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.
As college recruiting has reached earlier and earlier into high school classes, we’re continually expanding our recruiting ranks and coverage. Last spring, we ranked out the then-sophomore class. This is essentially a re-rank of that class, taking into account a year of improvements. Stay tuned to our recruiting channel for more additions to our yearly recruiting coverage:
- Boys & Girls ranks for current juniors – high school class of 2021 (updated rankings from our “Way Too Early” rankings last spring)
- Way Too Early ranks for current sophomore boys & girls – high school class of 2022
- Re-Rank of outgoing senior boys & girls – high school class of 2020
So without further ado, let’s take a look at this class as a whole, then review our ranking methodology (please read it before you get upset about how low the top miler is ranked!) and get into our rankings.
2020 addendum: We anticipate the counterarguments already: ‘So-and-so missed their taper meet due to coronavirus!’ ‘These ranks will give an advantage to swimmers who had their high school seasons in the fall!’ ‘We can’t possibly know how fast so-and-so would have gone!’ The questions, of course, are valid. But the best we can do is take the information we have now and make our best ‘snapshot’ rankings. If we’ve made a tweak this year to account for coronavirus cancellations, it’s taking long course improvement curves a little bit more into account – if someone came up with big long course drops last summer or at U.S. Open, that’s potentially the most recent data point we have, and can help us identify fast risers. And trying to predict who was and wasn’t tapered isn’t a new phenomenon this year. With that in mind, the point of these rankings is discussion, and we’ve now got a whole new layer of analysis to discuss in the comment section this time around.
- A class incredibly tailored to the NCAA format – multi-stroke sprinters abound
- Very sprint-based class – 50/100 a lot stronger than 200
- Relatively light in distance swimmers at the top
- Great class for 200 IMers
- Tons of fast risers
- Not a terribly deep fly group
- A lot of big-time long course swimmers as well
Last year, we noted how good of a sprint class this was, and they’ve only gotten better. The top swimmers in the class in the 50 and 100 frees are the fastest juniors we’ve seen since Ryan Hoffer in the class of 2017. And what really makes this class stand out is how well swimmers transfer their speed between strokes. If we had to classify each swimmer in an event discipline, we’d probably consider three of our top four prospects as ‘general sprinters’ rather than confining them to one stroke or another.
On the flip side, this isn’t a great distance class. Every year, we seem to get at least one high school standout who is below 15 minutes in the mile – in fact, you have to go back to the Class of 2014 before you find a group without a miler under 15. That shortage in this class extends down to the 500 (where no one is under 4:20), and the 200 is slightly weaker than previous classes, relatively speaking.
Rather than 200 freestylers, though, this group is stacked with 200 IMers. It feels like every other recruit has a 1:47-or-better IM in their back pocket, often as a bonus event along with their main specialty. The IMs tend to show the most improvement from the high school level to the college level (consider that according to last year’s NISCA All-American lists, only five high schoolers of any grade broke 1:46 in the IM, while it took 1:43.0 just to score at 2019 NCAAs), so we’d expect this class to yield some eventual superstars. We may be entering an era where 1:39-or-better gets much, much more common at the NCAA meet.
This class is also rising extremely fast as a whole. Last year’s juniors were surprisingly hit-or-miss based on time changes from our sophomore ranks to our junior re-rank. But this class had a whole bunch of junior-year explosions, even with some athletes missing meets due to the coronavirus pandemic.
If there’s a stroke that gets short shrift here, it’s probably fly. There are a lot of versatile types that cross over into fly, but not many pure flyers in our ranks.
We’ve also got a good amount of big-name long course swimmers, though there aren’t as many of the great-at-long-course-but-only-OK-at-short-course types we usually see (and struggle hard to rank accurately).
|Top Times in the Class of 2021|
|50 Free||David Curtiss||19.42|
|100 Free||Jack Alexy||42.87|
|200 Free||Tim Connery||1:34.77|
|500 Free||Trent Frandson||4:20.40|
|1000 Free**||Luke Hobson||9:02.36|
|1650 Free||Jackson Carlile||15:08.71|
|100 Back||Anthony Grimm||45.60|
|200 Back||Jack Aikins||1:41.73|
|100 Breast||Anthony Grimm||52.51|
|200 Breast||Josh Matheny||1:52.12|
|100 Fly||Aiden Hayes||46.01|
|200 Fly||Aiden Hayes||1:41.34|
|200 IM||Tim Connery||1:44.05|
|400 IM||Matt Fallon||3:44.08|
**The 1000 free isn’t an event at the Division I NCAA Championships, but is swum instead of the 1650 in many Division I dual meets and is part of the NCAA program in Division II.
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 United 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 stars. 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 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.
- Short Course over Long Course – while every club and every swimmer will have a different balance of focus between short course and long course swimming, the NCAA competes in short course yards, and that’s going to be the main factor considered in these rankings. Long course times are another data point for consideration, but we mainly view them through the lens of what a big long course swim could mean for an athlete’s future in short course.
