Top 10 Female Swimmers To Watch At the 2019 Summer Universiade


  • July 4th-9th, 2019
  • Napoli, Italy
  • LCM (50m)
  • Live Stream: Olympic Channel (in US), Rai Sport (in Italy)
  • Entry Lists

The 2019 Summer Universiade (also known as the World University Games) has pulled some big names – and should actually pit some of its biggest against each other head-to-head. Chalk that up as a win for swimming fans, who will get to see some true clashes of titans (and potential/likely 2020 Olympians) even as most nations hold back their top travel rosters for the World Championships later this summer.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the women’s 200 IM, where 2016 Short Course Worlds runner-up Ella Eastin will battle with 2018 European Champs runner-up Ilaria CusinatoThey head our list of the top 10 women to watch out for this week in Naples.

#1: Ilaria Cusinato, Italy

The 19-year-old Cusinato stormed onto the world stage last summer, winning silver medals at the European Championships in both the 200 and 400 IMs. She finished the year ranked 3rd in the world in the latter event, and just outside the top 10 in the former.

Cusinato hit some adversity earlier this year, though. Despite winning Italy’s national title by nearly two full seconds in the 200 IM and nearly five seconds in the 400 IM, Cusinato missed the Italian World Champs selection times by a tenth in both events. That temporarily left her off the Italian World Champs roster despite being a potential medalist, though the country ultimately chose to add her to the team late. Still, she’ll enter World University Games as the top 400 IM seed and the second 200 IM seed. She’s also a medal contender in the 200 fly, where she’s the fifth seed.

#2: Ella Eastin, USA

Eastin is one of the top IMers in the United States, coming off a dominant college career for the Stanford Cardinal. She’s also a former World Champs silver medalist in short course meters (2016) and won a gold and two silvers at the last edition of the Summer Universiade in 2017.

Eastin has had back-to-back summers with high-profile disappointment. In 2017, she was the U.S. Nationals runner-up in the 400 IM and looked to be on her way to the World Championships, but a controversial DQ bumped her from that squad (and prevented her from swimming the event at World University Games, too). She still won the 200 fly and finished second in the 200 IM at WUGs that year. Then last summer, Eastin came down with mono a few weeks out of U.S. Nationals and was forced to scratch most of her events. She loaded up for the 200 IM and scraped out a gutsy Universiade qualification. This summer, she’ll look to finally break through the cloud of adversity that’s followed her in long course. She’s the top 200 IM seed and that’s her only event entry, though it’s possible she could work her way onto a prelims or finals 4×200 free relay spot if she’s really swimming well.

#3: Kanako Watanabe, Japan

Easily the biggest name in attendance, Watanabe is not only a defending World University Games champ, she’s also a former world champion. The Japanese breaststroker won World Champs gold in the 200 breast in 2015 and has been winning major international medals since 2011. She was a World Junior champ in 2011, an Olympian in 2012 and 2016, an Asian Games champ in 2014 and 2018 and won the 100 breast, 200 breast and 4×100 medley relay at the 2017 World University Games.

Watanabe has so far been left off of Japan’s World Championships roster despite putting up the nation’s fastest time this year in the 200 breast (2:23.65). It’s possible she could be a late addition and swim both Worlds and World University Games, but for now, she’ll come in as the top seed in the women’s 100 and 200 breaststrokes.

#4: Tatjana Schoenmaker, South Africa

21-year-old Tatjana Schoenmaker is part of a rising class of young South African women making big waves internationally. She swept the Commonwealth Games golds in the 100 and 200 breaststrokes last summer, besting a number of top Canadian and British breaststrokers. She also finished the 2017-2018 season ranked #4 worldwide in the 200 breast and #10 worldwide in the 100 breast. She’s the African record-holder in all three breaststrokes and will swim all three at the Universiade this week. It’s great luck for swimming fans that she’ll get to match up with Watanabe in what should be two stellar breaststroke battles.

