Though we’ve already had a surge in early commitments, the recruiting season for the high school class of 2017 has just officially opened on July 1.
And, per SwimSwam tradition, we’re back to rank out the top 20 prospects for both boys and girls. Keep in mind that this list is for the class of 2017 – swimmers heading into their senior year of high school who will graduate next spring and join college programs in the fall of 2017.
One interesting note this year: while early commitments have started to pour in earlier and earlier each year, this girls class seems to be a throwback to a time when verbal commitments didn’t happen until after recruiting season opened. As of July 1, only 1 of our top 20 had verbally committed anywhere – #20 Regan Barney to Georgia. (Update: Barney wound up decommitting from Georgia and instead verbally committing to the application process at Princeton.)
Our goal in these rankings is to reflect what college coaches look for in recruits, based on many years of conversations and coverage.
We focus only on American-based athletes, simply because there is so much uncertainty with international recruits – if they’ll come to the states, when they’ll come to the states and with what graduating class they should be ranked. Projecting international recruits often becomes more a discussion of when they’ll first join a college program and not which program they’ll join.
A few other factors that weigh heavily in our rankings:
- Sprints over distance – Relay points count double in college swimming, and any program needs a strong stable of quality sprinters to fill out all 5 relays with studs. Obviously, a special distance swimmer can easily rank ahead of a very good 100 freestyler, but college swimming generally values a sprint freestyler over a distance swimmer, all other factors being equal.
- Improvements – Actual times are a the trump card, but any big improvements in quality can make a difference as well. For example, a swimmer who only took up year-round swimming as a junior in high school going the same time as a swimmer whose been swimming year-round since they were 8 will probably get the edge in our rankings. Think Breeja Larson.
- Short Course over Long Course – we recognize that some programs, many programs, put their focus with their high school aged swimmers on long course, especially depending on when the high school championships may fall. That said, college swimming is short course, so a swimmer who is great in short course but struggles in long course will have the advantage over the reverse.
- NCAA scoring ability – NCAAs are the big show for college teams, so we’ve weighted NCAA scoring potential very highly. Swimmers who already have NCAA scoring times wind up mostly filling out the top our of rankings. Since college athletic directors – and by extension coaches – also place high value on conference championships, scoring ability at conference meets is also a factor in our rankings.
- Relative depth in the NCAA and recruiting class – a wealth of elite depth nationwide in one stroke discipline makes a big difference in what times are considered more valuable in that event. For example, the women’s backstrokes have been loaded with stars in the NCAA the past few years. Though a 52-second backstroker is still valuable, that time won’t get you near as far as it would have in years past. In the same vein, if a recruiting class is loaded with swimmers in the same event, they all are devalued a little, relatively speaking. This year’s class of girls, for example, is thick with 22-mid sprinters and butterflyers, which makes swimmers in those events a little less valuable than an event like backstroke, where the recruiting class has less elite options to choose from.
With that out of the way, let’s get to our rankings.
Disclosure: there are a lot of high school seniors in the country, and no really good, complete, 100% accurate listing of them all. If you don’t see your favorite swimmer on the list, feel free to politely point them out in the comments. There’s a chance that we disagree with your assessment of their spot in the top 20, and so long as it’s done civilly, there’s no problem with differences of opinions. There’s also a chance that we’ve simply missed a no-brainer (we’ve taken every precaution to avoid that), and if that happens, we want to make sure we correct it.
Top 10 Swimmers From The Class of 2017
1. Courtney Harnish – York YMCA – West York Area High School – York, PA **Verbally committed to Georgia**
Best Times: 500 free – 4:39.13, 200 fly – 1:54.37, 200 free – 1:45.62, 1650 free – 16:08.57, 400 IM – 4:11.93, 100 fly – 52.87, 100 back – 54.04, 200 back – 1:55.41
For the second-straight year, a York YMCA swimmer is our top girls recruit. Harnish is more distance-oriented than 2016’s Meghan Small, but has the same brand of across-the-board versatility. Harnish is already at NCAA scoring level in the 500 free and 200 fly, and should also have a big relay impact as a 200 freestyler and perhaps 100 flyer. And her 400 IM might turn out most valuable in the long run.