- 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. Events rise at different rates in the NCAA, but when one event gets extremely deep and fast at the college level, it makes high school prospects in those events a little less valuable, relatively, with lots of other veteran options. In the same way, a recruiting class stacked with swimmers in butterfly, for example, would make each butterflyer a little less sought-after in the market, with lots of other recruiting options able to provide similar production.
Of course, there’s no way to predict the future, and the most concrete data we have to go on are cold, hard times. These rankings in no way mean that all of these 20 swimmers will be NCAA standouts, and they certainly don’t mean that no swimmer left off this list will make big contributions at the NCAA level.
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 20 SWIMMERS FROM THE CLASS OF 2021
1.Aiden Hayes (Previous Rank: #2) – Sooner Swim Club – Norman North High School – Norman, OK **Verbally committed to NC State**
Best Times: 100 fly – 46.01, 200 fly – 1:41.34, 50 free – 19.58, 100 back – 46.31, 100 free – 44.01
Hayes surges into our #1 rank, in large part because of monstrous improvements to his 200 fly. At this time last year, Hayes was a pure 50/100 type with a 46.6 100 fly but only 1:47 200 fly. He’s blown out both times, going to 46.0/1:41.3, and the latter of those times actually would have scored at 2019 NCAAs. A few factors bumped Hayes over Grimm for the time being. His top three events fit together very nicely in the NCAA format. The 200 fly development shows way more range than we thought he had a year ago. And Hayes has the better 50 free and significantly better 100 free, which adds a lot more relay value. Here’s Hayes’ lifetime-best 100 fly (lane 5 with the blue cap) – he’s got awesome turns and a picture-perfect butterfly. There’s also valuable room for improvement, though. His underwater kicks seem to lose steam and there’s a little drop in intensity between his kickout and his breakout stroke. The 200 fly is the same (blue cap, lane 4) – he went straight from 1:47 to 1:41 in a single day, and he’s going to have plenty more time to drop with experience and polishing in that race. And just for fun, here’s his 50 free (blue cap, lane 5), where you get a better picture of how good his underwaters are, and where he does a better job transitioning between his dolphin kicks and his breakout stroke.
2.Anthony Grimm (Previous Rank: #1) – Mason Makos Swim Team – Oakton High School – Fairfax, VA **Verbally committed to Texas**
Best Times: 100 back – 45.60, 100 breast – 52.51, 50 free – 19.67, 100 fly – 47.40, 100 free – 46.59
Grimm is probably one of the best pure athletes we’ve ever seen in these rankings. He’s got unparalleled fast-twitch strength, high-level underwaters, and a crazy sprinting ability across all four strokes. Here’s his lifetime-best 100 back from last spring. (Grimm is in lane 4 in the white cap with no logo – you’ll know which one he is by the start alone). He’s got a brilliant backstroke start, and one big factor that you don’t see above is how good Grimm is in the 50 back. As a sophomore, he went 20.8 leading off a 200 medley relay. That would have been the 5th-fastest split in the entire NCAA meet a month later and gives him another avenue for relay impact early in his career. Grimm has two things working against him in this year’s ranks. He dealt with a back injury this year and missed some training, which led to a lack of time drops in his high school season. And based on his history, he was probably targeting NCSAs as his main focus meet of the spring, and that meet was canceled by coronavirus. That’s why we’re not really concerned at all about his lack of a junior year improvement curve, and why this is still clearly a two-man race for the #1 spot going into the senior re-ranks next spring. Maybe Grimm’s biggest challenge is his projected NCAA event lineup. 100 back/100 breast is a pretty unworkable combo, and Grimm doesn’t yet have the 100 or 200 free (46.5/1:47.8) to be a five-relay guy. It’s hard to project him to give up breaststroke, though. As this race shows (lane 4, white cap), he’s equally athletic coming off the block as he is on backstroke starts, and he’s got great underwaters.
