Re-Rank: Top 20 Girls NCAA Swimming Recruits, Class of 2018

As NCAA recruiting continues to evolve, so does our coverage. High schoolers are committing earlier, which last year caused us to move up our annual recruit rankings by a month. This year, we moved up another month, then jumped a year into the future to rank the Class of 2020 a full 14 months before we traditionally would.

But to compensate, we’re adding yet another layer – class re-ranks, looking at how the landscape of the recruiting class has changed as the swimmers wrap up their high school careers and head to the college realm.

As usual, our traditional recruiting methodology applies. In lieu of reposting it here, we’ll let you check it out in our original rankings for this class, which you can see below:

Do remember that the 2017 version of me doesn’t own a working crystal ball, and that going back to a year-old story to start arguments or leave gloating comments isn’t a great use of time and isn’t appreciated by 2017 me (or 2018 me for that matter).

This Class

  • Lots of changes from 2017
  • Still an outstanding fly class
  • More specialists
  • A very long course savvy group

In some ways, this class has seen some serious upheaval from our ranks a year ago. Our former #1 recruit hasn’t swum an event since last July, and 3 of our former top 5 have fallen out of that ranking.

But the general focus of the class remains stable. There are still a whole lot of great flyers, especially 200 flyers – though which of those flyers are best has shuffled around pretty noticeably.

There are a few more multi-event or IM specialists now compared to a year ago, but still, most of this class has a pretty specific area of focus: sprinters are sprinters, fly/back types abound and the breaststrokers are pretty much breaststroke specialists.

The class continues to have a major long course focus, including our new #1, who has spent most of the past year focused almost entirely on long course swimming, though that will likely change next fall, assuming she makes her NCAA debut.

Fastest in the Class of 2018
50 Free Grace Ariola 22.17
100 Free Julia Cook 47.82
200 Free Samantha Shelton 1:44.05
500 Free Morgan Tankersley 4:37.60
1000 Free** Erica Sullivan 9:27.89
1650 Free Erica Sullivan 15:40.42
100 Back Julia Cook 51.64
200 Back Emma Muzzy 1:52.01
100 Breast Zoe Bartel 58.72
200 Breast Zoe Bartel 2:06.24
100 Fly Eva Merrell 51.93
200 Fly Olivia Carter 1:53.49
200 IM Vanessa Pearl 1:55.67
400 IM Vanessa Pearl 4:05.80

**The 1000 free isn’t an NCAA event at the Division I level, but is swum at Division I dual meets and at the Division II level.

Disclaimer: there are a lot of high school seniors in the country, and no really good, complete, 100% accurate listing of them all. If you don’t see your favorite swimmer on the list, feel free to politely point them out in the comments. There’s a chance that we disagree with your assessment of their spot in the top 20, and so long as it’s done civilly, there’s no problem with differences of opinions. There’s also a chance that we’ve simply missed a no-brainer (we’ve taken every precaution to avoid that), and if that happens, we want to make sure we correct it.


1. Taylor Ruck (Previous rank: #2) – Scottsdale Aquatic Club –  Chaparral High School – Scottsdale, AZ **Verbally committed to Stanford**
Best Times: 200 free – 1:44.39, 100 free – 48.54, 50 free – 22.31, 100 back – 52.95, 200 back – 1:53.13, 200 IM – 1:57.97, 500 free – 4:41.38

Her short course times aren’t worth ranking #1 on this list, and they haven’t improved since we last ranked this class. So why is Ruck our new #1? Mainly because she’s focused entirely on long course meters swimming without a single yards swim since last year’s ranks. And she’s seem immense improvements, with world-class times too good to ignore. Think 24.2/52.9/1:54.8/4:09.9 in long course freestyle and 58.9/2:06.3 in long course backstroke. If she even comes close to that level of production in short course yards, she’s the best swimmer in this class by a wide margin.

