Re-Rank: Top 20 Girls NCAA Swimming Recruits, Class of 2021

After dropping the boys rankings a few weeks ago, it’s time to revisit the girls’ high school class of 2021 and re-rank how they stack up as they begin their collegiate careers.

As recruiting classes get closer to actual NCAA competition, we start to weigh certain factors more heavily: NCAA scoring times become more important, and we tend to value one or two standout events a bit more heavily (compared to a wide range of just decent events) than we would for a high school sophomore who has more time to develop across the board. Having already ranked this class about a year ago, we also get a clearer picture of momentum and trajectory: which recruits are continuing to drop time through their senior seasons, and which have stagnated.

You can look back on our original ranks for this class below, but do remember that those ranks are merely a snapshot in time – we didn’t have a working crystal ball then, nor do we now:

2021 Addendum: The 2020 short course season was an abbreviated one for many, meaning several swimmers competed only a few times, and maybe didn’t get a chance to fully taper for their big meet—not to mention a disruption in training—due to the coronavirus pandemic. So we’re working with partial information, though most swimmers were able to get some good racing under their belt in late 2020 and early 2021 in the short course pool before gearing up for the long course season.

But nonetheless, this still made it difficult to really get a good gauge on which swimmers were stagnant and which lacked opportunity, so bear that in mind with the rankings.

THIS CLASS

  • Outstanding sprint class, led by two of the fastest junior swimmers of all-time in the top two spots
  • Plenty of versatile swimmers with IM ability and one or two other high-level strokes
  • Relatively weak breaststroke class, one swimmer well above the rest
  • A break from two years of insane backstroke groups
  • Not a lot of two-distance flyers – most are fly/back combo types
  • Strong distance class

Torri Huske and Gretchen Walsh are two historically fast sprinters, both of whom will be in contention for individual NCAA titles from the beginning of their collegiate careers.

Beyond those two, there are several other talented sprinters in the class, though most have yet to develop a bonafide three-event NCAA lineup.

The class is full of great distance freestylers, IMers with a wide range across multiple strokes, and the backstroke scene had a few rapid risers.

The breaststroke group lacked a true standout last season, but Letitia Sim really emerged this past season as a star in that realm, and really climbed the rankings with several other events that are high-level.

Note that Reilly Tiltmann has been left out of the rankings after she graduated from high school early and swam in the NCAA last season for UVA.

TOP TIMES IN THE CLASS OF 2021
50 Free Torri Huske 21.39
100 Free Gretchen Walsh 46.98
200 Free Torri Huske 1:43.23
500 Free Rachel Stege 4:40.03
1000 Free** Paige McKenna 9:31.93
1650 Free Paige McKenna 15:48.07
100 Back Gretchen Walsh 51.50
200 Back Josephine Fuller 1:52.73
100 Breast Letitia Sim 59.01
200 Breast Letitia Sim 2:09.50
100 Fly Torri Huske 49.70
200 Fly Torri Huske 1:53.71
200 IM Torri Huske 1:53.73
400 IM Grace Sheble 4:05.90

**The 1000 free isn’t an event at the Division I NCAA Championships, but is swum instead of the 1650 in many Division I dual meets and is part of the NCAA program in Division II.

THE METHODOLOGY

Our goal in these rankings is to reflect what college coaches look for in recruits, based on many years of conversations and coverage.

We focus only on American-based athletes, simply because there is so much uncertainty with international recruits – if they’ll come to the United States, when they’ll come to the States and with what graduating class they should be ranked. Projecting international recruits often becomes more a discussion of when they’ll first join a college program and not which program they’ll join.

A few other factors that weigh heavily in our rankings:

  • Relay Value – Relay points count double in college swimming, and any program needs a strong stable of quality sprinters to fill out all 5 relays with stars. Obviously, a special distance swimmer can easily rank ahead of a very good 100 freestyler, but college swimming generally values a sprint freestyler over a distance swimmer, all other factors being equal.
  • Improvements – Actual times are the trump card, but any big improvements in quality can make a difference as well. For example, a swimmer who only took up year-round swimming as a junior in high school going the same time as a swimmer whose been swimming year-round since they were 8 will probably get the edge in our rankings.
  • Short Course over Long Course – while every club and every swimmer will have a different balance of focus between short course and long course swimming, the NCAA competes in short course yards, and that’s going to be the main factor considered in these rankings. Long course times are another data point for consideration, but we mainly view them through the lens of what a big long course swim could mean for an athlete’s future in short course.
  • NCAA scoring ability – NCAAs are the big show for college teams, so we’ve weighted NCAA scoring potential very highly. Swimmers who already have NCAA scoring times wind up mostly filling out the top our of rankings. Since college athletic directors – and by extension coaches – also place high value on conference championships, scoring ability at conference meets is also a factor in our rankings.
  • Relative depth in the NCAA and recruiting class – a wealth of elite depth nationwide in one stroke discipline makes a big difference in what times are considered more valuable in that event. Events rise at different rates in the NCAA, but when one event gets extremely deep and fast at the college level, it makes high school prospects in those events a little less valuable, relatively, with lots of other veteran options. In the same way, a recruiting class stacked with swimmers in butterfly, for example, would make each butterflyer a little less sought-after in the market, with lots of other recruiting options able to provide similar production.

Of course, there’s no way to predict the future, and the most concrete data we have to go on are cold, hard times. These rankings in no way mean that all of these 20 swimmers will be NCAA standouts, and they certainly don’t mean that no swimmer left off this list will make big contributions at the NCAA level.

