SwimSwam’s 2023 NCAA Pre-Season Champion Picks

Braden Keith, James Sutherland, Robert Gibbs, YanYan Li, Sophie Kaufman, Riley Overend, Spencer Penland, Ben Dornan, and Annika Johnson contributed to this report. 

After a few-year hiatus from doing pre-season picks, we’ve decided to have them make a return. Many of our authors debated who they think would win each event and have listed them below.

The women with unanimous votes were Kate Douglass (Virginia) in the 200 breast and Alex Walsh (Virginia) in the 200 and 400 IMs. All five of the relays were unanimous with Virginia picking up wins in the 200 and 400 medley as well as the 200 and 400 freestyles. Stanford picked up the unanimous vote in the 800 free relay.

Also on the women’s side, all of the top returners from last year were SwimSwam’s most common answers in all but one event. Maggie MacNeil was picked the most to win the women’s 100 fly. Notably, we have already released a mini-preview on the women’s 100 fly showdown that might be one of the best showdowns this year.

The men with unanimous votes were Destin Lasco (Cal) in the 200 back, Max McHugh in the 100 breast, and Leon Marchand in the 200 and 400 IMs. Unlike the women’s side where all the relays were unanimous, the only relay on the men’s side voted to win by everyone was Texas in the 800 free relay.

On the men’s side, most of the common picks by SwimSwam were not the top returner from last year. There are only six events where the highest returner was picked the most. Those events include Lasco in the 200 back, McHugh in the 100 breast, Marchand in the 200 and 400 IMs. Also joining that group is Leon Marchand in the 200 breast and Andrei Minakov in the 100 fly.

