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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Hello darkness
2 years ago

Dune Coetzee? More like Dune is in theaters now starring Timothy Chalamay!

2 years ago

Correction. Dune Coetzee, 200m fr 2:00mins from Olympic trials

PK Doesn't Like His Long Name
2 years ago

One thing that I keep noticing through these ranks is how highly rated the distance swimmers are. When it feels like there’s 12 new girls who all have A final times in the 500, they’re all going to get rated higher than their aggregate point value at NCAAs. I wish the rankings had used 2020 times for the 500 and 1650 in order to more appropriately value those types of swimmers.

tea rex
Reply to  PK Doesn't Like His Long Name
2 years ago

2021 NCAAs were so slow, there are about 20 swimmers who “should” A final in the 500 this year.

Reply to  PK Doesn't Like His Long Name
2 years ago

From a coaches perspective I have seen distance take a major hit during Covid. If you compare the times that placed in the last heat at the 2020 NCAAs with those of the previous years you will see that they are much slower. Not so in shorter sprints. The swimmers who are putting up big times in the distance events post COVID are actually few and far between… and many of those are not the same ones who were ruling before.

Reply to  Azobserver
2 years ago

That’s an interesting observation and one that makes sense. I’ll have our data guys look at it and see if they can divine a larger trend to validate that.

2 years ago

Stege didn’t seem healthy this spring/summer. She was way off her bests across the board. Hopefully she is healthy now, she had a really encouraging improvement curve before then.

As others have mentioned, Pennington was in the transfer portal immediately and isn’t listed on the UVA roster.

Mary Jones
2 years ago

1-4 Predictions

  1. Stanford
  2. Cal
  3. Alabama
  4. NC State
Swim Pro
Reply to  Mary Jones
2 years ago

1 or 2 Stanford or Tennessee
3 NC State
4 Cal

Jonathan Charbroiled Steak
Reply to  Mary Jones
2 years ago

Bama is an honorable mention this year. I think Tennessee I going to be up there instead.

Reply to  Mary Jones
2 years ago

What is ya crazy?? You forgetted the amazing barefeeted coonskinned whoopin and hollerin ladyVOLS from them mountains o Tennessee! Why them bein crafty slick critters and will swim and dive themself into swimmin history real soon like. My predicscion bein – Stanford – ladyVOLS – Cal – NCSTATE. We gonna be adancin in Knoxpatch soon…yee haw!

Reply to  Mary Jones
2 years ago

Replace Alabama and put Tennessee in and that is a great prediction. Cal and Tennessee had big recruiting years in one of the most challenging recruiting years ever.

2 years ago

Its odd because Coetzee’s best event is arguably 200 fly and its not even mentioned

2 years ago

At this point I think SwimSwam makes these controversial on purpose to get more clicks and comments. And I can’t blame them, it works

2 years ago

Pennington isn’t at UVA. Quit after 1 day

Reply to  Shaq
2 years ago


Reply to  Hswimmer
2 years ago

Yes, what a terrible environment with 3 Olympians and the reigning NCAA champs and one of the best HS sprinters ever. Must be the school not the swimmer

Reply to  coachymccoachface
2 years ago

Bruh it’s sarcasm… I know UVA is a great team, as I know someone who just graduated from there.

Reply to  Shaq
2 years ago

She left the school or the team or both ? She was doing so well with TAC Titans!

Reply to  Shaq
2 years ago

Anyone know the story of what happened?

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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