Top NCAA Women’s Swimming Recruits Of The Past Decade

Each spring/summer since 2012, SwimSwam has been ranking out the top NCAA swimming recruits in the nation, and the high school class of 2022 now marks the 10th class we’ve scouted.

By popular demand (and the general craving for swimming nerd content during quarantine), we’re taking a look back over those ten classes, ranking out the top NCAA swimming recruits of the past decade. Here are a few parameters for our rankings:

  • As always, these rankings view the athletes through the NCAA prism: sprinters are more highly-valued for their relay contributions, short course yards take precedence over long course meters, and special value is given to having three solid scoring events over a bunch of solid events that have to be pared down to an NCAA lineup.
  • The times we’ve pulled are all as of June 1 after the athlete’s junior year. That’s about the time we’ve usually done our rankings (we originally did them when recruiting opened on July 1, but have moved up to April in recent years to account for earlier recruiting cycles).
  • Though the sport has undeniably gotten faster since 2012, we’re trying not to use graduation year as much of a factor, keeping our ranks based on specific times. An athlete with times that were outstanding relative to their 2013 graduating class might get a small bump when we’re splitting hairs for ranks, but we’re not re-contextualizing times based on era, for the simple reason that the research work would just get overwhelming.
  • In a group of recruits this elite, times that are outside of NCAA scoring range don’t stand out a whole lot. So athletes with a few standout events wind up higher in ranks than athletes with a lot of versatility but less standout times.
  • We’ve done our best to pull all the top prospects from our previous recruiting ranks, but it’s certainly possible we missed someone. If you have a submission, please let us know in the comments – but do keep in mind that we’re only ranking based on times as of June 1, junior year, and nothing beyond that.
  • This is purely about recruiting value – we’re not using the lens of hindsight to knock down any recruits who ‘busted’ or to include any college-level breakouts. Our goal here is to get a sense of these swimmers from when they were prospects – we’re not ranking the top NCAA swimmers or scorers of history.
  • In some cases, the order of recruits within specific classes has changed. That could be for any number of reasons. We may have changed a little in how we value certain times and events. Viewing one athlete within the context of their recruiting class may have skewed our valuations at the time, or viewing them in the context of all these elite recruits may have skewed our new values the opposite direction. Sometimes, versatility or relay value pushed a recruit higher in their class, but those extra events didn’t bring as much value in this loaded field of top-tier recruits. At the end of the day, this is a purely subjective exercise, as it always is.

We started ranking with the high school class of 2013, which does have a few very notable recruits. The current high school sophomores (class of 2022) is our 10th class ranked – those swimmers still have another year to better their times, relative to everyone else on this list.

Without further ado, let’s get to our ranks, with sporadic comments:

Top 50 NCAA Women’s Swimming Recruits, High School Classes of 2013-2022

Included: Athlete (home state), High School Class (Rank within that class) – College program(s)

1. Regan Smith (MN), Class of 2020 (#1) – Stanford Cardinal

  • 100 back: 49.66
  • 200 back: 1:47.16
  • 200 fly: 1:51.24
  • 100 fly: 50.45
  • 200 free: 1:43.27
  • 500 free: 4:37.10
  • 100 free: 48.07

The only knock against Smith compared to the next two is that based on our arbitrary time frame (June), Smith was not yet a world champion or world record-holder. But her short course versatility and relay value is enough to make up for it.

2. Katie Ledecky (MD), Class of 2015 (#1) – Stanford Cardinal

  • 1650 free: 15:15.17
  • 1000 free: 9:14.22
  • 500 free: 4:28.71
  • 200 free: 1:42.03

These times are absolutely ridiculous for any age, much less a high school junior. Ledecky was already an Olympic champ, four-time world champ and two-event world record-holder by spring of her junior year. Maybe the only thing that keeps her behind Smith is relay ability in the NCAA format.