Women’s Pre-Season Picks

SwimSwam’s Top Pick Highest 2022 Returner Anya Braden James Robert YanYan Sophie Riley Spencer Ben Annika Reid
50 Free Kate Douglass, Virginia Kate Douglass, Virginia Kate Douglass, Virginia Kate Douglass, Virginia Kate Douglass, Virginia Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Kate Douglass, Virginia Kate Douglass, UVA Gretchen Walsh, UVA Kate Douglass, Virginia Kate Douglass, UVA Gretchen Walsh, UVA Kate Douglass, UVA
100 Free Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Maggie MacNeil, LSU Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Gretchen Walsh, UVA Gretchen Walsh, UVA Maggie MacNeil, LSU Gretchen Walsh, UVA Maggie MacNeil, LSU Gretchen Walsh, UVA
200 Free Taylor Ruck, Stanford Taylor Ruck, Stanford Taylor Ruck, Stanford *Isabel Ivey, Cal Taylor Ruck, Stanford Taylor Ruck, Staanford Taylor Ruck, Stanford Taylor Ruck, Stanford Taylor Ruck, Stanford Taylor Ruck, Stanford Taylor Ruck, Stanford Taylor Ruck, Stanford Taylor Ruck, Stanford
500 Free Erica Sullivan, Texas *Emma Weyant, Florida *Emma Weyant, Florida *Emma Weyant, Florida Erica Sullivan, Texas Paige McKenna, Wisconsin *Emma Weyant, Florida Erica Sullivan, Texas Erica Sullivan, Texas Erica Sullivan, Texas Erica Sullivan, TX Emma Weyant, Florida Emma Weyant, Florida
1650 Free Paige McKenna, Wisconsin Paige McKenna, Wisconsin Paige McKenna, Wisconsin Paige McKenna, Wisconsin Erica Sullivan, Texas Paige McKenna, Wisconsin Paige McKenna, Wisconsin Paige McKenna, Wisconsin Paige McKenna, Wisconsin Paige McKenna, Wisconsin Erica Sullivan, TX Paige McKenna, Wisconsin Erica Sullivan, TX
100 back Katharine Berkoff, NC State Katharine Berkoff, NC State Katharine Berkoff, NC State Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Katharine Berkoff, NC State Katharine Berkoff, NC Sttate Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Katharine Berkoff, NC State Katharine Berkoff, NC State Katharine Berkoff, NC State Katharine Berkoff, NC State Katharine Berkoff, NC State Katharine Berkoff, NC State
200 Back Phoebe Bacon, Wisconsin Phoebe Bacon, Wisconsin Phoebe Bacon, Wisconsin Phoebe Bacon, Wisconsin Phoebe Bacon, Wisconsin Rhyan White, Alabama Phoebe Bacon, Wisconsin Phoebe Bacon, Wisconsin Phoebe Bacon, Wisconsin Phoebe Bacon, Wisconsin Phoebe Bacon, Wisconsin Rhyan White, Alabama Phoebe Bacon, Wisconsin
100 Breast Kaitlyn Dobler, USC/ Anna Elendt, Texas Kaitlyn Dobler, USC Kaitlyn Dobler, USC Anna Elendt, Texas Anna Elendt, Texas Anna Elendt, Texas Kaitlyn Dobler, USC Anna Elendt, Texas Kaitlyn Dobler, USC Anna Elendt, Texas Kaitlyn Dobler, USC Anna Elendt, Texas Kaitlyn Dobler, USC
200 Breast Kate Douglass, Virginia Kate Douglass, Virginia Kate Douglass, Virginia Kate Douglass, Virginia Kate Douglass, Virginia Kate Douglass, Virginia Kate Douglass, Virginia Kate Douglass, UVA Kate Douglass, UVA Kate Douglass, UVA Kate Douglass, UVA Kate Douglass, UVA Kate Douglass, UVA
100 Fly Maggie MacNeil, LSU Kate Douglass, Virginia Maggie MacNeil, LSU Maggie MacNeil, LSU Maggie MacNeil, LSU Claire Curzan, Stanford Torri Huske, Stanford Maggie MacNeil, LSU Maggie MacNeil, LSU Maggie MacNeil, LSU Maggie MacNeil, LSU Maggie MacNeil, LSU Torri Huske, Stanford
200 Fly Alex Walsh, Virginia Alex Walsh, Virginia Dakota Luther, Texas Alex Walsh, Virginia Alex Walsh, Virginia Alex Walsh, Virginia Alex Walsh, Virginia Alex Walsh, UVA Alex Walsh, UVA Alex Walsh, UVA Alex Walsh, UVA Dakota Luther, Texas Alex Walsh, UVA
200 IM Alex Walsh, Virginia Alex Walsh, Virginia Alex Walsh, Virginia Alex Walsh, Virginia Alex Walsh, Virginia Alex Walsh, Virginia Alex Walsh, Virginia Alex Walsh, UVA Alex Walsh, UVA Alex Walsh, UVA Alex Walsh, UVA Alex Walsh, UVA Alex Walsh, UVA
400 IM Alex Walsh, Virginia Alex Walsh, Virginia Alex Walsh, Virginia Alex Walsh, Virginia Alex Walsh, Virginia Alex Walsh, Virginia Alex Walsh, Virginia Alex Wash, UVA Alex Walsh, UVA Alex Walsh, UVA Alex Walsh, UVA Alex Walsh, UVA Alex Walsh, UVA
200 Medley Relay Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia UVA Virginia Virginia
400 medley Relay Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia UVA Virginia Virginia
200 Free relay Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia UVA Virginia Virginia
400 free relay Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia UVA Virginia Virginia
800 free relay Stanford Stanford Stanford Stanford Stanford Stanford Stanford Stanford Stanford Stanford Stanford Stanford

Potential Upset (Women):

Anya: I picked this upset myself in the 200 fly. Dakota Luther swam for Georgia the last 4 years and has now switched her training up. She had a great summer capturing a National Title and going a LCM best time in the 200 fly. She was only a second behind A. Walsh last year but I think the new change of scenery (especially with the dominant fly group at Texas) might put Luther over the hump.