With that out of the way, let’s get to our rankings.

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.

TOP 20 SWIMMERS FROM THE CLASS OF 2021

1. Torri Huske (Previous Rank: #2) – Arlington Aquatic Club– Yorktown High School – Arlington, VA **Committed to Stanford**
Best Times: 100 fly – 49.70, 200 fly – 1:53.71, 50 free – 21.39, 100 free – 47.60, 200 IM – 1:53.73, 200 free – 1:43.23, 100 back – 53.17, 400 IM – 4:11.26

Having ranked second in the class both as a sophomore and junior in high school, Torri Huske simply would not be denied in her senior year. Huske had an unbelievable 2020-21 short course season, highlighted by her National Age Group Record-breaking 49.70 in the 100 butterfly in March. Not only would that time have placed third at the 2021 NCAA Championships, but it also makes Huske the fifth-fastest American in history. The Stanford commit, who also finished fourth in the 100 fly at the Olympics this summer and added a silver medal on the women’s 400 medley relay, made significant drops in the majority of her events this season, overtaking Gretchen Walsh for the class’s top time in the 50 free (21.39) and 200 free (1:43.23), passing Grace Sheble for the fastest time in the 200 fly (1:53.71), and knocking three seconds off her leading 200 IM in a blazing 1:53.73. Huske also improved her 100 free time by six-tenths in 47.60, and is an instant threat to challenge for NCAA titles. Her projected NCAA lineup would entail the 50 free, 100 fly and 100 free if we assume she keeps more of a sprinting focus, which would keep her sharp to be a major factor on the Cardinal relays. But she’s legitimately got times in six events that would’ve made the ‘A’ final at the 2021 NCAAs, with the ability to contend in the 200 free, 200 fly and 200 IM as well.

2. Gretchen Walsh (Previous Rank: #1) – Nashville Aquatic Club – Harpeth Hall High School – Nashville, TN **Committed to Virginia**
Best Times: 50 free – 21.41, 100 free – 46.98, 200 free – 1:43.75, 100 back – 51.50, 100 fly – 51.73, 200 IM – 1:58.12

Walsh assumed the #1 position in our previous rankings as the fastest female recruit in the 50 and 100 freestyle, making her a premier threat both individually and on relays at NCAAs. And while much of that remains true, she’s been overtaken by Huske, largely due to the fact that Huske is now faster than Walsh in two of Walsh’s three best events: the 50 and 200 free. Set to join the defending NCAA champions at UVA, Walsh will be an instant title challenger in the 50 and 100 free, with her personal bests having placed third and fourth, respectively, in the 2021 finals if she was there. Walsh has certainly had more of a 100 focus over the last year, likely due in part to her Olympic Trials lineup, which resulted in new best times in the 100 back (51.50) and 100 fly (51.73). But her 200 remains elite; Walsh only really swam it once this past season, and posted a very solid 1:44.66. 2021 NCAA champion Paige Madden (also a Cavalier) won’t be back for a fifth season, making the event incredibly wide open—Walsh’s best of 1:43.75 sits just a quarter-second shy of the runner-up time behind Madden last season.

3. Grace Sheble (Previous Rank: #3) – NOVA of Virginia – James River High School – North Chesterfield, VA **Committed to NC State**
Best Times: 400 IM – 4:05.90, 200 IM – 1:56.99, 200 fly – 1:54.43, 200 free – 1:46.88, 500 free – 4:45.26, 100 breast – 1:00.73, 200 breast – 2:12.86, 200 back – 1:58.44

The incredibly versatile Sheble continued to make strides as a senior, though there’s an argument to be made that she’s stagnated in her best events over the last two years. Sheble was 4:06.3 in the 400 IM as a sophomore, and then after dropping a 4:05.9 in March 2020, only hit a time of 4:09.45 this past season. The incoming NC State first-year did hit marginal PBs in the 200 IM and 200 fly in 2021, however, and took two and a half seconds off her 200 breast time in 2:12.86. She’s already fast enough to be an NCAA scorer in three events, has the capabilities to compete on the 800 free relay, and has a wide range that will make her valuable in dual meet settings. A change of scenery may be just what she needs to further develop the potential she’s shown over the last few years.

4. Letitia Sim (Previous Rank: #16) – TNT Swimming – Spanish Fort High School – Montrose, AL **Committed to Michigan**
Best Times: 100 breast – 59.01, 200 breast – 2:09.50, 100 fly – 52.76, 200 fly – 1:56.95, 200 IM – 1:57.43, 100 back – 53.46, 200 back – 1:57.07

Sim absolutely exploded as a senior, not only bettering her breaststroke events down to an elite level, but developing a rare level of versatility. Sim became the top 100 breaststroker in the class by a long shot, becoming not only the lone swimmer sub-1:00, but pushing the 59-second threshold—her time of 59.01 would’ve scored at the 2021 NCAAs. The TNT Swimming product also cemented her place as the best 200 breaststroker at 2:09.5, putting her within a second of NCAA scoring position, and she also has times under the 2021 cutline in the 200 fly and 200 IM, and is very close in the 100 fly and 100 back. Her fly and back ability will be assets in dual meets, but Sim projects as a high-end breaststroker at the NCAA level that can also place in the top 16 in the 200 IM. Her tangible improvement in all areas over the past season is a very positive sign as she joins the Wolverines.

