The 2020 NCAA Championships were canceled in the coronavirus pandemic – but the virus can’t stop our pre-season coverage for the 2021 campaign. We’re running through a comprehensive preview of each of the Power-5 conferences in Division I, compiling returning conference points and tracking transfers and incoming recruits.
A loaded Stanford team won its fourth-straight Pac-12 title despite would-be sophomore Taylor Ruck sitting out in an Olympic gap year. High-end depth powered a 374.5-point margin over Cal. Stanford had 16 swimmers score 50+ points individually, and had 24 overall scorers on a relatively young roster.
The Stanford sophomores (536 individual points) outscored any other class by a wide margin, getting event wins from Allie Raab (100 breast) and Morgan Tankersley (1650 free). The Cardinal’s only relay win came via three sophomores and a freshman in the 200 medley relay. Double conference champ Brooke Forde (400 IM/200 breast) is only a junior and should return, and the only graduated conference champ on their roster is senior Erin Voss, who won the 200 back.
Cal finished second, with some portion of that big Stanford margin owing to Cal sprint star Abbey Weitzeil scratching out of the meet with a hyper-extended elbow sustained at the finish of 21.03 50 freestyle. Weizeil won that 50 and helped Cal win the 400 medley relay before bowing out of the remainder of the meet. Cal did get two other event titles after losing Weitzeil: sophomore Izzy Ivey won the 100 back and the 200 free relay team that didn’t even include their star sprinter.
Cal had to grit out that second-place finish, with USC charging to within twelve and a half points at the finish. The Trojans had star senior Louise Hansson, the meet’s only three-event winner (200 IM/100 fly/200 fly), plus double-event winner Laticia Transom (200 free/100 free). That duo bookended two winning USC relays, the 400 free and 800 free teams.
Arizona State’s Emma Nordin had a breakout swim to win the 500 free (4:33.74), but a deep UCLA roster with 26 individual scorers bested ASU for fourth by a little more than 50 points.
Returning Points for 2021
Somehow, the Stanford margin gets even bigger when you look at returning points. Led by that massive rising junior group, Stanford returns more individual points (1067) than any other team scored in total individual points in 2020. To make things even more lopsided, Stanford returns all but one of its twenty relay legs – and that one graduated leg was the slowest leg of the 800 free relay.
Where things get interesting is that second tier of teams. USC took some heavy losses, with the top scorer in the entire Pac-12 graduating (96-point Hansson) along with four of the team’s top five individual scorers from last year. That leaves the Trojans with a conference-low 60% of individual points returning for new head coach Jeremy Kipp.
Cal lost a significant portion of its scorers, too, with six scoring seniors out the door. Weitzeil will be a more significant loss than her 32 points suggest. Both Cal and USC return 13 of 20 relay legs with some big splits to replace in Hansson/Weitzeil.
That’s opened the door for a young UCLA team to make a run. The Bruins return just 57 fewer points than Cal and 76.5 more than USC. With just four seniors out the door and 22 individual scorers returning, UCLA could have a shot to finish higher than 4th place for the first time since 2006.
Of note further down the list: Utah had only four senior individual scorers and returns the bulk of their points and relay legs. Washington State returns the conference’s highest percentage of points, but that owes somewhat to having only 9 individual scorers. Still, Washington State returns all but one relay leg as well.
|Team||Returning Individual Points||% Returning Individual Points||Returning Relay Legs|
Scorers By Team
Teams are listed in their 2020 conference finish order. Athletes are listed with their year as of the current 2019-2020 season, not their year for the 2020-2021 season.
Arizona State (943.5)
Washington State (396)
The rich get richer, as Stanford brings in the nation’s #1-ranked recruiting class. Graduating Voss (80 points), Katie Drabot (67 points) and Allie Szekely (72 points) are the biggest blows. But when you bring in four of the top 18 recruits in the country, the reloading process is significantly easier.
Regan Smith‘s name speaks for itself. She’s the clear favorite for Pac-12 titles in both backstrokes (she’s 49.6/1:47.1 out of high school), and should be the favorite in her third event no matter which of about five options she picks. She’s also going to be an instant upgrade to both Stanford medley relays (Stanford had backstroke legs of 24.5 and 52.4 last year). Her 100 free time (48.07) is better than any of Stanford’s four splits on the 400 free relay and her 200 free time (1:43.27) better than three of the four legs of Stanford’s 800 free relay.
