Ranking the 2020 Women’s NCAA Recruiting Classes: #1-4

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We continue our spring recruiting series with a team-by-team look at the best recruiting classes entering the NCAA next season. The classes below are projected freshmen for the 2020-2021 season. Of course, the coronavirus pandemic presents a number of wrinkles to this analysis: some athletes didn’t get a senior-year taper meet. Some high-end recruits may opt to defer their enrollment for a year to prepare for the Tokyo Olympics. There’s also still the possibility that the 2020-2021 school year is delayed, along with NCAA sports. All things considered, these ranks are based on the 2020-2021 NCAA season happening, but as we usually view these recruiting classes over their projected four years of college swimming, a potential delay or cancellation of the upcoming season doesn’t have as big an impact on this analysis as it would seem.

A few important notes on our rankings:

  • The rankings listed are based on our Class of 2020 Re-Rank from just last month. “HM” refers to our honorable mentions.
  • Like most of our rankings, these placements are subjective. We base our team ranks on a number of factors: prospects’ incoming times are by far the main factor, but we also consider potential upside in the class, class size, relay impact and team needs filled. Greater weight is placed on known success in short course yards, so foreign swimmers are slightly devalued based on the difficulty in converting long course times to short course production.
  • Transfers are included.
  • For the full list of all verbally 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.

Previously ranked:

  • #16: Texas A&M Aggies
  • #15: Alabama Crimson Tide
  • #14: Georgia Bulldogs
  • #13: Virginia Tech H2Okies
  • #12: Northwestern Wildcats
  • #11: Ohio State Buckeyes
  • #10: Michigan Wolverines
  • #9: NC State Wolfpack
  • #8: Tennessee Volunteers
  • #7: Wisconsin Badgers
  • #6: Louisville Cardinals
  • #5: USC Trojans

#4: Cal Golden Bears

Cal has a great outgoing backstroke group (Keaton Blovad, Courtney Mykkanen) and luckily for them, the national recruiting class is one of the strongest backstroke fields in years. Cal got the third-best backstroke recruit, and she’s still a legitimate All-American contender in both distances as a freshman. Isabelle Stadden is 51.2/1:50.3 out of high school. The Minnesota Aquajet follows in the footsteps of another former Aquajet-to-Cal backstroker, one Rachel Bootsma.

Denmark’s Emily Gantriis helps cover for Cal’s other big graduation: star sprinter Abbey Weitzeil. Gantriis is 25.4 and 55.6 in long course freestyle, even swimming up to 2:01 in the 200 free. That should make her an instant relay swimmer across all three relay distances.

Nicole Oliva was a really intriguing prospect – she’s a national teamer for the Philippines, but attended high school in the U.S. Oliva has outstanding freestyle range (16:28/4:42/1:46.3 are her best times, but she’s also 23.6/49.9 in the sprints) and should be an effective college swimmer.

Tea Laughlin adds 52.5/1:55.9 backstroke speed to help fill in depth behind Stadden. Meanwhile Cal got two California-based divers and 23.3/50.6 freestyler Mara Allen for a very California-based class.

#3: Texas Longhorns

Texas loads up on flyers with this class. Olivia Bray and Emma Sticklen are both 51-second-or-better flyers out of high school (Bray is 50.1 and nearly into the 49s), with outstanding 200 range (1:53.7 for Bray; 1:54.5 for Sticklen) and great backstrokes (52.0 for Bray; 53.0 for Sticklen). Both should also help reload the relays with the graduation of five-relay swimmer Claire Adams. Bray is 22.7/49.2/1:46.3 in freestyle and Sticklen 22.5/49.6/1:47.8.

If those two domestic recruits aren’t enough, Texas supplemented with German breaststroker Anna Elendtwho is a 1:08.0 in long course meters. Elendt swims very well down to the 50 breast (30.5 long course) and also up to 2:29.7 in the 200, and should be a multi-event scorer early in her career.

Divers tend to be harder to project, but in-state pickup Bridget O’Neil looks like one of the top freshmen divers in the country. She was a bronze medalist at 2018 Youth Olympic Games on 3-meter and joins a Texas diving group that has been sensational for a long time.

22.3/49.0 Grace Cooper adds even more relay depth to a team with a ton of freestyle talent. Sydney Silver is a backstroker (53.4/1:55.8) who should help that group rebuild in Adams’ absence. And in-state pickups Ava Longi (23.1/50.3/1:51.3 free) and Ellie McLeod (23.5/50.1/1:50.0) just add to the wealth of depth Texas has in their relay stockpile.

#2: Virginia Cavaliers

It’s a really, really tough decision between the top two recruiting classes here. Virginia got an amazing all-around recruit in Alex Walshwho probably projects best as a breaststroker/IMer (58.19/2:05.8 breaststroke; 1:53.6/4:07.9 IM), but could also swim backstroke (50.8/1:51.4) or freestyle (22.0/48.9/1:45.0). Walsh is going to be a massive addition to Virginia’s fast-rising relays, and with the success Kate Douglass had there as a freshman, you have to be excited about Walsh’s potential in the 200 IM.