3.Josh Matheny (Previous Rank: #4) – Team Pittsburgh Elite Aquatics – Upper St. Clair High School – Pittsburgh, PA **Verbally committed to Indiana**
Best Times: 200 breast – 1:52.12, 100 breast – 52.52, 200 IM – 1:49.00, 400 IM – 3:51.99
Matheny has taken his 200 breast to the next level since our last ranks. He was 1:55.0 as a sophomore, but crushed long course 2:09 last summer, followed by a short course 1:52 in December. That 1:52.12 would have been 7th at NCAAs in 2019. In fact, Matheny is the best junior 200 breaststroker we’ve ever ranked, better than Reece Whitley (1:52.3 with the class of 2018) or Andrew Seliskar (1:52.2 with the class of 2015). His 100 breast has stalled a little bit – he was 52.56 at Winter Juniors this year, but he’s still just a tick behind Grimm for the best 100 of the class. A third event is a hurdle Matheny will need to overcome to chase down the top two. His IMs would need big drops to get to NCAA scoring range. But even in his limited wheelhouse, Matheny is an elite prospect. He’s a bit of a unique 200 breaststroker, without the length or efficiency of a Whitley or a Cordes. He swims the race much more like an Ian Finnerty – fitting given where he’s committed. Here’s his 1:52 swim (lane 4, black cap/red suit). Matheny has a more pull-driven stroke with high tempo, which hasn’t been the model in the NCAA, but is the style of breaststroke succeeding most on the international level. And speaking of which, Matheny is an incredible long course talent. Here he is winning a World Junior title in the 200-meter breast (Matheny is in lane 3, just below the yellow lane line and at the far right of the screen when the video opens). Matheny closes extremely hard here, and keeps getting his head back down for every glide even as he turns his tempo on high to run down the field.
4.Tim Connery (Previous Rank: #8) – SwimMAC Carolina – Christ the King Catholic High School – Davidson, NC **Verbally committed to Michigan**
Best Times: 200 IM – 1:44.05, 100 fly – 46.73, 100 back – 47.24, 100 breast – 53.19, 200 free – 1:34.77, 100 free – 44.18, 50 free – 20.42, 200 breast – 1:57.16, 400 IM – 3:53.90
Yet another do-everything sprinter who defies classifications at the top of this class. Last time around, we had him at #8, though we noted that he projected best as an IMer but hadn’t swum any IMs yet as a sophomore. Connery fixed that (and made us look pretty prescient) with a 1:44.0 at Winter Juniors in December. That’s the best 200 IM in the class, and Connery also has the best 200 free of anyone in this group. He’s got outstanding 100s of all four strokes, and his NCAA lineup is still wide open. Just watching his strokes, breaststroke and butterfly pop the most – here’s Connery taking on the top IMer from the class above him, Carson Foster. (Connery is lane 4, white cap). Though he’s definitely best at the 100s at the moment, you also wonder if Connery could develop into one of those 200-everything types who could go 200 IM/200 free/200 something, like Paul DeLakis or Alexei Sancov. Regardless, relay value is extremely high with Connery, and he’s also on an awesome improvement trajectory, coming from 1:47 in the IM and 1:41 in the 200 free as of last year.
5.Jack Aikins (Previous Rank: #18) – SwimAtlanta – West Forsyth High School – Cumming, GA **Verbally committed to Virginia**
Best Times: 200 back – 1:41.73, 100 back – 47.51, 100 free – 43.27, 50 free – 19.68, 200 free – 1:36.87, 200 IM – 1:47.77
Coming off a massive year of time drops, Aikins would be near the top of most classes as a sprint freestyler alone. But he’s made sneaky-good improvements to his backstroke and may actually project better as a backstroker who crosses over for relays. Seriously: at this time last year, Aikins was a 1:46-backstroker who hadn’t broken 50 in the 100 back. Now, he’s got the best 200 back in the class and a 100 that’s right up there with everyone besides Grimm. The drops extend to free, where Aikins went from 20.3/45.1/1:39.3 to 19.6/43.2/1:36.8 – that’s an extreme improvement curve. Aikins is tall and lanky, and you can definitely tell he’s still growing into his frame and figuring out how to best utilize his huge wingspan. Here’s a 200 back – not his career-best, but close – where Aikins swims against two of the best in the class of 2020. (Aikins is lane 4, white cap). The arm catch is outstanding, and Aikins turns his stroke over very fast for a swimmer of his height. In both back and free, Aikins is great on the surface but doesn’t have the best underwater kick, nor a huge flutter kick behind him on the surface, so watch for that to be an area of improvement at the college level.
6.Jack Alexy (Previous Rank: #5) – Somerset Hills YMCA – The Delbarton School – Mendham, NJ **Verbally committed to Cal**
Best Times: 100 free – 42.87, 200 free – 1:35.52, 50 free – 20.07, 500 free – 4:26.25, 200 back – 1:46.19
Speaking of freestylers with huge frames, Jack Alexy is another of the class’s top relay threats. He’s one of the tallest in the class (6’7″ as of last year) and has one of those long, galloping strokes that makes a short course pool look… well, short. Alexy has the best 100 free in the class by a solid amount. Here’s that swim with Alexy in lane 2 in the black cap. He definitely gets a little sloppy towards the end of the race, but when that stroke is clicking, Alexy looks like a big-league freestyler. His 500 free isn’t eye-popping yet, but could very well develop as his third event at the college level. If not, a 20.0 in the 50 is no small feat, even though it looks less impressive than it should with all the 19s in this class. Alexy is another huge long course performer – he’s been 22.9 and 49.6 in long course meters, arguably better even than his short course times. There’s probably an argument to flip-flop Alexy with Aikins at #5, if you value those superior 100/200 times over multi-stroke versatility.