2. Zoe Bartel (Previous rank: #3) – Fort Collins Area Swim Team –  Fossil Ridge High School – Fort Collins, CO **Verbally committed to Stanford**
Best Times: 100 breast – 58.72, 200 breast – 2:06.24, 200 IM – 1:55.70, 200 free – 1:46.91, 100 free – 50.19

Bartel enters the NCAA with breaststroke times that would have taken 4th (200) and 5th (100) at last year’s NCAA Championships. Add to that an incredible IM drop (1:58.2 to 1:55.7 since our original ranks) and Bartel has three NCAA scoring times and essentially the best time in the entire class in her three best races. Her freestyle upside (that 200 is shockingly good, and has dropped from 1:50.4 since our first ranks) is just a bonus to already-elite relay value through her breaststrokes.

3. Julia Cook (Previous rank: #10) – Aggie Swim Club – Bryan High School – Bryan, TX **Verbally Committed To Texas**
Best Times: 200 free – 1:44.21, 100 free – 47.82, 50 free – 22.19, 100 back – 51.64, 200 back – 1:53.19, 100 fly – 52.81, 200 IM – 1:58.77

Cook is easily the fastest riser in the class. When we first ranked, she had four events on the cusp of NCAA scoring, but none good enough to take home points. Now, with solid improvements in all three, Cook has four NCAA scoring times, more than anyone else in the class. She took more than half a second off what was already the class’s best 100 free, took over the top 100 back time and is within tenths of being the best swimmer in the class in the 50, 100 and 200 frees plus the 100 back. Talk about a relay weapon.

4. Vanessa Pearl (Previous rank: #6)– Metroplex Aquatics – McKinney Boyd High School – Allen, TX **Verbally committed to Florida**
Best Times: 400 IM – 4:05.80, 200 IM – 1:55.67, 200 breast – 2:08.17, 100 breast – 1:00.12, 200 free – 1:47.87, 100 free – 50.19

The best IMer in the class, Pearl remains high in our ranks. She made solid but not eye-popping improvements in all of her best events besides the 200 IM, where she surged from 1:58 to 1:55 since last spring. She’s not far off an NCAA A final time in the 400 IM and 200 breast, too, and has potential to be a multi-event scorer (and big scorer) right out of the gate.

5. Erica Sullivan (Previous rank: #8) – Sandpipers of Nevada – Palo Verde High School – Las Vegas, NV **Verbally committed to USC**
Best Times: 1650 free – 15:40.42, 1000 free – 9:27.89, 500 free – 4:38.13, 200 free – 1:47.43

Sullivan is a truly elite distance swimmer who ranks 6th in USA Swimming history for 17-18s in the mile at age 17. She trails some serious swimming names: Ledecky, Hoff, Ziegler, Evans and Runge. Her mile would have been 3rd at NCAAs this year. If open water were an NCAA event, Sullivan would probably rank even higher. She’s got a good enough 200 free to potentially be a relay factor down the road, but for now, her brilliance is a bit limited in NCAA impact compared to the top 4.

6. Morgan Tankersley (Previous rank: #4) – Greater Tampa Swimming Association – HB Plant High School – Tampa, FL **Verbally committed to Stanford**
Best Times: 500 free – 4:37.60, 200 free – 1:44.31, 100 free – 48.69, 50 free – 22.60

In our original ranks, we praised Tankersley’s thrilling range and potential impact on free relays at the NCAA level. None of that has changed, though she’s been passed up for the top 200 free in the class. The only issue moving Tankersley down is that she hasn’t had a great senior year. She regressed back to season-bests of 4:44/1:45.8/50.0/23.1 in the freestyles, and also failed to set personal bests in any of her top long course events over the summer of 2017. Anybody can have a down year, and Tankersley’s previous progression was great, so there’s no cause for panic yet. But she does slide down two spots behind some faster risers.

