnesota Golden Gophers (NCAA Finish: 10th)
Top-Tier Additions: Brooke Zeiger, Brooke Lorentzen, Danielle Nack
Rest of class: Isabel Wyer, McKenna Lynch, Aislin Rose, Bridget Grobe, Rae Bullinger, Beth Etterman (diver)
In a very top-heavy recruiting season, eight of our top ten recruits in those original rankings ended up among four different teams, which, coincindentally, are our top 4 recruiting classes. But Minnesota managed to nab one of the two that got away in what looks like a very strong class for the three-time defending Big Ten champs.
One major rule of recruiting is that you cannot let elite in-state athletes get away. Minnesota made sure that didn’t happen this season, grabbing our #9 prospect, butterflyer Danielle Nack early in the fall recruiting season. Nack is one of the top two or three butterfliers in this entire class, holding a 52.4 that displaced future Olympian Rachel Bootsma‘s Minnesota state record in the event. Nack is also a 1:58.1 in the 200 fly. She’ll get to spend a year training with former Big Ten champion Becca Weiland before taking over the reigns as the team’s top sprint butterflyer. Minnesota’s best 200 flyer, Devin Ste. Marie is also graduating in 2015.
Aside from her butterfly prowess, Nack actually comes in as one of Minnesota’s top sprint freestylers as well, with a lifetime-best of 22.8 in the 50 free and developmental speed even up to the 200.
Minnesota’s most versatile pickup is Bluefish’s Brooke Zeiger, who looks like a stud IMer in the making. Zeiger follows her older sister Blake to Minnesota, and the two will pair together for one season. Brooke Zeiger has a little bit of former Bluefish standout Elizabeth Beisel in her – she’s an outstanding 400 IMer and 200 backstroker who can also cross over into some distance freestyle. She’s been 4:11.9 in the 400 IM and 1:58.4 in the 200 IM, both of which would have been just outside of NCAA point-scoring range a year ago. She also adds a 1:54.7 in the 200 back, especially helpful considering Minnesota just graduated top backstroker Tess Behrens.
The classic Minnesota pickup is Mission Viejo’s Brooke Lorentzen, a distance specialist. There’s been a long line of Minnesota distance ladies to breakout during their years in Minneapolis, including national champ Ashley Steenvoorden and current national teamer Kiera Janzen, and Lorentzen could fit the bill of the next big one. She’s already 1:47.8 in the 200 and 4:45.1 in the 500, plus 9:45.1 in the 1000, and it looks like those freestyle events will be her biggest focus moving forward. Lorentzen also comes in with an excellent training background, hailing from the tough, gritty Mission Viejo program that produced Chloe Sutton and Ashley Twichell.
The Gophers really mined the midwest for the rest of their class. Rae Bullinger is a Hopkins, MN-based breaststroker coming to join NCAA finalist Kierra Smith in Minnesota’s great breaststroking tradition. Isabel Wyer and Bridget Grobe are both in-state pickups, and McKenna Lynch comes north across the border from Central Iowa Aquatics. With a huge and talented class of seniors graduating in 2015, Minnesota will need to have succession plans in place in multiple events, but this class should help safely pad some of the biggest graduations a year in advance as Minnesota goes for four in a row in the expanding Big Ten.
7. Texas A&M Aggies (NCAA Finish: 4th)
Top-Tier Additions: Bethany Galat, Lisa Bratton, Kristin Malone, Esther Gonzalez
Rest of Class: Caitlynn Moon, Laura Norman, Nancy Shuchhardt, Jessica Sloan
The biggest graduation hit Texas A&M sustained was American Record-setting breaststroker Breeja Larson. With that impending loss in mind, the Aggies went out and got perhaps the best possible replacement for her: Indiana’s Bethany Galat, rated as our 10th best overall recruit last summer and the only breaststroker to crack our top 10.