7.Sam Hoover (Previous Rank: #12) – North Carolina Aquatic Club – Chapel Hill Senior High School – Chapel Hill, NC **Verbally committed to NC State**
Best Times: 100 free – 43.10, 50 free – 20.30, 200 free – 1:35.57, 200 fly – 48.92, 200 IM – 1:47.00, 100 breast – 55.05, 200 breast – 2:00.74
Hoover represents this class as a whole in so many ways. He’s a top-shelf sprinter with a ton of relay value. He’s on a huge improvement curve – his 200 free dropped more than two seconds since last year, and his 100 free came down more than a second. He also causally drops in a 1:47.0 IM as some sort of off-event versatility boost. It’s hard to find video of Hoover’s lifetime-bests, which mostly came at his high school state meet. But here’s Hoover splitting 1:35.9 on an 800 free relay at Winter Juniors and torching the field in his leg. (His relay is in lane six, third from the top, and Hoover swims third, diving in well behind the leaders when this video starts). Hoover covers a ton of ground with each stroke, and he has a nice balance of patience and aggressiveness on this swim, though a couple walls get a little long heading into the turn. The other intriguing thing about Hoover is that he’s got a surprisingly good breaststroke for being mainly a sprint freestyler. To us, that suggests his 200 IM might wind up being a great collegiate event. He actually went 1:46 in that race at Winter Juniors, but took a DQ that wiped the result out.
8.Matt Fallon (Previous Rank: #3) – Somerset Valley YMCA – The Pingry School – Warren, NJ
Best Times: 400 IM – 3:44.08, 200 breast – 1:54.18, 200 IM – 1:47.72, 100 breast – 54.00, 200 fly – 1:47.12, 500 free – 4:21.89, 1000 free – 9:05.12, 1650 free – 15:45.96
This feels low for Fallon, who has one of just five NCAA invite times in this class with his 3:44.0 IM. Some of that is the NCAA’s high value of relays, where Fallon doesn’t have an immediate path to contribution. But make no mistake, Fallon is among the best pure swimmers (rather than NCAA prospects) in the class. His 200 breast adds another outstanding race with a shot at early NCAA scoring. Fallon didn’t have much in the way of drops as a junior, but he’s tended to go after YMCA Nationals as a key focus meet. Fallon did have a blowup swim in his 500 this December, though, going from 4:26 to 4:21, and that might actually be one of his better events down the road. We’ve seen with Kieran Smith and Andrew Seliskar how versatile IM types can cross over extremely well into the mid-distance freestyles, and Fallon fits that mold. Here’s his YNats record 400 IM (navy blue cap, lane 5). Breaststroke and freestyle are the strokes that really stand out. He erases a lead faster than just about anything you’ve seen on the breaststroke leg, and watch the tempo he finds on freestyle at the end. Fallon’s freestyle is going to improve as he extends that sort of intermittent-burst flutter kick to a more steady motor behind him, like you see from distance-man Ross Dant below him. It’s telling that Fallon has one of the best 1000 frees in this class without really focusing on distance free all that much.
9.Tyler Lu (Previous Rank: #6) – Seattle Metropolitan Aquatic Club – Kirkland, WA
Best Times: 200 IM – 1:44.87, 400 IM – 3:48.14, 200 back – 1:42.97, 100 back – 47.34, 200 free – 1:37.43, 100 free – 44.60, 50 free – 20.41, 200 breast – 1:59.05
Most of the IMers so far have been much more focused on one distance, but Lu really projects as a true two-distance IMer. He’s not far off the best 200 IM in the class, and outside of Fallon, he’s the best 400 IMer. He’s got a bit of an odd mix of time improvements this year with a simple explanation. His 200 IM had a solid drop, but his 400 IM went backwards. Meanwhile his 200 back found a moderate drop, while his 100 back fell off. One probable solution: Lu’s 400 IM and 100 back came on the same day of Winter Juniors, and both events suffered for it. Lu was probably gearing up for a March sectional meet (where he set lifetime-bests in all four races last year), so those junior year times might have evened out if coronavirus hadn’t canceled spring sectional meets. Here’s Lu outside-smoking a tough 200 IM field at Winter Juniors – he’s way up in lane 8 at the top of the screen. You can definitely see his strength in backstroke, but it’s actually breaststroke where Lu really does his damage against this field. His freestyle rides high in the water, and his sprint free times could make him a relay contributor, though probably a little further down the road, depending on what program he ends up with.
