Top 20 NCAA Swimming Recruits In the Girls High School Class of 2021

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

Further reading:

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.

THIS CLASS

  • Outstanding sprint class, particularly the three stars at the top
  • A very deep developmental breaststroke class, but no single standout
  • A break from two years of insane backstroke groups
  • Not a lot of two-distance flyers – most are fly/back combo types
  • Strong distance class

Even last year, we could see how good this sprint group would be, and they’ve only gotten better over their junior seasons. Gretchen Walshas a sophomore, was already faster than any junior we’d ranked since Abbey Weitzeil. As juniors, both Walsh (21.50) and Torri Huske (21.83) are faster than Weitzeil was as a junior (21.98). And there’s now a third sprinter shooting up our ranks, too.

There’s not a single breaststroker in this class under a minute, and not a single 200 breaststroker below 2:11. But what the class lacks in a superstar up front, it makes up for in depth. We’ve count at least 8 swimmers below 1:01 and at least 7 below 2:13, and we had a list of almost 20 breaststrokers who we at least considered for top 20 status in our research. This isn’t a great year to need a plug-and-play breaststroker for your medley, but it’s a great year for teams that can develop a young breaststroker with some talent.

We’ve had two years of historic backstroke stars in the classes of 2019 and 2020. This group takes a bit of a step back from that, but is still solid compared to our typically backstroke classes. We get a lot of fly/back crossover – there aren’t many true two-distance flyers, but a lot of 100 fly/100 back types who can potentially develop a 200 of one or both strokes.

We’ve got two true distance swimmers in our top 10, and a fair amount of ‘crossover’ distance types who might be recruited in another event but cross over to the mile or 500 free. That distance prowess extends to the 400 IM, where we’ve got two high schoolers with NCAA scoring times.

The other wrinkle with this distance crew, in particular, is that a few big names are much better long course swimmers than short course at this point. That’s an annual struggle in these rankings – sometimes, talent rises to the top and the ‘big names’ become productive college swimmers. Other times, a swimmer’s skill-set just doesn’t transfer well into the NCAA format. With swimmers like Mariah Denigan and Rachel Stegein particular, we expect quite a bit of variance in their ranking from one commenter to another.

Top Times in the Class of 2021
50 Free Gretchen Walsh 21.50
100 Free Gretchen Walsh 46.98
200 Free Gretchen Walsh 1:43.75
500 Free Paige McKenna 4:40.38
1000 Free** Paige McKenna 9:31.93
1650 Free Paige McKenna 15:48.07
100 Back Gretchen Walsh 51.57
200 Back Reilly Tiltmann 1:54.18
100 Breast Alicia Henry 1:00.20
200 Breast Letitia Sim 2:11.03
100 Fly Torri Huske 50.49
200 Fly Grace Sheble 1:54.84
200 IM Torri Huske 1:56.65
400 IM Grace Sheble 4:05.90

**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.

THE METHODOLOGY

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. Gretchen Walsh (Previous Rank: #1) – Nashville Aquatic Club – Harpeth Hall High School – Nashville, TN **Verbally committed to Virginia**
Best Times: 50 free – 21.50, 100 free – 46.98, 200 free – 1:43.75, 100 back – 51.57, 100 fly – 52.03, 200 IM – 1:58.12

Gretchen Walsh is a tailor-made NCAA recruit. She’s got the top time in the class – and it’s not close – across all three relay-distance freestyles. She’s great across all four strokes, though it’d be hard to see her staying out of the 50 and 100 freestyles with the fastest sprint times we’ve ever seen in a high school recruit. Technically, she’s hyper-efficient. This is a long course race video, but it really highlights her long arms and the way she can swim away from a field without even looking like she’s sprinting. That kind of speed at that controlled a tempo makes you wonder if she hasn’t even scratched the surface of what she can do in a 200 free yet. For what it’s worth, her improvement curve is still trending way up – she cut more than a second in her 200 and about a half-second in her 100 since our previous ranks.