Galat already looks the part of a big-time college breaststroker. She’s been 59.6 in the 100 – it’s still rare to find sub-minute talent out of high school, and A&M now looks like they’ll immediately be at least above-average in the event even after losing Larson. The Aggies return Canadian Ashley McGregor, an NCAA point scorer as well. Galat also goes 2:12.6 in the 200 with some development potential there, along with a 1:57.5 in the 200 IM. Plus, in true Larson-like fashion, Galat could be a free relay contributor as well, going 22.3 in the 50 free.
Another future contender in freestyles is Shorewood, Wisconsin product Kristin Malone. Malone is a state record-holder and former Wisconsin state swimmer of the year, and brings in 23.1/49.4 speed, plus the ability to go up to the 200, where she’s 1:47.7. That makes her a key relay player, and her developmental breaststroke (1:02-speed) is something to keep an eye on in a training environment that fostered Larson’s explosion.
The Aggies went across the country to get Washington’s Lisa Bratton, who fills another obvious hole in the lineup. NCAA champ Paige Miller is graduated for the Aggies, and equally as important as replacing Larson is replacing Miller, who was A&M’s only backstroking point-scorer at NCAAs last year. Bratton certainly has the talent. She comes in with best times of 53.6 and 1:53.6 in the 100 and 200 back, and also shows some IM potential. It’ll be a new-look medley relay for Texas A&M with Miller and Larson gone, but Bratton and Galat should be a front-half to team together for the next four years.
Esther Gonzalez comes down from Canada, and brings in her own breaststroking talent. Depending on how she transitions to short course yards, she could easily follow in the shoes of McGregor, a returning NCAA A finalist. The rest of the class helps round things out event-wise. Nancy Schuchhardt is an IMer from Germany, who is another intriguing talent in this bunh.
Now fully settled in the tough SEC, Texas A&M knows it needs major talent to run with teams like Georgia and Florida, but they seem to be doing an excellent job of replacing the talent they’re graduating, not an easy task with some of the big names on the way out.
6. Indiana Hoosiers (NCAA Finish: 12th)
Top-Tier Additions: Grace Vertigans, Marie Chamberlain, Kennedy Goss, Ali Rockett, Kaitlin Kitchens, Delaney Barnard, Reagan Cook
Rest of Class: Samatha Lisy, Rachel Matsumura, Gabi Rajic, Holly Spears, Taylor Truex
The Achilles Heel for the Hoosier of late has been their sprint freestyling. Last year they floated by, finding a stop-gap solution in senior transfer Kaitlin Flederbach, but this coming fall, they’ll be back searching for that big-time sprinter to elevate their relays, plus the depth to make those relays solid from top to bottom.
That seems like the theme of this recruiting class for Ray Looze & co. Probably their biggest ‘get’ was British sprinter Grace Vertigans, a late signee. Vertigans has been 25.4 and 55.4 in the long course 50 and 100 meter free, times that roughly convert to 22.2/48.4 in yards – that means Vertigans could be an instant plugin as one of the Big Ten’s top sprinters, and could have four years to develop in Bloomington, a luxury the team didn’t have with Flederbach. The obvious catch here is the transfer of speed from long course meters to short course yards, which is a tricky process that doesn’t always pan out for big-name international pickups. The jury will still be out on Vertigans for awhile yet, but in terms of pure talent, this is a gigantic pickup for Indiana.
Vertigans bookends this class with talented sprinters, as one of the earliest signees was Pennsylvania’s Ali Rockett. The aptly-named Rockett is a classic sprinter – 23.1/50.7 and probably won’t go up much higher than a 100. She also brings a pretty solid backstroke (55.0) to the table, and has actually hit more lifetime bests in that event this past season than she did in freestyle.
Marie Chamberlain is the real pure sprinter of the group, a former YMCA national champion who goes 23.1 in the 50 and also adds a 53.5 100 backstroke. Those will be two really solid events, as Chamberlain can fight for relay spots in freestyle from the get-go while developing her backstroke alongside new training partner Brooklynn Snodgrass, the defending NCAA champ in the 200 back. Moving up some in distance, you have Canada’s Kennedy Goss, a more mid-sprint talent who should fill into the 100/200/500 frees while also swimming backstroke.