10.Matthew Fenlon (Previous Rank: #15) – Badger Swim Club – Horace Greeley High School – Sleepy Hollow, NY
Best Times: 200 fly – 1:42.53, 100 fly – 47.26, 500 free – 4:21.41, 200 IM – 1:47.74, 200 back – 1:45.71, 100 back – 49.64, 200 free – 1:37.38, 400 IM – 3:56.35
Matthew Fenlon is coming into his own as a mid-distance type, though his exact event lineup is still up in the air. His big drops since last year: from 4:34 to 4:21 in the 500 free and from 50.5/1:45.0 to 47.2/1:42.5 in the 200 fly. SwimSwam readers may remember Fenlon best from a blowup summer in which he went 1:57.3 in the 200-meter butterfly and moved to #4 all-time for the U.S. 15-16 age group. Coming off that summer, Fenlon feels like a Trenton Julian type who can excel at the 200 fly while also adding great mid-distance free speed. That 500 free drop, in particular, can’t be ignored. We tend to see a lot of development in that event in the college ranks. Fenlon is an animal in the brutal races (lane 4, white cap. The one ridiculously far out front). He’s got a quick breath that keeps him so efficient in distance butterfly, and there’s just a marked difference between him and this field in how he attacks his turns and underwaters – everyone else looks like they’re surviving, while Fenlon looks like he’s sprinting. Fenlon also fits into our yearly category of “Better swimmers than they are NCAA prospects.” With his long course times (55.3/1:57.3 fly, 2:05/4:23 IM), he’s got Olympic potential if his improvement keeps up.
Curtiss is much more of a straight-forward sprinter within this versatile class. But what he does, he does extremely well. Curtiss has the best 50 free in the class, and in fact the best 50 free of any recruit we’ve ranked since Ryan Hoffer. Curtiss is better than Caeleb Dressel (19.82) was as a junior in the 50 free, though he doesn’t have the range Dressel did. That’s going to limit Curtiss’s scoring ceiling some, and it’s really the only reason he’s outside our top 10. But a great 50 free by itself can still get you three scoring opportunities (50 free, 200 free relay, 200 medley relay, depending on the program), and Curtiss brings a solid 100, too. He’s had nice junior-year drops of three tenths in both races. Curtiss is also a dynamite long course 50 freestyler, going 21.9 last summer and ranking #3 all-time among U.S. 17-18s. Here’s Curtiss breaking 22 at World Juniors (lane 4). He’s got a great athletic start with an incredibly clean entry, and a huge flutter kick powering him down the pool. For a better look at his turns and short course swimming, here’s a 100 free, though not his career-best. (Curtiss is in lane 1, closest to the camera). He’s got a little bounce in his stroke when he’s breathing, which holds back his 100 a bit compared to the 50, and you see his arm speed drop off late. But Curtiss should develop his endurance and his efficiency more in college, and has the raw speed that very few recruits can boast, making him a high-ceiling prospect.
12.Arsenio Bustos (Previous Rank: #17) – Woodbridge Aquatic Club – Amity Regional High School – Orange, CT **Verbally committed to NC State**
Best Times: 200 IM – 1:45.57, 100 fly – 47.57, 100 free – 43.62, 50 free – 20.39, 200 free – 1:39.08, 100 back – 48.63, 100 breast – 55.16
Anybody looking for yet another multi-stroke sprinter? Bustos is a Swiss Army knife who is just starting to put all his speed together in the IM. As of last year, he was primarily a freestyler with a 1:48 IM, but Bustos busted a 1:45.5 IM at Winter Juniors to surge towards the top of the class. Bustos actually swam his best in prelims, but here’s the finals race video, with Bustos in lane 6 in the black cap towards the top. He’s got a smooth, natural butterfly that stands out well, and if we had a pick an event lineup now, he’d probably be a 200 IM/100 fly/100 free type. The sprint freestyles make Bustos a nice relay value – he’s had drops there from 20.4/44.8 last year to 20.3/43.6 as a junior.
13.Hayden Zheng (Previous Rank: #11) – Aquajets Swim Team – St. Louis Park High School – St. Louis Park, MN
Best Times: 200 breast – 1:54.98, 100 breast – 53.09, 200 IM – 1:47.05, 400 IM – 3:55.28
Zheng is one of the top breaststrokers in the class at both distances – he comes in about a half-second behind Grimm and Matheny in the 100 and is much better than anyone but Matheny and Fallon in the 200. Zheng put up lifetime-bests in his best three events at Winter Juniors, but has also typically put up better times at NCSAs, so the pandemic cancellations may be suppressing his best times a little for now. Here’s Zheng in the pink cap in lane 5 swimming his best 200 breast. He gets beat pretty badly off the blocks, but it doesn’t take him long to reel the field back in. It feels like Zheng has room to really surge if he can get a little more snap out of his dolphin kick on the pullouts, His strength in the 200 breast (and recent drop from 1:58 to 1:54) suggests he’s got room for some big drops in the 400 IM – that could become a nice college event for him, though he’s still a great prospect solely as a breaststroker.