2. Torri Huske (Previous Rank: #2) – Arlington Aquatic Club– Yorktown High School – Arlington, VA **Verbally committed to Stanford**
Best Times: 100 fly – 50.49, 200 fly – 1:55.17, 50 free – 21.83, 100 free – 48.19, 200 IM – 1:56.65, 200 free – 1:46.07, 100 back – 53.17, 400 IM – 4:11.26

Huske is an outstanding mix of speed and versatility, and like Walsh, her talent translates perfectly into the NCAA format. She’s one of the rare two-distance flyers in this class, and comes in with NCAA scoring times in both the 100 and 200. In fact, her 100 fly and 50 free times would have made NCAA A finals in 2019. On day 2 of NCAAs, she gets to pick between a 21.8 50 free and the class’s best 200 IM, much like 2020’s freshman standout Kate Douglass. Huske is really polished in a lot of key details: she’s excellent underwater, and in this race (where she set a national high school record), she times her walls brilliantly to avoid short strokes or long glides. In this race, a 50 free, you get a great picture of how athletic Huske is off the blocks, and you get a sense of her raw strength.

3. Grace Sheble (Previous Rank: #3) – NOVA of Virginia – James River High School – North Chesterfield, VA **Verbally committed to NC State**
Best Times: 400 IM – 4:05.90, 200 IM – 1:57.00, 200 fly – 1:54.84, 200 free – 1:46.88, 500 free – 4:45.26, 100 breast – 1:00.73, 200 breast – 2:15.32, 200 back – 1:58.44

The class’s best 400 IMer and 200 flyer, Grace Sheble is a machine in the most brutal of events. She’s as versatile as you’d expect a standout 400 IMer to be, with great 200s in any stroke. She projects best in both IMs and the 200 fly though – she’s already got NCAA scoring times in the 400 IM and 200 fly, and isn’t far off in the 200 IM. A 1:46.8 in the 200 free means she could develop into a relay threat down the road, which is a big boost for swimmers in her events. This race video shows off her toughness – it’s an older meet and she’s bettered that time slightly since, but she back-halfs the heck out of this race, and her tempo on breast and free is exactly the mentality you want in a 400 IMer (lane 4, red cap). The downside with Sheble is that she’s stalled out a little bit, dropping only marginally in her 400 IM this year while going slightly backwards in the 200 fly and 200 IM. She did have good long course drops last summer, though, and swam at World Juniors, which is great experience to add to her resume.

4. Amy Tang (Previous Rank: #13) – Unattached – Lakeside High School – Bellevue, WA **Verbally committed to Stanford**
Best Times: 100 free – 48.11, 50 free – 22.06, 100 back – 52.17, 200 free – 1:46.64, 100 fly – 52.95, 200 IM – 2:00.69

Our first major fast riser of these ranks. Tang was 22.9/49.0 in free as of our last ranks, and considered more of a backstroke. She’s also a lesson in why improvement curves also shouldn’t be the be-all, end-all for recruit rankings. As of last year, we noted that she’d mostly gone backwards as a sophomore, but that just set her up for the explosive junior season she had. Tang cut almost a full second in the 50 free and has an NCAA scoring time that is fast approaching Walsh/Huske level. She’s under NCAA invite times in the 100 free and 100 back, and brings in a great 200 free that could make her a five-relay threat down the road. From this race video (lane 4, blue cap), you see that Tang actually does her best work on the surface rather than underwater. She’s got a real nose for the wall, accelerating down the stretch in that race and this one (lane 4, blue cap again).

5. Paige McKenna (Previous Rank: #4) – Nation’s Capital Swim Club – Damascus, MD  **Verbally committed to Wisconsin**
Best Times: 1650 free – 15:48.07, 1000 free – 9:31.93, 500 free – 4:40.38, 200 free – 1:47.36

Mile times can be hard to put into context. For McKenna, her mile ranks her #7 all-time among USA Swimming 15-16s. Ignoring the obvious outlier in Katie Ledecky, McKenna compares well to some of the top distance prospects in recent memory: Becca Mann was 15:45 in that age group, and Erica Sullivan 15:47. What really makes McKenna valuable is how well she comes down to the 500 – she’s already under NCAA invite range there, adding to a mile that would’ve been top 8 at NCAAs last year. McKenna only had small short course drops as a junior and didn’t improve on her mile at all. But she had a big summer of long course drops in 2019. This race isn’t McKenna’s best, but it does give a sense of how she fits in a pretty elite field at a senior-level Pro Swim Series event. McKenna is at the bottom of the screen in lane 1. She does a nice job building in her kick late in this race, and you’ve got to like how her tempo stays up throughout.

