US National Team Member Erica Sullivan Decommits from USC

United States National Team member and rising distance star Erica Sullivan – a USC commit who graduated high school in 2018 but deferred her enrollment in part to train for the Tokyo Olympics – is decommiting and re-entering the recruiting pool with the class of 2021, she announced on Instagram Friday.

“As I am about to make an announcement, I feel it is important that I explain some things,” Sullivan wrote. “I have officially decided to put myself back in the recruiting pool and enter the class of 2021 for the time being. This more than likely means that I will lose a year of NCAA eligibility and even though that makes me sad, it is a sacrifice I know I need to make to give myself the best training situation for Tokyo 2021.

I committed to USC in the summer of 2017 when I was 16. I chose the school for several reasons: the film school, the opportunity of being in California and unapologetically being myself (I was closeted at the time) and getting to train under Dave Salo and Catherine Kase, a coach who has been successful in distance swimming, specifically open water. Since I was barely on the National Junior team at the time, I was initially unable to receive enough scholarship to be able to afford such a prestigious university. I was in need of a good offer because I knew my family was going to lose its main form of income with my dad’s illness. Through communication with Salo, we created a unique arrangement where I would stay home Semester 1 of 2018-2019, go up to school Semester 2 of 2018-2019, and then come home for the year of 2019-2020, and going to finish the rest of my education 2020-2024. I committed right away for the opportunity to swim at my dream school so my dad would be able to share the joy of knowing which University I had decided on before he passed.

My senior year of high school, I went on and struggled with my fair share of trauma that comes with losing a parent at 16. USC showed their unwavering support through these hard times. After some time, it became apparent I needed help dealing with this trauma so I decided to go to a psychologist. Within 8 months; I learned how to cope with trauma, be a more positive influence for my teammates, and being vocal about my sexuality to those who personally knew me.

When it was time for me to work out the details for college in the fall of 2018, we learned that I wouldn’t be able to attend USC due to academic challenges. We decided it would be healthier to stay home for the selected semester and take a few classes while still working on my mental health. During that year, I stayed in close communication with USC’s coaches and their academic advisors to ensure that I would be prepared once I got to school and had some of my prerequisites completed. Dave and Catherine never lacked in giving me the support I needed, and later that summer I trained with Catherine and got closer to her during my 2019 World Championships 25K experience, which gave me the chance to grow closer with my soon to be college coach.

I continued my training after last summer and started to focus on my pool swimming in preparation for the 2020 Olympic Games. Things were looking very optimistic and I was getting excited. In January of 2020, it was announced that Dave Salo would retire. Though the situation wasn’t ideal, I knew that the games would be completed by the time I arrived and I would still have Catherine to guide me through my career. My plan wasn’t completely changed. I would still have the ability to have the best of both worlds through swim and film school. I kept my goals high and continued to train.

The Covid-19 pandemic caused some unknowns in my life as the games got pushed back a year and Catherine had decided to leave USC to be there with her family. These changes left me with many choices that I was not prepared to make. These choices are critical to my career. However, with my love for USC, I kept an open mind, despite not knowing who the new staff would be. There were risks that came with these options, as I could lose a year of NCAA eligibility and keep doing what I know works for me or get all 4 years of eligibility and accept a lot of change in my life.

With the new hire of Coach Jermey Kipp and turn over with majority of the coaching staff, it has left me uncertain in my college selection. He seems like a very good hire for USC and I’m sure they will have much success.
Over the last few years since my commitment, my swim career has reached new heights that I never imagined possible. I am so grateful for all the loyalty that USC has shown me, but I am not the same person that I was at 16. I feel that it is now my responsibility to show the same amount of respect towards USC that it has given me the past few years and decline my scholarship offer. I hope USC can take my scholarship and put it towards an athlete that will bring great success to the program.

All I can leave you with is you never really know what life could throw at you, but accept it with open arms and enjoy the journey. I am very excited to see what I can do and where I will be in the next few years. With love, Erica Sullivan

In March, in light of the Olympic postponement, Sullivan told SwimSwam she was waiting to see who USC would hire to replace outgoing head coach Dave Salo before confirming she will enroll next fall.

“Normally I would be okay with going to school and trusting the staff to give me the training I need, but since I am still in the dark about who my coach will be at USC, I don’t want to put anything in stone,” Sullivan wrote in a message at the time. “I’m probably gonna wait until they announce who the coach is and then make some decisions. I wish I could you that I’m leaning in a certain direction, but I’m really not. Definitely have some big decisions to make when news is announced.”

The school hired former Northwestern head coach and longtime USC assistant coach Jeremy Kipp in May.

Following Kipp’s hire, USC associate head coach and 2021 U.S. Olympic Team open water head coach Catherine Kase told SwimSwam that she moved to Boise for her husband’s work. Kase was a draw to USC for Sullivan, who finished third among Americans in the open water 10K at 2019 Nationals — a spot away from making the 2019 FINA World Championships team.

Recently, Sullivan has surged in the pool, putting her squarely in the running for a berth in the 1500 when it makes its Olympic debut next year.

She owns a 15:55.25 lifetime best from June 2019 (one of three U.S. women under 16 minutes in the last two seasons) and her 16:01.71 from the Knoxville Pro Swim Series stops in January makes her the second-fastest American this season behind only Katie Ledecky. The Knoxville swim leaves her nearly 10 seconds ahead of No. 3-ranked Ashley Twichell.

As for NCAA potential, Sullivan would be a huge “get” for any NCAA program – we ranked her No. 5 in the high school class of 2018. Her 15:23.81 1650 from December would have been the fastest in college swimming this season by about 20 seconds (and is the second-fastest 1650 ever), and her 4:37.95 lifetime best in the 500 would be a near-lock for the A-final at NCAAs.

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What a tough and courageous journey she is on. I admire her persistence and ability to keep moving forward. Hopefully a new staff and program is able to fit perfectly for her!

Stanford and Cal seem logical given where she is from, but maybe some rising programs like Wisconsin, UVA, Alabama, or NC State among others could be a good fit. Best of luck!


Do they have good film programs? Judging from her Twitter, she’s got a lot of love and potential for that industry, so I’d think she would almost be willing to find a balance between film/swim than go purely for a swim program. Another thing to consider is if she does well enough in Tokyo, she could have some pro options on the table. She’s got a very marketable personality and a good backstory – I could see sponsors eating that up.


Just looked it up, and from schools with high ranking swim programs, it looks as if Texas and Stanford have very strong film programs. Other schools like UCLA, FSU, NYU, & Columbia have reputable film programs as well (NYU & Columbia are highly ranked, but their swimming lags behind the others by a little).


NC State has Zach Galifianakis so there’s that…

Corn Pop

University of Chaz has potential too.


You’re ahead of your time!! I see you, I get you


It seems academics are an area of growth for her, she might want to go to a less academic intensive school


To be fair to her, it seemed like her academic issues came as her father passed and she was struggling from depression. I don’t exactly think that situation is indicative of her academic ability – we would all struggle


Cal not known for distance at alll. Not a good fit


See you at Stanford in 2021 congrats Erica


Wishing the best for Erica on her future endeavors.

About Torrey Hart

Torrey Hart

Torrey is from Oakland, CA, and majored in media studies and American studies at Claremont McKenna College, where she swam distance freestyle for the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps team. Outside of SwimSwam, she has bylines at Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, SB Nation, and The Student Life newspaper.

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