14.Trent Frandson (Previous Rank: #13) – Central Iowa Aquatics – Ankeny Senior High School – Ankeny, IA **Verbally committed to Cal**
Best Times: 1650 free – 15:12.92, 1000 free 9:23.28, 500 free – 4:20.40, 200 free – 1:35.68, 100 free – 43.93, 50 free – 20.75
Frandson fits the profile of that rare, rangy freestyle recruit we tend to see only once or so in each class. For his part, Frandson is more of a distance swimmer just starting to get in touch with his speed. His biggest drops since his sophomore ranking have come in the 200 free (1:37.7 to 1:35.6) and 100 free (45.1 to 43.9). But he’s also continued to progress as a distance swimmer, cutting 15 seconds from his mile and three from his 500. One high-end comp for Frandson might be Townley Haas, who was a slightly better distance swimmer (14:59/8:53/4:17) as a junior, but a similar mid-sprinter (43.8/1:35.1). Frandson’s most recent drops were in the 100/200 as well – he was 1:36 and 44.6 coming out of Winter Juniors, but cut more time at Iowa’s state meet in February. On tape, though, Frandson looks like a distance guy. Here he is in a 500 free (the video is incorrectly titled as East Juniors, but it’s the West meet, with Frandson up in lane 6 in a black cap and suit). He’s got the smooth stroke and lack of a steady flutter kick that makes him look like he’s swimming a mile, but he keeps up with a field of guys who look like they’re sprinting. Even down to the 200 free (Frandson is in lane 7 at the top of the screen), there’s not a lot of kick, but a very smooth, efficient stroke with a nice low breath. Frandson will probably have to improve his kick and learn how to up his tempo a little more to contend in the 500 in the NCAA, but he looks like the type of 500 guy who can contribute on 800 and even 400 free relays with his speed.
15.Luke Hobson (Previous Rank: #19) – Lakeridge Swim Team – Reno High School – Reno, NV **Verbally committed to Texas**
Best Times: 1650 free – 15:20.29, 1000 free – 9:02.36, 500 free – 4:21.05, 200 free – 1:36.11, 100 free – 44.48, 50 free – 20.51, 200 back – 1:45.22
Hobson and Frandson make kind of an interesting pair. Hobson is faster in the 1000 and 50 free, while Frandson has a slight edge in the mile and every distance in between the 50 and 1000. Hobson’s mile doesn’t feel like it fits with his other events, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see him have a breakthrough swim in that event sometime in the next year. He’s really surged in the 200 and 500 over his junior season. Hobson was 1:38.6 and 4:27 at this time last year, and has cut two seconds in the 200 and six in the 500 since then. You can see Hobson’s career-best 500 in the same video we linked for Frandson above; Hobson is down in lane 2 without a cap on. Hobson swims tall, with long limbs and a lot of distance per stroke. He’s got a better kick than Frandson does – it’s a little sporadic in this 500, but he makes it more consistent in this 200 free from lane 1 at the bottom of the screen.
16.Luke Barr (Previous Rank: #10) – Sarpy County Swim Club – Papillon Lavista High School – Papillon, NE **Verbally committed to Indiana**
Best Times: 200 IM – 1:46.14, 50 free – 20.17, 100 free – 44.27, 100 fly – 47.91, 100 breast – 54.50, 200 breast – 1:59.18, 100 back – 48.69
Barr is another one of these versatile talents who can compete in a couple different event disciplines. Last year, he was more of a “breaststroker who can sprint free,” but a drop from 1:47.9 to 1:46.1 in the 200 IM makes him more of an “IMer who can do other things, too” this time around. It’s a shame the 200 IM and 50 free don’t go together well at NCAAs, because those are probably Barr’s two most impressive times. Here’s his 200 IM, from lane 6 at the top of the screen (white cap). He closes really well on breast and free, and that kind of back-half speed makes it feel like he should be improving his career-best 1:39 200 free in short order. His breaststrokes haven’t improved over his junior year, but he’s shown enough improvement elsewhere to not carry too much concern. The 100 fly is really the sneaky event to watch with Barr. He had never been under 53 when we ranked this class last spring, but went 50-point, then 47.9 within the span of about a month last winter.
17. Chris Guiliano (Previous Rank: unranked) – Tops Swimming – Daniel Boone High School – Douglassville, PA
Best Times: 200 free – 1:35.81, 100 free – 44.29, 50 free – 20.27
Guiliano is a fast-rising freestyle who is just starting to extend his speed upwards to the 200-range. Guiliano was 20.5/45.0/1:39.4 at this point last year and didn’t even merit consideration for our top 20. But he’s cut nearly four seconds in his 200 free, plus nearly a second in the 100, and is now one of the top sprint prospects out there to build relay depth. And it’s fair to say Guiliano would probably rate higher had his state meet happened literally one day earlier. That 1:35 swim, a three-second drop, happened on day 1 of Pennsylvania’s 3A state meet. On the same day, Guiliano dropped three tenths off his 50 free. The next day, the junior had qualified 3rd in prelims of the 100 free, just off his best time, when the meet was abruptly truncated and finals called off due to the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s his previous best swim in that race, from Winter Juniors. Guiliano is in lane 1, closest to the camera. Guiliano can make some improvements underwater, and his stroke gets a little short as he raises the tempo, but he’s got a giant kick and a great start – some strong building blocks for a program that sees his upside.
