Ranking the 2018 Women’s NCAA Recruiting Classes: #1-4

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After a whirlwind of a summer season, it’s time to shift gears and start preparing for NCAA season. To help out, we’re launching our yearly series ranking the top 12 recruiting classes in the nation – these swimmers will be starting their freshman seasons in the next month.

Here are a few important notes on our rankings:

  • The ranking numbers listed for individual recruits are from our Class of 2018 Re-Rank, which was done this past spring. Certainly, some of those ranks would change after this summer’s season.
  • Like most of our rankings, these placements are subjective.  Rankings are based on a number of factors, including prospect’s incoming times, team needs filled, prospect’s potential upside, class size, and potential relay impact. Greater weight is placed on known success in short course yards, so foreign swimmers are slightly devalued because of their inexperience in SCY.
  • Transfers are included, and there are lots of big ones.
  • For the full list of the 1200+ committed athletes, click here. A big thank-you to SwimSwam’s own Anne Lepesant for compiling that index – without it, rankings like these would be far less comprehensive.

Here are the 4th-through-1st-ranked women’s NCAA Swimming & Diving classes, with the top 8 to follow later this week:


Top-tier additions: #3 Julia Cook (TX – sprint free/back), #14 Grace Ariola (IL – sprint free/back)
The rest: Holly Jansen (VA – breast), Kendall Shields (TX – back)

Before everyone loses their minds about such a small class being ranked in our top 4, note that in the NCAA, sprint free is the most valuable strength in a recruit because of substantial relay significance. That said, Julia Cook and Grace Ariola are the fastest sprint freestylers in the class when it comes to yards. Cook’s 47.82 is already lethal and not far off of A-final speed, and she’s the only newcomer who has broken 48 seconds in yards. Meanwhile, Ariola’s 22.17 is the best yards 50 in the class, and her 48.30 is among the best. Cook’s 22.19 is tied with Indiana’s Ileah Doctor for 2nd in class. When considering that most of the girls who can hang with Cook and Ariola are part of Stanford’s monster class, Texas really has an elite sprint free duo coming in that nobody else can really touch (again, nobody else but Stanford).

When combining with Claire Adams and perhaps Remedy Rule or Brooke Hansen, Texas’s sprint free relays could push for top 3 or top 4 status at NCAAs. Additionally, when looking at Cook’s 1:44.21 (also one of the best in class) and noting names like Evie Pfeifer and Quinn Carrozza (not to mention Adams’ blazing 1:41.71 second leg split in the 800 relay at NCAAs), all of the Longhorns free relays are going to be on fire.

Cook and Ariola are also elite backstrokers, coming in at 51.64 and 52.56, respectively, and between the three of them and Adams, the medleys have a lot of options. As for other event possibilities, Cook has been 1:53.1 back and 52.8 fly, and Ariola has been 53.4 fly.

Holly Jansen‘s 2:10.8 200 breast has some intrigue, and she’s been 1:01.1 in the 100. Meanwhile, local pickup Kendall Shields brings in a 53.9/1:56.1 backstroke combo that will add even more depth to a sizable backstroke contingent in Austin.


Top-tier additions: #4 Vanessa Pearl (TX – IM/breast), #19 Leah Braswell (PA – distance), Mabel Zavaros (Canada – fly), Layla Black (Great Britain – breast)
The rest: Rosie Zavaros (Canada – back), Kirschtine Balbuena (FL – sprint free), Celi Guzman (FL – back), Ellie Hatton (Scotland – IM), Kalie Novosedliak (CA – free), Ellie Zweifel (MO – breast), Lauren Snider (FL – diving), Elizabeth Perez (Venezuela – diving)

Florida needed a rebuild, and this class is a huge step in the right direction for the Gators. A nice mix of domestic and offshore talents, #4 Vanessa Pearl is the biggest get, with legitimate NCAA scoring potential in both IM’s and both breaststrokes. She’s been 1:55.6/4:05.8 in the IMs, and she’s the best IM’er coming in in the class. Her 1:00.1/2:08.1 breaststrokes are also great, with her 200 being one of the best in the class. #19 Leah Braswell is a 4:39.2/16:16.1 distance freestyler with a 4:08.9 IM, another heavy hitter with no shortage of endurance. She, too, could score in at least the 500 free.

