It’s that time of year again where we at SwimSwam rank out the top 20 high school swimming prospects in the upcoming NCAA recruiting class.
Actually, astute SwimSwam followers might notice that it’s actually a month earlier than when we traditionally release these rankings. We’ve typically used July 1 as our ranking date – that’s when recruiting season officially opens on these swimmers, and when college coaches are officially allowed to contact swimmers for the recruiting process.
But the landscape is changing. Dramatically. Early commitments are all the rage. Already, 5 of our top 10 and 8 of our top 20 recruits have verbally committed, along with 6 of the top 20 on the girls side. That means already close to a third of the top-level prospects are off the market – a month before the market even opens.
In response, we’re moving up our rankings by a month so swim fans can have a more accurate read on the impact of these early commits, and those who commit over the next month. This annual project is one of our biggest, the product of many hours of research and internal discussion. It’s one of our most exciting, given its bearing on the future of swimming both in college and beyond.
- Best breaststroke class in years
- Deep in the butterflys
- Fairly thin in backstroke
- Lots of dominant 200 freestylers
- Versatility rules
There’s a very-defined top 2 in this class, with really good arguments to be made for either one to take the top spot. That also serves as a mini-collision of the two real power events in this class – breaststroke and mid-sprint freestyle.
This is the best breaststroke class we’ve ever ranked, and we’ve been ranking down recruiting classes since 2012. We’ve got 4 swimmers in our top 10 who would accurately classify as breaststroke specialists, with two more who have breaststroke events in their peripheral skill sets. That’s the most breaststrokers we’ve ever ranked in our top 20, and there were several more who just missed the list.
The last class with this much incoming breaststroke talent was probably the class of 2015, which included Andrew Seliskar at #1 and Carsten Vissering at #4.
There’s also a wealth of 200 freestylers in the class, including at least four under 1:35.0. Most of those guys have excellent range, and much of our top 20 is made up of guys who can contribute to multiple relays from 50 to 200 yards. Versatility is also at a premium in this class – it’s tough to exactly project 3 good NCAA events for each swimmer, and some guys are hurt a bit by some of their top events conflicting in the NCAA format (200 back/200 fly, for example, or 200 free/100 fly).
It’s a deep butterfly class, with a lot of guys in the 47s and 48s. Backstroke is much more thin overall. But neither stroke has a surefire, instant-impact type swimmer, especially as the NCAA gets fast enough to require 45-second swims in either 100 to score points.
The flipside of that firmly-established top-2 is that while there’s a noticeable dropoff from the elite tier, the second tier of athletes is really deep. We had at least 10 athletes beyond even our honorable mention group who had realistic arguments to be top 20. Developmental prospects abound in this group.
An extra feature this year: the top swimmers in the class in each event as of June 1, 2017, per our research. As with the rankings themselves, these numbers are the product of a lot of time and effort in data collection, but as there isn’t a perfect list of all high school juniors and their top times, there can still be pieces missing. If you think a time is missing from this list, please let us know (respectfully) in the comment section, and we’ll work to see if we can confirm that time.
|Top Times in the Class of 2018|
|50 Free||Drew Kibler||19.66|
|100 Free||Drew Kibler||42.99|
|200 Free||Drew Kibler||1:33.30|
|500 Free||Patrick Callan||4:14.66|
|1000 Free**||Robert Finke||8:49.71|
|1650 Free||Robert Finke||14:37.71|
|100 Back||Noah Henry||47.15|
|200 Back||Noah Henry||1:44.81|
|100 Breast||Reece Whitley||51.84|
|200 Breast||Reece Whitley||1:52.37|
|100 Fly||Cody Bybee||46.97|
|200 Fly||Andrew Koustik||1:45.04|
|200 IM||Reece Whitley||1:43.93|
|400 IM||Keith Myburgh||3:45.85|
**The 1000 free is not an event at the NCAA Championships, but is swum at NCAA dual meets instead of the 1650.
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:
- Relay Value – 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. The backstrokes, for example, have exploded lately; we’re at a point where it might not be long before it takes a 1:39.9 just to score NCAA points in the 200. That makes a high school 1:45 a bit less valuable than it would have been back when breaking 1:40 was rare. In the same way, a recruiting class with a bunch of guys stacked up in the 1:35-range in the 200 free (like this year’s class) devalues all of those guys slightly, as college programs have more recruiting options to pick up similar high school production.