7. Eva Merrell (Previous rank: #1) – Aquazot Swim Club –  Crean Lutheran South High School – Newport Beach, CA **Verbally committed to Georgia**
Best Times: 100 fly – 51.93, 100 back – 52.26, 100 free – 48.51, 200 free – 1:45.89, 50 free – 22.26, 200 fly – 1:56.96, 200 back – 1:52.20

Merrell is the great mystery of the class for now. We ranked her #1 a year ago, enthralled with her speed and versatility, which are both outstanding and perfectly aligned to the NCAA’s value system. But Merrell has gone dark, without a single registered swim since August of 2017. And even last summer, she wasn’t at her best, with most of her lifetime-bests coming in 2016 or earlier. Certainly, swimmers can overcome an extended break before college (we know of a guy named Caeleb Dressel who did alright after his), but the uncertainty around her status has us dropping Merrell back to 7 on our list.

8. Emma Muzzy (Previous rank: #14) – Virginia Gators – Cave Spring High School – Roanoke, VA **Verbally committed to NC State**
Best Times: 100 back – 52.12, 200 back – 1:52.01, 400 IM – 4:06.72, 200 IM – 1:57.45

Muzzy had had tremendous improvement since our original ranks. She now has the best 200 back in the class (though she’s lost the top 200 IM time) and is at NCAA scoring level in both the 200 back and 400 IM, and close in the 100 back. It’s a deep class of backstrokers, but she’s one of the best in the field. Add in her IM talent and Muzzy is a potential difference-maker with some decent relay value to boot.

9. Olivia Carter (Previous rank: #12) – Enfinity Aquatic Club –  homeschooled – Jamestown, NC **Verbally Committed To Georgia**
Best Times: 200 fly – 1:53.49, 100 fly – 52.34, 100 back – 53.36, 200 back – 1:55.65, 200 IM – 1:56.83, 200 free – 1:46.70, 100 free – 49.37, 400 IM – 4:09.94

The range has opened up significantly for Carter, who was good at everything but not great at anything as of our last ranking. Her 200 fly has dropped more than two seconds, and isn’t just in NCAA scoring range, it’s within a hair of an A final time. Her 200 back has dropped to almost scoring range, as has her 200 IM. Add in a 6-second drop in the 400 IM and Carter has a plethora of potential NCAA event lineups.

10. Lucie Nordmann (Previous rank: #16)– Magnolia Aquatic Club – The Woodlands High School – The Woodlands, TX **Verbally committed to Stanford**
Best Times: 200 back – 1:52.18, 100 back – 52.16, 100 fly – 52.31, 50 free – 22.35, 100 free – 48.35, 200 free – 1:44.98

Nordmann is another fast riser who jumps into our top 10. She’s cut almost two seconds off her 200 back to jump into NCAA scoring range and very nearly lead the class. Her 100 back, 100 fly, 50 free and 100 free have all cut time in the past year, but her biggest (and most impactful) improvement has come in the 200 free. She was 1:49.3 when we ranked her last spring, and has chipped 4.4 seconds off the time to become a potential elite-level relay split on the 800 free team.


11. Amalie Fackenthal (Previous rank: #15) – DART Swimming – Sacramento Country Day High School – Carmichael, CA **Verbally Committed to Stanford**
Best Times: 100 fly – 52.09, 50 free – 22.35, 100 free – 48.29, 200 free – 1:46.21

A total relay dominator with some of the best times in the class through her four best events. With Merrell uncertain, Fackenthal might be the best 100 flyer in the class. She’s cut a half-second in her 50 free and seven tenths in her 100 fly since last spring, and her range is coming around after a drop of almost three seconds in the 200.

12. Gabrielle Kopenski (Previous rank: #7) – Texas Ford Aquatics – Prosper High School – McKinney, TX **Verbally committed to Texas A&M**
Best Times: 1650 free – 15:56.39, 1000 free – 9:35.79, 500 free – 4:37.94, 200 free – 1:46.80, 400 IM – 4:09.92

Kopenski is another one of our big talents who had a rough senior year. She’s got NCAA scoring times in the 500 and the mile, but wasn’t anywhere near bests in anything this past season. (She’s been at best 9:45/4:43/1:51). Kopenski’s lifetime-bests at this point come from at least two years ago in most races. Her 500 is from 2016, her 200 from 2015, her 1000 and mile from 2014. She’s still got huge talent, and perhaps a change of scenery will bring her back to top-10 status.