6. Micayla Cronk (Previous Rank: #17) – Blue Dolfins – Flagler Palm Coast High School – Port Orange, FL **Verbally committed to Florida**
Best Times: 200 free – 1:44.39, 100 free – 48.20, 50 free – 22.91, 200 IM – 2:01.78

In the 200 free, this class has Gretchen Walsh, Micayla Cronk, and then a pretty big dropoff. Cronk has improved her 200 free more than two seconds over the past year, and that has her surging up our ranks. Her 100 free is in line with Huske and Tang, though she doesn’t yet have a standout third event. Cronk is situated directly across the relay distances, which makes her a valuable prospect. And it’s not just one year of improvement – Cronk went from 1:49 to 1:46 as a sophomore in the 200, so there’s a timeline where she’s got continued improvement still ahead of her. Cronk has an absolutely ideal stroke for the 200 – a massive kick, huge reach and efficiency under a controlled tempo. (She’s in lane 4 here, in the white cap). Cronk has only been 4:52 in the 500, but you can’t help but wonder if college coaches will see an opportunity to train her upwards for the 500 and take advantage of that powerful mid-distance stroke.

7. Ashley Strouse (Previous Rank: #5) – Scottsdale Aquatic Club – Chaparral High School – Cave Creek, AZ **Verbally committed to Northwestern**
Best Times: 1650 free – 16:01.20, 1000 free – 9:40.58, 500 free – 4:41.41, 200 free – 1:45.44, 100 free – 49.24, 50 free – 23.32

Strouse has some amazing range. 16:01 down to 49.2 is extremely rare. She definitely projects best as a miler, where she’s got a time that would’ve scored at NCAAs in 2019. But that outstanding 49.2/1:45.4 sprint speed means she could also be a free relay threat in the mold of a Cierra Runge, who came down to 47.9 on a 400 free relay for ASU last year. The issue for Strouse right now is her trajectory. She was only 16:14 in the mile this season, and pretty much went backwards in all of her events. She had a nice summer of drops, but those more pulled her long course times (1:59.7/4:15.7/8:48/16:49) roughly into line with her short course times, rather than representing a step forward from where her short course times left off. Here’s her career-best mile from December 2018 (black cap, lane 4). Strouse is extremely smooth. There’s just no chop or bounce in her stroke. And she does an excellent job staying patient with her streamlines off turns, even in a tight race with the class of 2019’s top distance swimmer Kaitlynn Sims. And watch how that smoothness and those walls transfer down to her sprints in this lifetime-best 100 free. Strouse is third from the top in a yellow cap, and she actually is able to get her arm tempo up a lot higher than you’d expect from a distance swimmer.

8. Samantha Tadder (Previous Rank: Honorable Mention) – Tide Swimming – First Colonial High School – Virginia Beach, VA **Verbally committed to Stanford**
Best Times: 400 IM – 4:07.15, 200 IM – 1:57.41, 1650 free – 16:13.03, 1000 free – 9:39.37, 500 free – 4:44.15, 200 free – 1:48.52, 100 breast – 1:00.95, 200 breast – 2:11.76

