It’s time to roll into round two of ranking our women’s recruiting classes, where we’ll look at the #5-#8 teams.
There’s a pretty clear distinction on the women’s side between the top 5 classes and the rest of our ranked top 12. All of these teams have some very good swimmers who will become contributors, but once you get into that top 5 with Stanford, the ranks of headliners really started to expand, and these teams start to have 3 or 4 swimmers who will significantly impact NCAA standings as freshmen.
8. Florida Gators
Headliners: Georgia Hohmann (UK), Taylor Katz, Danielle Valley, Megan Rankin (sophomore transfer – UCLA)
Rest of the class: Autumn Finke, Alyssa Yambor-Maul
This class could be ranked higher if it were a wee bit bigger and had a few more sprinters to fill in around the above signees, but the reality is that Gregg Troy loaded up on relay pieces last year, and with not many graduating, that afforded him the ability to get back to Florida recruiting roots and go after swimmers who can score a lot individually at NCAA’s.
That includes the two-headed monster from the nearby Sarasota YMCA distance program. Danielle Valley was one of the most exciting stories at the 2012 Olympic Trials, where she ended up finaling in the 800 free, and she’s ridden that to across-the-board lifetime bests in the freestyle races as a senior. During her last year of high school, she improved her 200 free to a 1:47.8, her 500 free to 4:40.9, and her mile to 16:01.6.
Her teammate Taylor Katz didn’t have quite the same success as a senior in the freestyles, but still comes in with very good times, including a 1:47.2 in the 200 free and a 4:43.6 in the 500 free. She also showed a bit more versatility during her senior season; she was also a 55.3 and 1:58.9 in the 100 and 200 yard flys.
Those two will be battling with many incumbents to fill in the fourth spot on the 800 free relay: one of only two relay spots that the Gators lost this summer.
Also fighting for that spot will be Megan Rankin, who the Gators also pick up with three years of eligibility left from UCLA. She goes 1:47.8 in the 200 free, 4:43.9 in the 500 free, 16:10 in the mile, and 4:16 in the 400 IM. Those times all came from high school, making her very similar to Katz.
Continuing the trend, Autumn Finke is a distance freestyler as well (4:52/16:32 in the 500 and 1650 freestyles, and she’s better in long course).
Hohmann, 19, comes from the UK and their phenomenally-deep backstroke ranks. In long course meters, her best course so far, she’s been 1:01.6 in the 100 and 2:09.7 in the 200 meter backstroke. The last British backstroker who made her way to Florida became a World Record holder; Hohmann isn’t quite as versatile as Gemma Spofforth was, but should be another horse in what has become a great Florida backstroke stable.
Yambor-Maul is a classic butterfly/backstroker, with bests of 55.6/1:58.0 in the backstroke races and 55.2/2:01.5 in the butterfly races.
Aside from Hohmann and Rankin, this class is heavy on Floridians, just like Troy’s men’s class.
7. Alabama Crimson Tide
Headliners: Bonnie MacDonald (Australia), Karolina Szczepaniak (Poland),
Rest of the class: Taneka Kovchenko (Australia/Diving)), Leah Bird (Australia), Bailey Scott, Maddie Kamman, Sarah Musselman (diving), Bridget Blood, Caroline Korst, Emily Zapinski, Taylor Zablocki (diving)
Alabama needed a lot of help, and new head coach Dennis Pursely went out to accelerate his rebuilding process in a big way. He brought in Emma Saunders mid-year during the 2012-2013 season, and has used his international connections (as the former head coach of the British National Team) to go out and get more big international names at this meet.
MacDonald, a member of the 2013 Australian Open Water World Championships team, was hindered in the pool in 2012 by a back injury, and in 2013 has really focused on open water. She’s been 2:00.1 in the 200 free, 4:09 in the 400 free and 8:32 in the 800 free in long course, but all of those times are two years old.
Also from Australia he’s signed Leah Bird, another 2:00 long course 200 freestyler. She was also a 2:12.3 earlier this year in the 200 meter fly and 1:00.8 in the 100 meter fly, which convert to 53.5 and 1:56.4 in yards. That could be another NCAA scorer as a freshman.