3. Missy Franklin (CO), Class of 2013 (#1) – Cal Golden Bears

  • 200 free: 1:43.15
  • 200 back: 1:51.07
  • 100 free: 47.94
  • 200 IM: 1:55.32
  • 400 IM: 4:08.06

Our first-ever #1-ranked recruit still holds up almost a decade later. Who remembered how good of a 400 IMer Franklin was out of high school? Not us. By spring of her junior year, though, Franklin was already a three-time long course world champ and short course world record-holder. 59.1/2:05.1 backstroke times and 25.2/53.6/1:55.0 freestyles showed her obvious upside.

4. Gretchen Walsh (TN), Class of 2021 (#1) – Virginia Cavaliers

  • 50 free: 21.50
  • 100 free: 46.98
  • 200 free: 1:43.75
  • 100 back: 51.57

Time-wise, the best high school sprinter we’ve ever ranked, and it’s not close.

5. Alex Walsh (TN), Class of 2020 (#2) – Virginia Cavaliers

  • 100 breast: 58.19
  • 200 breast: 2:05.87
  • 200 IM: 1:53.69
  • 100 back: 50.88
  • 200 back: 1:51.42
  • 400 IM: 4:07.98
  • 100 fly: 51.31
  • 200 free: 1:45.05

6. Claire Curzan (NC), Class of 2022* (#1)

  • 100 fly: 50.35
  • 50 free: 21.77
  • 100 free: 47.67
  • 200 fly: 1:54.36
  • 100 back: 51.23
  • 200 back: 1:52.76

Curzan could put herself in the conversation for the #1 spot with a good junior year.

7. Meghan Small (MD), Class of 2016 (#1) – Tennessee Volunteers

  • 200 IM: 1:54.25
  • 400 IM: 4:03.96
  • 200 back: 1:51.74

Easily the best IM prospect of the decade, Small was really ahead of her time as a high schooler.

8. Torri Huske (VA), Class of 2021 (#2)

  • 100 fly: 50.49
  • 50 free: 21.83
  • 200 fly: 1:55.17

9. Simone Manuel (TX), Class of 2014 (#1) – Stanford Cardinal

  • 50 free: 22.04
  • 100 free: 47.73
  • 200 free: 1:44.22

Manuel was already 25.4 and 54.6 in long course as of our June cutoff, but was a few months shy of her first Worlds gold. She dropped a ton (21.7/46.7/1:43.0) as a senior.

10. Abbey Weitzeil (CA), Class of 2015 (#2) – Cal Golden Bears

  • 50 free: 21.98
  • 100 free: 47.59

Long course 25.2/55.3 also helps, but Weiteil didn’t really blow up until her senior year (21.4/46.2 short course).

11. Kathleen Baker (NC), Class of 2015 (#3) – Cal Golden Bears

  • 200 IM: 1:54.50
  • 100 back: 51.51
  • 200 free: 1:43.61
  • 100 breast: 59.37

Supremely versatile, Baker was also already 1:00.6 and 2:10 in backstroke by spring of her junior year.

12. Olivia Bray (VA), Class of 2020 (#3) – Texas Longhorns

  • 100 fly: 50.19
  • 200 fly: 1:53.72
  • 100 back: 52.02

13. Phoebe Bacon (VA), Class of 2020 (#5) – Wisconsin Badgers

  • 200 back: 1:50.71
  • 100 back: 51.18

Bacon gets a little boost over Stadden for a 59.1 long course backstroke and some decent IM and fly times.

14. Isabelle Stadden (MN), Class of 2020 (#4) – Cal Golden Bears

  • 200 back: 1:50.37
  • 100 back: 51.23

15. Zoe Bartel (CO), Class of 2018 (#3) – Stanford Cardinal

  • 200 breast: 2:07.73
  • 100 breast: 59.04

16. Beata Nelson (WI), Class of 2016 (#2) – Wisconsin Badgers

  • 100 fly: 51.08
  • 100 back: 51.67

Nelson definitively answered the question of whether she could eventually extend her short speed to the 200 back (1:55.6 as a junior) or 200 IM (1:57.8).

