Rumors Of These Teams’ Demises Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

This is the nature of sports fandom. We love hard, and we write off quickly. When a team falls from its peak, people are quick to panic, devolving into a blame game that often involves calls to fire coaches, telling swimmers they should transfer, and so on. That being said, one bad season or two doesn’t mean the end of success. In this article, we take a look at some teams who have taken hits in past seasons but showed a positive trajectory over midseasons to prove that this isn’t the end for them.

Arizona State Women

For the past two seasons, the Arizona State men have been a top-six program, while the women have struggled to break into the top 25 at NCAAs. However, at the NC State Invite this season, the Sun Devil women made some big strides and proved that they too could rise like the men’s program.

One of the biggest standouts for the Sun Devils was sophomore Ieva Maluka. She had a massive swim in the 200 IM, going 1:55.46 to improve on her best time of 1:57.37 and break the ASU school record. She also dropped over a second in the 200 free, going 1:44.84. She’s now a surefire NCAA qualifier in at least two events and is close to scoring range in both, which will be a big boost for her team. In the sprints, it was junior Erin Milligan who saw big drops, going best times in the 50 free (22.36), 100 free (48.71), and 200 free (1:46.92). Her improvement in the 50 free was especially big, as she dropped 0.48 seconds from her previous best. Now, she’s just 0.21 seconds off the 2023 NCAA invite time for the 50 free after not qualifying for the meet last season.

Sophomore Zoe Summar‘s performances in the breaststroke events are also worth noting. In the 100 breast, she improved a full second and went 1:00.29, and then jumped from a best time of 2:12.14 to 2:09.41 in the 200 breast. Her 200 breast time is faster than the 2023 NCAAs cut time, and if she were to qualify for NCAAs this season, she’d be the first ASU female breaststroker to do so since Sija Kansakoski in 2019.

Alongside returning NCAA qualifiers Lindsay Looney, Molly Batchelor, and Charli Brown, as well as new additions such as Deniz Ertan and Alexa Reyna, this new batch of breakout Sun Devil women will make their team much better than it was in past years.

One might ask: what changed this season for the ASU women? The answer is the new nature of a combined program. For the past two seasons, the ASU men’s team was run by Bob Bowman, while the women were led by associate head coach Rachel Stratton-Mills, who is now the head coach of Northwestern. This season though, the program became combined under Bowman, with the men and women training together. Bowman said on the SwimSwam podcast that the women were “uplifted” from training alongside the men’s team and that separate programs “weren’t the best thing to do.”

Stanford

Headed into the 2023-24 NCAA season, there wasn’t much positivity surrounding the Stanford men and women. Both teams had taken big hits, with the women losing stars like Claire Curzan, Torri Huske, and Taylor Ruck while the men are missing Andrei Minakov, their top scorer from 2022 and 2023 NCAAs. In addition, there were concerns about swimmers not being able to improve at The Farm, as several of the Stanford women added a significant amount of time at NCAAs while most of the Stanford men’s highly-touted 2022-23 freshman class saw minimal or no improvement. However, despite the setbacks that they were anticipated to face, both teams exceeded expectations at the Texas Invitational.

On the men’s side, SwimSwam’s no. 1 ranked freshman Rex Maurer set personal best times in the 500 free (4:11.88), 400 IM (3:41.27), and 200 back (1:39.75), with his 200 back time being an over two-second drop. Sophomore Rafael Gu isn’t on the level of Minakov yet, but his best times in the 50 free (19.44), 100 free (42.40), and 100 fly (45.07) indicate that he’s ready to take on Minakov’s role for the team. Another top-ranked freshman, Henry McFadden, also saw improvements, hitting incremental personal bests in the 200 free (1:32.78) and 200 back (1:42.76).

Freshman Caroline Bricker was one of the biggest bright spots for the women, building off her dual meet momentum to go best times in the 200 breast (2:06.85), 200 IM (1:55.49), and 400 IM (4:03.49). So far this season, she has dropped over a second in the 200 IM and 200 breast, and over six seconds in the 400 IM. Sophomore Lucy Bell also had a massive swim in the 400 IM, dropping over two seconds from her best time of 4:05.56 set at NCAAs last season. She also went a best time of 1:53.63 in the 200 fly, taking 0.1 off her previous best from 2020. After being stagnant in the event for so long, she is finally making improvements.

