Ranking The 2021 Women’s NCAA Recruiting Classes: #5-8

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We continue our 2021 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 2021-2022 season.

A few important notes on our rankings:

  • The rankings listed are based on our Class of 2021 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.
  • Several swimmers that would’ve been freshmen last season deferred enrollment for one year in order to focus on the postponed Olympic Games. There were also teams that didn’t compete last year, such as those from the Ivy League and Arizona State, so last season’s would-be first-years are now redshirt freshmen in 2021-22. Due to the fact that these swimmers were included in our 2020 recruiting class rankings, they have been left out of these rankings.
  • Some teams had not released a finalized 2021-22 team roster at the time these articles were published, meaning it’s possible we missed some names. Let us know in the comments below.

Previously ranked:

  • #16: Michigan Wolverines
  • #15: North Carolina Tar Heels
  • #14: Notre Dame Fighting Irish
  • #13: Indiana Hoosiers
  • #12: USC Trojans
  • #11: Wisconsin Badgers
  • #10: Texas Longhorns
  • #9: Auburn Tigers

#8: Florida Gators

Florida’s deep class is highlighted by the extremely versatile Brooke Zettel and elite freestyler Micayla Cronk, along with World Junior Championship finalist Ekaterina Nikonova from Russia.

Zettel, a North Carolina native out of the TAC Titans, made improvements across the board in her senior year, bringing her 200 IM down to an NCAA scoring-worthy 1:56.71, and her 200 fly (1:56.74) and 400 IM (4:11.14) well under the cutline.

Zettel is also a strong breaststroker (1:01.2/2:11.9), backstroker (54.4/1:57.4) and freestyler (1:47.7/4:47/16:43), not to mention a 53.7 PB in the 100 fly, making her a Swiss army knife for the Gators.

Cronk ranked sixth in our class rankings as a high school junior, but wasn’t able to match her best times as a senior in her premier events and ended up an Honorable Mention in the re-rank.

Nonetheless, Cronk is among the best American freestylers in the class, owning a best time of 1:44.39 in the 200 free, just .07 outside of what it took to make the 2021 NCAA ‘A’ final. Her 100 free (48.20) is also projected to be scoring at NCAAs in the top-16.

A swimmer with conversions similar to Cronk’s best times is Nikonova, who comes in with the potential to be a major factor for Florida both individually and on the relays.

Not currently on the team’s roster, the school has told SwimSwam that Nikonova will be joining the team in the Spring, so she should be available to compete at SECs and NCAAs if she were to qualify.

Nikonova, who won three relay medals at the 2019 World Junior Championships and placed sixth individually in the 100 free, owns LCM bests of 25.2/54.8/1:59.8 in the 50, 100 and 200 freestyle, which convert down to 22.0/48/0/1:45.0 in yards.

Looking at her SCM best times, which may be a better indicator for SCY, her times convert down to 22.1/47.9/1:43.7.

Nikonova’s ability in all three events put her in contention to be making NCAA ‘A’ finals, led by the 200, where her SCM conversions would’ve been fourth last season.

Cronk and Nikonova joining the team in the same season should have an immediate impact on Florida’s relays, with only one swimmer, rising junior Talia Bates, sub-1:45 on the Gators’ ninth place-finishing 800 free relay at NCAAs. Adding Cronk and Nikonova should easily push the team into the top eight this season, and they should also help the 400 free relay get into scoring position after placing 19th (out of 20 teams) last season.

Several local Florida natives are also featured in the class, including Olivia Peoples, a high-end 100 flyer who’s essentially right on the NCAA cutline in the event (52.73), and Mary Kate Kelley, a 54.2/1:58.6 backstroker who’s also sub-55 in the 100 fly.

Two more solid in-state pick-ups are distance freestyler Anna Auld (4:48/16:34, 4:16 IM) and 55.1 flyer Georgia Bates.

The Gators only had one swimmer finish in the top 16 in the 100 back at the 2021 SECs, rising senior Katie Minnich, and they’ll get some help there in Virginia native Aris Runnels, who owns a lifetime best of 53.16—right on what it took to make the SEC ‘A’ final last season. Runnels gives the class another high-end option in the 100 fly with a best of 53.6, and the 200 IM (2:01.7) could work as a third event focus, though she’s also sub-2:00 backstroker.

#7: Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio State brings in a deep recruiting class that includes five swimmers with at least one event under last season’s NCAA cutline, not including sprinter Teresa Ivan, who is just over a tenth off in the 50 free.

Headlining the group is Austin native Malia Rausch, who rocketed into the class’s elite by dropping 1:45.9/4:40.2/16:19 freestyle swims in December, plus 1:59.4/4:14.3 IM performances. That gives Rausch a top-eight NCAA time in the 500, and two more scoring swims in the 200 and 1650. The medley performances are a bonus, making her an even more valuable dual meet threat.