With that out of the way, let’s get to our rankings.
Disclaimer: 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 2018
1. Reece Whitley – Penn Charter Aquatic Club – William Penn Charter School – Lafayette Hill, PA **Verbally committed to Cal**
Best Times: 200 breast – 1:52.37, 100 breast – 51.84, 200 IM – 1:43.93, 400 IM – 3:47.15, 200 fly – 1:48.80, 200 back – 1:47.14
Whitley is the best NCAA breaststroke prospect since at least Andrew Seliskar. But he’s hardly a one-trick pony – Whitley has the class’s best 200 IM by almost three seconds. There’s really no downside to this guy as a recruit. Huge 6-foot-8-inch frame that should have plenty of room left to pack on muscle. He could even turn out to be a Breeja Larson type, who excels at breaststroke but can use a big frame to be a key free relay player too.
2. Drew Kibler – Carmel Swim Club – Carmel High School – Carmel, IN **Verbally committed to Texas**
Best Times: 200 free – 1:33.30, 100 free – 42.99, 50 free – 19.66, 500 free – 4:15.36, 200 back – 1:45.95, 100 back – 48.57, 200 fly – 1:49.26, 100 fly – 48.88
It’s a very tough call for the top spot in this class, another true 1A and 1B situation. Kibler spans the relay-distance freestyles perfectly, which makes him a massive value. He’s dropping time rapidly, including almost four seconds over the last year and a half in his 200 free. Great range from 50 to 500 free.
3. Alexei Sancov – Terrapins Swim Team – Northgate High School – Walnut Creek, CA **Verbally committed to USC**
Best Times: 200 free – 1:34.06, 100 free – 43.46, 500 free – 4:19.85, 100 fly – 47.33, 200 fly – 1:47.18, 200 IM – 1:47.98, 50 free – 20.29
Sancov is a Moldovan Olympian, but finds his way onto this list as he’s a high school and club swimmer in California. His 200 free is stellar, and only seems to be getting better with time. Sancov comes from a long course background and didn’t even have a short course yard swim on his resume until late 2016. His yards times have been blowing up since then, and Sancov may not have even reached his peak speed yet. A sneaky-good 200 IM on top of some butterfly potential as well.
4. Cody Bybee – Dayton Raiders – Bellbrook High School – Dayton, OH **Verbally committed to Arizona State**
Best Times: 100 fly – 46.97, 200 free – 1:34.55, 200 fly – 1:47.66, 100 free – 43.78, 50 free – 20.36
Bybee is the best sprint flyer in this class and transitions over to mid-sprint freestyle as well. It hurts some that arguably his two best events (100 fly and 200 free) are an awful NCAA combo, but it’s hard to fault a guy for being good at several disciplines. That great 200 free suggests his 200 fly should have plenty room for improvement, too.
McHugh would easily be the top breaststroke prospect in any class that didn’t include Whitley. Younger brother of Minnesota All-American Conner McHugh, Max is already within hundredths of NCAA scoring range in the 100. Like Whitley, he’s got a big frame and a ton of strength. Though it’s very much a tertiary event, he’s also 20-point in the 50 free.
The best 500 freestyler in the class, Callan is also one of the top 200-guys in a class loaded in that event. He’s not very rangy outside of that, but two events within hairs of NCAA scoring is plenty to lock him into our top 10. He’s also a good and fast-rising long course swimmer: 1:49.41 in the 200 and 3:51.66 in the 400.
7. Robert Finke – Saint Petersburg Aquatics – Countryside High School – Clearwater, FL **Verbally committed to Florida**
Best Times: 1650 free – 14:37.71, 1000 free – 8:49.71, 500 free – 4:20.86, 400 IM – 3:47.65, 200 back – 1:47.27, 200 fly – 1:48.65
The best pure distance swimmer in the class, Finke already has an NCAA scoring time in the mile – in fact, he would’ve been 9th in 2017. He’s got OK range down to the 500, but is maybe a bigger prospect in the IMs, especially that 3:47 400. Big-time long course swimmer and Junior Pan Pacs champ in the 1500 (15:05) and 800 (7:55).