Junior Lillie Nordmann saw best times in both the 100 fly (51.52) and 200 fly (1:53.12). Her 100 fly time was her first personal best in the event since high school, while her 200 fly PB came after not improving in the event at all last season. Junior Aurora Roghair and sophomore Natalie Mannion went best times in every individual event that they raced, with Roghair improving in the 100 free (48.67), 200 free (1:44.25), 500 free (4:37.10), 1650 free (15:52.83), and Mannion performing well in the 200 free (1:44.66), 500 free (4:39.18), 100 back (52.63), and 200 back (1:52.42).

Yes, there was also a fair share of Stanford swimmers who didn’t perform to what they were capable of, such as freshmen Ethan Harrington, Gibson Holmes, and Lucy Thomas, However, the batch of swimmers who set best times or broke through long plateaus should give the Cardinal a lot of newfound hope come time for Pac-12s and NCAAs.

Alabama

During the beginning portion of the 2022-23 NCAA season, the Alabama women were expected to place highly at 2023 NCAAs, largely because of how strong their sprinting contingent was. However, that took a turn when top sprinters Morgan Scott and Cora Dupre both announced their early retirements midway through the season. Due to its depleted sprinting forces, the Crimson Tide went from finishing fourth at 2022 NCAAs to 14th at 2023 NCAAs.

This season, after losing NCAA scorers like Kalia Antoniou, Rhyan White, and Kensey McMahon, the Alabama women were in an even worse position than they had been during the second half of last season. They were also facing a lieu of coaching changes. Margo Geer was in her second full season ever as a head coach, while Andrew Hodgson (who brings in five years of experience from Northwestern) replaced former associate Ozzie Quevedo. In addition, longtime assistant James Barber left the program.

However, at the Tennessee invite, the Alabama women had some promising results in the sprint freestyle events, pushing back some of the skepticism surrounding them to begin the season.

Freshman Cadence Vincent was a standout, posting best times in the 50 free (22.10) and 100 free (48.44). Her 50 free time is faster than any relay split that any of her returning teammates went last season except junior Kailyn Winter, who split 21.71. She also split 47.89 on Alabama’s 400 medley relay, which is, once again, faster than any of her returning teammates went at SECs last season. Another breakout freshman was Jada Scott, who went 22.36 in the 50 free and a team-leading personal best of 48.21 in the 100 free. Winter had a strong meet as well, setting a season-best of 22.34 in the 50 free.

The Alabama women’s sprint group isn’t what it used to be, but strong performances from the freshmen give the Crimson Tide an opportunity to rebuild and slowly get back to its peak in the discipline.

On the men’s side, Alabama also took a major hit after losing NCAA scorers like Derek Maas and Matt Menke. They aren’t as strong of a team compared to the women, but the performances of junior Charlie Hawke were a bright spot—he went best times in the 100 free (42.31) and 500 free (4:12.91) in addition to posting a nation-leading 1:31.20 200 free and an 18.85 50 free relay split. Notably, his 500 free time was a huge drop from his previous best time of 4:14.36 in the event.

USC

Last season, both USC teams struggled in their first full season under head coach Lea Maurer, as the men had zero NCAA scorers while the breaststroke duo of Kaitlyn Dobler and Isabelle Odgers were the only swimmers who scored on the women’s side. In addition, prior to that season starting, several swimmers entered the transfer portal. However, to kick off this season, the Trojans have been firing on all cylinders.

MEN 200m Butterfly – Final
Krzysztof Chmielewski (POL)
2023 LEN U23 Championship
photo crediti István Derencsény/LEN

Freshman Krzysztof Chmielewski has been a force for the men, having posted a nation-leading time of 14:37.74 in the 1650 free at the Texas Invitational. He also went a 4:13.84 500 free at the same meet and set a best time of 1:41.20 in the 200 fly at the ASU vs. USC dual meet. All three of his times would have scored at 2023 NCAAs, and his 1650 free and 200 fly time would have placed top 8. Junior Chris O’Grady also saw a lot of success during midseasons, going a best time in the 100 breast (51.53) and a season-best of 1:52.86 in the 200 breast. His 100 breast time was a 0.16-second drop from his previous best set during the 2021-22 season.

The USC women have simply exploded this year. They are ranked top five in the nation for all five relays (and have the nation’s top 800 free relay), and several Trojan swimmers have stepped up big time individually.