5. Samantha Tadder (Previous Rank: #8) – Tide Swimming – First Colonial High School – Virginia Beach, VA **Committed to Stanford**
Best Times: 400 IM – 4:07.15, 200 IM – 1:57.41, 1650 free – 16:10.53, 1000 free – 9:37.22, 500 free – 4:42.64, 200 free – 1:48.52, 100 breast – 1:00.53, 200 breast – 2:10.12, 200 fly – 1:57.81

A third straight name that boasts a wide range of versatility, Tadder’s all-around ability as a sophomore led to a breakout 400 IM in her junior year, becoming the class’s #2 option in 4:07.15. She maintained her standing there, clocking 4:07.36 this season, but added more weapons to her arsenal. The future Cardinal already had an NCAA ‘A’ final time in the 400 IM, but now has top-16-worthy PBs in the 500 and 1650 free, and is just tenths away in the 100 breast, 200 breast, 200 fly and 200 IM. With the ability to join a strong Stanford group and train with the likes of Brooke Forde, a multi-time individual NCAA champion that specializes in a lot of the same events, Tadder is on the up and up. It’s a good problem to have when you need to pick and choose where to turn your focus in college, but given the way Stanford has traditionally picked events in the postseason (with a lot of swimmers racing some of their ‘secondary’ events at Pac-12s and saving their best for NCAAs), Tadder will probably get to continue racing across the board, especially with her 400 IM training. It’s easy to see a 500 free/400 IM/1650 free NCAA lineup in the future, but nothing can be counted out.

6. Paige McKenna (Previous Rank: #5) – Nation’s Capital Swim Club – Damascus, MD  **Committed to Wisconsin**
Best Times: 1650 free – 15:48.07, 1000 free – 9:31.93, 500 free – 4:40.38, 200 free – 1:47.36, 400 IM – 4:19.59

McKenna remains a top-tier recruit in the distance freestyles, but didn’t create a ton of momentum as a senior, failing to improve PBs in her premium events after only making small drops as a junior. Nonetheless, the Wisconsin commit holds firm as the class’s top swimmer in the 1000 and 1650 free, and her best mile time would’ve placed third at the 2021 NCAAs (with the top three finishers all seniors and only one of them returning for a fifth year). Even with a 20-second add, her 2020-21 season-best would still comfortably score, and her 500 remains strong. She had a big drop in the 400 IM last season, and developing either that race or the 200 free further would make her a three-event scoring threat.

7. Mariah Denigan (Previous Rank: #13) – Lakeside Swim Team – Barren Academy of Virtual and Expanded Learning – Erlanger, KY **Committed to Indiana**
Best Times: 400 IM – 4:08.35, 1650 free – 16:10.05, 1000 free – 9:36.46, 500 free – 4:42.65, 200 free – 1:48.06

Denigan fits the mold of this class as a versatile freestyler/IMer, but was one of the lone swimmers in that category that took a big leap forward in 2020-21. The Lakeside swimmer dropped almost four seconds in the 400 IM, 16 in the mile, 10 in the 1000 free, and close to two in the 500. Coming out of her junior year her times were good enough to earn an NCAA invite, but now she’s got scoring times in three events. There’s also something to be said about how Denigan had a big breakout summer in 2018, got some international experience and won a silver medal in the 800 free at the 2019 Pan American Games, and has stayed the course despite not always being on a linear path in terms of setting best times. It took a few years for her yards times to catch up to long course, but she’s just now hitting her stride at the right time.

8. Ellie Waldrep (Previous Rank: #19) – Baylor Swim Club– Baylor School – Chattanooga, TN **Committed to Auburn**
Best Times: 100 back – 51.75, 200 back – 1:53.72, 100 fly – 53.66, 200 IM – 1:58.73, 50 free – 23.03, 100 free – 50.55

Waldrep is a promising talent that followed up a stagnant junior year by making a big splash as a senior. Waldrep was 52.4 in the 100 back in 2018-19, and then after essentially matching her PB last season, dropped a sizzling 51.75 this past February and then tied that clocking in April. 50-yard stroke times are generally overlooked in college swimming since they aren’t raced individually, but Waldrep’s 50 back best of 24.14 would’ve been mid-pack in the 200 medley relay at the 2021 NCAAs, something that should give a big boost to an Auburn team that failed to field any NCAA relays last season. And given that sprinting ability, Waldrep’s progression in the 200 back is even more impressive, as the Baylor swimmer sliced three seconds off her best last season in 1:53.72, a time that easily makes the championship final at SECs and would’ve been just .05 outside of scoring positions at NCAAs last season. Waldrep also has a solid 53-mid 100 fly, and dropped two seconds in the 200 IM last season, so there are options for a third event. A 23.0 flat-start 50 free will also provide the Tigers with some relay depth that was lacking last season.

9. Josephine Fuller (Previous Rank: unranked) – Nova of Virginia Aquatics, Inc – Glen Allen High School – Glen Allen, VA**Committed to Tennessee**
Best Times: 200 back – 1:52.73, 100 back – 52.91, 50 free – 22.89, 100 breast – 1:01.72, 200 breast – 2:12.27, 100 fly – 54.19, 200 IM – 1:59.30

With last year’s 12th-ranked recruit Reilly Tiltmann graduating high school early and joining UVA for their NCAA championship title in 2021, Josephine Fuller came out of nowhere to stake her claim as the best 200 backstroker in the class. Fuller improved leaps and bounds in early 2021. She exited the 2019-20 season with a best time of 1:56-low, and rattled off four consecutive swims in March of 1:55.2, 1:54.5, 1:53.9 and then ultimately a 1:52.73, winning the NCSA Junior National title. That time puts her in NCAA scoring position, top-five at SECs, and the huge drop suggests there’s more in the tank in the coming years. Fuller was primarily viewed as a strong 100 backstroker last season, featured in the “Best of the Rest” section with her 52.9 PB, and while she didn’t lower that (she actually tied it to the hundredth), she added more events to her repertoire. The future Lady Vol now has a 1:01.7 100 breast, dropped almost 10 seconds for a 2:12.2 in the 200 breast, and in a class with only a few high-end options, is right in the thick of the pack with a sub-23 50 free.

