We’ve closed the books on the first weekend of midseason invites which featured many of the top-25 teams racing around the country. In this article, we’re diving into some of the best performances from the weekend from the Tennessee Invitational to the Texas Hall of Fame Invite, and more.
For simplicity’s sake, we’ve limited this list to individual events and only one entry per swimmer. And as always, there’s a certain subjectivity to these lists so please feel free to respectfully let us know your top swims of last weekend in the comments. After my initial sweep of times from this weekend we had over 20 swims on the list for 10 spots. Narrowing down the list was a good challenge to have (and certainly better than the alternative) but makes it more likely than not that your list will be different from ours.
10. Catie Choate, Florida — 200 Backstroke (1:51.94)
The Florda women looked strong at the Georgia Fall Invite. They got good swims from their star swimmers like Bella Sims and Emma Weyant but what really made the difference was the performances they got from their depth swimmers like Catie Choate which show they’re serious threats for the postseason.
Sims did not race the last finals session, which gave her fellow freshman Choate the opportunity to grab the win in the 200 backstroke. She did so with a massive lifetime best of 1:51.94. That blows past her previous best (1:54.90) from 2022 Winter Juniors to the tune of a 2.96 second drop.
The swim ranks her #3 in the NCAA behind Phoebe Bacon and Sims. It also puts her in position to score at NCAAs this season; last year, it took 1:51.23 to qualify for the ‘A’ final and and 1:52.76 for the ‘B’ final.
One of the added benefits of Choate’s swim is that it gives Florida more options for the final day of NCAAs. Choate swimming an ‘A’ final worthy time means they can be a bit more flexible for example, with what Sims swims on the final day. In our preseason champion picks, a majority of the writers picked Sims as the 200 backstroke national champion, but she has plenty of other options for that day like the mile. Basically, Florida can now decide how best to maximize their points on the last day.
9. Lucy Bell, Stanford/Justina Kozan, USC — 400 IM (4:03.25)
We’re bundling Lucy Bell and Justina Kozan‘s 400 IMs together since they tied for the win at the Texas Hall of Fame Invite. It was a significant swim for both of them; neither of them had broken 4:05 before. Bell held a personal best of 4:05.56 from 2023 NCAAs, while Kozan owned a 4:06.67 from back in 2019.
Now, they’ve soared under the NCAA ‘A’ cut to a time that would easily qualify them for the 2023 NCAA ‘A’ final (it took 4:06.70).
The swims are big for both Bell and Kozan, as well as their teams. Bell did finish 7th in this event last year, and 4:03.25 would’ve bumped her up to 3rd ahead of Weyant. With the Stanford women looking for every single individual point they can get this season, it’s crucial for them to have swimmers like Bell put themselves in position to score as many points as possible, in as many events as possible.
And for Kozan, it’s the first time she’s dropped in this event in four years. That’s huge for her and it marks the 5th event she’s swum a best time in this season. The USC women have put in a huge surge this season, and it’s swims like these that are going to keep that momentum rolling into the back half of the season and the postseason.
8. Molly Mayne, Florida — 100 Breaststroke (58.68)
Another Florida freshman, Molly Mayne, also had a great weekend at the Georgia Fall Invite. Mayne is new to yards this season as she’s from UAE and represents Ireland internationally, arrived in Gainesville this fall and started adjusting to yards.
In Athens, she made some big strides, especially in the 100 breaststroke. Over the course of the meet, she dropped from the 1:02.04 she swam at Florida’s tri-meet with Tennessee and Kent to a 58.68 to win the event. She topped a field that included FSU’s Maddy Huggins and Georgia Tech’s Sabyne Brisson, who both broke 1:00 for the first time earlier this season. The time represents a 3.36 second drop for Mayne, and it seems like she’ll continue to drop as she gets more used to yards.
The Gators graduated their go-to breaststroker, fifth-year Nina Kucheran, at the end of last season so Mayne’s improvement curve is a timely one. It give them a potential scorer in the 100 breaststroke–58.68 would’ve made ‘A’ final last year–an event they didn’t have anyone final in last year. And, it also gives them a strong replacement for Kucheran on the medley relays (and the 200 medley relay already broke the school record).
7. Berit Berglund, Texas — 100 Backstroke (50.77)
Freshman Berit Berglund had a breakthrough leading off Texas’ 400 medley relay at the Texas Hall of Fame Invite. Her goal was to break 51 seconds by the end of the season but she hit that goal early, blazing a 50.77. It’s her first best time in the event since 2021, when she went 51.32 at Winter Juniors.
Berglund showed signs that a drop was on the horizon earlier this season. After kicking things off with a 53.55, she’s improved at each of Texas’ dual meets since, including posting a 51.76 at their last meet before midseason. The time is a dramatic drop for Berglund, and she backed it up by going 50.85 to win the individual event the following day.
50.77 would’ve slotted Berglund into the 2023 NCAA ‘A’ final ahead of her teammate Olivia Bray and eventually landed her 6th place. There weren’t many graduations among the 2023 100 back ‘A’ finalists, but Berglund has put herself in a solid position to score at her first NCAAs.
6. Stephanie Balduccini, Michigan — 100 Freestyle (47.26)
Speaking of first NCAAs, we’re gonna keep our list rolling with another freshman: Stephanie Balduccini. She’s had a busy fall like many other NCAA swimmers she competed at the Pan Am Games, and the Georgia Fall Invite shows as the first official meet she’s worn a Wolverine cap.
Balduccini was at the forefront of a successful weekend for Michigan swimmers. She won the 100/200 freestyle with new personal bests. In the 100 freestyle, she swam a 47.26, taking the event win by swimming away from Izzy Ivey on the back half of the race.