8. Kieran Smith – Ridgefield Aquatic Club– Ridgefield High School – Ridgefield, CT **Verbally committed to Florida**
Best Times: 200 IM – 1:46.41, 400 IM – 3:46.07, 200 back – 1:45.52, 100 back – 49.11
Outside of Whitley, the best all-around IMer in the class. Big improvement curve: he dropped from 1:50.0 to 1:46.4 in the 200 IM and 3:53.9 to 3:46.0 in the 400 IM between December 2015 and March 2017. Both IMs are still a leap away from NCAA scoring, but Smith is dropping time fast enough to challenge the top 16 sooner rather than later.
9. Trey Freeman – Baylor Swim Club – Baylor School – Chattanooga, TN **Verbally committed to Florida**
Best Times: 200 free – 1:34.92, 500 free – 4:16.99, 1000 free – 8:56.30, 1650 free – 14:59.33, 100 free – 44.24, 50 free – 20.21, 200 back – 1:47.03
Extremely rangy prospect who could eventually compare to a Townley Haas or Cristian Quintero. This class is so loaded with 200 freestylers that his 1:34.9 probably doesn’t get the value it deserves. Probably projects best into a distance swimmer, but could also develop as a free relay guy.
10. Daniel Krueger – McFarland Spartan Sharks – McFarland High School – Deerfield, WI **Verbally committed to Texas**
Best Times: 50 free – 19.84, 100 free – 43.38, 200 free – 1:35.58, 100 back – 49.02, 200 IM – 1:49.91
Who woulda thought the only state with two swimmers in our top 10 would be Wisconsin? 2018 is a bit like the Beata Nelson/Katie Drabot class on the girls side a few years back. You could make a good argument for Krueger over Freeman, as Krueger fits the relay distances to a “T.” Still improving, especially in the 200, where he had a breakthrough 2.5-second drop back in March.
11. Jack LeVant – North Texas Nadadores – Carroll High School – Southlake, TX **Verbally committed to Stanford**
Best Times: 100 fly – 47.64, 200 fly – 1:45.20, 100 back – 48.89, 200 back – 1:45.06, 200 IM – 1:48.39, 100 free – 43.98, 200 free – 1:35.42, 500 free – 4:18.20, 50 free – 20.19
Hyper-versatile, LeVant is hard to rank because it’s hard to figure out exactly what he projects as. Right near the top of the class in both butterflys and the 200 back. Great mid-sprint/mid-distance freestyler. He’s not as good as Jack Conger coming out of high school, but there’s a real comparison to be made there. If he specializes and really blows up in one area (like Conger did in butterfly), he could rise a lot higher than 11th in this class in hindsight.
12. Keith Myburgh – Virginia Gators – Hidden Valley High School – Roanoke, VA **Verbally committed to Virginia Tech**
Best Times: 400 IM – 3:45.85, 100 breast – 54.80, 200 breast – 1:58.60, 200 IM – 1:48.13, 200 back – 1:47.16, 200 fly – 1:48.85
Another versatile prospect, Myburgh is the top 400 IMer in this class. His breaststroke is undervalued because of how good this class is in breaststroke, but he’s got solid 200s across back, breast, fly and IM.
13. Noah Henry – Tigershark Swim Team – Belton High School – Belton, TX **Verbally committed to Arizona State**
Best Times: 100 back – 47.15, 200 back – 1:44.81, 100 fly – 48.13, 200 free – 1:37.92, 100 free – 44.87
Henry is the best backstroker in the class, and there’s not a lot of depth behind him. But he’s also got a long ways to go to score in an NCAA where backstroke has gotten bonkers fast in the past few years. He’s improving fast too, though, dropping from 49.1 to 47.1 in the 100 since early 2016.
Yet another great breaststroker. Roy is within four tenths of NCAA scoring range in the 200 breast and coming off of massive drops over the winter/spring: 1:58.4 to 1:54.4 in the 200 and 55.3 to 54.1 in the 100.
15. Ariel Spektor – Bolles School Sharks – Bolles School – Jacksonville, FL **Verbally committed to USC**
Best Times: 200 IM – 1:46.57, 100 fly – 47.39, 200 fly – 1:50.27, 200 free – 1:37.21, 100 free – 44.50, 100 breast – 56.03
Spektor is very clearly on the rise, breaking 1:50 in the 200 IM for the first time last December and going immediately to 1:46.5, one of the best times in this class. Before that, he was more of a butterflyer, and still has a high-level 100 fly. No great third event and not a huge relay factor yet, but a very good pickup with some intriguing upside.