17. Becca Mann (IL), Class of 2016 (#3) – USC Trojans

  • 500 free: 4:34.77
  • 1000 free: 9:31.79
  • 1650 free: 15:45.33
  • 400 IM: 4:05.52

Based on times, Mann is the clear-cut #2 distance recruit of the decade behind Ledecky.

18. Taylor Ruck (AZ), Class of 2018 (#2) – Stanford Cardinal

  • 200 free: 1:44.39
  • 100 back: 52.95
  • 200 back: 1:53.13

Ruck gets a major long course boost from 53.9/1:57.8 freestyles and 1:00.6/2:09.4 backstrokes.

19. Izzy Ivey (FL), Class of 2019 (#1) – Cal Golden Bears

  • 200 free: 1:43.64
  • 100 free: 47.88
  • 200 IM: 1:55.77

Ivey entered the NCAA a semester earlier than the rest of her class, but as a junior, she was our #1 recruit in the class of 2019.

20. Ella Eastin (CA), Class of 2015 (#6) – Stanford Cardinal

  • 400 IM: 4:05.25
  • 200 IM: 1:55.15

A 4:38 long course IM ups the status of Eastin as a prospect

21. G Ryan (MD), Class of 2014 (#4) – Michigan Wolverines

  • 1650 free:15:49.74
  • 1000 free: 9:26.50
  • 500 free: 4:36.99
  • 200 free: 1:45.20

The 500 and 1000 times, especially, are ridiculous compared to basically everyone but Ledecky.

22. Eva Merrell (CA), Class of 2018 (#1) – Georgia Bulldogs

  • 100 fly: 51.93
  • 200 back: 1:52.20
  • 100 back: 52.26

A 58.5 long course butterfly is maybe more impressive than any of these yards times.

23. Janet Hu (VA), Class of 2014 (#2) – Stanford Cardinal

  • 50 free: 22.13
  • 100 back: 52.07
  • 100 fly: 52.03

Hu was an extremely versatile prospect and a major relay value.

24. Katie McLaughlin (CA), Class of 2015 (#4) – Cal Golden Bears

  • 200 fly: 1:54.48
  • 100 fly: 51.78
  • 200 free: 1:44.66

McLaughlin was already 59.0 and 2:08.7 in long course fly, too.

25. Charlotte Hook (NC), Class of 2022* (#2)

  • 200 fly: 1:53.70
  • 200 IM: 1:54.79
  • 400 IM: 4:07.42

26. Kate Douglass (NY), Class of 2019 (#2) – Virginia Cavaliers

  • 50 free: 22.04
  • 100 free: 48.54
  • 100 breast: 1:00.26

It’s amazing how much Douglass rose as a senior, and then again as a college freshman.

27. Zoie Hartman (CA), Class of 2019 (#6) – Georgia Bulldogs

  • 200 breast: 2:08.60
  • 200 IM: 1:55.95
  • 100 breast: 59.66

28. Coleen Gillilan (CO), Class of 2019 (#5) – Notre Dame Fighting Irish

  • 100 fly: 52.00
  • 100 breast: 59.59
  • 200 IM: 1:56.70

A jack-of-all-trades who probably ranks higher if you value versatility more.

29. Chelsea Chenault (CA), Class of 2013 (HM) – USC Trojans

  • 500 free: 4:36.69
  • 200 free: 1:44.12

Another throwback with some incredible 2012-era times.

30. Gabrielle Kopenski (TX), Class of 2018 (#7) – Texas A&M Aggies

  • 500 free: 4:37.94
  • 1000 free: 9:35.79
  • 1650 free: 15:56.39

31. Morgan Tankersley (FL), Class of 2018 (#4) – Stanford Cardinal

  • 200 free: 1:44.31
  • 500 free: 4:37.60

Great range, but not enough for the 50 (22.6) or mile (16:27) to run with this field.