As with our boys recruits, the #2 swimmer is very much centered on the distance freestyles, but is great enough at them to merit a lofty rank. Schmidt is well under NCAA scoring range in the mile and 500, with a great 400 IM to boot. Schmidt has international experience from Junior Pan Pacs in 2014 and Pan Ams in 2015, plus she’s a fan draw – the college that snags her should see an attendance increase from fans who want to see Schmidt’s famous pre-race dancing live and in person.
3. Margaret Aroesty – Long Island Aquatic Club – Long Beach Senior High School – Long Beach, NY **Verbally committed to USC**
Best Times: 100 breast – 58.98, 200 breast – 2:11.67, 200 IM – 1:57.76, 400 IM – 4:12.03
Aroesty is the best sprint breaststroke prospect we’ve seen in years, already notching a sub-59 as a high school junior. Compare that to the top 100 breaststroker (as of July 1 before their senior seasons) in the class of 2016 (Lindsey Horejsi, 59.5), class of 2015 (Lilly King, 59.6) and class of 2014 (Bethany Galat, 1:00.2). Aroesty’s flat-start 100 time would make her an upgrade for 11 of 16 teams in the NCAA 400 medley relay final last March, and that’s not even accounting for the boost she would get from a rolling relay start. And she’s good enough in the IMs to eventually score NCAA points there as well.
4. Brooke Forde – Lakeside Swim Team – Sacred Heart Academy – Louisville, KY **Verbally committed to Stanford**
Best Times: 400 IM – 4:07.49, 200 IM – 1:57.85, 200 fly – 1:57.03, 100 fly – 53.44, 200 free – 1:46.76, 200 breast – 2:11.29
The recruiting class’s best 400 IMer is never going to fall very far in these ranks, given how much college coaches value versatility. Forde could wind up swimming 4 different event disciplines at any dual meet or conference championship, and contributing in all 4. She’s also a fast riser – her 400 IM has dropped from a 4:14 in 2014 to a 4:07 last year, and her 200 IM has shaved two full seconds in that time, from 1:59.8 to 1:57.8.
5. Nikol Popov – Canyons Aquatic Club – Valencia High School – Santa Clarita, CA **Verbally committed to Tennessee**
Best Times: 100 breast – 59.64, 200 breast – 2:08.92, 200 IM – 1:58.78, 400 IM – 4:13.78
California’s Nikol Popov is actually a better all-around breaststroker than Aroesty, with an NCAA scoring-level 100 and a 200 that would have missed scoring by just .01 last year. Popov is a little less valuable in the IMs, though, and it’s relay value that currently gives Aroesty the edge. But Popov could very easily join Aroesty under 59 during her senior season and is a clear-cut blue chip prospect in this class.
6. Lauren Pitzer – Lakeside Aquatic Club – Fossil Ridge High School – Haltom City, TX **Verbally committed to Stanford**
Best Times: 50 free – 22.66, 100 free – 48.72, 200 free – 1:45.68, 500 free – 4:42.80, 100 fly – 55.01, 400 IM – 4:16.77
Pitzer is our highest-ranked swimmer without a time that would have scored at last year’s NCAAs, but she earns this rank for her potential across all of the freestyle distances. Pitzer has range for days – she’s ideally situated right in the NCAA’s relay sweet spot, with times just a few tenths off of NCAA scoring in the 50, 100 and 200 frees. In a class marked by 50/100 specialists and 200/500 specialists, Pitzer can do it all from a single roster spot. Her fly and IM times are just bonus from there.
7. Ashlyn Schoof – Schroeder Swim Team – Muskego High School – Muskego, WI **Verbally committed to Louisville**
Best Times: 100 back – 51.98, 200 back – 1:54.35, 200 free – 1:47.76, 100 fly – 54.46, 200 fly – 2:00.65
Schoof’s value is kind of a roller coaster. The backstrokes have become so insane at the NCAA level that the national high school record (51.4) would barely eke out points at college nationals. That makes it hard for even an elite high school backstroker to carry big value right away. But Schoof is also head and shoulders the best backstroker in this class. In a crowd of girls going 53s and 54s, Schoof has already been sub-52. She’s also not far off NCAA scoring level in the 200 back and could turn into a relay factor with her 200 free.