13. Dakota Luther (Previous rank: #11) – Austin Swim Club – Westlake High School – Austin, TX **Verbally Committed to Georgia**
Best Times: 200 fly – 1:54.54, 100 fly – 52.16, 200 free – 1:45.36, 100 free – 49.85

Luther moves down, not really because she’s gotten slower, but because so many others have gotten faster. She’s had marginal improvements in both butterflys and the 200 free, and has a solid NCAA scoring time in the 200 fly. The wild card for Luther is that she had an amazing summer of 2017, cutting a second to 58.5 in the 100 meter fly and two seconds to 2:08.7 in the 200 meter fly. Luther could have spent her senior year gearing up more for long course and this summer’s all-important selection meet, so watch for her stock to rise if she has another breakout long course season.

14. Grace Ariola (Previous rank: #17) – Bloomington Waves/Normal Y Swim Team – Normal Community High School – Bloomington, IL **Verbally Committed to Texas**
Best Times: 50 free – 22.17, 100 free – 48.30, 200 free – 1:47.38, 100 back – 52.56, 200 back – 1:54.60, 100 fly – 53.49

The best pure sprinter in the class, Ariola is still far from a drop-dead type. She made small improvements in her 50 and 100 and maintains the class’s best 50 free. Her sprint backstroke has improved, and Ariola has Olivia Smoliga upside as a relay threat. Also had a good summer of 2017 in long course.

15. Samantha Shelton (Previous rank: #19) – SoCal Aquatics – Santa Margarita High School – Laguna Beach, CA **Verbally committed to Harvard**
Best Times: 200 free – 1:44.05, 100 free – 49.11, 50 free – 22.86, 200 IM – 1:57.59, 500 free – 4:45.26, 400 IM – 4:10.28, 100 back – 53.04, 100 fly – 53.72

Shelton gets points for the best 200 free in this class, a great swim that would have been close to an A final at 2018 NCAAs. She’s good enough in the 50 and 100 to have lots of relay value. She also turned some heads this spring with her toughness, swimming that 1:44.0 200 free back-to-back with a 200 IM at her high school section meet.

16. Easop Lee (Previous rank: #13) – North Baltimore Aquatic Club – Pikesville High School – Baltimore, MD **Verbally committed to Duke**
Best Times: 200 free – 1:44.63, 500 free – 4:40.89, 1000 free – 9:36.03, 400 IM – 4:08.59, 200 IM – 1:58.51, 200 back – 1:53.74, 200 fly – 1:56.55, 100 back – 53.47, 100 fly – 53.23

Lee is pretty much improving across the board, with drops in both backstrokes and both IMs, though her best events (the 200 and 500 free) have stayed pretty even with last year. Hard to see exactly where she projects, but there’s great versatility there along with the ability to be a multi-relay threat.

17. Cassidy Bayer (Previous rank: #5) – Nation’s Capital Swim Club – West Potomac High School – Washington, DC **Verbally Committed to Cal**
Best Times: 200 fly – 1:55.20, 100 fly – 52.78, 200 IM – 1:58.21, 400 IM – 4:12.72, 50 free – 22.98, 200 free – 1:46.92

Bayer is one of the bigger names in the class, but one of the harder to rank. She’s got Ruck syndrome going on where her long course bests (58.1/2:07.9 butterfly) far outstrip her short course times. But Bayer has also hit a dry spell lately for PRs in both courses, without a lifetime-best butterfly swim since the summer of 2016 and without a short course time drop in fly since 2015. Her 200 free is coming around during that stretch, though, and she’s got potential to be an instant NCAA A finalist as a freshman if she returns to form.