10. Rachel Stege (Previous Rank: #15) – Fox Valley Swim Team – Neuqua Valley High School – Naperville, IL **Committed to Georgia**
Best Times: 500 free – 4:40.03, 1650 free – 16:21.50, 1000 free – 9:43.09, 200 free – 1:46.40, 100 free – 49.91, 50 free – 23.67

Stege is maybe the only swimmer in either the boys’ or girls’ class that raced very few times during the 2020-21 short course season but didn’t see their ranking diminish. Why? Because despite Stege opting to race the U.S. Open in November and the San Antonio Pro Swim Series meet in March over a tapered SCY competition, she had a standout performance in October at the IHSA Sectionals, becoming the fastest swimmer in the class in the 500 free. Stege put up a time of 4:40.03, lowering her 19-month-old best time by more than three seconds. That advancement moves her up from fringe ‘B’ finalist to ‘A’ finalist at NCAAs, and she also swam that race entirely on her own—winning by more than 17 seconds—so with a bit of competition it’s easy to see her sub-4:40. She dropped down a few tenths to 1:46.4 in the 200 free at the same meet, and while the Georgia commit wasn’t able to seriously approach her long course PBs from 2019 this summer, that ultimately doesn’t matter in the NCAA—whether or not that signals she’s off form a bit, or hurts her confidence entering this season, remains to be seen. And though she didn’t swim it this past season in yards, multiple LCM 1500 frees in 2020-21 indicate she’s committed to training for the mile, where her best time of 16:21.50 is under the NCAA cutline. She’s sometimes been aggressive opening races and has excellent turns—two things that pay off big time in the short course pool, especially over the longer distances for the latter.

11. Annabel Crush (Previous Rank: #11) – Lakeside Swim Team – Sacred Heart Academy – Louisville, KY **Committed to NC State**
Best Times: 100 back – 52.31, 200 back – 1:55.42, 50 free – 22.71, 100 free – 48.97, 200 free – 1:45.71, 200 IM – 1:57.57, 500 free – 4:46.51

Annabel Crush: she’s got a great name, is a multi-event threat, and made a notable drop last season in the 200 free, perhaps one of the weaker events in this class. Crush was already established as a top backstroker last year with bests of 52.3 and 1:55.5, and she essentially held firm there, bringing her 200 down to 1:55.42. The same goes for the 50 and 100 free, where she’s 22.7/48.9, both very promising in a sea of 23s and 49s among her peers, but despite holding steady in these other events, her 200 drop is what keeps her at #11. Only top-ranked recruits Torri Huske and Gretchen Walsh were faster than Crush’s 1:45.71 from this past season, with Ella Bathurst matching the time. Two others—Micayla Cronk and Ashley Strouse—have faster PBs, but didn’t go quicker in 2020-21. That instantly makes Crush an invaluable asset for NC State, with 1:45.7 not only a time good enough for a top-16 finish at the 2021 NCAAs, but also a crucial addition to an 800 free relay that finished 17th out of 17 teams at last season’s nationals. Crush also brought her 500 free down to 4:46.5, and is on the verge of being an NCAA scorer in the 200 IM. She’s now very good in a plethora of events, and it feels like she’s on the precipice of really breaking out somewhere. Right now, where that is is unclear, but it will be a fun puzzle for the Wolfpack coaching staff to figure out.

12. Lindsay Flynn (Previous Rank: 10) – Aquatic Team of Mecklenburg – Charlotte Latin High School – Matthews, NC **Committed to Michigan** (Indiana decommitment)
Best Times: 50 free – 22.03, 100 free – 48.15, 100 fly – 53.91

With so many medley, back and fly swimmers near the top of the rankings, Flynn brings a much more straightforward skillset to the table, but it’s one that is very transferrable to the NCAA format. Flynn made small drops as a senior in the 50 and 100 free, getting down in the 22-low/48-low range to be in NCAA scoring position, and also dropped three 50-yard relay splits in the 21.46-21.57 range at the South Carolina MOCS Championship meet in March. Those would rank among the best from the 200 free relay at the 2021 NCAAs, and will give the Wolverines a nice boost after they only placed 16th in the event last season despite a 21.1 leg from Maggie MacNeil. Flynn also made strides in the 100 fly over the past year, going from 55.6 to 53.9, giving her a solid third event. But her sprint free prowess will be huge both individually and on the relays right out of the chute.