Also from Australia is diver Taneka Kovchenko, who has medaled at every Australian Junior National Championships since 2005, including multiple Junior National Titles. She’s on the domestic diving track for the international-level in Australia.
The other international in this class is Poland’s Karolina Szczepaniak, yet another 2:00 200 meter freestyler who is every bit as good in short course as long course. Conservatively, those 2:00’s convert to 1:46.5’s. That means with a conservative conversion, and even with no improvements, Alabama has a 7:06 800 free relay, which would’ve placed 13th at NCAA’s last year. That would be huge after not scoring anything in 2013, and considering that Emma Saunders broke the Alabama Record in the 200 yard free last year in her very first meet (and it currently is only 1:46.4).
As for the Americans, it’s a lot of filling in depth. Bailey Scott is a 23.4 50 yard freestyler and Winter Juniors qualifier; Maddie Kamman goes 51.5 in the 100 yard free. Caroline Korst is probably the best domestic signing of the bunch, with bests of 55.6 and 2:00.3 in the 100 and 200 yard backstrokes. She will join a fairly-deep backstroke group that includes Saunders and senior Stephanie Kinsey, though they were both only 54’s, so plenty of room for anyone who wants to snatch a relay spot.
Emily Zapinski is a close 2nd, having gone 1:49.3 and 4:52.8 in the 200 and 500 yard freestyles.
This initial class for Pursely isn’t going to win any NCAA titles: it’s not deep enough. What it should do, though, is get Alabama’s name on the scoring tables at NCAA’s, and help them start to climb out from their 10th-place finish at SEC’s last year (expect ‘Bama to jump Kentucky, at least, and close on Missouri and LSU).
6. USC Trojans
Headliners: Chelsea Chenault, Lexie Malazdrewicz
Also in the class: Blair Carnes, Jamie Christy, Sidney Cooke, Maggie D’Innocenzo, Riley Hayward, Kelsey Kafka, Evan Swenson
The big name in this class is Chelsea Chenault of the Terrapins Swim Team. She was a member of the 2013 United States World Championship Team, was once the National Independent High School Record holder in the 200 yard freestyle, where she’s been as fast as 1:44.1, and should be an immediate two-event individual scorer at NCAA’s with the addition of a 4:36.6 in the 500 yard free to her resume.
After her, though, there’s a lot of swimmers who aren’t necessarily household names yet, but who we’re still very excited about. Malazdrewicz, from Colorado, is the other dominant Colorado freestyler of the last few years. While Missy was tearing up the 5A meet, Malazdrewicz won a slew of 4A state titles and wound up with the State Record in the 50, 100, and 200 yard races, even swimming largely off-rest at those meets.
She’s been 49.5 in the 100, 1:45.7 in the 200, and 4:46.9 in the 500 yard freestyles, plus 54.3/1:55.5 in the 100 and 200 yard backstrokes, 54.9 in the 100 yard fly, and a 2:00 in the 200 yard IM. She’s very Franklin-esque in many ways, and between her and Chenault, USC’s 6th-place NCAA relay from last year (which only graduated one leg) should immediately get much better.
Blair Carnes was an outstanding 2:10.99 in the 200 yard breaststroke as just a sophomore in high school. Since then, she’s added a 2:02 in the 200 yard fly. Something tells me she’s got a very good 200 or 400 IM (she’s only been 2:04/4:20 in those races) in her. Evan Swenson from Chicago is a very good long course swimmer (26.1 in the 50 meter free) who is just now coming into her own in yards (in 2013, she was a second-and-a-half faster in the 100 yard free than she was in 2012).
Maggie D’Innocenzo, younger sister of former NCAA Champion Nick (who’s confirmed to us that his swimming days are over), is 1:49.0/4:50.1 in the middle distance freestyles, with a very good 4:15.2 in the 400 IM. Jamie Christy from Atlanta is a good breaststroker with bests of 1:02.8/2:17.4 in the 100 and 200 yard races, as is Riley Hayward who has been 1:02.2 and 2:15.9.