18. Madison Homovich (Previous rank: N/A) – Marlins of Raleigh – Woods Charter School – Pittsboro, NC **Verbally committed to Georgia**
Best Times: 1650 free – 16:03.01, 1000 free – 9:33.63, 500 free – 4:39.74, 200 free – 1:47.18, 400 IM – 4:10.92

Another miler who could swim down to 800 free relay contention in the right program. There’s a real argument for Homovich over Kopenski as the next distance type, and Homovich is certainly rising faster. Her 500 and 1000 have had decent drops since our original ranks. But her 200 (1:49.03) and mile (16:05) haven’t been as good during her senior year, so the trajectory argument isn’t quite strong enough yet.

19. Leah Braswell (Previous rank: N/A) – York and York County YMCA – Manchester, PA **Verbally Committed to Florida**
Best Times: 1650 free – 16:16.18, 1000 free: 9:35.71, 500 free – 4:39.29, 200 free – 1:48.16, 100 free – 50.68, 400 IM – 4:08.98

Braswell was just off our list in the last rank, and jumps up now based on a four-second improvement to her 500 free. She’s got a slightly better range than Homovich down into the sprints, plus a better 400 IM, but isn’t quite as good in the mile or 500. These two prospects are very much on equal footing, though.

20. Allie Raab (Previous rank: #9) – Nashville Aquatic Club –  Brentwood Academy – Brentwood, TN **Verbally committed to Stanford**
Best Times: 100 breast – 1:00.02, 200 breast – 2:09.69, 200 IM – 1:58.56, 400 IM – 4:16.14

Raab falls quite a ways from last spring after going backwards in both breaststrokes, particularly the 200, where she really stood out in 2017. Raab is still probably the second-best breaststroker in the class (Pearl has passed her up, but projects more as an IMer), but the class is catching up – we count about four breaststrokers in the 1:00s and/or 2:10s nipping at her heels. Still, all it takes is a moderate drop for Raab to be sub-minute, which would make her key on a lot of medley relays. She’s been 1:00.6 and 2:11.5 in her senior year, which isn’t bad, but a ways off her bests, which are now two and a half years old.


Paring the list down to 20 always feels like pulling teeth. This isn’t an exhaustive list of others we considered, but the top few left off the list who made the decisions on 18-20 very difficult.

Sarah Grinalds (Previous rank: #20) – Westport/Weston Family Y – Fairfield Ludlowe High School – Southport, CT **Verbally committed to Princeton**
Best Times: 50 free – 22.52, 100 free – 48.76, 200 free – 1:45.51, 500 free – 4:47.04

Grinalds ends up just outside the list despite very solid value. She’s got great free relay range, and is only about a step away from doing what Julia Cook did over the past year and launching into the class’s top tier. She just doesn’t have the one standout event yet to rank in over the last few on our list.

Kyle Alons (Previous rank: N/A) – Fort Collins Area Swim Team – Fossil Ridge High School – Timnath, CO **Verbally Committed to NC State**
Best Times: 100 back – 52.69, 200 back – 1:53.56, 100 fly – 52.78, 200 fly – 1:58.15, 200 free – 1:46.83, 100 free – 49.60, 50 free – 22.47, 200 IM – 1:58.44

Alons is good at everything, but not great at anything yet. She is, though, in position to jump way up the list with small improvements across the board. If the class weren’t so loaded with fly/back types, she’d probably crack the top 20, and she’s a great value pickup with potential to be a crazy relay weapon.

Anya Goeders (Previous rank: N/A) – Mako Swim Team – Lowell, IN **Verbally Committed to Stanford**
Best Times: 50 free – 22.44, 100 free – 49.39, 200 free – 1:50.80

Like Bayer, Goeders is another swimmer who is a better long course prospect. She’s been a great 24.8 in the long course 50, and has one of the better 50 yard times in the class. But the range isn’t quite there yet, and a pure sprinter probably needs a 50 that’s significantly better than the rest of the class, or a 100 that’s more in the middle of the pack to make the top 20.

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5 years ago

Well the academics certainly are not a drawing factor for nc state compared to Georgia and unc

Coach Cwik
5 years ago

How can you even think about lowering Dakota Luther. She out preformed every 2018 grad, by making the World Championship Team. One of only two High School Swimmers to make the team. This result proves she is ready for the NCAA D1 Championship Meet.