13. Brooke Zettel (Previous Rank: #17) – TAC Titans – Apex Friendship High School – Holly Springs, NC **Committed to Florida**
Best Times: 200 IM – 1:56.71, 400 IM – 4:11.14, 200 fly – 1:56.74, 100 fly – 53.78, 200 breast – 2:11.97, 100 breast – 1:01.24, 200 back – 1:57.43, 100 back – 54.40, 500 free – 4:47.20, 200 free – 1:47.72, 1650 free – 16:43.46

The buzz word of the class is “versatile,” and Zettel that brings that in spades. The Florida commit improved by more than a second in the 200 IM over the past season, bringing her best time down to an NCAA-scoring-worthy 1:56.71. Zettel also boasts elite bests under the 2021 NCAA cutline in the 400 IM and 200 fly, having improved both over the past season, and is competitive across the board in seemingly every other event. The TAC Titan had small drops in both breaststroke events in 1:01.2/2:11.9, has a respectable backstroke combo, and really developed her freestyle over the last 12 months, improving in every distance (other than the 1000, which she didn’t swim). That includes taking off five seconds to go 4:47 in the 500, and swimming her first-ever 1650 in 16:43. The Gators have a long history of pushing elite IMers to the next level, and Zettel projects to be the next to join that list. Like Grace Sheble, swimming both medley events and the 200 fly at NCAAs works out perfectly in terms of scheduling, but Zettel will also be able to race anywhere she’s called upon throughout the season and score valuable points.

14. Ashley Strouse (Previous Rank: #7) – Scottsdale Aquatic Club – Chaparral High School – Cave Creek, AZ **Committed to Northwestern**
Best Times: 1650 free – 16:01.20, 1000 free – 9:40.58, 500 free – 4:41.41, 200 free – 1:45.44, 100 free – 49.24, 50 free – 22.98

Strouse veered away from swimming the mile this past season (though she did go 16:51 LCM 1500 in May), and slides a bit in the rankings due to the fact that her best times in three of her best events were set in 2018. But she’s got an insane range, having hit a sub-23 50 free this past season while her 1650 PB is 16:01. That time would still be a top-eight NCAA swim in 2021, and her 500 free is in scoring range, which makes her 1:45 200 free fly a little bit under the radar. Her ability to swim down to the 50 and up to the mile will be an asset in college, but the lack of recent best times does pose a bit of a cause for concern.

15. Mia Kragh (Previous Rank: #9) – Rancho San Dieguito – Torrey Pines High School – San Diego, CA **Committed to Cal**
Best Times: 100 fly – 52.01, 200 fly – 1:56.16, 50 free – 22.82, 100 free – 49.87, 200 free – 1:48.29

Kragh presents a blend of the traditional free/fly sprinter and a versatile option that can swim a variety of events at a high level. The Cal commit really broke through in the 200 fly as a junior, clocking 1:56.16, and though she was only 1:57.9 this season, that time is still on the cusp of earning an NCAA invite. But the 100 fly is really her best event. She’s the fastest swimmer in the class not named Torri Huske or Gretchen Walsh, and with a 52.0 PB capable of scoring at NCAAs and just a half-second from ‘A’ final territory. Kragh’s 22.8 50 free gives the Bears some nice relay depth, and there’s probably room to grow in the 100 free. The San Diego native is coming off a big LCM performance at the Speedo Summer Championships – West in early August, winning the 100 fly (58.80) and taking second in the 200 fly (2:11.65), with the latter marking a five-second drop, giving her some momentum after stagnating a bit in the SCY season.

16. Mackenzie McConagha (Previous Rank: Honorable Mention) – Nation’s Capital Swim Club – Briar Woods High School – Broadlands, VA  **Committed to Wisconsin**
Best Times: 200 fly – 1:56.10, 100 back – 52.66, 200 back – 1:55.07, 100 fly – 52.88, 200 free – 1:47.32, 200 IM – 2:01.43

Narrowly missing out on cracking the top 20 last year, McConagha made improvements across the board this past season and now has either has, or is within range of, getting under the NCAA cutline in four events. McConagha’s most noteworthy progression as a senior came in the 200 fly, where she dropped from 1:58.8 to 1:56.1, putting her within a half-second of scoring at NCAAs. She followed that up by dipping her long course best down into the 2:12s, and made the final at Wave I of the Olympic Trials. Her 100 back remains near the top of the class, going from 52.8 to 52.6 this season, her 200 improved by a second and a half to 1:55.0, and the 100 fly got down to 52.8 from 53-mid. Her butterfly improvements make her a true multi-stroke threat for Wisconsin, and she also took off three and a half seconds for a respectable 1:47.3 200 free last season.

17. Ella Bathurst (Previous Rank: #18) – Tampa Elite Aquatics – H.B. Plant High School – Tampa, FL **Committed to Virginia**
Best Times: 200 free – 1:45.71, 100 back – 52.77, 100 free – 49.21, 200 IM – 1:58.24, 400 IM – 4:19.46, 100 breast – 1:01.58, 200 breast – 2:13.69, 200 back – 1:56.74

Bathurst had a pair of nice drops in two of her already-elite events in late 2020, becoming one of the few swimmers in the class that’s sub-1:46 in the 200 free (1:45.71) and breaking 53 seconds in the 100 back (52.77). Her 100 back performance was a full-second drop, and her 200 free time makes her a prime candidate to jump right onto UVA’s 800 free relay that won last season’s NCAA title, with two members of that quartet not returning. Doubling in those two events individually is not unheard of, but rare at NCAAs, with only the 100 breast separating the two. Luckily Bathurst has options, also dropping time in the 200 IM, 200 back and 100 free last season. Her breaststroke times are also solid, and she really could go any direction in terms of her collegiate event focus. Virginia has done very well in developing well-rounded swimmers of late, including last season’s freshman breakouts Alex Walsh and Kate Douglass, so Bathurst should be able to continue training a little bit of everything without losing a step, and race where it best fits the team’s needs.