Due to the emergence of swimmers like freshman Minna Abraham, graduate student Vasilissa Buinaia, and sophomore Hannah Kuechler, USC’s freestyle relays have gotten a lot stronger. Abraham posted a huge 1:41.38 200 free, which is just 0.06 behind Gretchen Walsh’s nation-leading time and makes her the 13th-fastest performer of all time. She also produced likely NCAA qualification-worthy times in the 100 free (48.36) and 200 IM (1:55.78). Buinaia excelled in the sprints as well, posting times that would have scored at 2023 NCAAs in the 50 free (21.95), 100 free (47.40), and 200 free (1:44.18). Kuechler went a 48.78 100 free and 1:45.12 200 free in addition to a 47.86 100 free relay split, outperforming her 2023 Pac-12 performances in both events (49.25 100 free and 1:47.01 200 free).

Senior Caroline Famous had a major backstroke breakthrough that was critical for her team’s medley relays. She didn’t go a best time in the 100 back at invites, but this season, she improved from a personal best of 52.77 to 51.48 in the event. In the 500 free, sophomores Justina Kozan and Claire Tuggle saw big jumps. Kozan improved from a time of 4:41.09 to 4:38.47 at midseasons, while Tuggle dropped a second in the event this season and went 4:39.16 at the USC invite. Kozan also set a best time of 4:03.25 in the 400 IM after not improving in the event since 2019, while Tuggle set additional best times in the 200 free (1:44.54) and 400 IM (4:10.33) at invites.

In addition to all the swimmers who broke out, Dobler is continuing to perform well, with times in the nation’s top five for both the 100 breast and 200 breast. If the USC women can carry the momentum they have from midseasons into February and March, then they could be a force to be reckoned with at Pac-12s and NCAAs.

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Jimmy DeSnuts
2 months ago

Alright, YanYan wrote an article about Stanford. Now I want to see Andrew write an article about Stanford, that would be fascinating. I like the positivity Yanyan, but you can’t deny that Stanford is falling apart.
Curzan, Huske, and Ruck in exchange for a Brick is hardly a good deal.

BamaSwimmer
3 months ago

Bama is going to take down Auburn when we swim against them at home in January.

Sweet Sweet Peter Rosen
3 months ago

Stanford women need a title to reclaim glory. Until then….

snailSpace
3 months ago

Love the title.

I miss the ISL
3 months ago

I was gonna say Georgia deserves some recognition, but for the women, its really only their freestyle group that is going off right now, and I guess the men really never were getting negative press.

Swammer
Reply to  I miss the ISL
3 months ago

I really feel for the Georgia men. They were so good in 2022 and looked like they were only going to get better. Then Sates left and Urlando got hurt, and some of their better swimmers graduated

HereForTheMems
3 months ago

I’ll agree with all of this, except Alabama. There are some signs of life, but the women are currently 15th and men 30th in D1, 6th and 7th in SEC respectively. A team isn’t going to dismantle itself in a year or two, but given how well their men swam Mid season and they’re still ranked so low, doesn’t exactly look like they’re bouncing back. There’s just no depth to the team, it’s great that they have 2 1:31 200 freestyles, but 3rd is 1:41. Looking at their recruiting isn’t giving me much hope either for men or women.

Eli
3 months ago

on another note: can we all agree it’s a bit strange that Katie Grimes hasn’t committed to anywhere yet? I know she could be taking her time, but this is the longest I think i’ve seen a swimmer wait.

Entgegen
Reply to  Eli
3 months ago

My guess is that shes going pro

Swimmer
Reply to  Entgegen
3 months ago

Or maybe has decided she’s taking a gap year in any event and can make her decision after Paris?

Pescatarian
Reply to  Swimmer
3 months ago

Progap

Eli
3 months ago

Here’s the thing about USC. They tend to do really good early season and at those invites, then they kinda start adding (or at least they did last year).

oxyswim
Reply to  Eli
3 months ago

Basing things off one full year with the current staff isn’t much of a sample size. There’s been plenty of years the Texas men haven’t been very sharp and NCs and Eddie is still the undisputed goat.

About Yanyan Li

Yanyan Li

Although Yanyan wasn't the greatest competitive swimmer, she learned more about the sport of swimming by being her high school swim team's manager for four years. She eventually ventured into the realm of writing and joined SwimSwam in January 2022, where she hopes to contribute to and learn more about …

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