Tadder is kind of an all-arounder – last year, it was her lack of one clear standout event that kept her out of the top 20, but with a drop from 4:11 to 4:07 in the 400 IM, she’s found her calling card. That’s an NCAA scoring-level time and makes her the #2 400 IMer in the class. The rest of her NCAA event lineup is filled with possibility. She dropped two and a half seconds in her 200 IM and is a tenth off the 2020 NCAA invite time. But she also chopped 22 seconds off her mile and 12 from her 1000, and focusing in on distance free could make her a 500/1650/400IM type at the college level. On the other hand, she’s broken out in breaststroke, too, going from 1:03/2:15 last year to 1:00.9/2:11.7 this year. If nothing else, that offers her some relay value as a potential medley relay breaststroker for a team in a pinch. This is far from Tadder’s best swim – she’s bettered this time by six seconds in the year-and-a-half since – but you do pick up some awesome traits (lane 2, blue cap, far left of screen at the start of the video): a ton of aggressiveness, sharp turns throughout a 400 IM, and some really good strength on the breast and free legs, with some visible opportunities to improve efficiency on fly and breast breakouts in particular.

9. Mia Kragh (Previous Rank: #16) – Rancho San Dieguito – Torrey Pines High School – San Diego, CA **Verbally committed to Cal**
Best Times: 100 fly – 52.01, 200 fly – 1:56.16, 50 free – 22.82, 100 free – 49.87, 200 free – 1:48.29

Kragh is your classic fly/free combo, but her junior year really proved she could be a two-distance flyer, rather than a sprint specialist. Kragh was just 2:10 in the 200 fly as of last year, and had only swum the event three times, per USA Swimming’s database. But she exploded to 1:56.16 at a February Sectional meet and is on the cusp of NCAA invite time there. Not only that, but Kragh took her 100 fly from 53.3 to 52.0 and is now the top flyer in the class outside of Huske – she’s even faster in the 100 fly than Walsh is. Kragh had decent drops in her sprint frees and should be a multi-relay weapon at the college level. There’s also a strong possibility she had a better 100 fly in her this spring – California canceled its high school state championships for the year, but Kragh had a drop of nearly half a second at the CIF State meet last year. Here’s Kragh at Winter Juniors, though she went six tenths faster a few months later. She’s in lane 3, third from the bottom. She rides pretty high in the water, attacks all her walls and streamlines very well, though her head stays a little high and makes the front of her stroke a bit choppy. In a way, that’s just potential upside for a college coach who can smooth out some of those wrinkles to keep unlocking Kragh’s excellent raw talent.

10. Lindsay Flynn (Previous Rank: Unranked) – Aquatic Team of Mecklenburg – Charlotte Latin High School – Matthews, NC **Verbally committed to Michigan** (Indiana decommitment)
Best Times: 50 free – 22.23, 100 free – 48.44, 100 fly – 55.64

Flynn doesn’t have a lot of range yet. What she has in spades is speed. Since last spring, Flynn has cut two full seconds in her 100 and nearly a second in her 50 to rank among the best in the entire class. Here she is against a field littered with top-20 recruits (Flynn is in lane 6 in the black-and-blue cap). She accelerates extremely well off the walls, and balances great tempo with a solid feel for the water. In this one (lane 5, black and blue cap), the tempo gets turned up a little more, and Flynn closes well, but you also see how much better she is on the surface than underwater. That’ll be a major focus at the college level – improving the underwaters to keep up with the elite underwater kickers in the college realm. Flynn is still fairly raw after balancing swimming with field hockey through 2018.

11. Annabel Crush (Previous Rank: #7) – Lakeside Swim Team – Sacred Heart Academy – Louisville, KY **Verbally committed to NC State**
Best Times: 100 back – 52.31, 200 back – 1:55.50, 50 free – 22.71, 100 free – 48.97, 200 free – 1:47.55, 200 IM – 1:57.57

You could really go either way on Crush and Tiltmann at 11 and 12 – for now, we’ll just give a slight nod to Crush’s versatility over Tiltmann’s better production as a pure backstroke. Crush has an NCAA invite time in the 100 back, though she has a little ways to go to get there in the 200. What ups her value, though, are sprint freestyles that rank with some of the better pure freestylers in the class, plus a sneaky 1:57.5 IM from this spring’s Kentucky state meet. Here’s a 200 back – not Crush’s best event, nor her best swim in that event, but a readily-available race video – that highlights one of Crush’s strong points: how well she carries speed into and out of her turns (lane 4, black cap). Crush didn’t have much in the way of lifetime-bests this year, but last year hit most of her bests in late March, so she’s probably a casualty of meet cancellations.

