Virginia All-Americans Ella Nelson And Maddie Donohoe Will Take Fifth Years

According to an Instagram post from UVA assistant coach Blaire Bachman, current Virginia seniors Ella Nelson and Maddie Donohoe will be using their fifth year of eligibility to compete in the 2023-24 NCAA season. Nelson and Donohoe are the two first Virginia swimmers to take advantage of the extra year offered to all swimmers who competed during the 2020-21 NCAA season, as nobody in the UVA graduating class of 2022 or 2021 opted to take fifth years.

“I’m still loving swimming, and I still have some goals that I’d like to shoot for in the next year and a half so it just seemed right to keep going,” Nelson told SwimSwam. “I love this team and this school more than anything, so I see it as such a gift that I get another year with the Hoos.”

“I initially decided to retire thinking I was ready to be done swimming for good,” Donohoe told SwimSwam. “Once I saw all my teammates go back to practice I started to think about how much I love being part of this team. I thought on it for a while and talked to the coaches and cannot wait to do another year. Words can’t describe how much I love being a hoo and swimming for UVA.”

“I don’t normally post about individual athletes, but an exception had to be made for these,” Bachman wrote. “HOOS whose just can’t take a hint…Fine, Fine…TAKE A FIFTH YEAR!!!! #NotRetiring”

At the 2023 NCAA Championships in March, Nelson told SwimSwam in an interview that she planned on staying at Virginia to pursue a graduate program in biotechnology, and that she would wait a few weeks to make a final decision on taking a fifth year. However, she did say at the time that she would “probably” be back. Donohoe, meanwhile, initially announced her retirement from competitive swimming in an Instagram post that has since then been deleted. She will be pursuing a masters degree in counselor education.

The Virginia senior class, which includes the likes of Donohoe, Nelson, Kate Douglass, and Lexi Cuomo, made up for 136 of the 341.5 of the individual points that the Cavliers scored at NCAAs in route to their third-straight national title. While Douglass has said multiple times that she wouldn’t be returning for a fifth and Cuomo announced her retirement from swimming after NCAAs, the return of Donohoe and Nelson will still be largely beneficial for the Cavaliers, as they make up for 61 out of the 136 2023 senior NCAA points.

At NCAAs this year, Nelson finished 2nd in the 400 IM (3:59.54), 4th in the 200 IM (1:53.13), and 3rd in the 200 breast (2:04.33) to score 48 points—the 8th most out of any individual at the meet. Meanwhile, Donohoe placed 10th in the 500 free (3:39.46), 11th in the 1650 free (15:56.83), and 52nd in the 200 free (1:47.34) to earn 13 points of her own.

Nelson’s Best Times:

  • 200 free: 1:45.35
  • 500 free: 4:38.04
  • 100 breast: 59.57
  • 200 breast: 2:04.33
  • 200 IM: 1:53.13
  • 400 IM: 3:59.33

Donohoe’s Best Times:

  • 200 free: 1:45.95
  • 500 free: 4:39.46
  • 1650 free: 15:55.14

Despite the loss of Douglass and Cuomo, the return of Nelson and Donohoe and the addition of incoming freshmen Tess Howley and Cavan Gormsen put Virginia in a more favorable position to win their fourth-straight NCAA title next March than we thought they were in immediately after NCAAs.

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Sweet Sweet Peter Rosen
5 months ago

Hard to not pull for UVA. Great news

HOO love
5 months ago


5 months ago

At least UVA didn’t have to beg their swimmers to take a 5th year to ring chase like a particular team out west that just won a fraud ring

Last edited 5 months ago by Andrew
Reply to  Andrew
5 months ago

Who is this even referring to lol

Dressel GOAT
Reply to  Bryan
5 months ago

A certain Uni that created a fake degree called certificate program in entrepreneurship, where you spend the fall at home, come in January for a 12 week training camp and call it a 5th year.

Reply to  Dressel GOAT
5 months ago

Don’t hate the player, hate the NCAA for making that legal. Cal is just playing by the rules that govern every other team in the NCAA.

Also, If you think Cal invested tens of thousands of dollars to create a fake degree to help SWIMMING of all programs, a notoriously money-pit of a sport as it is, you are delusional lol. It’s still a Berkeley program; I guarantee it’s still harder than most other schools out there (probably all SEC schools besides Vandy lol).

Sherry Smit
5 months ago

Gormsen, Nelson, and Donohoe… Distance free is beginning to develop at UVA!

5 months ago


5 months ago

I’m pretty sure Nelson won an NCAA postgraduate scholarship also

Reply to  Shaddy419
5 months ago

Have the NCAA post grad scholarship recipients been announced? How does the post graduate scholarship work? Does the swimmer have to be nominated by the school or does the swimmer apply directly?

Reply to  Shaddy419
5 months ago

Have the NCAA post grad scholarships been announced?

Reply to  Shaddy419
5 months ago
5 months ago

Ella is such an inspiration!!!!!!!!!! Plus shes so pretty!!! I want to be just like her someday

5 months ago

Love this!! Ella’s time to shine!!!!

HOO love
Reply to  Swim4Life
5 months ago

She’s been shining 🫶🏼

About Yanyan Li

Yanyan Li

Although Yanyan wasn't the greatest competitive swimmer, she learned more about the sport of swimming by being her high school swim team's manager for four years. She eventually ventured into the realm of writing and joined SwimSwam in January 2022, where she hopes to contribute to and learn more about …

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