Star Sophs Beata Nelson, Zachary Poti, & Erika Brown Dodge the Slump

Karl Ortegon
by Karl Ortegon 12

December 14th, 2017 News

We can argue back and forth about how real the sophomore slump may or may not be, but one thing’s for sure: these three sophomores are far from slumping. 

DISCLAIMER: Are these the only three sophomores who are doing well this year? Nope! Do we hate every other sophomore who has been swimming well this year? Also, no. These are simply three 2nd year NCAA swimmers who are blowing up this year, and we took a little extra time to break down their college career and analyze it.

There are definitely more sophomores who are standing out this year, too, so feel free to recognize them in the comments! We will likely agree that they’re having a good year, too.


Progression Table

High School PR Freshman Year Best
Sophomore Year Best
100 back 51.67 52.11 50.79*
200 back 1:52.27 1:52.31 1:51.21*
100 fly 51.08 52.36 51.82
200 fly 2:00.21 1:57.48*
200 IM 1:57.56 1:59.89 1:55.16*
200 free 1:46.92 1:48.44 1:45.58*

*Lifetime best

A blue-chip recruit in high school, Beata Nelson didn’t go the powerhouse route– she stayed at home, giving the Wisconsin women what was probably their best sprint commitment in program history. “I was looking for a place that didn’t just want me for my times or my ability but rather wanted me as a whole individual,” she said.

Her freshman year was a bit rocky, and she finished out the year with zero individual points at NCAAs and no new best times. “I was dealing with a lot of health and personal issues last season while also trying to make the adjustment to collegiate swimming and academics.” Nelson credits one year of experience under her belt and, of course, the support of her teammates and coaches at Wisconsin, for what has turned into a far more successful season already this year.

After Nelson set the 15-16 National Age Group record in the 100 fly with a 51.08 back in 2014, it seemed clear that she’d keep powering towards the 50 second barrier and eventually develop into a National Team butterflier. That hasn’t quite been the case, though. She swam well in fall dual meets this year as a sophomore, and then it all fell into place at the 2017 Texas Invitational. Up against many of the top talents in the NCAA, Nelson swam to convincing wins in the 200 IM, 100 back, and 200 back.

“A major reason I struggled to be competitive in the IM before college and my first year was because of my breaststroke. This year in particular, we have worked a lot on fine tuning and developing my breaststroke which has help tremendously in my IM. As far as backstroke goes… I think backstroke lived in butterfly’s shadow for a while. With all the awesome underwater work we do [at Wisconsin] I’m not surprised that it has finally emerged from behind the scenes. I’m so happy to see success in this race because 100 back is one of, if not the most exciting events for me personally.”

Exciting is one word for it. Labeled as a sprint butterflier, coming off of a disappointing freshman year, Nelson is now 2nd in the nation in the 100 backstroke (50.79) with all of the mid-season racing concluded, behind only 2017 100m back World Championship silver medalist Kathleen Baker of Cal. She’s also tied for 7th in the 200 IM (1:55.16), sits at 8th in the 200 back (1:51.21), and is ranked 12th in the 100 fly (51.82).

“I have a coaching staff, team and family who whole heartedly have believed in me from the beginning,” she said. “I have found my way back to confidence and strength.”


Progression Table

High school PR Freshman Year Best
Sophomore Year Best
100 back 48.33 47.67 45.43
200 back 1:45.85 1:43.27 1:40.71
50 free 21.71 21.24 20.21

*Lifetime best

One of the freshmen rolling into Tempe in 2016 for Bob Bowman‘s 2nd season at the helm of the Arizona State program was Zachary Poti, a backstroker from Florida. He was a good recruit for a program looking to renovate itself, but he wasn’t at the speed to immediately be a big contributor on the national level.

Poti says he was training well all year and was looking forward to seeing what he could put down at the 2017 Pac-12 Championships, but disaster struck at the worst possible time. “I actually ended up breaking my elbow two days before we were supposed to leave for PACs,” he said. That’s far from an ideal way to end a season, but Poti bounced back.

“It gave me a chance to get back to basics and really focus on what got me swimming well in the first place. Coming into this season I had a chance to translate all of that training into the Texas meet.  Bob has been pushing me everyday to get to a competitive standpoint and I feel great not only with my swims at Texas, but the training I have done this year leading up to it.”