8. Hannah Kukurugya – Crown Point Swim Club – Crown Point High School – Crown Point, IN **Verbally committed to Stanford**
Best Times: 200 fly – 1:55.64, 100 fly – 53.44, 200 IM – 1:58.59, 400 IM – 4:18.58, 200 free – 1:47.10, 500 free – 4:47.83
A fast riser on the internatioanl scene in the butterfly and IM races is Indiana’s Hannah Kukurugya, who has now competed at Junior Pan Pacs in 2014 and Junior Worlds in 2015, winning bronze in the 200 fly at the latter. In short course, Kukurugya has made vast improvements since 2014: from 1:57.4 to 1:55.6 in the 200 fly and from 54.9 to 53.4 in the 100 fly. She’s right at NCAA scoring level in the 200 fly, and her versatility helps power her into the top 10 in her class.
Pike and Kukurugya are almost mirror images in the butterfly events. Pike is slightly better in the 200, slightly slower in the 100. Even their improvement curves since 2014 are almost identical. Kukurugya gets the nod based on her added IM prowess, but Pike could overtake her in the coming year, especially after hitting lifetime-bests in both short course and long course fly between the 2015 Winter Nationals and the 2016 NCSA Championships.
10. Grace Zhao – Palo Alto Stanford Aquatics – Palo Alto High School – Palo Alto, CA **Verbally committed to Stanford**
Best Times: 200 breast – 2:09.23, 100 breast – 1:00.65, 50 free – 22.75, 100 fly – 55.87
A 3rd breaststroker in the top 10? That has to be a recruiting class record. But Zhao is just tenths away from scoring level in both breaststrokes, and with so many breaststroke-needy medley relays in the college ranks seemingly every year, Zhao’s value is on the rise. The clincher? Her 22.7 in the 50 free is one of the best in the class, and means she could be a Breeja Larson-type breaststroker with value extending into the freestyles and free relays.
Honorable Mention (#11-20)
11. Victoria Edwards – Longhorn Aquatics – Westlake High School – Austin, TX **Verbally committed to Texas**
Best Times: 200 fly – 1:56.08, 100 fly – 52.74, 100 back – 53.30, 200 back – 1:57.79, 200 IM – 2:00.85
No NCAA scoring times, but on the cusp in several races. She’s very much in the mix with Kukurugya and Pike for the title of class’s best all-around butterflyer.
Hard to rank the class’s premier sprinter this low. But it’s a deep class of swimmers who can already score at NCAAs, and Volpenhein isn’t quite there yet.
See Volpenhein. Ciesla is a little less versatile, but since when do sprint freestylers need versatility, with two individual slots and up to 4 relays?
The class’s best sprint flyer, but doesn’t do too much else at the moment. This is the sleeper pick of the class, though: she’s just starting to put it together, with a brilliant improvement curve since 2014 (54.3 to 52.4 in the 100 fly and 2:04.6 to 1:58.0 in the 200)
Another great sprint flyer with two other good events. Relay value is undeniable, and her IM is on a fast rise lately.
16. Anna Belousova – Nation’s Capital Swim Club – Bethesda, MD **Verbally committed to Texas A&M**
Best Times: 200 breast – 2:10.14, 100 breast – 1:00.58, 200 IM – 1:58.71, 200 back – 1:56.11, 100 back – 54.96
Russian, but trains and competes in the U.S. Gets a bump for great long course times (1:07.98/2:26.76 in the breaststrokes).
Solid freestyle range, excellent NCAA scoring potential, but relay value lowers her ceiling some.
18. Paige Madden – City of Mobile Swim Association – UMS-Wright Preparatory School – Mobile, AL **Verbally committed to Virginia**
Best Times: 500 free – 4:42.17, 200 free – 1:45.68, 100 free – 49.75, 200 back – 1:55.57, 100 back – 53.71
One of the class’s best 200 freestylers. Could develop into mid-sprints, mid-distance or even backstroke.
Our lowest-ranked swimmer with an actual NCAA scoring time, but it’s the mile, and she’s still a bit of a one-trick pony at this point. Still, points are points and 16:02 is no joke.
20. Regan Barney – Nitro Swimming/Longhorn Aquatics – Cedar Park, TX
**Verbally committed to Georgia** **Verbally committed to Princeton**
Best Times: 400 IM – 4:10.99, 200 IM – 1:59.06, 200 back – 1:56.23, 100 back – 54.76
A great 400 IM, but no other times pushing for NCAA points. Yet. Barney could shoot up this list with a great senior year.