32. Justina Kozan (CA), Class of 2022* (#3)

  • 200 fly: 1:54.75
  • 200 IM: 1:56.31
  • 400 IM: 4:05.67

33. Kylie Stewart (GA), Class of 2014 (#3) – Georgia Bulldogs

  • 200 back: 1:50.66
  • 100 back: 52.15
  • 400 IM: 4:09.15

It’s easy to forget how great a recruit Stewart was back in 2013. No junior surpassed her 200 back time until Smith and Stadden in the class of 2020.

34. Sierra Schmidt (PA), Class of 2017 (#2) – Michigan Wolverines

  • 500 free: 4:38.47
  • 1000 free: 9:33.99
  • 1650 free: 15:57.89

35. Stanzi Moseley (CA), Class of 2016 (#4) – USC Trojans & Tennessee Volunteers

  • 200 free: 1:44.55
  • 100 free: 48.14
  • 50 free: 22.11

36. Lia Neal (NY), Class of 2013 (#2) – Stanford Cardinal

  • 100 free: 48.13
  • 200 free: 1:45.99

Neal became a 2012 Olympian around the time recruiting opened. She was 25.3/54.3/1:58.2 in long course as of our ranking cutoff, and that gets her into our ranks even without standout short course times.

37. Claire Adams (IN), Class of 2016 (#5) – Texas Longhorns

  • 200 back: 1:51.87
  • 100 back: 51.99
  • 200 free: 1:45.09

Adams broke a World Junior Record a few months after our cutoff.

38. Emily Weiss (IN), Class of 2019 (#4) – Indiana Hoosiers

  • 100 breast: 58.40
  • 200 breast: 2:10.68

39. Katharine Berkoff (MT), Class of 2019 (#3) – NC State Wolfpack

  • 200 back: 1:51.40
  • 100 back: 51.93

40. Lillie Nordmann (TX), Class of 2020 (#6) – Stanford Cardinal

  • 200 fly: 1:53.62
  • 100 fly: 52.08

41. Katie Drabot (WI), Class of 2016 (#6) – Stanford Cardinal

  • 200 free: 1:45.22
  • 400 IM: 4:09.43

As a junior, there were few hints of what 54.8/2:04 flyer Drabot would eventually do in that stroke.

42. Courtney Harnish (PA), Class of 2017 (#1) – Georgia Bulldogs

  • 500 free: 4:39.13
  • 200 fly: 1:54.37

43. Abby Arens (NC), Class of 2020 (#8) – NC State Wolfpack

  • 200 breast: 2:08.06
  • 100 breast: 59.76

44. Amy Tang (WA), Class of 2021 (#4)

  • 50 free: 22.06
  • 100 free: 48.11

Also a solid 100 back (52.1).

45. Amy Bilquist (IN), Class of 2015 (#5) – Cal Golden Bears

  • 50 free: 22.15
  • 100 back: 52.58

46. Emma Sticklen (TX), Class of 2020 (#7) – Texas Longhorns

  • 200 fly: 1:54.55
  • 100 fly: 51.88

47. Claire Tuggle (CA), Class of 2022* (#4)

  • 200 free: 1:44.96
  • 500 free: 4:41.36

Tuggle gets ranked higher than these times merit by virtue of 56.2/1:58.2/4:07/8:37 long course prowess.

48. Grace Sheble (VA), Class of 2021 (#3) – NC State Wolfpack

  • 200 fly: 1:54.85
  • 400 IM: 4:05.90

49. Vanessa Pearl (TX), Class of 2018 (#6) – Florida Gators

  • 200 breast: 2:08.51
  • 400 IM: 4:06.73

50. Rye Ulett (GA), Class of 2022* (#6)

  • 200 back: 1:51.84
  • 100 back: 52.87

 