12. Reilly Tiltmann (Previous Rank: #6) – Elmbrook Swim Club– Brookfield East High School – Brookfield, WI **Verbally committed to Virginia**
Best Times: 200 back – 1:54.18, 100 back – 52.88, 100 fly – 53.55, 100 free – 49.54, 200 free – 1:51.21, 50 free – 23.18

Tiltmann remains the top 200 backstroker in the class, and if you consider Walsh more of a crossover freestyle, Tiltmann is probably the best pure backstroker in the class too. Both of her backstrokes are just tenths out of NCAA invite range, though that event is set to get extremely crowded over the next couple of recruiting cycles. Based on her previous results, Tiltmann was probably loading up for NCSAs this spring before its cancellation, so we’re not going to read too much into a lack of time improvements so far this year. She did cut a tenth in her 100 back at Wisconsin’s high school state meet. This video (lane 8, very top of the pool) from last spring’s NCSA meet shows a ton of distance per stroke – her arm tempo stays really relaxed the whole way, but she combines it with good attack of her walls. Tiltmann is also a very good 100 freestyler, and that time seems like an outlier compared to her 50 and 200, so there’s a chance those two events come up to her 100 free level over time.

13. Mariah Denigan (Previous Rank: #20) – Lakeside Swim Team – Barren Academy of Virtual and Expanded Learning – Erlanger, KY **Verbally committed to Indiana**
Best Times: 400 IM – 4:12.09, 1650 free – 16:26.45, 1000 free – 9:46.30, 500 free – 4:44.25, 200 free – 1:48.66

Denigan is a very tough one to rank. By virtue of short course times alone, she shouldn’t be this high. By virtue of long course prowess, she should probably be higher. Denigan was 10th at U.S. Nationals (senior nationals) in the 400-meter IM in 2018, and she was part of the U.S. Pan American Games team in 2019. She’s got a very good 400 IM in short course, but not enough to stand out from the crowd of IMers, and well behind names like Sheble and Tadder. 4:40 in long course should convert to much better than 4:12 in short course, so it’s a debate of actual production vs. projected production. Denigan also stalled time-wise over the past year, but it’s hard to fault her for not being at her best as a 16-year-old swimming for the U.S. National Team in senior-level competition on foreign soil. She also didn’t really go after any short course meets this fall, instead focusing on long course in the Olympic year. All that said, Denigan is an outstanding swimmer, and the question is more about how her talent will fit the NCAA format than whether the talent is there. Here’s a long course 400 IM where Denigan gets in a big hole early, but stays calm and catches fire on backstroke and freestyle. (Lane 5, white cap).

14. Rebekah Hamilton (Previous Rank: Unranked) – Huntsville Swim Association – Westminster Christian Academy – Huntsville, AL **Verbally committed to Auburn**
Best Times: 50 free – 22.56, 100 free – 48.93, 200 free – 1:46.91, 100 fly – 53.83, 100 back – 54.03

Hamilton is another fast-rising sprinter who should carry a lot of relay value. Her 50 and 100 frees have had nice drops of about four tenths of a second since last year, but it’s her other events that have made the real charge. Hamilton cut a second in her 200 free to round out a triple-free lineup, but her 100 fly also went from 1:00 to 53.8, which has vibes of a young Erika Brown, who started as a freestyler only to surge in fly later on. Here’s a star-studded heat of top-ranked recruits, with Hamilton up in lane 7. She’s in the hunt past fifty yards, but just needs to develop a little more endurance. That’s also a fairly old race video, as her more recent lifetime-bests aren’t easily found on video.