18.Garrett Boone (Previous Rank: #9) – Aquatic Team of Mecklenburg – South Mecklenburg High School – Charlotte, NC **Verbally committed to NC State**
Best Times: 50 free – 20.00, 100 free – 44.05, 200 free – 1:36.30, 200 back – 1:45.37, 200 IM – 1:47.49, 500 free – 4:27.55
Boone is another nice value through the relay-distance freestyles. He’s only had marginal drops, but did drop time in all three freestyle races as a junior. His improvement has really started to come, though, in the backstrokes, where he went from 1:47 and 50-point to 1:45 and 48 this year. He also did his best work on relays, hitting the 50 free, 100 free, and 100 back times above while leading off relays at Winter Juniors. Here’s his individual 200 free from that meet (Lane 3, black-and-blue cap). Boone really attacks the turns well, and has a lot of power, though the gallop in his stroke makes his breakouts a little bit sharp and inefficient. You can really see how his stroke – and his outstanding flutter kick in particular – translates down to the sprints well. Oh, and does everyone in this class get a 1:47 IM thrown in for good measure? Sure feels like it.
19. Nate Stoffle (Previous Rank: unranked) – Spartan Aquatic Club – Brockwood High School – Lilburn, GA **Verbally committed to Auburn**
Best Times: 100 back – 47.18, 200 back – 1:44.11, 50 free – 20.75, 100 free – 45.43, 100 fly – 48.95
Stoffle has some huge backstrokes, and is just waiting on his other strokes to rise to that level to push higher into the top 20. The backstrokes have provided some awesome junior-year time drops: from 48.3/1:46.4 to 47.1/1:44.1. That 100 back, in particular, can match anyone in the class beyond Hayes and Grimm. Here’s that big swim from Winter Juniors, with Stoffle in lane 3 in the white cap. He gets into his turns quickly and has really dialed in his underwaters, though his final wall drops off a little compared to Carson Foster above him. Stoffle hasn’t seen any junior drops in his sprint freestyles, though NCSAs was potentially an avenue to do that before its cancellation. Stoffle really needs a little rise in his 100 free, especially, to up his relay value in this class.
20. Tyler Hulet (Previous Rank: unranked) – The Woodlands Swim Team – The Woodlands High School – The Woodlands, TX **Verbally committed to Texas A&M**
Best Times: 200 back – 1:43.90, 100 back – 47.81, 200 free – 1:38.27, 100 fly – 48.58
Another strong backstroker tacking onto the tail end of our class. Hulet has come into his own as a 200 backstroker, cutting from 1:47 to 1:43.9 over his junior season. He’s tall with a big wingspan, and doesn’t use a ton of underwaters yet, but supplements with a really smooth stroke and crisp turns. Here’s a 200 back from Winter Juniors that he bettered by about half a second a few months later. (Lane 2, black cap, bottom of screen). Hulet doesn’t have the versatility or the relay events of the guys above him just yet, but does have a high ceiling as a backstroker.
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.
Connor Boyle (Previous Rank: #14) – Fox Valley Swim Team – Neuqua Valley High School – Naperville, IL **Verbally committed to Virginia**
Best Times: 50 free – 20.01, 100 free – 43.82, 200 free – 1:38.63
Another great sprinter, just without the multi-stroke versatility of most of the guys inside the top 20. Boyle did get his high school season in before coronavirus struck, swimming both the 50 and 100 free bests at Illinois’ high school state meet. He’s had solid drops in his 100 free over the past year – both short course (44.4 to 43.8) and long course (52.1 to 50.7), but his 50 free and 200 free haven’t changed a whole lot.
Braden Rollins (Previous Rank: unranked) – Newburgh Sea Creatures – Boonville High School – Newburgh, IN **Verbally committed to Alabama**
Best Times: 50 free – 20.18, 100 free – 43.84
Rollins is basically Boyle, just without the 200 free. (Rollins is 1:43 there). He’s got a little bit more of an improvement curve, coming from 20.9 and 45.5 as of last year. And like Boyle, he put up both his 50 and 100 free best times at his high school state meet, a few weeks before the coronavirus pandemic started cancelling meets.