Braden: We’ve seen an NCAA title from a freshman in each of the last 3 NCAA Championship meets. This class has an all-time talent Claire Curzan in it, and nobody has picked her to win an event. She’s my upset special – but it won’t be in the 100 fly. My upset special is Claire Curzan, and I think she’ll win the 200 fly.

James: Chloe Stepanek hits her NCAA taper right and wins the 200 free.

Robert: Is it an upset to pick the reigning Olympic gold medalist to win the comparable yards event? It feels like someone should mention the chance that Lydia Jacoby could adapt quickly to college and win the 100 breast.

YanYan: I’ve mentioned this in previous articles before, but I can see Ohio State pulling off an upset against Virginia in the 200 medley (UVA only beat them by one second last year WITH Wenger). Hannah Bach is arguably the best 50 breaststroker in the country, Amy Fulmer can split 20-point, Katherine Zenick was faster than Lexi Cuomo last year, and Nyah Funderburke (a great sprinter who dropped over a second in her 100 back last year) is a good replacement for Emily Crane. With Virginia losing wenger, Ohio State could beat them here— only if they fire on all cylinders at NCAAs.

Sophie: Emma Sticklen posted a lifetime best to lead the 200 fly prelims last year before adding time in finals and finishing seventh. She won’t make that mistake again, and will power past Walsh and her Texas teammates for the win.

Riley: It’s a long shot, but Lillie Nordmann just might settle into enough of a groove as a sophomore to steal the 200 free title from Stanford teammate Taylor Ruck.

Spencer: My potential upset is Texas’ Kelly Pash in the 200 free. It’s a tall order, but she finished third last year and has improved in the event year-over-year while at Texas.

Annika: Dakota Luther, Texas in 200 fly. I can see her potentially giving Walsh a good battle since the event is on the last day and Walsh’s schedule is so heavy.

Reid: Mona McSharry of Tennessee could win the 100 breaststroke. I was actually close to choosing her over Dobler… this will be a great race.

