SwimSwam’s 2024 Women’s NCAA Pre-Season Champion Picks

Braden Keith, James Sutherland, Anya Pelshaw, Robert Gibbs, YanYan Li, Riley Overend, Spencer Penland, and Reid Carlson contributed to this report. 

It’s the beginning of the 2023-24 NCAA season, which means that it’s time to make our early picks for who this season’s NCAA champions are going to be. Like last year, many of the SwimSwam writers debated who they think will win each event and listed them in the table below.

Olympics years are historically weird and often, they’re weird in a multitude of ways. It’s affected who’s going to be in the field at NCAAs, but that also means there’s more opportunity for surprise.

Even so, there’s a lot of uniformity in our women’s picks. The writers unanimously agreed that Gretchen Walsh will win three events (50 free/100 free/100 back), that Alex Walsh will win the 200 IM, and Bella Sims will take the 200 free.

Everyone agreed that Virginia will win the 200 free/400 free/200 medley/400 medley relays, and just one person picked a team other than them to win the 800 free relay–don’t worry, he’ll explain. There are three individual events that also have all but one person in agreement: the 100 fly, 200 fly, and 400 IM.

The uniformity could be attributed to the fact that it’s the beginning of the season and no one wants to make a pick that’s totally out of left field. But also, the women’s meet has one overarching favorite in the majority of the events. While their event schedules aren’t set, it’s unlikely that the Walsh sisters and Sims’ event schedules will overlap, and the three are safe bets in almost any event they swim.

The one exception to that is the 200 backstroke, which many writers expect to be on Sims’ schedule. A majority of the writers picked Sims to win, but it’s also one of the few events where there were three different swimmers picked as the winner. That makes sense, as  Phoebe Bacon and Isabelle Stadden return, and have been real threats to win (or repeat, in Bacon’s case–she won in 2021).

The other events that feature three different winner picks are the 1650 free, 100 breast, and 200 breast.

Without further ado, below are the ballots. Like last year, each writer picked a winner for each event, then picked a potential upset, which are compiled below.

In 2023, our SwimSwam picks went 8 for 17. 2.5 of our potential upsets were correct. The half point is for Braden, who correctly predicted Claire Curzan would win an event, but was wrong about the event; she won the 200 back, not the 200 fly.

Women’s Pre-Season Picks

SwimSwam’s Top Pick Highest Placed 2023 Returner Anya Braden James Robert YanYan Sophie Riley Spencer Reid
50 Free Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Gretchen Walsh, Virginia
100 Free Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Gretchen Walsh, Virginia
200 Free Bella Sims, Florida Brooklyn Douthwright, Tennessee Bella Sims, Florida Bella Sims, Florida Bella Sims, Florida Bella Sims, Florida Bella Sims, Florida Bella Sims, Florida Bella Sims, Florida Bella Sims, Florida Bella Sims, Florida
500 Free Bella Sims, Florida Abby Carlson, Wisconsin Bella Sims, Florida Bella Sims, Florida Bella Sims, Florida Bella Sims, Florida Bella Sims, Florida Bella Sims, Florida Bella Sims, Florida Bella Sims, Florida Bella Sims, Florida
1650 Free Ching Hwee Gan, Indiana Ching Hwee Gan, Indiana Ching Hwee Gan, Indiana Ching Hwee Gan, Indiana Cavan Gormsen, Virginia Ching Hwee Gan, Indiana Ching Hwee Gan, Indiana Paige McKenna, Wisconsin Ching Hwee Gan, Indiana Ching Hwee Gan, Indiana Paige McKenna, Wisconsin
100 back Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Gretchen Walsh, Virginia Gretchen Walsh, Virginia
200 Back Bella Sims, Florida Phoebe Bacon, Wisconsin Kennedy Noble, NC State Kennedy Noble, NC State Bella Sims, Florida Isabelle Stadden, Cal Bella Sims, Florida Bella Sims, Florida Bella Sims, Florida Bella Sims, Florida Isabelle Stadden, Cal
100 Breast Lydia Jacoby, Texas Lydia Jacoby, Texas Lydia Jacoby, Texas Kaitlyn Dobler, USC Lydia Jacoby, Texas Lydia Jacoby, Texas Jasmine Nocentini, Virginia Lydia Jacoby, Texas Kaitlyn Dobler, USC Lydia Jacoby, Texas Lydia Jacoby, Texas
200 Breast Alex Walsh, Virginia Anna Elendt, Texas Anna Elendt, Texas Anna Elendt, Texas Lydia Jacoby, Texas Ella Nelson, Virginia Alex Walsh, Virginia Alex Walsh, Virginia Alex Walsh, Virginia Anna Elendt, Texas Alex Walsh, Virginia
100 Fly Gabi Albiero, Louisville Emma Sticklen, Texas/Gabi Albiero, Louisville Gabi Albiero, Louisville Gabi Albiero, Louisville Gabi Albiero, Louisville Gabi Albiero, Louisville Emma Sticklen, Texas Gabi Albiero, Louisville Gabi Albiero, Louisville Gabi Albiero, Louisville Gabi Albiero, Louisville
200 Fly Emma Sticklen, Texas Emma Sticklen, Texas Emma Sticklen, Texas Emma Sticklen, Texas Emma Sticklen, Texas Emma Sticklen, Texas Emma Sticklen, Texas Emma Sticklen, Texas Emma Sticklen, Texas Emma Sticklen, Texas Lindsay Looney, Arizona State
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, Virginia Alex Walsh, Virginia Alex Walsh, Virginia Alex Walsh, Virginia
400 IM Alex Walsh Virginia Alex Walsh, Virginia Alex Walsh, Virginia Alex Walsh, Virginia Alex Walsh, Virginia Alex Walsh, Virginia Alex Walsh, Virginia Alex Walsh, Virginia Ella Nelson, Virginia Alex Walsh, Virginia Alex Walsh, Virginia
200 Medley Relay
Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia
400 medley Relay
Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia
200 Free relay Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia
400 free relay Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia
800 free relay Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Virginia Florida Virginia Virginia