15. Rachel Stege (Previous Rank: #18) – Fox Valley Swim Team – Neuqua Valley High School – Naperville, IL **Verbally committed to Georgia**
Best Times: 1650 free – 16:21.50, 1000 free – 9:43.09, 500 free – 4:43.24, 200 free – 1:46.66, 100 free – 50.22, 50 free – 23.67

We almost left Stege off our top 20 based on short course times, but her summer of 2019 was just too good to ignore. In long course meters, she went from freestyles of 2:08/4:22/9:13 to 1:59/4:08/8:38, and she went from never logging a single 1500 free in her career to blasting a 16:33. Comparing her long course times to the other swimmers in this class, her 1500 is better than everyone but McKenna (16:26). Her 800 is right at McKenna’s level. Her 400 blows out everyone else – McKenna is 4:14, Strouse is 4:15. Stege’s 200 is better than Gretchen Walsh (2:01) and Micayla Cronk (2:00). Last year, Stege went lifetime-bests from the 100 through the 1000 in short course at NCSAs in March, so there was a good chance her yards times were coming down in a major way last month, pre-cancellation. She’s got incredible range, bordering on what Strouse has done. She was also a World Juniors bronze medalist last summer in the 400 free and could very well rocket up these charts towards the top of the class. Last year, her time drops were massive: 43 seconds in the 1000 free, 16 in the 500 free and 6 in the 200 free. Here’s a short course race video. Stege (lane 6, yellow cap near the top) is tall and powerful. She towers over the other swimmers in this field, and her extension and recovery is so fluid – there’s no pause in her hands at the bottom of the stroke, and she just cruises into her next stroke. Here’s a different display of Stege’s talents, in a long course 400 (lane 3, yellow cap near the bottom). Stege maybe goes out a little quick here, and isn’t able to build her legs or hold off an experienced distance swimmer like Ashley Twichell. But Stege’s turns are really showcased here – she attacks them incredibly well.

16. Letitia Sim (Previous Rank: #9) – TNT Swimming – Spanish Fort High School – Montrose, AL **Verbally committed to Michigan**
Best Times: 100 breast – 1:00.27, 200 breast – 2:11.03, 100 fly – 53.59, 200 fly – 1:58.43, 200 IM – 1:59.15

If we had to pick a top breaststroker in the class right now, it’d probably be Sim, who has the best 200 and is within hundredths of the best 100 in the class. What’s really impressive about Sim is how fast her 200 breast is dropping. She was 2:13.3 in the 200 as of last spring’s ranking, and is now down to 2:11.0. In long course, she went from 2:38 to 2:33. Tertiary events are also there for Sim – she’s got a solid butterfly and a good IM. Sim’s start-to-pullout combo is lethal – she almost wins this race (lane 3, jumps ahead on the start) on pure underwaters, despite clearly giving ground on the surface. There’s still some polishing to be done: you can see how much more comfortable she looks in the 100 here (lane 2), but both races have some short or long walls to clean up. Still, Sim has a lot of natural speed and a powerful kick, which is going to make her an excellent college-level breaststroke.

17. Brooke Zettel (Previous Rank: #8) – TAC Titans – Apex Friendship High School – Holly Springs, NC **Verbally committed to Florida**
Best Times: 200 IM – 1:57.93, 400 IM – 4:12.39, 100 fly – 53.78, 200 fly – 1:58.20, 200 breast – 2:12.00, 100 breast – 1:01.77, 200 back – 1:57.43, 100 back – 54.40, 200 free – 1:47.73

Zettel is a true do-everything star. Her listed events above include basically every stroke discipline possible. That makes it hard to know exactly where she projects best. Her most recent big drop was in the 100 fly, from 54.8 down to 53.7. Otherwise, in short course, she hasn’t seen a lot of improvements, but she saw a lot of personal-bests in long course over 2019. Looking at her strokes from this 2018 race video (lane 8, top of the screen), she looks like a breaststroker. Open turns are a strength for her – Zettel stays very low in the water and is on and off the wall in a hurry. She actually goes a tick slower in this more recent video (lane 8 again), but she’s added a nice bucket/crossover turn of sorts on her back-to-breast exchange.