#5: Waka Kobori, Japan

18-year-old Waka Kobori is another of Japan’s top swimmers competing at World University Games. Kobori is the top seed in the 800 and 1500 frees – and she’s coming off of bronze medals in both races at last summer’s Asian Games. She beat all contenders at that meet besides China’s stellar distance duo (Wang Jianjiahe and Li Bingjie), who are legitimate Worlds medal threats. She could challenge Japan’s national records in distance free this week, with entries in the 400, 800 and 1500 frees.

#6: Katharine Berkoff, USA

There is a huge contingent of young female backstrokers coming up through the American system right now, and they’ll be well represented at international meets this summer. World Junior record-holder Regan Smith is on the senior World Champs team, and Isabelle Stadden, Phoebe Bacon and Alex Walsh are on the Pan American Games team. The World University Games team will feature 18-year-old Katharine Berkoffwho qualified for the team in the 50 and 100 backstrokes. She’s the top seed into the meet in the 100 back and third in the 50 back.

Berkoff is improving at a scary-fast rate. In early 2018, she’d never been faster than 1:01.5 in the long course 100 back. She went 1:00.6 in June, 59.7 in July and 59.5 in August at Junior Pan Pacs. Berkoff has already been 59.78 this year, and her improvement curve could lead to a couple of huge swims at World University Games.

#7: Charlotte Atkinson, Great Britain

Charlotte Atkinson was a British World Champs team member in 2017, but just missed that team in 2019. She’s the top seed by a pretty wide margin in the 100 fly – that’s the race that earned her a medal at last summer’s European Championships. Atkinson swam butterfly on the prelims team in the mixed 4×100 medley relay which went on to win gold. Atkinson, 22, is entered in all three butterfly events in Naples, and sits 4th in the 200 fly along with 1st in the 100 fly.

#8: Gabby DeLoof, USA

Gabby DeLoof was one of the breakout stars for Team USA last summer. She’ll swim on the World Championships roster as part of the 800 free relay, but gets individual cracks at the 100 and 200 frees in Naples this week. She’s the top 200 free seed by almost two seconds, and sits second in the 100 free to teammate Veronica Burchill. DeLoof will hope to lead gold/silver sweeps in both races (Paige Madden is the #2 seed in the 200 free) and will also be the key piece of USA Swimming’s free relays, which could only earn silver and bronze on the women’s side at the last edition of the Summer Universiade.

#9: Lisa Hopink, Germany

Germany’s Lisa Hopink has one of the busier schedules of the meet. She’s entered in five events individually: the 50 free, 100 free, 50 fly, 100 fly and 200 fly. Hopink should also swim key legs on Germany’s 4×100 free and 4×100 medley relays. She’s the #4 seed in the 100 free, the #8 seed in the 50 fly and appears to be the #2 seed in the 100 fly based on entry times (the official entry list for the women’s 100 fly isn’t yet appearing on the site, but her 58.43 entry time on the by-swimmer entry lists is the second-fastest time we can see).

#10: Megan Byrnes, USA

The chief threat to Kobori in the women’s distances is Stanford’s Megan Byrneswho is the #2 seed in both the 800 and 1500 frees. Byrnes is a training partner of world record-holder Katie Ledecky, and has steadily improved while training alongside Ledecky in Stanford’s loaded distance group. Her mile, in particular, dropped ten seconds from 16:28 to 16:18 last year, so she could be primed for a couple of big swims over the next week.

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Ol' Longhorn
2 years ago

Hope Ella finally catches a break.

Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
2 years ago

Too bad she isn’t able to swim other events. She is due for some major LC best times drops – 400 IM, 200 Fly. .

Reply to  Wahooswimfan
2 years ago

4:32 and 2:07 which would both medal at words, watch.

2 years ago

Go KB!

2 years ago

No entry for the American women in the 4x100m medley. Surely an error on someones behalf.

2 years ago

Keep in mind that Ella still rotated on her front in the back-breast turn in 2017 aside from the Lochte rule dq… yeah it sucks to be dq’ed but it’s important that she fixes these mistakes now rather than at the Olympics.

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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