Potential Upset (Women):

Anya: Bella Sims and whatever her third individual event is.

Braden: Abby Arens has been knocking on the door in the 100 fly for her entire career. If she can have a good morning swim, the upset is on the table in finals.

James: Kennedy Noble, 200 back. Not out of left field after what she did both as a freshman and then this summer, but this event is more wide open than most. Sims is my pick to win after what she did last year at the World Cup, but she’s still a bit of a wildcard and might not even swim this race. I don’t want to overvalue long course too much, but the only three swimmers who beat Noble in the event at U.S. Nationals aren’t racing in the NCAA this season.

YanYan: I made this upset one of my picks, but Jasmine Nocentini has so much talent—she’s my “Dare Rose pick” this time around. She’s been on my radar for a while now but she can do something big in a Virginia training environment if everything goes right this year for her.

Sophie: Kennedy Noble wins the 200 back. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise given her improvement curve over the past year, but I think it still qualifies as an upset based on some of the other names that I expect to be in the field.

Riley: I picked two upsets here: Ella Nelson over Virginia teammate Alex Walsh in the 400 IM, and Florida’s 800 free relay over defending champion Virginia. Nelson’s on a steep upward trajectory in the event while Walsh appeared to have hit a plateau last season. Florida’s potential quartet of Bella Sims, Isabel Ivey, Ekaterina Nikonova, and Micayla Cronk own lifetime bests in the 200 free that add up to 6:49.73 — faster than Virginia’s winning time from last season, so it’s definitely possible.

Spencer: This would definitely be an upset. Keeping the word potential in mind, I’m going to say Michigan freshman Stephanie Balduccini in the 200 free. It’s a bold choice, I know, but it seems like virtually every year there is an international recruit who really breaks out in the NCAA. I really like the way Balduccini races and I think Matt Bowe and the new Michigan staff will really hone in on elements of her racing like turns, underwaters, and breakouts that can really pay dividends in yards swimming. I won’t be surprised at all if Balduccini really explodes at Big Tens and becomes a real factor in the 200 free at NCAAs.

Reid: Mona McSharry winning the 100 breast; Bella Sims winning the 200 back (not much of an upset, but not who I’ve picked to win).

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Chris
4 months ago

Ella Nelson over Alex to win the 4IM? In what universe?

I miss the ISL
Reply to  Chris
4 months ago

This one. Ella is on a STEEP upward trajectory in the event as of late. Not saying Alex won’t win it, but Ella was really closing hard on her last year in the breast and free. If she can improve that fly and back just a little bit, I say Nelson gets her.

Somia
4 months ago

Hot take nobody has really said: Kennedy Noble sweeps the 200 back.

Admin
Reply to  Somia
4 months ago

Define ‘sweeps’?

(Though Anya and I actually picked it…)

ct swim fan
Reply to  Somia
4 months ago

Isn’t Katherine Berkoff still at NC State? I would pick her before Noble and possibly even Walsh.

oxyswim
4 months ago

I love the youthful optimism of Yanyan being so high on Nocentini, but she’s a 5th year who has raced at NCs exactly once. She’s not walking in and winning. Just getting to the meet would be a mild surprise.

Reply to  oxyswim
4 months ago

Nocentini winning the 1breast is just as much of a hot take as Linsday Looney winning the 200 fly, Cavan Gormsen winning the mile, Kennedy Noble winning the 2 back, or Ella Nelson winning the 4IM tbh. She went an NCAA ‘A’ finaling-worthy time after just swimming the event three times, and she’s going to a program that developed the fastest 200 breaststroker in history by a significant margin and took Alexis Wenger from 1:00 to 56 in the 100 breast. There’s a lot of upside right there.