18. Anna Shaw (Previous Rank: unranked) – University of Denver Hilltoppers – Heritage High School – Columbine Valley, CO**Committed to Stanford**
Best Times: 50 free – 22.22, 100 free – 48.14, 100 back – 53.26, 200 free – 1:47.27, 100 fly – 54.01, 200 IM – 2:00.56

Shaw is perhaps the most improved swimmers to crack the top 20 in the re-rank, having not even been mentioned in last year’s official rankings. She was a solid sub-23 50 free prospect at her time of commitment, but has really transformed since the conclusion of her junior year. The incoming Cardinal freshman vaulted herself from a 49.8 100 freestyler down to 48.1, putting her right near the top of the class and in prime position to score at NCAAs. Her 50 free now sits at 22.2, under the NCAA cutline from last season, and her 100 back incredibly dropped from 59.0 at the end of the 2019-20 season, to 55.6 in the summer, and then 53.2 last year. She’s also dropped four seconds in the 200 free and three in the 100 fly, further showing how much better she’s gotten over a short period of time. Now, we know that the Stanford women will be getting a massive boost this season with the return of Taylor Ruck and the additions of Regan Smith and Torri Huske, but Shaw split 47.47 on a relay last season that would’ve been the fastest on the Cardinal’s 400 free relay at NCAAs by more than three quarters of a second. She truly looks like a diamond in the rough for Stanford with unlimited potential. (She also broke a few of Missy Franklin’s Colorado High School Records last year, which is no small feat.)

19. Caroline Pennington (Previous Rank: unranked) – TAC Titans – Greenwich Academy – Greenwich, CT**Committed to Virginia**
Best Times: 1650 free – 16:03.21, 1000 free – 9:37.44, 500 free – 4:43.46, 200 free – 1:48.60

No one in the class swam faster than Pennington in the mile this past season, who moved from her home state of Connecticut to train with the TAC Titans amidst the pandemic in 2020 (also overcoming a health scare earlier in the year). With the Titans being perhaps the club team in the U.S. hosting the most meets last year, the move seemed to pay off in a big way, as Pennington raced frequently and smashed several of her best times. In the mile, Pennington dropped from 16:29 in 2019 to 16:17 in the summer of 2020, and then in December, dropped a scintillating 16:03.21. That time would finish inside the top eight at the 2021 NCAAs, and she also delivered a 9:37 1000 at the same meet, almost 13 seconds under her previous best. Her 500 free reached an elite level as well, hitting a 4:43-mid to be on the cusp of an NCAA-scoring time, and she’ll take over as Virginia’s top distance free option with Paige Madden‘s graduation. UVA is already stacked with a strong incoming class, and that’s bolstered by Pennington’s recent progression.

20. Amy Tang (Previous Rank: #4) – Unattached – Lakeside High School – Bellevue, WA **Committed to Stanford**
Best Times: 100 free – 48.11, 50 free – 22.06, 100 back – 52.17, 200 free – 1:46.64, 100 fly – 52.95, 200 IM – 2:00.69

Tang has five very high-level events, three of which could step right in and score at the NCAA level. However, she didn’t race at all from January to November last year, with her last short course times set over 19 months ago. That it makes it hard to predict where she’ll be at when she arrives at The Farm for her freshman year, but what we do know is that she has the capabilities of being a high-impact recruit. Tang’s sprint free combo of 22.0/48.1 is deadly for a high school junior, and if she’s able to even just stay at that level she’ll be a valuable NCAA scorer and relay contributor. At 52.1, her 100 back is on the cusp of scoring at NCAAs, and she’s also got a solid 200 free and 100 fly that she could swim in a dual meet setting or even on a relay.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

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.

Micayla Cronk (Previous Rank: #6) – Blue Dolfins – Flagler Palm Coast High School – Port Orange, FL **Committed to Florida**
Best Times: 200 free – 1:44.39, 100 free – 48.20, 50 free – 22.91, 200 IM – 2:01.78, 100 back – 54.59

Cronk was unable to replicate the sub-1:45 200 free form she showed as a junior this past season, but remains a high-end pickup for the Florida Gators, specializing in events that translate over to the relays. After ripping a pair of 1:44 200s in 2019-20, Cronk was going 1:46s last season—still strong among this class—and was solid in the sprints with a 48.7 100 (half-second add) and matching her PB with a 22.9 50. While the progress stagnated, Cronk remains a nice addition with a lot of relay contributions in her future.

Summer Smith (Previous Rank: unranked) – Bluefish Swim Club – Agawam, MA**Committed to Tennessee**
Best Times: 400 IM – 4:12.18, 1000 free – 9:54.56, 1650 free – 16:21.49, 200 back – 1:55.07, 500 free – 4:47.90, 100 back – 54.41, 200 fly – 1:57.81, 200 IM – 1:59.46, 200 free – 1:48.38

Initially billed as more of a distance freestyler, Bluefish Swim Club’s Summer Smith has truly evolved into an all-around threat, having made significant improvement across a myriad of events as a senior. Smith maintains a solid 16:21 PB in the mile, an event she hasn’t raced since December 2019, but a second and a half drop in the 400 IM (4:12.18) puts her a second under last season’s NCAA cutline and a massive near-four-second drop in the 200 back (1:55.07) puts her just .02 off. The future Lady Vol also made strides in the 500 free, 100 back, 200 IM and 200 fly, with the latter being just outside of NCAA invite range as well.