Top Swimmers By Event

Top Junior/Sophomore Times Since Class of 2013
50 Free Gretchen Walsh 21.50
100 Free Gretchen Walsh 46.98
200 Free Katie Ledecky 1:42.03
500 Free Katie Ledecky 4:28.71
1000 Free** Katie Ledecky 9:14.22
1650 Free Katie Ledecky 15:15.17
100 Back Regan Smith 49.66
200 Back Regan Smith 1:47.16
100 Breast Alex Walsh 58.19
200 Breast Alex Walsh 2:05.87
100 Fly Olivia Bray 50.19
200 Fly Regan Smith 1:51.24
200 IM Alex Walsh 1:53.69
400 IM Meghan Small 4:03.96

We’ve done our best to pull out the top times as juniors from the past decade. It’s possible we’ve missed swimmers in here – if you see one, please let us know in the comments and we’ll update if we can verify:

50 Free

Rank Name Class Time
1 Gretchen Walsh ’21 21.50
2 Claire Curzan ’22 21.77
3 Torri Huske ’21 21.83
4 Abbey Weitzeil ’15 21.98
5 Simone Manuel ’14 22.04
5 Kate Douglass ’19 22.04

100 Free

Rank Name Class Time
1 Gretchen Walsh ’21 46.98
2 Abbey Weitzeil ’15 47.59
3 Claire Curzan ’22 47.67
4 Simone Manuel ’14 47.73
5 Izzy Ivey ’19 47.88

200 Free

Rank Name Class Time
1 Katie Ledecky ’15 1:42.03
2 Missy Franklin ’13 1:43.15
3 Regan Smith ’20 1:43.27
4 Kathleen Baker ’15 1:43.61
5 Izzy Ivey ’19 1:43.64

500 Free

Rank Name Class Time
1 Katie Ledecky ’15 4:28.71
2 Becca Mann ’16 4:34.77
3 Chelsea Chenault ’13 4:36.69
4 G Ryan ’14 4:36.99
5 Regan Smith ’20 4:37.10

1000 Free

Rank Name Class Time
1 Katie Ledecky ’15 9:14.22
2 G Ryan ’14 9:26.50
3 Erica Sullivan ’18 9:29.91
4 Becca Mann ’16 9:31.79
5 Paige McKenna ’21 9:31.93

1650 Free

Rank Name Class Time
1 Katie Ledecky ’15 15:15.17
2 Becca Mann ’16 15:45.33
3 Erica Sullivan ’18 15:47.39
4 Paige McKenna ’21 15:48.07
5 G Ryan ’14 15:49.74

100 Back

Rank Name Class Time
1 Regan Smith ’20 49.66
2 Alex Walsh ’20 50.88
3 Phoebe Bacon ’20 51.18
4 Claire Curzan ’22 51.23
4 Isabelle Stadden ’20 51.23

200 Back

Rank Name Class Time
1 Regan Smith ’20 1:47.16
2 Isabelle Stadden ’20 1:50.37
3 Kylie Stewart ’14 1:50.66
4 Phoebe Bacon ’20 1:50.71
5 Missy Franklin ’13 1:51.07

100 Breast

Rank Name Class Time
1 Alex Walsh ’20 58.19
2 Emily Weiss ’19 58.40
3 Maggie Aroesty ’17 58.98
4 Zoe Bartel ’18 59.04
5 Kathleen Baker ’15 59.37

200 Breast

Rank Name Class Time
1 Alex Walsh ’20 2:05.87
2 Zoe Bartel ’18 2:07.73
3 Abby Arens ’20 2:08.06
4 Vanessa Pearl ’18 2:08.51
5 Zoie Hartman ’19 2:08.60

100 Fly

Rank Name Class Time
1 Olivia Bray ’20 50.19
2 Claire Curzan ’22 50.35
3 Regan Smith ’20 50.45
4 Torri Huske ’21 50.49
5 Beata Nelson ’16 51.08

200 Fly

Rank Name Class Time
1 Regan Smith ’20 1:51.24
2 Lillie Nordmann ’20 1:53.62
3 Charlotte Hook ’22 1:53.70
4 Olivia Bray ’20 1:53.72
5 Claire Curzan ’22 1:54.36