Enough about Smith, though we could probably put together three or four more paragraphs on her impact. #6-ranked recruit Lillie Nordmann is a 1:43.6 freestyler and 1:53.2 flyer whose lifetime-bests would have scored 80 individual points at Pac-12s last year. Janelle Rudolph (22.2/48.2 free) and Samantha Pearson (22.5/48.9/1:45.8) beef up relay groups that already return plenty of talent. 4:08.8 IMer Isabel Gormley just adds more potential scoring talent to this freshman group.
Stanford could also be getting Taylor Ruck back from an Olympic redshirt, but there’s been no official word on her status for the coming season.
Cal and USC both have very good recruiting classes that just might keep UCLA at bay. Cal got elite backstroker Isabelle Stadden (51.2/1:50.3) and Danish sprinter Emily Gantriis (25.4/55.6 long course) who should be instant scorers. 4:42.5/1:46.3 freestyler Nicole Oliva has really intriguing range.
USC gets two Canadian standouts: long course 59.6/2:09.2 backstroker Jade Hannah and long course 25.3/55.4 freestyler (plus 59.0 flyer) Hanna Henderson. (Side note: just how loaded is the Pac-12 going to be in backstroke for the foreseeable future?). Throw in top-10 domestic recruit Kaitlyn Dobler (a 58.3 breaststroker) and Kipp has plenty of talent to work with in his first year on campus.
We were impressed with UCLA‘s class, and it doesn’t do that group justice to compare them to the three programs above, who ranked #1, #4 and #5 nationally in our recruit class ranking. UCLA adds Canadian breaststroker Bailey Herbert, who is 1:09.1 and 2:28.6 in long course. 53.3 flyer Sam Baron will be an option to upgrade the butterfly legs of the medley relays, with top flyer Amy Okada graduating. UCLA also pulled in a solid distance swimmer in Greta Fanta (4:47.1/16:26).
There are a lot of international recruits coming into the Pac-12 this year, and the inherent difficulty in converting long course times to short course yards will be a big hurdle in analyzing how much these freshman classes will score.
Arizona got Denmark’s Amalie Mortensen, who is 55.9 and 2:01.6 in long course freestyle. She’ll join a class with two strong butterflyers (53.8 Julia Heimstead and 53.6/1:58.8 Maddy Burt) along with 1:47.1 freestyler Tia Lindsay. There’s also a possibility Arizona gets standout Canadian breaststroker Faith Knelson on the roster. She deferred her freshman year last season to remain in Canada in preparation for Olympic Trials, and there’s been no official word on whether she’ll start in the NCAA next year or remain in Canada.
Utah gets Canadian Madds Broad, a 1:00.5/2:09.4 long course backstroker. And former Fresno State swimmer Zofia Niemczak comes over as a transfer, bringing short course times of 1:48.2 and 4:49.2 in freestyle.
And Arizona State brings in two strong long course freestylers. Australia’s Charli Brown (56.1/2:00.4/4:16.5 long course) is a little more distance-oriented, while Norway’s Marte Lovberg (25.9/56.1/2:01.6) trends downward to the sprints a little more.
There’s just no picking against Stanford here, especially with that elite recruiting class coming in. The Cardinal just keep reloading with elite recruiting class after elite recruiting class. Last year’s freshman group was relatively small, with just four freshmen on the Pac-12 team, and the bulk of their scoring came from the sophomores and juniors. But the incoming freshman class this fall is going to be a powerhouse for a lot of years to come.
With Cal’s recruiting class, they have to remain the favorites for second place. The odd silver lining in losing Weitzeil mid-meet last year is that Cal mostly proved its relay could stay afloat even without Weitzeil – that’s one big question mark already somewhat addressed.
We’ll take USC to make up the returning points deficit on UCLA, though that one could still be flipped if any projected freshman change plans amid the coaching shakeup. There doesn’t seem to be any rumblings of that, and Henderson even announced her USC commitment after Kipp’s hiring. USC is going to have to prove it can survive without Hansson, who was an absolute force on the relays.
UCLA’s roster is still pretty young. Last year, their freshmen (280 points) and sophomores (302.5 points) easily outscored their juniors (48) and seniors (166). So with a good class coming in, UCLA might have a two-year window to really do some damage without losing many big scorers.
Arizona State was really getting hot at the end of last season, a fact lost a little bit in all the coronavirus cancellations. We’ve got them 5th, ahead of a close Arizona-Utah pairing. Utah has a solid edge in returning points, but Arizona’s recruiting class is better. Getting Knelson into action would be a difference-maker.
Way-Too-Early Conference Picks
- Arizona State
- Washington State