Canadian twins Mabel and Rosie Zavaros join the Gators, with Mabel being an incredibly capable butterflier at 58.6/2:08.7 in long course, her 200 being the exceptional event. The Gators DQ’d their 400 medley at SECs and didn’t qualify it for NCAAs, and Mabel may be a solid replacement to the 53.01 leg they got on that DQ’d relay. She’s tough — she’s also been 2:01 free and 4:45 IM in long course, and she made headlines by hitting a PR in the 1500 free at the Santa Clara PSS this year while doing the last 50 fly.

Her sister Rosie is a backstroker, with bests of 1:02.5/2:11.7 in long course. She joins British backstroker Layla Black, who is 1:09.2/2:26.6 in the breaststroke.

Florida will still struggle with sprint free, a serious issue for them going forward, though in-state pickup Kirschtine Balbuena (23.1/50.1/1:49.5) might develop into more of a threat at UF. This is a very big class, with blue chip names and a couple people ready to score right away at NCAAs, but Florida is still going to need a stronger sprint core to make more of a foundation for a significant rebuild.


Top-tier additions: #7 Eva Merrell (CA – back/fly/free), #9 Olivia Carter (NC – fly/IM), #12 Dakota Luther (TX – fly/free), #18 Madison Homovich (NC – distance), Sofia Carnevale (UNLV transfer – breast)

The rest: Callie Dickinson (VA – back), Portia Del Rio Brown (OH – IM), Tatum Smith (GA – free), Caroline Aikins (GA – back/IM), Ellie Crump (GA – diving), Kelliann Howell (GA – diving), Addison Kelly (GA – diving)

This is a tried and true UGA line-up coming in: lots of 200 stroke specialists, mid-distance freestyle talent, and IM speed. To top it off, a versatile sprinter joins in — Eva Merrell. The California native hasn’t raced much this year, but she’s very dangerous in anything that isn’t breaststroke — 22.2/48.5 FR, 52.2/1:52.2 BK, and 51.9 FL — making her a relay weapon and an immediate individual scoring threat.

Dakota Luther and Olivia Carter are both fantastic 200 flyers, in fact the two fastest in this class in SCY, but they bring so much more to the table than that. Luther is at 52.1/1:54.5 FL, and has a nice spread of freestyle talent (49.8/1:45.3/4:44), while Carter has been 52.3/1:53.4 FL, as well as 1:56.8/4:09.9 IM and 49.3/1:46 FR.

Madison Homovich is another multi-talent prospect, at 4:39.7/16:03 free and 4:10.9 IM, as well as a strong 1:54.1 backstroke. Her mile is already in top 16 scoring range, and she’s one of the best distance swimmers in the class.

UNLV transfer Sofia Carnevale is the last big piece here, and few teams will be as relieved to have a great sprint breaststroker join their lineup as UGA. Like Cal, sprint breast has been an odd gap in the Bulldogs’ lineup for awhile, plaguing their medley relay salience, and UGA gets two seasons from Carnevale. Her event of significance is the 100 breast, where she’s been 59.87 and could be a scorer in that event. Most important will be her medley relay duties, as UGA notably missed both medley relay A finals without a hammer breast leg.

This is a large class, with 1:56 backstrokers Caroline Aikins and Callie Dickinson as well as 2:00 IM’er Portia Del Rio Brown adding even more depth, along with three divers.


Top-tier additions: #1 Taylor Ruck (Canada – sprint free/back), #2 Zoe Bartel (CO – breast), #6 Morgan Tankersley (FL – free), #10 Lucie Nordmann (TX – back/free), #11 Amalie Fackenthal (CA – sprint free/fly), #20 Allie Raab (TN – breast)
The rest: HM Anya Goeders (IN – sprint free), Carolina Sculti (NY – diving), Daria Lenz (CA – diving)

It’s hard to grapple with the deafening noise that this class has. Taylor Ruck is a Canadian record holder, and her time in high school training and racing in yards makes it easy to see how she will be able to transfer from LCM to SCY. She has blown up this past year or so, and her 24.4/52.7/1:54.4 freestyle combo in LCM is absolutely lethal, not to mention her 59.1/2:06.3 in backstroke. Ruck will boost any relay she’s on, and her yards bests (22.3/48.5/1:44.3 FR and 52.9/1:53.3 BK) are already impressive, but when considering they’re from 2015 and earlier (save for her 50 from 2017), it’s clear that she will probably be an NCAA title contender in multiple events.