Avery Voss (Previous Rank: unranked) – Upper Arlington Swim Club – Upper Arlington High School – Columbus, OH
Best Times: 50 free – 20.02, 100 free – 44.12
Voss is more of a fast-twitch sprinter at this point, with a great 50 and a decent 100. He’s bordering on 19 seconds in the 50, which will definitely garner attention on the sprinting market. Voss is also a great long course swimmer (23.0/51.3) and is coming off of big junior-year drops from 20.8 in the 50 and 45.7 in the 100.
Jackson Carlile (Previous Rank: unranked) – Fishers Area Swimming Tigers – Fishers High School – Fishers, IN **Verbally committed to Indiana**
Best Times: 1650 free – 15:08.71, 1000 free – 9:14.79, 500 free – 4:24.59, 200 free – 1:38.99
Carlile is one of the class’s better distance swimmers, and has dropped insane chunks of time since his sophomore year: from 15:40 to 15:08 in the mile and from 4:35 to 4:24 in the 500 free. He merits honorable mention here based on that massive improvement curve, and decent speed all the way down to the 200.
Connor Hunt (Previous Rank: unranked) – Ridgefield Aquatic Club – Ridgefield High School – Ridgefield, CT
Best Times: 1650 free – 15:09.20, 1000 free – 9:07.32, 500 free – 4:25.79
Another very good, fast-rising distance guy. Hunt isn’t far off the top 1000 or mile in the class, and his mile dropped 33 seconds since last year’s ranks. In a class this sprinty, guys without any relay options get pushed down the list again, but Hunt will be a great get for a distance coach somewhere.
Matthew Chung (Previous Rank: unranked) – Santa Clara Swim Club – The Harker School – Cupertino, CA
Best Times: 500 free – 4:23.30, 200 free – 1:37.47, 1000 free – 9:17.21, 100 free – 45.50, 50 free – 20.86
Another distance guy a little more on the mid-distance end. Chung has a nice 200 free and could very easily end up with the class’s best 500, having dropped from 4:31 to 4:23 over his junior year. Chung doesn’t have much of a mile yet, but he’s also only swum it three times, and hasn’t logged a swim since 2016, per the SWIMS database.
Munzy Kabbara (Previous Rank: unranked) – Cypress Fairbanks Swim Club – Cypress Woods High School – Houston, TX **Verbally committed to Texas A&M**
Best Times: 400 IM – 3:47.76, 200 IM – 1:47.31, 200 back – 1:47.82, 200 fly – 1:49.24, 500 free – 4:29.95
3:47.7 in the 400 IM is almost good enough to make the top 20 by itself. Kabbara hasn’t yet developed the versatility you’d expect from a 400 IMer who’s that good, but he’s well on his way. He cut six seconds in the 400 IM and four in the 200 IM since last year, and also cut five seconds in the 200 back.
Best Times: 400 IM – 3:50.17, 200 IM – 1:48.06, 100 breast – 55.74, 200 breast – 2:00.24, 200 free – 1:38.74, 500 free – 4:28.18, 100 free – 45.28
Rathle is mostly interesting because of his improvement curve. He went from 4:00 to 3:50 in the IM as a junior, and the last time we highlighted a little-known junior recruit dropping ten seconds in a 400 IM, it was Jason Louser, who exploded down to 3:40 this year as a freshman for Cal. Rathle also went from 4:54 to 4:28 in the 500 free and 1:52 to 1:48 in the 200 IM. Keep an eye on this guy, who also goes 2:04 and 4:25 in the long course IMs.
Best of the Rest
New this year: this isn’t an exhaustive list, but we can rattle off a few of the athletes we studied who wound up just outside the top 20 in each event discipline. For the purposes of space, we won’t include every top event for these athletes, but just a few of their standouts. Each of these athletes is still an extremely high-level recruit:
- Sprint free:
- Distance free:
- Vincent Cheng (48.6/1:45.7)
- Tyler Sicignano (48.5/1:46.7) **Verbally committed to Virginia**
- Matthew Styczen (1:49.2/3:49.7) **Verbally committed to Virginia**
Feeling nostalgic? Here’s a look back at our recruiting class rankings over the past 7 recruiting classes, plus our retrospective of the first class we ranked after 4 years in the NCAA:
|High School Class of 2022||Way Too Early Ranks As Sophomores|
|High School Class of 2021||Way Too Early Ranks As Sophomores||Ranks as Juniors|
|High School Class of 2020||Way Too Early Ranks As Sophomores||Ranks as Juniors||Re-Rank As Seniors|
|High School Class of 2019||Ranks as Juniors||Re-Rank As Seniors|
|High School Class of 2018||Ranks as Juniors||Re-Rank As Seniors|
|High School Class of 2017||Ranks as Juniors|
|High School Class of 2016||Ranks as Juniors|
|High School Class of 2015||Ranks as Juniors||Post-college retrospective|
|High School Class of 2014||Ranks as Juniors||Post-college retrospective|
|High School Class of 2013||Ranks as Juniors||Post-college retrospective|