Caroline Sheble (Previous Rank: unranked) – Nova of Virginia Aquatics, Inc – James River High School – North Chesterfield, VA**Committed to NC State**
Best Times: 200 fly – 1:55.52, 400 IM – 4:10.47, 200 IM – 2:00.75, 100 fly – 54.43, 500 free – 4:49.49, 200 free – 1:49.91

Set to join twin sister Grace at NC State, Caroline Sheble was billed more as a butteflyer at her time of commitment, but she made a big move in the 400 IM last season. Sheble owned a best time of 4:14.1 from 2018, and then after having not broken 4:18 since then entering the 2020-21 campaign, she rattled off four swims 4:14 or better in March, culminating with a 4:10.47 in the NCSA final. That makes her a scoring threat at NCAAs, and her 200 fly also saw more than a two-second improvement in 1:55.5, which is under what it took for a top-16 finish in 2021 (1:55.60). A true third event for Sheble has yet to come to fruition as of yet, but the 200 IM and 500 free are both solid for her now and have room to improve moving forward.

Abby McCulloh (Previous Rank: Honorable Mention) – SwimAtlanta – Parkview High School – Lilburn, GA **Committed to Georgia** (Auburn decommit)
Best Times: 1650 free – 16:09.55, 1000 free – 9:43.78, 500 free – 4:41.53, 200 free – 1:47.86

Like many distance swimmers over the past season, McCulloh did not race the mile in 2020-21, but she did drop her 1000 time down to a strong 9:43, which puts that event relatively on par with her 16:09 1650 time (9:43.7 is roughly on pace for 16:03). Already well under what it takes to score at NCAAs (16:13.5 last season), McCulloh is on the verge of top-eight territory in the mile if she managed to hold that 1000 pace an extra 650 yards (16:04.1 scored in 2021), and she was less than a second off her 500 best last year in 4:42.3. Having reversed her decision to go to Auburn and instead opted to join the Georgia Bulldogs, McCulloh will join a program with a rich history of developing elite-level distance swimmers. Despite being a legit scoring threat in two events, she misses the top 20 with her 200 having yet to catch up to the longer races.

Madelyn Christman (Previous Rank: unranked) – Carmel Swim Club – Carmel High School – Carmel, IN**Committed to Notre Dame**
Best Times: 200 back – 1:54.85, 100 back – 53.22, 50 free – 22.97, 200 IM – 1:59.27, 100 free – 50.19

One of a handful of backstrokers in this class that made notable strides this past season, Christman engineered a pair of relatively massive short course drops, going from 54.4 to 53.2 in the 100 back and 1:57.1 to 1:54.8 in the 200. Making the progression even more impressive was the fact that it wasn’t linear, as the Carmel Swim Club product went two years between 100 back PBs and close to three between lifetime bests in the 200. Both backstroke times put her right around the NCAA cutline last season, and she’s got a sub-23 50 free under her belt from March 2018 that could be a useful asset of Notre Dame if she’s able to regain that sprint speed. Christman also comes in riding a ton of momentum, having smashed a ton of long course best times and winning two bronze medals at the Speedo Summer Championships – East in Greensboro in early August. One of those bronzes came in the 200 IM, another event that had a sizeable improvement last season in SCY and could become her #3 postseason event in college along with the backstrokes.

Lexie Mulvihill (Previous Rank: unranked) – Tampa Elite Aquatics – George Steinbrenner High School – Lutz,FL**Committed to Auburn**
Best Times: 50 free – 22.22, 100 free – 49.35, 100 fly – 53.16, 200 fly – 1:57.93, 200 free – 1:49.36, 100 back – 55.73

Mulvihill’s elite sprinting ability continued to evolve in her senior year, dropping two tenths in the 50 free to rank her among the class’s top five and put her new best of 22.22 dead on what it took to earn a second NCAA swim last season. Mulvihill showed some consistency with four swims 22.7 or better last season, brought her 100 down a few tenths in 49.3, and took big leaps in butterfly. From a 54.6/2:02.3 flyer to 53.1/1:57.9, Mulvihill is all of a sudden right on the cusp of NCAA invite times in both events, and instantly becomes a viable option to swim fly on any given medley relay for the Tigers, not just freestyle. She also dropped more than a second in the 200 free, showing improvement across the board which was a rarity last season.

Mia Abruzzo (Previous Rank: unranked) – Plymouth Whitemarsh Aquatics – Notre Dame Academy (Villanova) – Plymouth Meeting, PA**Committed to Georgia**
Best Times: 400 IM – 4:10.27, 200 fly – 1:56.66, 100 fly – 53.73, 200 IM – 1:59.24, 500 free – 4:45.89, 1650 free – 16:37.64, 200 free – 1:49.34

Abruzzo only raced the 400 IM once during the short course season, and it went phenomenally well, dropping almost three seconds in 4:10.27 to put her within range of scoring at NCAAs. That swim came in December—along with a very solid 53.7 100 fly—and then in March, she rattled off a pair of 1:56 200 flys after coming into the Senior Keystone Classic with a PB of 1:58.5, putting her within a second of top-16 territory at NCAAs. The UGA commit also delivered impressive improvements in the 500 (4:45.8) and 1650 free (16:37.6), and her 200 IM remains solid. Yet another versatile swimmer in a class full of them, Abruzzo will fit right in in Athens.

