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 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. Five of our top 20 are already verbally committed to a school, the earliest one on May 3, almost two full months before recruiting season 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, but also one of our most exciting, given its bearing on the future of swimming both in college and beyond.
- Good depth
- Strong in butterfly – particularly 200 fly
- Less versatile IM types, more specialized swimmers
- A very long-course savvy group
- Lots of early commitments
Every recruiting class is different in depth and distribution between events, not to mention top-end talent. At first glance, this year’s class is probably a step up from last year’s group, though built in much the same way. It’s a deep class with better top-end talent than 2017, though no “can’t miss” swimmer like the run from the classes of 2013 to 2015. (2013 had Missy Franklin and Lia Neal, 2014 Simone Manuel and 2015 Katie Ledecky, Abbey Weitzeil and Kathleen Baker).
The Class of 2018 is thick with butterflyers. It’s starting to look like butterfly is the next big wave in the NCAA, much like backstroke has been. Top-end talent has surged into the backstrokes and created pretty much unprecedented depth on the women’s side – keep an eye on the butterfly races, which are primed to do the same thing behind this year’s and last year’s recruiting classes.
This year’s group is a bit lighter on IM types with more of the top swimmers already specializing a bit. There are a lot of swimmers who excel at the 200-yard distance – the 200 fly and 200 free in particular are strong. There’s no standout sprinter, but a wealth of 22-mid, 48-high types in the 50 and 100 frees.
The other interesting trend is that a number of the top swimmers seem to be better in long course meters than they are in short course yards. It typically seems to go the other way, with young swimmers rapidly improving in yards, but taking some time to learn the nuances of meters. That makes ranking this class interesting, as we’re trying to project which swimmers will see their short course times surge to catch up to their long course production and which swimmers are just better suited for the Olympic-sized pool and may not convert those times well to college’s yards format.
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||Grace Ariola||22.20|
|100 Free||Julia Cook||48.44|
|200 Free||Morgan Tankersley||1:44.31|
|500 Free||Morgan Tankersley||4:37.60|
|1000 Free**||Erica Sullivan||9:29.91|
|1650 Free||Erica Sullivan||15:47.39|
|100 Back||Eva Merrell||52.26|
|200 Back||Eva Merrell||1:52.20|
|100 Breast||Zoe Bartel||59.04|
|200 Breast||Zoe Bartel||2:07.73|
|100 Fly||Eva Merrell||51.93|
|200 Fly||Ruby Martin||1:54.74|
|200 IM||Emma Muzzy||1:57.84|
|400 IM||Vanessa Pearl||4:06.73|
**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 best current example is backstroke, where the NCAA has become flooded with top-end talent. In 2017, it took a 51.7 and a 1:52.5 just to score NCAA points in the 100 and 200 backstrokes. That makes a 52.9 high school prospect a bit less valuable that that same prospect would be if a 52-second swim could score at NCAAs. In the same vein, a recruiting class loaded with 52-second flyers (say… this one) would devalue all of those swimmers a bit individually, as teams have more recruiting options to get the same relative 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. Eva Merrell – Aquazot Swim Club – Crean Lutheran South High School – Newport Beach, CA **Verbally committed to Georgia**
Best Times: 100 fly – 51.93, 200 back – 1:52.52, 200 fly – 1:56.96, 100 back – 52.26, 50 free – 22.26, 100 free – 48.51, 200 free – 1:45.89
Merrell is well-known as a NAG record-breaking butterflyer, but she’s actually this class’s best backstroker to boot. She’s still very new to the 200 fly, dropping all the way from 2:03 to 1:56 last fall. Merrell also kicks off the long course theme in this class. She’s almost more impressive in the Olympic sized pool, with a 58.5 in the 100 fly and 2:09.5 in the 200 back. And we haven’t even mentioned her free relay skills – Merrell is within a tenth of the best 50 and 100 freestyle in the class and has a very solid 200 as well.