I get the skepticism because she didn’t show up to NCAAs for the last two years, but I have a lot of reasoning behind my take and I don’t think you can… Read more »

Last edited 4 months ago by Yanyan Li
oxyswim
Reply to  Yanyan Li
4 months ago

That part was mostly in jest, I know there’s thought put in to all these picks. I do think it’s easy to underestimate how much of a pressure cooker NCs is for someone who’s biggest meet in the last 2 years is possibly the Purdue invite. There aren’t 5 better athletes in NCAA women’s swimming than Nocentini and she’s in the perfect place to have success. I’d just rather bet on Jacoby (a proven clutch performer) or Dobler coming off a huge summer.

Reply to  oxyswim
4 months ago

That’s a valid concern. Nocentini did compete at NCAAs back in 2021 when she was at FIU, though she’s a much better athlete with a lot more pressure on her back than she did before.

Eli
4 months ago

My upset is USC in the 800 free relay. Abraham, Tuggle, Kozan, and Hodges. It’s a lot to ask, but that’s my hot take

Pescatarian
Reply to  Eli
4 months ago

Too hot to touch.

NoFastTwitch
4 months ago

If the SwimSwam picks turn out to be correct, I assume that the Walsh sisters would set a record for the most individual NCAA titles by siblings in a single year (any sport), as well as the most total (including relays) – probably by a long shot. Is that correct? Any others close?

RealSlimThomas
Reply to  NoFastTwitch
4 months ago

First you have to have a sibling that’s as talented as you. Second you have to do a sport that values individual and team performance (leaves you with just swimming and track). I think it’s way too specific of a stat to ever be meaningful.

NoFastTwitch
Reply to  RealSlimThomas
4 months ago

Ok, limit to just swimming and track – each of which has an NCAA history of about 100 years. What is the most individual titles by siblings in any year? How about individual titles over their four year college careers? I don’t think what the Walsh sisters are accomplishing is a meaningless stat – it’s unprecedented (unless I am missing some other equally talented siblings).

ScovaNotiaSwimmer
Reply to  RealSlimThomas
4 months ago

Gymnastics has six title opportunities each year (team, All-Around, Vault, Bars, Beam, Floor). And they’ve had some excellent sister sets compete over the years. But I think most of them have had one who is winning titles and the other is just a step below. An example would be Courtney Kupets who won 13 NCAA titles over her career, and her older sister Ashley won some team titles but I don’t think any individual.

James Beam
Reply to  NoFastTwitch
4 months ago

Are there any other siblings that have won individual titles? I’m struggling to think of any….

Brian
Reply to  James Beam
4 months ago

Amy & Tracy Caulkins!

James Beam
Reply to  Brian
4 months ago

Wow, Forgot about Amy! Good call Brian!

Aquajosh
Reply to  James Beam
4 months ago

Brett (200 free) and Shaune (200 free/200 fly) Fraser

Swimmer
4 months ago

Kaelyn Gridley from Duke will win the 100 Breastroke. She’s had an incredible freshman year.

Sherry Smit
4 months ago

Isn’t Lydia Jacoby redshirting? If so, I would choose Lucy Thomas or Kaitlyn Dobler to win the 100 breast.

Sherry Smit
4 months ago

Texas’s 800 Free Relay may be strong as well. Gemmell, Pash, Sullivan, and Bray.

ArtVanDeLegh10
Reply to  Sherry Smit
4 months ago

They will be quick but Sullivan isn’t really a 200 specialist.

IMO
Reply to  ArtVanDeLegh10
4 months ago

They have an entire stable of freshmen other than Gemmell. One or more of them will likely be faster than Sullivan.

Klorn8d
Reply to  Sherry Smit
4 months ago

They will be good. To challenge for the win you probably have to be averaging 1:42.0-1:42.3. Pash and gemmell can be there. Bray split 1:43.2 last year so can probably get close. Last year Sullivan was 1:44.5 which I think was a good swim, I doubt she has the speed to be faster than 1:43 high on a great swim. If they are going to challenge for the win they need:
Gemmell to go off with a 1:41 flat or 1:40 relay swing
Pash to be at her best and 1:42.0 ish
Bray to keep improving and hit 1:42 on a relay swing
One freshman to really emerge and put up a 1:43.0 type of split,… Read more »

About Sophie Kaufman

Sophie Kaufman

Sophie grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, which means yes, she does root for the Bruins, but try not to hold that against her. At 9, she joined her local club team because her best friend convinced her it would be fun. Shoulder surgery ended her competitive swimming days long ago, …

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