Phoenix Swim Club’s Mia Rankin looks to continue OSU’s strong tradition of female 400 IMers, having dropped five seconds over the last year down to a time of 4:10.34, a half-second shy of NCAA scoring. Rankin is also four seconds under the cutline in the 1650 free (16:21.4), and is versatile across the 200 IM (2:00.2), the 200 breast (2:13.5) and the 500/1000 freestyles (4:48.9/9:52.0).

Adding to the Buckeyes’ distance crew is University of Iowa transfer Alyssa Graves, who will have up to four seasons of eligibility remaining. Graves was an NCAA qualifier last season at Iowa, setting best times en route to placing 27th in the 1650 free (16:18.59) and 33rd in the 200 fly (1:57.81). Graves figures to be a contender for Big Ten ‘A’ finals in both events right out of the gate, and she’s also got potential in the 500 free (4:47.5).

The aforementioned Ivan brings some top-tier sprinting into the mix, owning lifetime bests of 22.46 and 49.04 in the 50 and 100 free, within range of the 2021 NCAA cuts (22.32/48.76). OSU has won consecutive Big Ten titles in the women’s 200 free relay, and combined to score 54 points at NCAAs between the 200 and 400 free relays in 2021. Ivan will push for a spot on those teams right away and keep them among the country’s best.

Bolstering the class are invite-worthy backstrokers Nyah Funderburke (52.92 100 back) and Paige Hall (1:54.71 200 back), with Hall also within six-tenths of the cutline in the 100 (53.60). Funderburke could be a potential 200 medley lead-off down the line (24.6 50 back), and is also a strong 54.6 in the 100 fly. Hall also has a 1:59.0 200 IM and 49.8/1:47.2 freestyles.

Then there’s 54.1 flyer/55.4 backstroker Mackenzie DeWitt and 55.0/2:00 backstroker Allie Fenska adding to the team’s depth, plus breaststroker Reese Dehen (1:02.0/2:13.6) and 23.0 50 freestyler Mairin O’Brien.

After a 34-year drought, the Ohio State women have claimed back-to-back Big Ten titles, and their 2021 recruiting class has put them in position to continue to challenge for conference titles years down the line.

#6: Georgia Bulldogs

Georgia reloads with a deep class that features both high-end domestic recruits and a couple of impact internationals.

#10 Rachel Stege out of Illinois didn’t do a ton of SCY racing last season, but delivered when she did. Stege blasted a time of 4:40.03 in the 500 free in November, the fastest in the class, which puts her in NCAA Championship final territory.

Stege’s also got a 16:21 mile, under the NCAA invite time, and is close in the 200 free (1:46.40). UGA is known for its ability to produce top-tier distance freestylers, and Stege is in line to be the latest, as will in-state product Abby McCulloh.

McCulloh didn’t race the 1650 last season, but her best time sits at 16:09.5, well under what it took to score at NCAAs last season (16:13.5). McCulloh also figures to be a scorer in the 500, where her best time sits at 4:41.5, less than a second outside of an ‘A’ final.

Joining Stege and McCulloh in the distance realm is South African Dune Coetzee, a 2:00/4:13 LCM swimmer with 1:45.8/4:44 conversions (her 4:07.9 SCM 400 actually converts to 4:43.3). Coetzee will work as a great training partner with Stege and McCulloh, forming a formidable freshman trio in the 500.

Coetzee also owns a 2:10.89 LCM best in the 200 fly, converting down to NCAA scoring area (1:55.39).

Mia Abruzzo, who will join older brother Andrew in Athens, had a similar 2020-21 SCY season to Stege, only racing once, but doing phenomenally well.

Abruzzo, a Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania native, dropped a 4:10.27 400 IM in December, less than half a second off of NCAA scoring, and she’s also under the cutline in the 200 fly (1:56.66) and not far off in the 100 fly (53.73).

Abruzzo could also spend time in the distance group, with a 4:45.8 500 PB, and she could also stick with the medley focus and race the 200 IM (1:59.2) in the NCAA postseason.

Another incoming UGA freshman with freestyle prowess is Lily Gardner, a 1:46.2 200 freestyler that should grab a spot on the team’s 800 free relay. Gardner is also elite on fly (53.8/1:57.8), and could factor into a sprint free relay as well (22.8/49.5).

One swimmer who will surely be a relay player is Elsa Fretz, who owns freestyle bests of 22.7/49.4/1:46.6.

There’s also English breaststroker Angharad Evans, who converts to 1:00.5/2:14.5 SCY times with her LCM bests (1:09.2/2:33.4), and Mary Martin (1:02.3/2:16) will join her as a breast specialist.

Eboni McCarty is a 53.5 backstroker with a 22.6 50 free, making her a versatile option in the sprints and a viable relay candidate.