It’s a testament to this 200 free class that a 1:35.2 gets lost in the crowd, but Willenbring also brings a strong 200 IM that shed three full seconds over the course of 2016. He’s a great and fast-rising relay value, too, and comes with a huge frame and long levers that should give Willenbring an incredibly high ceiling.
The only other true backstroker in our top 20, Park suffers from the insane speed required to score at NCAAs (45.8 and 1:40.6 were the 16th-place times at prelims in 2017). But he’s got good relative value for backstroke-needy programs in a thin backstroke class, and he’s also only just starting to put it together in the 200 back, where he cut three seconds from his best in December.
18. Jonathan Cook – West Coast Aquatics – Jackson High School – Mill Creek, WA **Verbally committed to Stanford**
Best Times: 100 breast – 53.91, 200 breast – 1:57.06, 200 IM – 1:48.36, 100 fly – 49.78
Another member of a stacked breaststroke class. He’s a little more sprint-oriented compared to the rest of the class, but that might make him a bigger relay factor. Very solid 200 IM as a tertiary swim.
19. Jake Johnson – Delaware Swim Team – Mount Sophia Academy – New London Township, PA **Verbally committed to Harvard**
Best Times: 100 fly – 47.77, 200 fly – 1:46.78, 200 back – 1:45.38, 200 IM – 1:49.13, 400 IM – 3:51.84
One of the better all-around butterflyers in this class. 200 fly/200 back isn’t a great NCAA combo, but the versatility is exciting. Pretty decent developmental IMs as well, if he can improve his back-half.
Remember when a 19-second high school sprinter was a big deal? This class has at least 8, all between 19.6 and 19.9. Bobo’s a classic sprinter with pretty good all-around relay value. He edges out the other drop-dead sprint types for the #20-spot after improving his 100 free in a big way over the past year; Bobo went from 45.1 to 43.5 in the 100 between his sophomore and junior years.
Paring the list down to 20 always feels like pulling teeth. This isn’t an exhaustive list of others we considered, but the top few left off the list who made the decisions on 18-20 very difficult.
- Andrew Abruzzo (Plymouth Whitemarsh Aquatics / Germantown Academy / Plymouth Meeting, PA) – A Junior Pan Pacs champ, Abruzzo is a pretty well-known name to leave off the list. But his short course yard times (15:06 in the mile, 1:45.5 in the 200 back, 1:46.5 in the 200 fly, 4:23.5 in the 500) are still a ways out of NCAA scoring. He’ll be a key player if he can transfer over some long course times, though: 1:50.9, 3:51.0 and 15:13 in the 200, 400 and 1500, respectively. **Verbally committed to Georgia**
- Will Chan (SwimMAC Carolina / William Amos Hough High School / Davidson, NC) – Chan gets lost in the crowd of great breaststrokers, even though his times are still outstanding (53.78/1:58.93). He’s also 20.1 in the 50 free, which is big relay value, and 1:48.91 in the 200 IM. **Verbally committed to Michigan**
- Will Davis (Bolles School Sharks / Bolles School / Jacksonville, FL) – Davis is very comparable to Bobo as a sprint freestyler/flyer. Better in the 50 free (19.82) and 100 fly (47.85), but not quite as complete a swimmer with a little slower 100 free time (44.19) and no 200 free to speak of. **Verbally committed to Florida**
- Andrew Koustik (Irvine Novaquatics / Calvary Chapel High School / Costa Mesa, CA) – the best 200 flyer in the class at 1:45.04, but not a ton of versatility to back it up with. He’s 48.58 in the 100 fly, which is solid, but not eye-popping. He’s on a good improvement track, though, so keep an eye on him over his senior year. **Verbally committed to Texas**
- Michael Brinegar (Mission Viejo Nadadores / Columbus North High School, Tesoro High School / Mission Viejo, CA) – A very good miler (14:53.52) who transplanted from Indiana to Southern California in the middle of his high school career. Also 4:19 in the 500, but isn’t much of a relay guy, which lowers his points ceiling. **Verbally committed to Indiana**
Feeling nostalgic? Here’s a look back at our recruiting class rankings over the past 5 recruiting classes, plus our retrospective of the first class we ranked after 4 years in the NCAA: