Six Tennessee Seniors Opting to Use Fifth Year of NCAA Eligibility

by Jack McCormick 18

May 11th, 2021 College, SEC

Six senior swimmers at the University of Tennessee have elected to take advantage of an NCAA waiver to return for a unique 5th season of competition. Of the returners, five are on the women’s side, while just one is a man.

The six athletes will join a rapidly growing number of NCAA swimmers who will take advantage of the NCAA’s waiver that granted all winter sports athletes an additional year of eligibility if they competed during the 2020-2021 season. Scholarships for athletes competing in their extra year of eligibility do not count toward a team’s cap meaning that, if Tennessee allows it, the returning athletes can maintain their financial aid without taking away from other members of the team.

Of the returning women, two of them scored points for Tennessee at the 2021 NCAA Championships.

Alexis Yager scored the third-most points for the Lady Volunteers, helping the team to a 10th place finish overall. Yager scored points in two different events, finishing 15th in the 200 IM and 14th in the 400 IM. At the 2021 SEC Championships, she finished third in both of those events.  Her first SEC medal came in 2020, when she won gold as a part of Tennessee’s 400 medley relay.

Yager has seen large improvements in her main events over her last few years at Tennessee. Prior to the 2021 season, her best time in the 200 IM stood at 1:56.85, which she took over a second off of at the 2021 SEC Championships, touching in 1:55.67. That time would have been fast enough to qualify for the A-final at the NCAA Championships, while her 1:56.73 was only good enough to make the B-final.

The second returning scorer for the Lady Vols is Tjasa Pintar, who was the school’s top swimmer in the 100 and 200 freestyles last season. The Slovenian Olympian finished 15th in the 100 free at the NCAA Championships and missed qualifying for the 200 free B-final by just .03. Like Yager, her times from the SEC Championship meet were significantly faster. Her 100 free time would have qualified her for the A-final of the event, while her 200 time would have put her into finals as the 9th seed.

Joining the pair of NCAA scorers in returning for a 5th season will be Alex Gebel, Emily Sykes, and Megan Sichterman.

For Gebel, the 2021 SEC Championships were her first time making the conference team, and she capitalized on the opportunity with a pair of B-final swims in the breaststroke events. While her 100 breast was slightly slower than it had been in past years, she was over six seconds faster in the 200 breast than she was in 2020.

Another member of the school’s breaststroke group, Emily Sykes was a C-finalist in both breasts, as well as the 400 IM, at the 2021 SEC Championships. Along with Yager, Gebel, and rising senior Mona McSharry, Sykes will be a part of the breaststroke core that will only lose one member next year, Nikol Popov.

Rounding out the Lady Vols 5th year women is Megan Sichterman. A B-finalist in the 100 fly and C-finalist in the 50 free at the 2021 SEC Championships, Sichterman held the program’s 4th fastest time in the 50 free last season, swimming the third leg of the Lady Vols 200 free relay at the NCAA Championships.

With five of this year’s seniors returning for a fifth year, a loaded incoming class of transfers that includes Cal’s Cassidy Bayer, Texas A&M’s Emma Carlton, and Auburn’s Anna-Julia Kutsch, and an incoming freshmen class that includes German Olympic Trials finalist Julia Mrozinski, the Tennessee women will have a deep, talented team next season.

The lone 5th year on the men’s side for the Vols next year will be Kayky Mota, who has only been with Tennessee since the spring of 2020 when he transferred from Miami (OH). He was one of just five men for Tennessee to score at the 2021 NCAA Championships, finishing 16th in the 100 fly. Mota currently sits as the second-fastest performer in school history in the 100 fly, as well as the third-fastest in both the 200 fly and 200 IM.

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Hswimmer
4 months ago

Surprised pintar isn’t doing Isl instead

Ghost
Reply to  Hswimmer
2 months ago

Maybe she has to do 5th year academically and can’t miss 6 weeks of school? Maybe it isn’t worth doing ISL cause they don’t get paid?

swim6847
4 months ago

Tennessee is going to be force to be reckoned with next year

Hswimmer
Reply to  swim6847
4 months ago

Don’t we say this every year?

I_Said_it
Reply to  Hswimmer
4 months ago

Facts

Bart87vfl
4 months ago

Wow! Didn’t see this coming. Between these seniors staying, the incoming transfers and their stout freshmen class Tennessee is going to be very impressive

SwimFani
Reply to  Bart87vfl
4 months ago

All the LVFLers are getting prematurely excited – again and again and again.

Old Swimmer
4 months ago

This team is going to be huge next season. Unfortunately, there are only so many that can go to NCAAs, Anyway, Go Vols!

VFL
4 months ago

Boom!! Huge news for the Lady Vols.

Brandi
4 months ago

I actually find it more impressive if you are graduating in 4 years. Celebrating a 5-year degree plan is not necessarily an accomplishment. I get that maybe they are adding a 2nd major or a minor, but I gotta think that most of these student-athletes are just taking 5 years to get their undergraduate degree. Sorry to be sour grapes, but these are the facts.

swimapologist
Reply to  Brandi
4 months ago

I don’t think anybody is making this decision to “impress you” with spending a 5th year in college. That’s a super bizarre take.

Also, I don’t know about any of these swimmers, but many 5th years around the country are starting work on a grad degree. So they’re getting part of their grad program paid for. That’s impressive to me.

Brandi
Reply to  swimapologist
4 months ago

I agree with the grad degree take (super awesome for those swimmers!), but the article doesn’t mention that. It actually doesn’t say anything about the academics. I do know that most of the current seniors didn’t have an opportunity to change course in their degree plan when the NCAA announced late last year that 2020-21 athletes could compete a 5th year. So, to make the public announcement that you’re staying for a 5th season (with your current team) most likely means that they are on the 5-year plan.

Jenna
Reply to  Brandi
4 months ago

What the heck is wrong with the 5 year plan anyway? There is a once in a lifetime opportunity to be a collegiate athlete and if a young person wants to be able to devote more time to it, they should without any negative judgement. In fact, it might just be the smartest play… take time to actually enjoy both the swimming and the academics. There is no need to race through life just to get to the next stage .. especially if it’s an enjoyable ride. If we have learned anything in this past year it is that life is short.

Bart87vfl
Reply to  Brandi
4 months ago

If you’re following along with their social media it appears that several of these athletes graduated this past weekend and will be starting graduate school at Tennessee.

LIGMA
Reply to  Brandi
4 months ago

uhhhhh…. so what?

Swim Mom
Reply to  Brandi
2 months ago

Just maybe they are getting a MS degree

isthisfair?
4 months ago

So this years seniors got to swim SEC’s and NCAA’s and get a fifth year option, while last years seniors got their NCAA’s canceled, and did not get an additional year as an option…..how’s that work? how’s that fair?

BGNole97
Reply to  isthisfair?
3 months ago

Didn’t last last year’s seniors get to come back for this year?