2. Taylor Ruck – Scottsdale Aquatic Club – Chaparral High School – Scottsdale, AZ **Verbally committed to Stanford**
Best Times: 200 free- 1:44.39, 100 free – 48.54, 50 free – 22.31, 500 free – 4:41.38, 100 back – 52.95, 200 back – 1:53.13, 200 IM – 1:57.97, 400 IM – 4:13.96
Ruck brings a bit of a wrinkle to our usual policy of only ranking U.S.-based athletes. Ruck represents Canada internationally but has lived, trained and competed in the United States for her entire career. Though she is now moving to Canada to train for this summer’s Junior World Championships, she still maintains she plans to go to college in the U.S. and compete in the NCAA. Given Ruck has competed in the U.S. for both club and high school through her junior year (and has a large track record of short course yard swims in major meets), we’re electing to include her in our rankings.
With that said, Ruck hits the perfect NCAA sweet spot in the mid-sprint freestyles. Like Merrell, she’s within a tenth of the class’s best times in the 50, 100 and 200 frees, making her probably the best all-around free relay value in this group. Her 200 free time would have scored individually at last year’s NCAAs. And she’s remarkably versatile for a freestyler, with great backstroke times and visible potential in the IM races as well. And if her short course swims can rise to the level of her long course times (53.9 in the 100 free, 1:57.8 in the 200, 4:09.9 in the 400) she’ll be an absolute monster in the NCAA.
The top two are versatile and rangy, but Bartel has really specialized effectively into three events that fit perfectly in the NCAA format. Her 100 breast would have made the NCAA A final last year and Bartel is only getting better there. She cut to 59.0 last winter after going 59.8 a year earlier and 1:04.3 a year before that. Her 200 breast is also at NCAA scoring level (not far off another A final time) and she’s got immediate conference-level scoring ability in the 200 IM, where she’s also improving rapidly (2:01.2 in 2015 to 1:58.2 in 2016).
Bartel’s another long course star, going 1:07 and 2:25 in the breaststrokes at Junior Pan Pacs last summer. She also comes from an altitude training background in Colorado, which could be a draw.
4. Morgan Tankersley– Greater Tampa Swimming Association – HB Plant High School – Tampa, FL **Verbally committed to Stanford**
Best Times: 500 free – 4:37.60, 200 free – 1:44.31, 100 free – 48.69, 50 free – 22.60, 1650 free – 16:27.61
These days, every class seems to have at least one extremely rangy freestyle prospect, and in this class, it’s Tankersley. She’s good anywhere from the 50 to the mile, but really hits her groove in the 500 (where she would have A finaled at NCAAs this year) and 200 (where she’s already got an NCAA scoring time). She’s the best in her class in both of those events and probably projects to swim the 100 free on day 3, though she could also be a great miler. She’s got subtle Townley Haas vibes with that range, and even if she doesn’t have the kind of freshman year explosion Haas did, Tankersley would be a valuable relay piece on most teams from day 1.
5. Cassidy Bayer – Nation’s Capital Swim Club – West Potomac High School – Washington, DC **Verbally Committed to Cal**
Best Times: 200 fly – 1:55.20, 100 fly – 52.78, 200 IM – 1:58.21, 400 IM – 4:12.72, 50 free – 22.98
Bayer is arguably the best long course swimmer on this entire list: 58.1 and 2:07.9 in the butterflys are no joke. She’s not as good in the short course pool, but if she put a premium on meters to prepare for Olympic Trials, there’s a good chance her yards times catch up in the next year or so. If that happens, she’ll be the ‘get’ of this class. Her 200 fly is an NCAA scoring time and her 100 is close. She’s also got very solid IMs and has a pretty good 50 free for someone who specializes in the 200 fly.
6. Vanessa Pearl – Metroplex Aquatics – McKinney Boyd High School – Allen, TX **Verbally committed to Florida**
Best Times: 400 IM – 4:06.73, 200 breast – 2:08.51, 100 breast – 1:00.32, 200 IM – 1:58.13
Pearl is the best 400 IMer in the class, which always counts for a lot. College coaches love versatility and toughness, and the 400 IM requires both. Pearl’s best 400 IM time would have almost cracked the NCAA A final last year and she’s also got a scoring time in the 200 breast. In the NCAA lineup, the 200 IM probably fits better than the 100 breast as a tertiary event. She’s not a huge relay value, though a sub-minute breaststroke split could be an upgrade for some programs.