This meet marked the first time she’s registered times in the 100-yard free and she went sub-48 three separate times with this swim in finals as her best. It puts her #4 in the NCAA this season and would’ve qualified her for the 2023 ‘A’ final for an eventual 6th place finish. That’s big news for Michigan in their quest to turn things around under first-year head coach Matt Bowe. And with Balduccini leading a group of freshmen making drops paired with returners putting in solid swims, it looks like a real possibility.
5. Aimee Canny, Virginia — 500 Freestyle (4:36.26)
The Tennessee Invite started a day earlier than most of the other invites, so all eyes were on Aimee Canny when she blasted a 4:36.26 in her first time swimming the 500 freestyle–a time which would have won 2023 NCAAs. It proved to be a harbinger of things to come both in the event and the flurry of fast times that followed all over the country the rest of the weekend.
Canny represents South Africa internationally and joined the Cavaliers in January. She quickly demonstrated the impact she can have last season and has only continued to improve in yards. Her first 500 freestyle performance highlights the range that she’s developed: she’s capable of scoring at NCAAs in the 100/200/500 free, splitting sub-22 50 freestyles, and qualifying for NCAAs in the 200 IM.
Her 500 free performance here gives her an interesting choice to make at NCAAs. Last year, she raced the 200 IM on day 2, but it’s hard to ignore a 4:36, especially because Canny looks likes she still has room to improve and Virginia only had one ‘B’ finalist in the 500 free last season. Currently, she ranks 5th in the NCAA and is one of 17 women to break 4:40 so far this season.
4. Minna Abraham, USC — 200 Freestyle (1:41.38)
Minna Abraham arrived at USC this fall and immediately started contributing to the Trojan women’s electric start to the 2023-24 season. An international recruit from Hungary, Abraham has been quickly adjusting to yards and continued to make improvements (actually in meters as well as yards) at the Texas Hall of Fame Invite.
Abraham swam PBs in the 100 free/200 free/200 IM with her 200 free time being the standout. She attacked the front hald of the race and chopped 1.97 seconds from the 1:43.35 best she held from USC vs. ASU just two weeks earlier. This was her fifth time swimming the event and along with being a new personal best, 1:41.38 is a new USC program record, ranks her #2 in the NCAA, and would have won the NCAA title last season.
It seems unlikely that the #1 rank, Gretchen Walsh, will swim the 200 free individually (she’s made no secret that it isn’t her favorite event) but either way, Abraham is clearly now one of the favorites to win this event. She and Walsh are the only two swimmers under 1:42 this season as Kelly Pash sits 3rd in 1:42.64.
3. Rachel Stege, Georgia — 500 Freestyle (4:32.87)
Rachel Stege turned heads at 2023 SECs when she out-dueled her sister Kristen Stege for the 500 freestyle SEC title. There, she swam her first best time in the event since 2020 by breaking 4:40 for the first time with a 4:36.31. She added time at NCAAs but still collected a 5th place finish in another sub-4:40 effort.
Flash forward now to this past weekend at the Georgia Fall Invite, where she went toe-to-toe with Sims in the 500 free. Sims out-touched her by three-tenths, but Stege should be far from disappointed about the race. She continued her impressive improvement trajectory by dropping another 3.44 seconds which means that in less than a year, she’s cut 7.16 seconds from her best.
Stege now sits #2 in the NCAA this season with a time that comfortably would have won the 2023 NCAA title. She’s also a major part of both Georgia’s resurgent distance crew and re-energizing women’s distance swimming at the collegiate level.
2. Mona McSharry, Tennessee — 100 Breaststroke (56.87)
G. Walsh was rightfully the highlight of the Tennessee Invite but it would be a mistake to forget about Mona McSharry, specifically McSharry’s 100 breaststroke. McSharry set a lifetime best in the 100-meter breaststroke at 2023 Worlds (1:05.55) and just kept rolling here in the yards edition of the race. The defending SEC champion lowered her own SEC record by blowing past the 57-second barrier. She dominated the race with a 56.87, becoming just the seventh woman to crack 57 seconds.
The senior now slots in at #5 all-time, one-hundredth ahead of Anna Elendt‘s 2022 performance. McSharry finished 2nd at 2023 NCAAs, outsplitting Elendt and 2022 champion Kaitlyn Dobler on the final 50 for the silver. McSharry and Dobler are the only two sub-57 so far this season, with Elendt sitting 3rd in 57.75.
The last time a swimmer was this fast this early in the season was five years ago, when Lilly King swam 56.43 at the 2018 Indiana Invitational.
1. Gretchen Walsh, Virginia — 100 Butterfly* (48.30)
What a weekend G. Walsh had at the Tennessee Invite. She was everywhere at the meet: setting a new American record in the 50 free and tying the NCAA record (20.79), throwing down the fastest 100 free split in history (45.18), clocking the fastest 200 free time of the season (1:41.32).
But her best swim came when instead of racing freestyle, she swam butterfly during the 100 free and blazing her way to an unofficial NCAA and American record of 48.30. That eclipses her former Cavalier teammate Kate Douglass’ American and NCAA record by 0.16 seconds, as the Walsh came home .26 seconds faster than Douglass’ pace.
After qualifying for 2023 Worlds in the 100-meter butterfly and setting a new yards best at the UVA vs. Texas dual meet earlier this season (49.11) it was clear that Walsh had not yet reached her potential in this event. But this swim blew expectations out of the water and highlights the incredible season Walsh is having so far.
On another note, her weekend established that there are three NCAA day 3 events she could reasonably win a title in: the 200 free, 100 fly, and 100 back (the latter of which she owns the NCAA and American records in).