Malia Rausch (Previous Rank: unranked) – Austin Swim Club – Lake Travis High School – Austin, TX**Committed to Ohio State**
Best Times: 500 free – 4:40.26, 200 free – 1:45.96, 1000 free – 9:51.49, 1650 free – 16:19.80, 400 IM – 4:14.33, 200 IM – 1:59.41

Rausch had a breakthrough performance in December, vaulting herself into the class’s elite with a 1:45.9 200 free, a 4:40 500 free, 16:19 mile, and 1:59.4/4:14.3 performances in the medley events. All of the swims were pretty sizeable drops, making Rausch one of the best 200/500/mile swimmers the class as to offer. Given the improvement came so rapidly, the potential for the OSU commit appears to be sky high.

BEST OF THE REST

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but we can rattle off a few of the athletes we studied who wound up just outside the top 20 in each event discipline. For the purposes of space, we won’t include every top event for these athletes, but just a few of their standouts. Each of these athletes is still an extremely high-level recruit:

BONUS LOOKBACK:

Feeling nostalgic? Here’s a look back at our historic recruiting class rankings, plus our retrospectives of those classes after four NCAA seasons:

Girls
Recruiting Class
High School Class of 2023 Way Too Early Ranks As Sophomores
High School Class of 2022 Way Too Early Ranks As Sophomores Ranks as Juniors
High School Class of 2021 Way Too Early Ranks As Sophomores Ranks as Juniors
High School Class of 2020 Way Too Early Ranks As Sophomores Ranks as Juniors Re-Rank As Seniors
High School Class of 2019 Ranks as Juniors Re-Rank As Seniors
High School Class of 2018 Ranks as Juniors Re-Rank As Seniors
High School Class of 2017 Ranks as Juniors Post-college retrospective
High School Class of 2016 Ranks as Juniors Post-college retrospective
High School Class of 2015 Ranks as Juniors Post-college retrospective
High School Class of 2014 Ranks as Juniors Post-college retrospective
High School Class of 2013 Ranks as Juniors Post-college retrospective

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dolphin kick
23 days ago

Wow… the women’s class for Auburn was also impressive. Taylor and his staff certainly set up the new coaches with these classes.

Ncaafan
Reply to  dolphin kick
23 days ago

Auburn did a great job here. Well done Gary and staff

DJTrockstoYMCA
23 days ago

Vol girls recruited great plus scraped a few transfers from other schools. Well done…but what about the VOL boys??

Ncaafan
Reply to  DJTrockstoYMCA
23 days ago

Pretty impressive for the Tennessee Women. I believe most of their class is international as well so to have this many US athletes mentioned is impressive.

Vol Boys brought in a few transfers too I believe

DMSWIM
23 days ago

Virginia is the home state of swimmers ranked at 1, 3, 5, 9, 16, and an honorable mention. Pretty impressive!

PVSFree
Reply to  DMSWIM
23 days ago

We need to get a swimming power ranking of the US states

Admin
Reply to  PVSFree
23 days ago

It would be really, really hard to define which states get credit for which athletes.

Some attempts have been made at this before, but they’ve all had gaping holes in methodology.

troubadour
Reply to  Braden Keith
23 days ago

Just wait until California splits up into 3-4 states. Maybe 7 or 8 new ones.

anon
Reply to  DMSWIM
22 days ago

add NC, KY, and TN and you get more than half the list. I wouldn’t call Northern Virginia and Louisville the same area per se but it’s great to see newer hotbeds.

TeamRegan
23 days ago

Great list! However, I do feel like McKenna Stone should be included somewhere. 22.6/49.1/1:48.3, 1:01.7 BR, 53.04 FL. Maybe not on top 20, but I do think she’s worth a mention

ArtVanDeLegh10
Reply to  TeamRegan
23 days ago

I enjoy hearing people complain about subjective lists.

TeamRegan
23 days ago

#14 Ashley Strouse did have some sort of injury over the past year, possibly contributing to her lack of PB’s.

Mary Jones
Reply to  TeamRegan
23 days ago

Any insight onto what that may be. Strouse is an amazing athlete but I am wondering if she is going to swim the 1650 at a college level. She hasn’t swam the event since 2019 Winter Juniors (and was noticeably off with a 16:14).

Coach
23 days ago

Kind of interesting that the talent seems to be more spread out on the women’s side than the men’s, but the women have 4 more scholarships per team. Yes, there are more women’s teams overall, but at this level all of these Top 10-20 schools have both.

Hswimmer
23 days ago

Letitia Sim will be one to watch for future breastroke races with Jacoby

Anonymous
23 days ago

So… where’s Reilly Tiltmann? She is possibly the only one to enroll early with UVA and they won NCAAs last year🤔

Admin
Reply to  Anonymous
23 days ago

Because she enrolled last year, we have left her out of these rankings.

It’s a unique situation for sure, but we decided that the best representation of the class coming in this fall wouldn’t include a swimmer who swam in college last season.

Nonrevhoofan
Reply to  Braden Keith
23 days ago

Reilly is a 1st Year from an academic standpoint, and would merit positioning between 4 and 8 in your rankings. Just for the record, her PBs are 100 Back: 50.49; 200 Back: 1:50.66; 100 Fly: 51.88; 50 Free: 23.18; 100 Free: 49.54.

tea rex
Reply to  Nonrevhoofan
22 days ago

Personally, I think her best times from NCAAs means she doesn’t count as an “entering student”.

troubadour
Reply to  Anonymous
23 days ago

I would agree with you that she should be on some list. 2020 or 2021. SSwam seemed to state a position of keeping them with the high school class, 2021. Anyway, she has some great results. FWIW The Power Index figures put her behind Sheble, Sim, Tadder; ahead of McKenna. So an asterisk for 6th

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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