Men’s Pre-Season Picks

SwimSwam’s Top Pick Highest 2022 Returner Anya Braden James Robert YanYan Sophie Spencer Riley Reid
50 Free Bjorn Seeliger, Cal Brooks Curry, LSU Bjorn Seeliger, Cal Josh Liendo, Florida Bjorn Seeliger, Cal Bjorn Seeliger, Cal Josh Liendo, Florida Bjorn Seeliger, Cal Josh Liendo, Florida Jordan Crooks, Tennessee Bjorn Seeliger, Cal
100 Free Josh Liendo, Florida Brooks Curry, LSU Josh Liendo, Florida Josh Liendo, Florida Josh Liendo, Florida Brooks Curry, LSU Josh Liendo, Florida Josh Liendo, Florida Josh Liendo, Florida Brooks Curry, LSU Brooks Curry, LSU
200 Free Luke Hobson, Texas Grant House, Arizona State Luke Hobson, Texas Grant House, Arizona State Luke Hobson, Texas Grant House, Arizona State Luke Hobson, Texas Luke Hobson, Texas Luke Hobson, Texas Grant House, Arizona State Luke Hobson, Texas
500 Free Luke Hobson, Texas/ Jake Magahey, Georgia Jake Magahey, Georgia Luke Hobson, Texas Jake Magahey, Georgia Luke Hobson, Texas Luke Hobson, TX Luke Hobson, Texas Jake Magahey, Georgia Jake Magahey, Georgia Jake Magahey, Georgia Jake Magahey, Georgia
1650 Free David Johnston, Texas Will Gallant, NC State David Johnston, Texas David Johnston, Texas Will Gallant, NC State David Johnston, Texas David Johnston, Texas David Johnston, Texas David Johnston, Texas David Johnston, Texas David Johnston, Texas
100 back Luca Urlando, Georgia Kacper Stokowski, NC State Luca Urlando, Georgia Luca Urlando, Georgia Luca Urlando, Georgia Kacper Stokowski, NC State Luca Urlando, Georgia Adam Chaney, Florida Destin Lasco, Cal Kacper Stokowski, NC State Adam Chaney, Florida
200 Back Destin Lasco, Cal Destin Lasco, Cal Destin Lasco, Cal Destin Lasco, Cal Destin Lasco, Cal Destin Lasco, Cal Destin Lasco, Cal Destin Lasco, Cal Destin Lasco, Cal Destin Lasco, Cal Destin Lasco, Cal
100 Breast Max McHugh, Minnesota Max McHugh, Minnesota Max McHugh, Minnesota Max McHugh, Minnesota Max McHugh, Minnesota Max McHugh, Minnesota Max McHugh, Minnesota Max McHugh, Minnesota Max McHugh, Minnesota Max McHugh, Minnesota Max McHugh, Minnesota
200 Breast Leon Marchand, ASU Leon Marchand, ASU Leon Marchand, ASU Leon Marchand, ASU Leon Marchand, ASU Leon Marchand, ASU Matt Fallon, Penn Leon Marchand, ASU Matt Fallon, Penn Leon Marchand, ASU Leon Marchand, ASU
100 Fly Andrei Minakov, Stanford Andrei Minakov, Stanford Youssef Ramadan, Virginia Tech Aiden Hayes, NC State Josh Liendo, Florida Luca Urlando, Georgia Josh Liendo, Florida Andrei Minakov, Stanford Andrei Minakov, Stanford Andrei Minakov, Stanford Andrei Minakov, Stanford
200 Fly Luca Urlando, Georgia Brendan Burns, Indiana Luca Urlando, Georgia Luca Urlando, Georgia Luca Urlando, Georgia Luca Urlando, Georgia Luca Urlando, Georgia Luca Urlando, Georgia Brendan Burns, Indiana Luca Urlando, Georgia Luca Urlando, Georgia
200 IM Leon Marchand, ASU Leon Marchand, ASU Leon Marchand, ASU Leon Marchand, ASU Leon Marchand, ASU Leon Marchand Leon Marchand, ASU Leon Marchand, ASU Leon Marchand, ASU Leon Marchand, ASU Leon Marchand, ASU
400 IM Leon Marchand, ASU Leon Marchand, ASU Leon Marchand, ASU Carson Foster, Texas Leon Marchand, ASU Leon Marchand Leon Marchand, ASU Leon Marchand, ASU Leon Marchand, ASU Leon Marchand, ASU Leon Marchand, ASU
200 Medley Relay Florida NC State Florida Florida Florida Florida Florida Florida Florida Florida
400 medley Relay Indiana Indiana Indiana Florida Indiana Florida Indiana Indiana Florida Florida
200 Free relay Florida Florida Florida Virginia Virginia Florida Florida Florida Florida Florida
400 free relay NC State NC State Cal NC State NC State Arizona State NC State Cal NC State Cal
800 free relay Texas Texas Texas Texas Texas Texas Texas Texas Texas Texas

Potential Upsets (Men): 

Anya: Although I didn’t pick this upset, I could see Matt Fallon winning the 200 breast. He had a strong prelims swim last year and had a great LCM summer. What might be tough to beat is the momentum Marchand has.

Braden: Aiden Hayes is my upset special. He’s a great short course swimmer and dropped almost a second in long course in the 100 fly over the summer.

James: Not a massive leap here but could see Adam Chaney winning the 100 back. Coming off a PB in long course and although I picked Urlando, not fully confident he races it at NCAAs.

Robert: I’ll do a three-for-one. There is a non-zero chance that Carson Foster races, and wins, the 500 free, 200 free, or the 200 fly.

YanYan: Jack Aikins posted a time in the 200 back at last years NCAA b-finals that would have been fourth in A-finals. In addition, he also dropped over a second in long course and showed some early-season speed at the UVA intrasquad, so this could be a sign that he’s due for a major 200 back breakout and be a contender to pull an upset. Considering that five out of the eight 200 back A-finalists have graduated and Carson Foster might switch to another event (200 fly maybe?), Aikins could pull off a suprise win if Destin Lasco isn’t on 1:35-point form (which he wasn’t last year).