The freestyle talent here is insane, with Morgan Tankersley coming in at 48.6/1:44.3/4:37.6, Lucie Nordmann at 22.3/48.3/1:44.9, Amalie Fackenthal at 22.4/48.2/1:46.2, and Anya Goeders at 22.4/49.3 (and 24.8 LCM). Meanwhile, Nordmann may be better utilized as a backstroker (52.1/1:52.1 PRs), and Fackenthal a butterflyer (52.0 PR). We haven’t even mentioned the best breaststroker in the class yet, Zoe Bartel, whose 58.7/2:06.2 blows away anyone else in the class, true freshman or transfer, out of the water. 1:00.0/2:09.6 breaststroker Allie Raab and two divers makes this class simply elite.

The Stanford freshman class, on its own, could probably go top 3 in any relay right off the bat. While the Cardinal loses Simone Manuel and Katie Ledecky, there isn’t much else you could’ve expected from their freshman class as they keep trekking on with another NCAA title in sight.

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5 years ago

Is this Stanford’s fifth #1 Ranked class in a row?

Reply to  CraigH
5 years ago

No I believe it’s their 3rd. In 2015 Cal was the top class by a wide margin with Kathleen Baker, Amy Bilquist, and Katie McLaughlin.

Reply to  Hannah
5 years ago

Technically that class for Stanford included Katie Ledecky, Ella Eastin, Leah Stevens, and Kim Williams. You could make an argument that they should have been #1 over Cal, with all included.

But since this list only includes matriculating freshmen, and Ledecky didn’t start school until the following year, that’s all moot.

Newport Beach Lover
5 years ago

I understand that the ranking is made by short course and especially their possible contribution to the relays…Taylor Ruck is an amazing swimmer, but for recent years her focus is on LCM… How did you evaluate her LCM performances into SCY? I saw some LCM focus swimmers were not rated as high in boys…or how did you rate the one who did not compete for a year ? Or did you just see their times regardless when they were set? Just curiosity…I know everyone you listed above are all amazing competitors, who would do great things in their college swimming career.

Nathan Smith
Reply to  Newport Beach Lover
5 years ago

None of the boys are at Ruck’s level in LCM, if someone is winning international medals it’s safe to say they’ll have a great NCAA career.

Reply to  Newport Beach Lover
5 years ago

She swam yards for a significant portion of her life

Reply to  Newport Beach Lover
5 years ago

In the last 2 years in SCM, Ruck was 24.0/52.0/1:52.5 in free and 56.9/2:01.6 in back. SCM should translate really easily to SCY. Have to think that those get her down to times like 21.5/46.5/1:40.5 and 51.0/1:49.0 in yards, all of which are either guaranteed medals, or in medal contention.

Reply to  MTK
5 years ago

My virtual bet is that Ruck will be significantly faster than 1.40.5 in 200 free SCY, and probably also than your other benchmarks in the other distances.
Swimmer in great development and high chances to watch results we’ve never seen in the past.

Reply to  nuotofan
5 years ago

Ruck could break Missy’s record in 200 free. I could see a 1:37..

Reply to  Hswimmer
5 years ago

Ruck vs. Comerford (both races) will be lit!

Reply to  Hswimmer
5 years ago

ummmm.. 1:37? not so sure about that one.

Reply to  nuotofan
5 years ago

I agree with you – I converted times that are mostly 2 years old, and she’s gotten better since then.

5 years ago

Not related to the theme of this article, but I really appreciate the good writing skills of Swimswam’s staff!

5 years ago

Fackenthal is really special I’m excited to see what she can do next year

tea rex
5 years ago

Losing Hu and Howe arguably hurts as much as Manuel/Ledecky, but STILL the title doesn’t look like it’s going to be contested soon.

We’ll probably see a lot of churn for spots 2-10 though.

In 2018:
1st – Stanford 593. By FAR the best recruiting class – a 24.8 lc sprinter doesn’t even qualify as a “key addition”???
2nd – Cal 373. Recruits ranked #9. Baker went pro.
3rd – T A&M 299. Recruits ranked #7. Lose their only stud sprinter, Gastaldello.
4th – Michigan 267. Recruits honorable mention. Down to 2 Deloofs.
5th – Louisville 232. Recruits not ranked, though no big losses.
6th – Texas 221. Recruits ranked #4, no big losses.