Anna Keating is a big in-state pickup, a 59.0/2:09.2 breaststroker who can chip in behind Walsh or even take over the breaststrokes if Walsh focuses elsewhere.

Emma Weyant is an elite long course IMer who doesn’t have the same kind of short course production yet, but has an incredible ceiling. We’d expect to see her focus in on the 400 IM (4:07.6) and 500 free (4:40.8) in Virginia. She’d be joined in a burgeoning IM group by British import Sophia Wilsonwho is 2:17 and 4:53 in long course meters.

Virginia just graduated key relay contributors Morgan Hill and Megan Moroney. Ranked recruit Abby Harter should help pitch in to fill the butterfly gap left by Hill – she’s 52.3 in the 100 and 1:54.7 in the 200. And then Virginia got a late add from Quinn Schaedlerwho changed her commitment from Michigan to UVA, bringing 1:45.9/48.8/22.8 freestyle speed.

#1: Stanford Cardinal

Stanford’s class has one less member than Virginia’s, but also two of our top six recruits nationwide. #1 Regan Smith is one of the all-time greats – we ranked her as the best NCAA swimming prospect of the past decade, and didn’t get a whole lot of pushback from anyone. That speaks to Smith’s absurd resume. She’s the American record-holder in the 200 back (1:47.1) and the presumptive NCAA favorite in the 100 back (49.6). She’s the world record-holder in the long course 100 and 200 backs. She’s the fastest 200 flyer (1:51.2 in yards) of anyone in this recruiting class, and also leads the national recruiting class ranks in the 500 free (4:37.1), 200 free (1:43.27), and 100 free (48.07). There’s just no overstating how big an impact Smith will likely have in her freshman season – and she recently confirmed she will attend Stanford, rather than deferring her enrollment until after the Tokyo Olympics.

Lillie Nordmann is awfully good in her own right. A 1:43.6 freestyler, Nordmann could pair with Smith as the bookends of a lethal 800 free relay for years. Nordmann is also 52.0/1:53.2 in butterfly and should score early in her career.

Other ranked recruits Janelle Rudolph and Samantha Pearson bolster sprint depth. Rudolph is 22.2/48.2 in free with a 52.4 backstroke to boot. Pearson is 22.5/48.9/1:45.8. With this five-person recruiting class alone, Stanford could put together a composite 3:14.1 400 free relay (would have been 14th at 2019 NCAAs) and 6:58.9 800 free relay (13th in 2019):

  • Smith: 48.0/1:43.2
  • Nordmann: 49.0/1:43.6
  • Rudolph: 48.2/1:46.3
  • Pearson: 48.9/1:45.8

And that’s not even accounting for relay exchanges, or the three other highly-ranked recruiting classes Stanford already has on its roster. The other incoming freshman is Isabel Gormleyan honorable mention just outside our top 20 nationally who intrigues with a 4:08.8 IM and a 4:45.3 freestyle.

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1 year ago

With Stanford likely to get the number 1 class on the men’s side, when was the last time a school had the number 1 men’s and women’s class? Has it happened before?

Benedict Arnold Schwarzenegger
Reply to  JCO
1 year ago

Somebody sleepin on the Texas class

Reply to  JCO
1 year ago

Great point! Stanford is killing it on the men’s side too, with Hu-8, Maurer-14, Mihm-15, Dang-18, & Affeod-20.

But is that class better than Texas’s class with Foster-1, Coby-10, Heasley-11, and Johnston- 16? Foster might just put Texas over Stanford, even with one less ranked recruit, right?

Ruskin Gang
Reply to  RTR
1 year ago

*Ruskie. Uh RTR, you seem to have forgotten Mr. Minakov

Reply to  Ruskin Gang
1 year ago

I did forget about Minakov! With him, as a title contender at NCAAs in the 100 fly, I’ll give the nod to Stanford.


Colt Simonelli
Reply to  RTR
1 year ago

Don’t forget Minakov

Reply to  RTR
1 year ago

Stannt may get the leg up bc Minakov

Sean S
Reply to  RTR
1 year ago

You can’t discuss the Stanford class and leave out Minakov, unless I missed something about him not coming over due to covid-19

Quarantined Swimming
Reply to  JCO
1 year ago

My guess is that UT is still on top. I’d imagine it’s
1. UT
2. Stanford
3. Cal
4. Georgia
5. Michigan
Georgia and Michigan are pretty interchangeable imo. I think having arguably 2 of the top 3 puts GA slightly ahead, but it’s really a matter of preference.

Reply to  Quarantined Swimming
1 year ago

DId you factor in Minakov?

Neptunian Merman
Reply to  JCO
1 year ago

It’s been a day and I’m still wondering if JCO forgot to account for Minakov.

1 year ago

I’m really cheering for the Texas women. This is an awesome class and maybe their year for a top 5-6 finish and some momentum for a much needed top-3 trophy in the future. Also, didn’t Cal get a decent sprint/breaststroke recruit from Washington?

Lane 8
Reply to  tswim
1 year ago

I think they originally got a verbal from Gracie Felner, a versatile sprinter from WA, but she changed her commitment to Alabama.

Konner Scott
1 year ago

Didn’t Olivia Bray almost break 50 in the 100 fly recently?

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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