18. Ella Bathurst (Previous Rank: #12) – Tampa Elite Aquatics – H.B. Plant High School – Tampa, FL **Verbally committed to Virginia**
Best Times: 200 free – 1:46.41, 100 free – 49.47, 200 IM – 1:58.82, 100 back – 53.72, 400 IM – 4:19.46, 100 breast – 1:01.60, 200 breast – 2:14.67, 200 back 1:58.09

Bathurst has really nice speed through the 100/200 free range, but it hasn’t yet extended very well on either end of that. (She’s 23.4 in the 50 and 5:07 in the 500). But like Zettel, Bathurst transcends a lot of event disciplines, and that’s going to provide more opportunities for NCAA scoring. She was able to cut four tenths in both the 100 free and 200 free at Winter Juniors, and had a somewhat-impactful cut to 1:58.8 in the 200 IM. Here’s that 200 free – Bathurst is in lane 5 in the green cap and suit. She’s got a great kick behind her and a lot of power with each stroke. Checking down to the 100, the long, loping style is more pronounced compared to the field (Bathurst is in lane 8 at the top of the screen – don’t be confused by her teammate Lexie Mulvihill in lane 2 with an identical suit and cap). If she’s not able to pick up the arm speed, Bathurst might project best as one of these 200-specialists we’ve been seeing more and more of, with a 200 IM/200 free/200 something combo at NCAAs.

19. Ellie Waldrep (Previous Rank: #10) – Baylor Swim Club– Baylor School – Chattanooga, TN **Verbally committed to Auburn**
Best Times: 100 back – 52.42, 200 back – 1:56.76, 100 fly – 53.66, 200 IM – 2:00.62, 50 free – 23.10, 100 free – 50.55

Waldrep is another back/fly hybrid type who trends more towards backstroke. She’s one of the class’s better sprint backstrokers, and has been as fast as 24.6 leading off a medley relay – that’s a split that could fit on a few NCAA-scoring relays right now, and should make her a weapon if she can improve some over her senior year. Waldrep didn’t have the best junior year. She went backwards in both backstrokes, though she did make a big leap from 2:06 to 2:00 in her 200 IM. Here’s one of Waldrep’s better 100 backs. (She’s in lane 3 in the white suit and red cap). Waldrep is a good underwater kicker, though she doesn’t have the best kick behind her on the surface. At this point, she’s not a big free relay factor, but her sprints are close to crossing that level.

20. Asia Minnes (Previous Rank: #11) – Virginia Gators – Roanoke, VA **Verbally committed to Tennessee**
Best Times: 100 breast – 1:00.61, 200 IM – 1:58.65, 200 breast – 2:16.70, 100 back – 53.87, 100 free – 49.97, 50 free – 23.14

Minnes is another tough one to rank. She’s a Canadian national who has done most of her age group swimming in the United States, and has verbally committed to swim in the NCAA. That said, it appears her Olympic year focus was solely on long course, with no apparent short course rest meet in her results from this season. Minnes is a great sprint breaststroker and IMer, and she’s got intriguing versatility into the 100s of other strokes. Assuming Minnes was gearing up for Canadian Olympic Trials this spring, we probably don’t get a sense of her improvement curve. At this point, her 200 breast lags well behind her 100, but she still projects as a big-time breaststroke talent in this crowded class. Here’s a video of Minnes briefly leading a strong heat at 2019 Canadian Trials in the 200 IM. (She’s in lane 6, just above the top set of yellow lane lines). There’s a lot of up-and-down with her breaststroke, but that might owe more to how fast she went out.

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS

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.

Mackenzie McConagha (Previous Rank: #14) – Nation’s Capital Swim Club – Briar Woods High School – Broadlands, VA  **Verbally committed to Wisconsin**
Best Times: 100 back – 52.80, 200 back – 1:56.65, 100 fly – 53.50, 200 fly – 1:58.86, 200 IM – 2:01.88

Another good backstroker, McConagha managed to take nine tenths off her 100 back this year. Last year, she hit several lifetime-bests at NCSAs, so it felt like we didn’t get to see all of what she had as a junior. Here’s one of those swims, a 100 back where she’s right up next to the camera in lane 1, though she’s been more than a second faster than this swim in the year since. McConagha has great arm speed, though her underwater kicks could are a little big and could probably tighten up and add some urgency. Here’s a 200 back that’s pretty impressive in how McConagha is able to keep that arm tempo up the whole way. She’s in lane 4 here in the white cap.