Reply to  tea rex
5 years ago

Texas A&M also lost Bethany Galat, a huge scorer, Lisa Bratton, their only backstroker, abs Kristin Malone, who was on all their freestyle relays. They have a lot of rebuilding to do.

Sun Devil Swim Fan
Reply to  Hannah
5 years ago

Yeah, they lost a bit but they’ll get there. Steve Bultman Is a proven “developer” of talent. Doesn’t get many “elite” swimmers coming out of high school but manages to do a “heck of a job” developing them there “on the Brazos”!!

Reply to  Sun Devil Swim Fan
5 years ago

I definitely agree. This isn’t the first time that A&M has graduated a class like this and they normally bounce back well. Unfortunately they probably won’t be top three again this year.

5 years ago

Florida has a top notch program but I would easily take the versatility and depth of the CAL or Virginia (even Indiana) class over the Gators here (or course Vanessa P. is a proven star). Georgia and Stanford do have the obvious best classes but outside of those two schools there are no classes poised to dominate. And then again, there’s the actual swimming and coaching. Still all fun to consider . . .

What’s up
5 years ago

Wasn’t Georgia just ranked 11th?

Reply to  What’s up
5 years ago

As a full team, yes. Georgia was 11th last year and only returns 23 of its 135 points and 9 of its 20 relay legs. This freshman class is going to need to do a really heavy lift to get Georgia back into the top 10 this season.

What’s up
Reply to  Jared Anderson
5 years ago

Thank you!

5 years ago

Absolutely no disrespect to the greatest swimmer on earth katie ledecky but in the NCAA format that values relays and sprinting I think I rather have Taylor ruck on my team if I had to pick between the two. That girl is so good

Reply to  Klorn8d
5 years ago

Yes, Katie stayed too long with college swimming. One year of being freshman in college is quite enough to learn this new experience of independent life. For the swimmer of her talent college swimming gives nothing. It only takes.
I hope that Taylor Ruck being in high demand for team needs won’t follow the example of Missy Franklin who was good at everything in college from 500 to sprint and IM. She entered college swimming being two times FINA best swimmer of the year then she traded it for the best college swimmer of the year that made her nobody back to LCM.
Same as Franklin Taylor Ruck’s best chances internationally are at 200 distance both in backstroke… Read more »

Reply to  Yozhik
5 years ago

I’m glad you only see Ledecky as a swimmer and not as a human being. Yes, she is the best swimmer on the planet, but she probably has other goals than being the best swimmer of her generation. That’s what makes her so special. Who are you to say that it only takes a year to learn to be independent; I’m sure your parents were so proud it only took one year for you to be a grown adult.

I’m tired of everyone’s posts who bash superstar’s decision to go to college. Sometimes their times suffer and they maybe unhappy about that. But swimming may not be all that they want out of life. I’m glad that’s what you want… Read more »

Reply to  Sakibomb25
5 years ago

I’m not talking about choice between going to the college or becoming pro. I’m talking if the college student has to swim for the college team or can train with the club if such an option exists.
Tell me why would accomplished swimmers want to swim for the college team other than to pay this way for tuition?
They came from the high school where they were for many years part of the team. To get team to the state finals or to win the the conference meet or even to win sometimes dual meet brings a high level of excitement. It is very natural to have same mentality in college. But a college isn’t a high school… Read more »

San Jacinto
Reply to  Klorn8d
5 years ago

I understand perhaps the pure points argument, but team chemistry and drive is important in NCAA swimming, so I would rather have had Ledecky if forced to pick between her and Ruck. Because for some reason Stanford had not won a team National Championship in two decades before Ledecky joined the team, they won one with her and then they repeated. And Stanford had some incredible individual swimmers and sprinters during the two decades leading up to Ledecky. Her work ethic is pretty good I’d say and she pushed the distance swimmers, IMers, and sprinters to be the best–not just the sprinters. And without Ledecky and those championships (or at least the first one), there is probably no Ruck coming… Read more »

About Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon studied sociology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, graduating in May of 2018. He began swimming on a club team in first grade and swam four years for Wesleyan.

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