Cooke is a World Championship Trials qualifier in the 100 backstroke, whose yards bests are 54.4 and 1:58.2 (it seems as though she has a lot of room for growth in her other events, though).
Unlike the men’s team, the USC women didn’t have any huge, sweeping graduations (Haley Anderson is done, but she didn’t have a big relay impact, Yumi So and Jessica Schmitt are two other NCAA qualifiers who graduated), and so Dave Salo did a fantastic job to move his team forward with this class.
5. Virginia Cavaliers
Top Additions: Kaitlyn Jones, Leah Smith, Laura Simon (Germany)
Also in the class: Ellen Thomas (UK), Maddy Smart, Kaleigh Rosenburg, Shannon Rauth, Erin McElfresh, Morgan Flynn
So far, this great class (who all aside from Flynn signed in the spring) has stayed in tact as far as we know, even with the changing of the coaching staff. And with this, outgoing coach Mark Bernardino has gifted his successor Augie Busch with a whale-of-a-freshman-class for his first year at the helm of the Cavaliers. The team’s great middle-distance tradition continues with Smith’s addition: as a senior at Pennsylvania’s State Championship meet last year, she was 1:45.5 and 4:36.4 in the 200 and 500 yard freestyles, plus a 15:57 in the 1650 free. That means individually, she’s a three-event scorer at NCAA’s right off the bat, and should be a huge contributor to Virginia keeping their 6-year ACC Championship streak alive. She’ll also be a huge help in replacing the one graduating member of Virginia’s 11th-place at NCAA’s 800 free relay, Olympian Lauren Perdue (Smith’s best time would’ve beat all splits at NCAA’s except for Perdue’s). A good taper should easily put that relay back into the top 8 in the country.
The Cavaliers also bring in Kaitlyn Jones from Delaware, who in March broke the National Independent High School Record in the women’s 200 IM. She should be another immediate NCAA scorer, with IM bests of 1:56.4 and 4:07.99, plus a 53.4 in the 100 yard back and 1:53.4 in the 200 yard back. She’ll have to fight through a deep Virginia backstroke group to claim a spot on a medley relay, but in the very least she’s going to have a big impact individually.
And finally, rounding out the trifecta of power is German teenager Laura Simon, who comes in with long course meters bests of 1:09.5 and 2:30.17 in the 100 and 200 breaststrokes, and has been consistently better in short course than long course throughout her career. In an ACC where 2:13.3 scored top three in the 200, 1:00.7 scored top three in the 100, and nobody scored at NCAA’s, those breaststroke times translate to huge points at the conference level. It should also shore up a medley relay that struggled to find a breaststroke leg (they only got a 1:03 split at the conference meet on the 400, which didn’t swim at NCAA’s, and had to use backstroker/butterflier Ellen Williamson on the 200 medley at NCAA’s, which also didn’t score). It’s pretty stunning, considering their overall dominance, but freshman Natalie Martin was Virginia’s only breaststroke scorer at ACC’s, combining for 17 points in two events.
The Cavaliers also brought in help for their freestyle relays with Ellen Thomas from Great Britain (26.1/56.9/2:05.2 in the 50/100/200 long course) and 22.8/50.3 freestyle sprinter Shannon Rauth. Both are also good butterfliers: Rauth goes 54.9 over 100 yards, and Thomas goes about a 1:01 in long course (right around a 54 in yards). McElfresh is another 54-second 100 yard, 1:59 200 yard, butterflier.
Maddy Smart, when she was younger, was a fairly versatile freestyler. As she’s gotten older, though, the Wilton Wahoos alum really excelled in the 200 (1:49.3) and 500 (4:50.5) yard freestyles. Long term, she looks more likely to contribute in the 100 than the mile, but that could change.
Overall, a very well-balanced class for the Cavaliers that will fill in a lot of holes. One more breaststroker could’ve been a huge help, but there were a lot of needs to address in one class, and all were hit at least a bit. This could be a ‘foundation’ class for the next four years.