200 IM

Rank Name Class Time
1 Alex Walsh ’20 1:53.69
2 Meghan Small ’16 1:54.25
3 Kathleen Baker ’15 1:54.50
4 Charlotte Hook ’22 1:54.79
5 Ella Eastin ’15 1:55.15

400 IM

Rank Name Class Time
1 Meghan Small ’16 4:03.96
2 Ella Eastin ’15 4:05.25
3 Becca Mann ’16 4:05.52
4 Justina Kozan ’22 4:05.67
5 Grace Sheble ’21 4:05.90

Bonus Lookback:

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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JCO
4 months ago

I know that Ledecky is Ledecky and arguably the greatest female swimmer of all time, but I might move her down a few spots in favor of other swimmers who can contribute on 4 relays and put up 3 events that are in contention to win like she can. At 2017 NCAAs, Ledecky was only used on the 400/800 free relays. Missy and the Walsh sisters are the ones I would move ahead solely for the reason that they have times that would be pushing 60 points at NCAAs as well as swimming on 4 relays.

Nswim
Reply to  JCO
4 months ago

If Stanford didn’t have Manuel, she probably would’ve been used as the freestyle leg on more relays. Even then, she still made huge contributions and held the American record in 4 different events for a short period of time.

PK Doesn’t Like His Long Name
Reply to  Nswim
4 months ago

I don’t think this is true. As a freshman, Ledecky was only on 2 relays and Lia Neal anchored the 400 medley. As a sophomore, she was only on one relay.

Seattle Slim
Reply to  PK Doesn’t Like His Long Name
4 months ago

“Only” 2 relays? Ledecky was such a non-versatile slacker of a recruit, should be ashamed of herself!!! It looks like Ledecky in two seasons managed to leave college swimming with “only” 8 NCAA meet wins, 6 different school records (including “only” the 400 Free Relay and 800 Free Relay) and having broken American Records 11 times across four indiv events, NCAA records 15 times, and NCAA Championship meet records 6 times for a two-time National Championship team. Pitiful under-performance and under-utilization–so many points left on the table by Meehan and Ledecky, and in such close NCAA title meets too.

PK Doesn’t Like His Long Name
Reply to  Seattle Slim
4 months ago

Or, alternatively, we could note that by being significantly better in the 50 and/or sprint strokes that the next 4 girls on the list offer more relay value than Katie, which is what we’re talking about here.

I’m glad you agree that Meehan properly recognized that he had faster girls in the 50 and went in that direction instead of over-utilizing Ledecky.

Lane Line
Reply to  JCO
4 months ago

As this is a subjective exercise about “recruiting value” as you say, I put Ledecky at #1. As a coach, I would want an already bona fide Olympic champion coming into my program who could be a recruiting draw for the next several years. For somewhat similar reasons, I move Franklin to #2. As a college coach concerned about academic and team dynamics, it would also be important for me to know that both Ledecky and Franklin achieved their junior year times while actually attending and swimming for a full-time four-year high school.

GA Boy
4 months ago

Let’s just put so major respect on Claire Curzan’s name. All these girls have their junior times, she’s ranking as a top 5 time in 3 events with her time as a SOPHOMORE! 12 months less time to develop than these others, that’s pretty remarkable!

Snarky
4 months ago

Uh, Berkoff was 50.72 and 1:50.13 backs, 1:57.0 IM, and 22.8, 48.7, 146.0, 4:44.2 frees, 1:02 breast and53 fly out of high school. Might want to change that.

Admin
Reply to  Snarky
4 months ago

As is spelled out explicitly in the article:

“The times we’ve pulled are all as of June 1 after the athlete’s junior year. That’s about the time we’ve usually done our rankings (we originally did them when recruiting opened on July 1, but have moved up to April in recent years to account for earlier recruiting cycles).”

;dhssda
Reply to  Snarky
4 months ago

Name fits the bill

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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