7. Gabrielle Kopenski – Texas Ford Aquatics – Prosper High School – McKinney, TX **Verbally committed to Texas A&M**
Best Times: 500 free – 4:37.95, 1650 free – 15:56.39, 200 free – 1:46.80, 400 IM – 4:09.92
Just a few miles down the road from Pearl is the second Texan in our top 10. Kopenski is a true distance swimmer: she’s not a big relay value, but makes up for that with big talent in her primary events. Kopenski has an A final time in the 500 free, plus a scoring time in the mile. Her 200 is strong enough to be a possible 800 free relay player and she’s got a sneaky-good 400 IM that is improving rapidly (4:16 in late 2014; 4:11 in late 2016, 4:09 earlier this year).
Sullivan is the best pure distance swimmer in the class, and she gets better and better the longer the distance. A recent open water junior national champ, Sullivan has a lifetime-best mile time that would have been 3rd at NCAAs last year behind Olympians Katie Ledecky and Leah Smith. Her 500 is also at NCAA scoring level, and her 200’s got developmental potential. Depending on how much she values open water compared to pool swimming, Sullivan might be a similar prospect to Becca Mann, looking for a program with an established open water coach or training group.
Part of a really stellar club group in Nashville, Raab is good enough to put two breaststrokers in our top 10 – that doesn’t happen often. With a 200 breast already at NCAA scoring level (and a 100 close to it), Raab should be an early contributor. And she’s coming off of an explosive summer of 2016 in which she dropped to 1:07.9 and 2:26.8 in the long course meter breaststrokes at Junior Pan Pacs. She’s the younger sister of Georgia Bulldog Meaghan. Perhaps another peripheral bonus of recruiting Allie Raab: the team that gets her would have an ‘in’ with the age group crew coming through Nashville Aquatic Club behind her, a crew that’s shattered a bunch of NAG relay records and includes blue chip prospects Alex Walsh, Ella Nelson and Gretchen Walsh.
10. Julia Cook – Aggie Swim Club – Bryan High School – Bryan, TX **Verbally Committed To Texas**
Best Times: 50 free – 22.32, 100 free – 48.44, 200 free – 1:45.35, 100 back – 52.37, 200 back – 1:54.48, 200 IM – 1:58.77, 100 fly – 53.64
Cook is a rangy, versatile prospect who could fill a number of different holes on an NCAA roster. She’s got the best 100 free in the class to go along with 50 and 200 times very close to NCAA scoring. That’s relay gold. She’s also got two nice backstroke times and some IM talent mixed in. Picture a sprintier Taylor Ruck without the long course notoriety – which could ultimately make Cook more valuable in an NCAA format that really values sprint freestyle.
Another great butterflyer in a fly-heavy class, and Luther might just be the best pure flyer on the market. She doesn’t quite have the versatility of Merrell or Bayer, but her 200 free could make her a free relay prospect, even if the individual 200 free conflicts with the 100 fly.
The butterflyers keep coming. Carter sets herself apart from most of the other flyers with a 200 IM that’s nearly best-in-class. Big improvement curve, dropping from 56.3 to 52.6 in the 100 fly over the past two years.
13. Easop Lee – North Baltimore Aquatic Club – Pikesville High School – Baltimore, MD **Verbally committed to Duke**
Best Times: 200 free – 1:44.63, 500 free – 4:40.90, 200 fly – 1:56.55, 200 IM – 1:58.75, 400 IM – 4:15.55, 100 free – 50.19
One of Korea’s best young talents, Lee lives and trains in Maryland with the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, and therefore makes our list. She’s the next in a long line of great NBAC freestylers that includes Cierra Runge, G Ryan and Sierra Schmidt. At the moment, her 200 free is NCAA scoring-level and her 500 is close. Some nice versatility in the IMs and butterfly. A little inside info: Last summer, Lee told her school newspaper she was hoping to commit to a west-coast school, specifically mentioning Stanford as her dream school.