Abby McCulloh (Previous Rank: Unranked) – SwimAtlanta – Parkview High School – Lilburn, GA **Verbally committed to Auburn**
Best Times: 1650 free – 16:09.55, 1000 free – 9:57.16, 500 free – 4:41.53, 200 free – 1:47.86

McCulloh is a solid, rangy distance swimmer who is improving very fast. She’s cut 16 seconds off her mile and four off her 500 since our last rankings. She’s also a great long course swimmer (4:15/8:45/16:43) and should be an awesome fit with someone’s distance program.

Eva Carlson (Previous Rank: Unranked) – The Dolphins Portland Swimming – Catlin Gabel High School – Portland, OR **Verbally committed to UCLA**
Best Times: 100 breast – 1:00.43, 200 breast – 2:12.49, 100 fly – 55.74

Carlson is another one of this class’s breaststrokers who doesn’t quite make the top 20 cut. Any one of these breaststrokers could turn out to be the best of the class though. Carlson has had awesome breaststroke improvements, going from 1:01.8/2:15.1 at this time last year to 1:00.4/2:12.4. She’s also developing the 100 fly as a solid third event option.

Ellie Andrews (Previous Rank: Unranked) – Dublin Community Swim Team – Coffman High School – Dublin, OH **Verbally committed to Texas**
Best Times: 100 breast – 1:01.09, 200 breast – 2:13.24, 200 IM – 1:59.73

Another strong breaststroker, Andrews made a big leap in her 200 this year, from 2:16 to 2:13. Her 100 breast and 200 IM went a little bit backwards this year, but as we’ve noted plenty of times above, this is a bit of wonky year to track improvement curves.

Alicia Henry (Previous Rank: Unranked) – Dynamo Swim Club – Alpharetta High School – Alpharetta, GA **Verbally committed to Cal**
Best Times: 100 breast – 1:00.20, 200 breast – 2:15.36

Henry isn’t very versatile yet, but she gets an honorable mention for holding the class’s best overall 100 breast. There’s always room in the NCAA for a speedster, and she’s got the raw speed and ability to develop into a very good two-distance breaststroker.

Olivia Peoples (Previous Rank: Unranked) – Bolles School Sharks – Allen D Nease Senior High School – Jacksonville, FL **Verbally committed to Florida**
Best Times: 100 fly – 52.73, 100 breast – 1:01.94, 200 breast – 2:15.26

Peoples is a somewhat-unique short-axis combo swimmer. She’s got one of the class’s better 100 flys, and fits right into the crowd of breaststrokers. The fly is a huge drop from last year, when Peoples was just 55.6.

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:

BONUS LOOKBACK:

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:

Girls
Recruiting Class
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

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Konner Scott
5 months ago

Amy Tang looks like the ultimate diamond in the rough. Mediocre starts & turns, and in that 50 free video from Juniors, she breathed the first stroke off the turn and lost all her momentum. Even with just a little technical cleanup, she could be an A finalist as a freshman.

GA Boy
Reply to  Konner Scott
5 months ago

Yes, the 4th ranked swimmer in the class is a real “diamond in the rough”. You’d have to look for a very long time to find this one………

GA Boy
5 months ago

HUGE fan of the best of the rest! Excellent addition to the article! You are correct that there could be some arguments made about the two wonderful swimmers mentioned in the heading of the article. Overall, excellent article, a good read and a MUCH more well rounded and informative article with the addition of the best of the rest!

FloridaSwammer2009
5 months ago

Trials moving to next year is even more in Gretchen’s favor. I think she had a high chance to make it this year, but she could be an even bigger threat for an individual medal in Tokyo if she continues to drop time every big meet (which I predict she does).

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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