In terms of developing depth, Indiana brought in Florida’s Delaney Barnard and Georgia’s Kaitlin Kitchens. Both are 23-mid in the 50 free and 50-point-mid in the 100. Barnard adds a 1:48.8 in the 200 free (which should make her an eventual 800 free relay contender) while Kitchens spreads out more into the butterfly races.
The only event Indiana didn’t really reload in was breaststroke, where Bronwyn Pasloski graduated out. Still, if the Hoosiers can trade a sprint free weakness for a breaststroking one, it’ll be a net improvement, considering the value of relays in the NCAA.
You could almost consider new assistant coach Dennis Dale a part of this recruiting effort as well. After decades with Big Ten rival Minnesota, Dale made the move to Indiana this summer. He specializes in sprint freestylers, and it appears Indiana plans to give him plenty to work with as he begins his first season in Hoosier red.
5. Princeton Tigers (NCAA Finish: 40th)
Top-Tier Additions: Alisabeth Marsteller, Heidi Miller, Elsa Welshofer, Madelyn Veith, Claire McIlmail, Emily Jiang, Lindsay Temple
Rest of Class: Lily Reisinger, Mary Kate Davis, Colleen McHugh (diver), Larkin Papa (diver)
This is probably the surprise team of the recruiting season. It’s no secret that Ivy League schools have some very unique challenges in recruiting, not to mention an lengthy and selective admissions process that filters out many potential recruiting candidates. In spite of all that, the Tigers brought in an absolute haul this offseason, piecing together a class that is both deep and highly-talented.
The biggest ‘get’ is Heidi Miller out of Pittsburgh. This is the kind of centerpiece every major class needs. Miller is a do-everything stud. She’s 1:59.5 in the 200 IM, but perhaps more importantly has 54.4 speed in the 100 fly, making her a perfect replacement for the graduated Lisa Boyce, Princeton’s only NCAA point-scorer last season. Miller is also an excellent backstroker, and adds lifetime-bests of 22.8 in the 50 free and 49.1 in the 100. Needless to say, she’ll be a key contributor from day 1.
Slightly less versatile but actually stronger in the butterfly events is SwimMAC’s Elsa Welshofer. A 53.4-second 100 butterflyer, Welshofer is perhaps better in the 200 (1:57.9). Between she and Miller, Princeton should feel great about their prospects in filling Boyce’s shoes, and the two of them can likely co-exist on medley relays (with Miller swimming freestyle) to help the Tigers with the big points there. Despite SwimMAC’s reputation as a sprint club, Welshofer is actually better over a distance, going 1:49.8 in the 200 free and even swimming pretty well up to the 500.
Then there’s a pair of great sprinters in Alisabeth Marsteller and Madelyn Veith. Both can go 23-low out of high school in the 50 free with good 100 speed as well. Marsteller, an Ohio native, swims up to the 200, where she’s been 1:46.7 and stands as Princeton’s top recruit in the event. She’s also knocking on the door of a sub-2:00 200 IM, which speaks to her versatility, which could be Heidi Miller-level with some development. Veith comes from the swimming hub of Hershey, PA, and expands out into the breaststrokes as well.
Claire McIlmail is a Maryland state champion who looks like she’ll fit in alongside Miller and Welshofer as a developing butterflyer, coming in with a personal best just under 55 seconds. Princeton went across the country to get Emily Jiang out of Irvine, California, another solid butterfly prospect who is just over 55. Both McIlmail and Jiang have quick enough freestyles to be eventual impact relay pieces for the Tigers as well, especially in the 400 and 800 free relays. If that isn’t enough, Princeton brought in local New Jersey product Lindsay Temple, a 55-second backstroker with some IM potential as well.
This honestly looks like a top-tier recruiting class, and had the top 4 not completely run away from the rest of the pack as much as they did, this class probably would have made it into our final preview article. Give the Princeton coaching staff credit for really selling it in recruiting last fall. This class seemed to snowball as the recruiting season went on, and it should give coach Susan Teeter and her staff plenty of reasons to be optimistic even after the graduation of a stud like Lisa Boyce.