Sophie: Since I already took Chaney in the 100 BK, I’ll stay with backstroke and pick Hubert Kos to upset Lasco in the 200. With Kos not arriving at ASU until Jan, there’s a tremendous amount of unknowns, but if he can make a quick adjustment to yards and Bowman’s training, he could surprise in March.

Spencer: I’m picking Cal’s Gabriel Jett as a potential upset in the men’s 200 fly. He wasn’t a contender last year as a freshman, but he exploded this summer with a 1:54.3 in the LCM 200 fly, which certainly puts him among the best in the nation right now.

Riley: Picking the fastest freshman in NCAA history in the 50 free doesn’t feel like a huge upset. But Tennessee’s Jordan Crooks will still have to take a big leap as a sophomore and learn from last season’s NCAA final in order to outduel a trio of Olympians favored by the rest of the staff.

Reid: Ross Dant of NC State has been on the cusp of a major win for a few years now. He’s done well at both NCAAs and LCM qualifying meets, though he’s missed getting on top of the podium/making a senior international team. 2023 could be his year to win the mile at NCAAs.

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Sherry Smit
1 month ago

My picks (Women)
50 Free (Kate Douglass)
100 Free (Gretchen Walsh)
200 Free (Taylor Ruck)
500 Free (Emma Weyant)
1650 Free (Paige McKenna
100 Back (Katharine Berkoff)
200 Back (Phoebe Bacon)
100 Breast (Kaitlyn Dobler)
200 Breast (Kate Douglass)
100 Fly (Torri Huske)
200 Fly (Alex Walsh)
200 IM (Alex Walsh)
400 IM (Emma Weyant)

Swimmerj
1 month ago

Yan Yan – very interesting pick on the medley relay, and it’s a good point, but Alex Walsh split 26.5 BR as a junior in high school. I bet she can be at least 25.9. With the additions of Novelline/Parker, they don’t necessarily need her in the 2FR relay. Not to mention, Doug has been 21.9 in fly (at midseason). If they go Walsh-Walsh-Douglass-Novelline/Parker OR Walsh-Walsh-Cuomo-Douglass, they’ll be fine either way.

Steve Nolan
1 month ago

Ngl I did have a second of, “dang, no one picked Regan Smith to win anything.”

But then I realized it would be an exceedingly bad pick. (Not as bad as Matt Sates in the first round of a fantasy draft ofc, but still not a great pick.)

Circle swim
1 month ago

Surprised not one author picked Douglas to win the 100 fly. MacNeil is great, but thought one person would pick the reigning ncaa champ.

OnlyTHETruth
Reply to  Circle swim
1 month ago

prolly bcuz mcneil was injured the last time. macneil will be fresh and free from any relay duty this time

d3hist0rian
Reply to  OnlyTHETruth
1 month ago

i’m tired of seeing this overplayed narrative. she wasn’t injured during the meet. it happened in the locker room after the meet ended. zero impact on her swimming. she’ll never publicly admit it, but it’s the truth.

dscott
1 month ago

Loved this article. And almost all the post-pick comments were highly rational. More. More.

Who You
1 month ago

Kate Douglass swimming the 50 free and 200 breast just ain’t right.

Nealnan
1 month ago

Hard to argue with your men’s sprint freestyle picks, but Brooks Curry seems to always find a way to get his hand on the wall first at big meets.

Willswim
1 month ago

Max McHugh is winning two titles in the home meet.

maximum mchuge
Reply to  Willswim
1 month ago

Good point. Sleeping in your own bed and such could be r a big difference

About Anya Pelshaw

Anya Pelshaw

Anya has been with SwimSwam since June 2021 as both a writer and social media coordinator. She was in attendance at the 2022 Women's NCAA Championships writing and doing social media for SwimSwam. Currently, Anya is pursuing her B.A. in Government & Law and Economics at Lafayette College. There she is …

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