Poti, who had still gone some best times as a freshman, really turned it up at the Texas Invite. Making his high school to freshman year improvements look like nothing, he dropped a 45.43 in the 100 back and a 1:40.71 in the 200 back, demolishing his lifetime bests in both. He also was 21.26 in the 50 back, a hefty overhaul when comparing to his 22.85 from high school.

Now, Poti is setting himself up for a fantastic championship season. He’s currently ranked 3rd nationally in the 100 back and 10th in the 200 back. It looks like the Sun Devils have found their replacement for the now-graduated Richard Bohus.

“The best thing about training at ASU is the team and coaching staff I get to do it with,” said Poti. “Everyday I come in knowing that everyone on the pool deck is there to make me better.  Trying to do the same for them helps me stay focused on achieving what I want to during my college career.”


Progression Table

High school PR Freshman Year Best
Sophomore Year Best
50 free 22.84 22.33 21.50*
100 free 48.94 48.46 47.54*
100 fly 55.94 55.12 50.33*
200 fly 2:04.29 1:56.11*
100 back 54.44 52.27*

*Lifetime best

Like Beata NelsonErika Brown was a big name coming into the NCAA. She was part multiple NAG relay records when she was in high school, and committed to the University of Tennessee as a sprint freestyle prospect.

Brown’s sprint free was what got her to NCAAs last year as a freshman. She led off Tennessee’s 400 free relay in prelims with a 48.46, and did the same in finals, but went a bit slower (49.14). Brown was able to slice some time off of her sprint free bests as a freshman, but she said that she struggled with training.

“Last year there were many practices where I let outside influences impact my swimming,” she said.

Things have changed this year, though. “I came back this year with a renewed love of the sport and understanding of what it means to be a Vol. This year I have learned to let things go and focus on my love of the sport. It has really been a change in my mental state from last year to this.”

“[Head coach] Matt Kredich has put together an amazing group of coaches that exude excellence. They really connect well together and make it so that if anyone wants to be successful they can. This year as a sophomore, I have really latched onto their philosophies and coaching styles and have learned so much. We also value the idea of peer coaching, so as teammates we aren’t afraid to help each other learn. I think embracing these values along with hard work have helped me to gain the results I have been wanting and continue improving.”

Things are really working in Knoxville for Brown. At the Tennessee Invitational, she threw down incredibly fast times in the 50 free (21.50), 100 free (47.54), and most importantly, the 100 fly (50.33). Brown, who had never broken 55 in the 100 fly until she started dropping 52’s at dual meet this fall, now leads the NCAA in the event. After only going to NCAAs as a relay leg last year, she is main contender for a national title.

“Some of our team values consist of grit, hard work, and never focusing on your past achievements. After our invite at the beginning of this month we went right back to work and are focusing on our next goals, I thrive on this state of mind and love that it is our team culture.”

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samuel huntington
3 years ago

by far the most shocking is Brown and her 100 fly, wow!

3 years ago

tennessee looking good! anyone know what happened to maddy banic?

3 years ago

Another sophomore that I think deserves some recognition is Katie Drabot. Coming into college, she was an extremely versatile recruit with no standout event. Last year, she dropped great times in the 500 and 200 frees, but backslid a little at NCAAs. This year, not only has she dropped some great in-season times in those events, she has also got a new 1:56 in the 200 IM and most impressively, a 1:51 in the 200 fly, an event almost no one knew she could swim! This year, I expect her to double or treble her last years points at NCAA’s.

Reply to  Rachel
3 years ago

She was the #1 recruit in the country, Junior National High Point Winner, and ranked in the top 50 in the world in the 200 Free so I wouldn’t necessarily say she didn’t have a stand out event. She does however fit this the theme of the article.

Reply to  ArtVanDeLegh10
3 years ago

College swimming rankings are based on versatility so it’s not uncommon for swimmers like Drabot to be ranked at the top without a real standout event.

Reply to  ArtVanDeLegh10
3 years ago

I agree she was and big name, but most the time even top recruits have to drop to be competitive in college. IE Olivia Smoliga was a star recruit going 21.99 in 50 free in high school, but she dropped significant times in all her events to be one of top college athlete’s, same can be said for Miss Baker.

About Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon studied sociology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, graduating in May of 2018. He began swimming on a club team in first grade and swam four years for Wesleyan.

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