The Dawgs will also get one year out of Arkansas transfer Peyton Palsha, who was third in both the 500 and 1650 free at the 2021 SECs and also took fifth in the 400 IM. While she didn’t hit them at last season’s NCAAs, if Palsha swam best times she would score in the ‘A’ final of both freestyle events and place top 16 in the 400 IM. Palsha is also a 1:45.2 200 freestyler, a big add for the 800 free relay.

#5: Virginia Cavaliers

Note: Reilly Tiltmann hasn’t been included in these rankings after she graduated high school early and competed in the 2020-21 NCAA season.

This is where the rankings become a question of depth versus high-end ability, with Virginia bringing in one of the fastest high school sprinters of all time and, by and large, a very talented class, but not as many swimmers as some of the other schools.

While Georgia has four freshman swimmers with at least one NCAA invite and two projected to score right away, all three of Virginia’s swimmers are in a position to be instant scorers and have a long-lasting impact on relays for the duration of their careers.

Our #2-ranked recruit Gretchen Walsh is the marquee name of the group, having held the #1 spot each of the last two years only to be overtaken by Torri Huske after her phenomenal senior year.

Walsh is an instant NCAA title challenger in the 50 free and 100 free, with her personal best times of 21.41 and 46.98 having slotted into third and fourth place at the 2021 NCAAs, respectively, if she was competing. UVA is already a juggernaut, coming off of winning the NCAA team title last season, but Walsh will further bolster them in the relays as well, with the ability to swim whichever four she’s slotted into at an elite level. Looking specifically at the 200 and 400 free relays, Virginia took second at the 2021 NCAAs in both and the addition of Walsh could be what pushes them over the edge.

Walsh, who joins older sister Alex with the Cavaliers, also has NCAA ‘A’ final abilities across the 200 free (1:43.7) and 100 back (51.5), and her 100 fly (51.7) is close. With Virginia’s Paige Madden graduating, Walsh could challenge for an NCAA title in the 200 free if she opts to turn her focus there, with Madden (1:42.35) winning last season but the runner-up time (1:43.49) only a few tenths quicker than Walsh’s best.

Joining Walsh in our top-20 from the re-rank is Tampa’s Ella Bathurst, an extremely versatile 100/200 swimmer across freestyle, backstroker and IM.

Bathurst is already projected to be an NCAA scorer in the 200 free (1:45.71) and is under the cutline in the 100 back (52.77), having dropped times in both events last season. While those two events conflict during the NCAA postseason, Bathurst could also end up swimming the 200 IM (1:58.2), 200 back (1:56.7), 100 free (49.2) or even 100 breast (1:01.5) given her versatility.

The Cavaliers also bring in freestyler Kate Morris (22.8/49.8/1:46.7), all-around sprinter Abby Kapeller (22.6/49.9 FR, 53.7/1:58.7 BK, 54.1 FLY) and sub-54 flyer Athena Vanyo.

Similar to how Georgia will get one season out of Palsha, the Cavs gain one year out of Harvard transfer Jaycee Yegher, who heads to Virginia to pursue her Master’s in public health. Yegher gives UVA yet another high-end breaststroke option with best times of 59.3/2:08.4, both in contention for a top-16 NCAA placing.

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Bill
1 month ago

That UGA class is very DEEP with middle distance free. Not like they haven’t built NCAA title teams around that before.

WEA
1 month ago

The previously ranked section of this article has the teams in a different order than the teams that were previously listed.

bigswimming
1 month ago

Wow UVA coming in at number 5 even with Walsh? Who will be Top-4?

SwimFan76
Reply to  bigswimming
1 month ago

Cal, Tennessee, Stanford and ?

NC Fan
Reply to  SwimFan76
1 month ago

NC State

Huh
Reply to  bigswimming
1 month ago

For some reason, SwimSwam is favoring the “quantity” over “quality”.

Little Mermaid
Reply to  Huh
1 month ago

Deal with the facts of depth to win!

PK Doesn't Like His Long Name
Reply to  Little Mermaid
1 month ago

With the exception of the top 3 or so teams, how good your top 6-10 swimmers are matters significantly more than how deep you are, at the NCAA level. It’s better to be a team who has backstrokers that go 50.0, 53.0, and 55.0 than to have 3 girls go 51.8.

Ridiculous
Reply to  Huh
1 month ago

That could be the only way Cal is ranked better than Virginia

NCswims
Reply to  bigswimming
1 month ago

How in the WORLD is UVA ranked #5 with the presence of Walsh and several other talented swimmers?

Greg
Reply to  bigswimming
1 month ago

I have it on good authority that SS is picking a high school team first. Unconventional yes, but they have 24 freshman girls coming in (including 5 with club swimming experience!), and four upperclassman who quit the volleyball team. No swimming experience but their height gives them great potential! So much depth.

coachymccoachface
Reply to  Greg
1 month ago

Bolles?