This feels low for the class’s best 200 IMer, but Muzzy is a victim of the NCAA’s surge in backstroke and IM, her two best event disciplines. Still, she’s one of the top prospects in her class in both, and her versatility has to be a big draw for a number of college coaches. She’s also proven to be a good relay swimmer, breaking a couple NAG relay records with the Virginia Gators.
Fackenthal is our first drop-dead sprint type of the top 20. She’s got three good events that pair well and give her value on 4 relays. She’s really come along over the past year, especially in the 100, where she hadn’t even been sub-50 until early 2016 and is now almost at NCAA scoring level.
16. Lucie Nordmann – Magnolia Aquatic Club – The Woodlands High School – The Woodlands, TX **Verbally committed to Stanford**
Best Times: 100 back – 52.48, 200 back – 1:54.08, 50 free – 22.68, 100 free – 48.85
Nordmann’s another one of the best backstroke talents in the class, particularly in the 100. She’s got to improve a bit more there to score in an absurdly-fast NCAA backstroke crowd, but her excellent long course performances from last summer (1:00.1 and 2:09.40) suggest she certainly could. Solid free relay prospect as well.
17. Grace Ariola – Bloomington Waves/Normal Y Swim Team – Normal Community High School – Bloomington, IL **Verbally Committed to Texas**
Best Times: 50 free – 22.20, 100 free – 48.98, 200 free – 1:47.46, 200 back – 1:54.60, 100 back – 53.04
Ariola’s got the best 50 free in the class with a solid 100 to go along with it. Her backstrokes have a bit to go to be relevant nationally, but she, too, has some intriguing long course production (1:00.4 in the 100 back).
Yet another good flyer in a class flush with 52/1:56 types. Garcia rises above that group with relay value in the 50 free and a really rapidly-improving 200: she dropped a second and a half off her best in December, then another 1.5 seconds in March.
19. Samantha Shelton – Mission Viejo Nadadores – Santa Margarita High School – Laguna Beach, CA **Verbally committed to Harvard**
Best Times: 200 free – 1:44.95, 100 free – 49.11, 50 free – 22.87, 100 back – 53.04
Shelton is tough, tough, tough. At her high school section meet earlier this month, she swam 3 of the last 4 events, with her lifetime-best 100 back sandwiched in the middle. Her 200 free is already NCAA scoring level, and she can develop into a relay player in the sprint frees. Mission Viejo background means she knows how to train.
20. Sarah Grinalds– Westport/Weston Family Y – Fairfield Ludlowe High School – Southport, CT
Best Times: 50 free – 22.72, 100 free – 48.85, 200 free – 1:45.51
Grinalds is a really good relay value, and she’s within seven tenths of individual NCAA scoring in all three sprint/mid-sprint freestyle events. She’s also just starting to hit her stride: Grinalds put up new lifetime-bests in every single freestyle event from the 50 to the 1650 at YMCA Nationals in April. That included her first time under 50 in the 100 – a 48.8 that’s faster than a handful of relay splits on NCAA scoring relays last year.
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.
- Ruby Martin (Iowa Flyers / West High School / Coralville, IA) – She’s got the best 200 fly in a loaded fly class (1:54.74) and her 100 isn’t bad either (52.99). Not as much relay value or versatility as the flyers who made the list, but she does have pretty decent developmental IM speed (2:00.0/4:13.7).
- Madison Homovich (Marlins of Raleigh / Woods Charter School / Pittsboro, NC) – Distance swimmers are always a bit undervalued in the NCAA because of the lack of relay points, but Homovich is a good one who could be developing into a great one. She’s 4:40.90 in the 500 and 16:03.01 in the mile, both within a hair of NCAA scoring status. She’s also a good long course swimmer. **Verbally committed to Georgia**
- Alex Sumner (Suburban Seahawks / The Episcopal Academy / Swarthmore, PA) – She’s got an NCAA scoring-level 200 back, which is hard to leave off the list. She’s also on a massive improvement curve there: from 1:56.0 in Dec. 2015 to 1:55.0 in Dec. 2016 to 1:52.3 just a few months ago. But her 100 back (53.41) is a ways off of scoring, and her IMs are very developmental (2:00/4:15). **Verbally committed to Cal**
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: