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:

#4: TEXAS LONGHORNS

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.

#3: FLORIDA GATORS

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.

#2: GEORGIA BULLDOGS

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.

#1: STANFORD CARDINAL

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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NZ Swim

Bobbi Gichard is no longer swimming for Florida. She’s now at Queens

Swimmer

Looks like Stanford has one of the most dominant recruiting classes ever.

25 free champ

Fly Cardinal Fly!

ASUSWIMFAN46290

You know their mascot is the color and not the bird right?

Steve Nolan

And also, a tree.

meeeeee

Where birds make nests

Klorn8d

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

San Jacinto

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 »

Yozhik

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 and freestyle.… Read more »

Sakibomb25

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 »

Yozhik

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 where everybody… 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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