Caleb
1 month ago

Not that we should take any of this too seriously… it’s just preseason small talk and anyone who has a beef with the rankings should wait for the end of the season and cheer on their team instead of beefing. BUT – competitive sports are a zero-sum game and if the defending champs only have the #5 recruiting class, that’s not “the rich getting richer” like the caption says; it’s everyone else catching up.

Redhawk
Reply to  Caleb
1 month ago

It’s 4 other teams catching up.

Hswimmer
1 month ago

LOL. These rankings..

Ridiculous
1 month ago

I hardly doubt there are 4 incoming classes that will out score Virginia’s in coming class at NCAAs.

HardToSay
Reply to  Ridiculous
1 month ago

Let’s see how many of this incoming class end up making the team… I feel Virginia women will be the new Texas men.

Greg
Reply to  Ridiculous
1 month ago

Yeah this is just absurd, Bizarre decision not to include Reilly Tiltmann in the rankings when transfers are included, and Reilly was not counted for UVA’s class of 2020.

I thought Michigan at 16 was egregious, but this is just as bad, if not worse. If these rankings were based on impact in dual meets against unranked opponents it would make sense, but otherwise this depth over quality argument lacks all credibility.

Kanye Fest
Reply to  Greg
1 month ago

I’m sorry, but you want them to include a swimmer in the recruiting rankings who SWAM FOR THEM LAST SEASON?

I’ve had plenty of my own issues with these rankings, but that might be the dumbest debate I’ve ever read on these rankings articles.

Greg
Reply to  Kanye Fest
1 month ago

Well she swam one semester and has four full years remaining. I’d be fine with SS going back and including her in the 2020 class rankings, but what is absurd is to not include her (and other swimmers who start part way through a season) anywhere. My opinion is she is included here and not 2021 since she is classified as a freshman, with 4 full seasons remaining.

4606
Reply to  Greg
1 month ago

Rankings aside: I don’t think this is how this works, as that would basically be 5 years of eligibility. Isabel Ivey at Cal is listed as a senior, she was a spring enrollment in 2019.

Huh
Reply to  4606
1 month ago

Free year from the pandemic

VABeach
Reply to  Huh
1 month ago

Sort of free. No guarantee of any scholarship money which is why swimmers are going to other schools for 5th year.

VABeach
Reply to  Greg
1 month ago

She may have 4 seasons of eligibility left, but few graduating seniors used the extra year and chose to get on with their life. Also, many of those that used an extra year changed schools. Getting into graduate school at UVA etc. is not a given. She is a sophomore and she decided to enroll early – and you think swim swam should redo rankings for one swimmer???

snarky
Reply to  VABeach
1 month ago

Greg is Reilly’s dad or coach, no doubt!

Facts over feelings
Reply to  snarky
1 month ago

No Greg actually understands college swimming.

Nonrevhoofan
Reply to  snarky
1 month ago

100% certain he is neither! I went back and confirmed that Izzy Ivey was not included in Cal’s rankings in 2019 – so at least SS is being consistent. Reilly came to UVA early with the understanding that she would get the experience of being a 1st year with her recruiting class and live in the 1st year dorms. UVA is treating her as a 1st year, and I doubt that, if she wants to swim 4 more years, that anyone in C’ville would object.

bigswimming
1 month ago

Is Pennington currently at Virginia? She is the only one not listed on their roster?

coachymccoachface
Reply to  bigswimming
1 month ago

Was going to say the same.

Taa
Reply to  WahooSwimFan
1 month ago

Thanks for sharing that. I’ve had two of them and have the big scar also

sticky rice
1 month ago

It definitely seems like there’s a big emphasis on quantity over quality for these rankings. G Walsh by herself probably outscores some of the entire recruiting classes on this list.

Ohio swim observer
Reply to  sticky rice
1 month ago

Seems like that should be in the notes with some rationale since it directly affects the choices.

Nonrevhoofan
Reply to  sticky rice
1 month ago

These rankings are definitely for conversation purposes only. Reilly Tiltmann (UVA) was not included in ranking last year’s UVA recruits, and now she is not included in this year’s recruits. So, by that rationale, she isn’t at UVA at all! Sub out Pennington and sub in Tiltmann and UVA is ranked about where they should be – give or take one or two spots.

Ervin
Reply to  Nonrevhoofan
1 month ago

Same for Emma Weyant too

jeff
Reply to  Nonrevhoofan
1 month ago

its purely a ranking of incoming swimmers to the school, not the strength of the team as a whole- UVA is clearly not the 5th strongest team. There was no way to account for Tiltmann for last year’s since it wasn’t known that she’d be joining the previous season, and then she’s not new anymore so it doesn’t make sense to include her in this year’s either.

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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