Reply to  Coach Cwik
5 years ago

As they said, it was not that she got worse, it is that everyone got better at a faster pace. Luther’s long course time is impressive, but not enough to offset other improvements.

Reply to  Coach Cwik
5 years ago

She can’t sprint

Coach Cwik
Reply to  taa
5 years ago

Rhythn and underwater dolphin kicks. Sprinting, all it takes is a dive 11+ Dive first lap and break 12.5 on the remaining three laps. That can easily be learned at UGA. The big thing, is the mind set and experience from preforming at the biggest stage of the year.

Benedict Arnold Schwarzenegger
Reply to  Coach Cwik
5 years ago

Oh yeah, it’s super easy to learn how to sprint. That’s why everyone is a great sprinter

Coach Cwik
Reply to  Benedict Arnold Schwarzenegger
5 years ago

Yes, it’s easy to learn how to sprint, it just takes a great athlete to do it.

Coach Cwik
Reply to  Jared Anderson
5 years ago

This article is about the best recruits of 2018. Ranking the top swimmers by time in each event is one way to find fast swimmers. But, where did they do those times and under what type of competition and pressure. Were the times done at High School States? Were the times done by a Senior National Swimmer at Junior Nationals. Were the times done at the World Championship Trial, where 6 to 12 women had faster yard times, than the top ranked HS yard swimmer. Recruits are human and a lot more than just a time. A recruit doing their best, under the toughest completion is ready to score at NCAA’s. A recruit that has experienced being on TEAM USA… Read more »

Reply to  Coach Cwik
5 years ago

I’m sure coaches all around the country would make these same pseudo-psychological arguments in favor of their athletes. “This person is a great leader and that should be valued more heavily!”

One could just as easily negate that argument with “she didn’t swim high school, so she’s less prepared for the scholastic team environment of the NCAA.”

Neither argument makes sense. But they are both things that people could and would say.

FootHill HS
Reply to  Jared Anderson
5 years ago

Bravo Jared, well said ~ and excellent research !

5 years ago

Gabi Kopenski is now swimming for Lakeside Aquatic Club.

5 years ago

Out of curiosity, when should we expect the men’s re-ranking?

5 years ago

Wow Stamford is really pulling in great swimmers did not know hey even had a team!! OH MY BAD..just noticed the article says StaNford, not StaMford.

Reply to  Brutus
5 years ago

I am deeply confused by this comment

Reply to  swimmerj
5 years ago

Stamford is a college in Alabama. It twas a puny pun…weak yes but one of my best.

Reply to  Brutus
5 years ago

I think you mean “Samford”

Reply to  WSCoach
5 years ago

By adding the T to Samford makes it even funnier! But yes I goofed on the spelling. Apologies to all Samford, Alabama and Sanford California atlumni.

Johnny Twobad
5 years ago

Am I the only one who thought the photo accompanying this article warranted an identification of the swimmer shown?

Reply to  Johnny Twobad
5 years ago

Even I knew who it was

Mr G.
Reply to  Johnny Twobad
5 years ago

Taylor Ruck.

5 years ago

The Julia Cook link is going to the wrong Julia Cook.

Reply to  Maren
5 years ago

There happen to be TWO Julia Cooks out of the SAME area, one is the one discussed in the article, one was a former Texas A&M swimmer. Coincidence?

5 years ago

The rich get richer

Reply to  Polly
5 years ago

What a MONSTER class for the Cardinal — again! Top 2 & a total of 7 on the list! Already feel sorry for the distant runner up team in March when history repeats itself!

Hear Meehan has some BIG names lined up for the Class of 2019. (No surprise) Top talent all wanna be part of something special. They know you can ruin your international career by picking the wrong place. Announcement in 3 weeks time. Can’t wait!

Reply to  GoCard
5 years ago

a huge stanford fan myself, but even i have a hard time seeing how meehan has some BIG names lined up for the 2019 class when most of the talent has already committed, and not to stanford?

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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