2023 Women’s NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships
March 15 to 18, 2023
Allan Jones Aquatic Center, Knoxville, Tennessee
SCY (25 yards)
Pre-Scratch Psych Sheets
From July 2019 to March 2022, Maggie MacNeil had never lost the 100 fly at a championship meet. She was the defending long course world champion, short course world champion, Olympic champion, NCAA champion, and NCAA record holder in the event—almost every accolade relating to the women’s 100 fly was tied to her name.
That was, until the 2022 NCAA Championships. For the first 75 yards of the 100 fly, it seemed as if MacNeil was on her way to defending her title from the previous year, However, in the final few seconds, Kate Douglass and Torri Huske both passed MacNeil, with Douglass winning and breaking the American record (49.04) while MacNeil finished third (49.18).
MacNeil and Douglass go way back. They first met at the 2021 NCAA Championships, where MacNeil was the star of the show. Although Douglass beat MacNeil by 0.04 seconds in the 50 free, she was second to her in both the 100 free and 100 fly. In that 100 fly race, MacNeil beat Douglass by over a body length and became the first woman sub-49 in the event, going 48.89. That performance was a large reason as to why MacNeil earned SwimSwam and the CSCAA’s award for the best collegiate female swimmer of 2021.
A year later, the tables turned. While MacNeil had an “off” NCAAs in 2022, finishing third in the 50 free and 100 fly and completely missing the ‘A’ final in the 100 free (that being said, she did hurt her elbow at NCAAs from slipping on deck, though it’s unclear if that happened whether her races were over or not), Douglass exploded, winning the 50 free, 100 fly, and 200 breast and breaking American records in all three events.
Now, the year is 2023, and the stakes are higher than they ever were. MacNeil transferred from Michigan to LSU for her fifth year, and she’s swimming like her 2021 self again. She’s bettered all of her times from last season, and is fresh off demolishing the short course meters 100 fly record by half a second. However, Douglass isn’t going to go away. She’s got three American record-breaking individual swims under her belt already this season, one of them being when she broke MacNeil’s NCAA and US Open record at ACCs by 0.05 seconds and went 48.84. MacNeil went 48.99 at SECs an hour later, and even though her swim was the third-fastest of all time, the sting of failing to take her record back was made painstakingly obvious when the announcer at SECs incorrectly called MacNeil’s swim the fastest of the season. This happened again a day later when Douglass clocked a 48.25 100 fly split at ACCs and MacNeil split 48.76 at SECs, as MacNeil’s split would have been the fastest in history if it hadn’t been for Douglass’s swim an hour earlier.
In what she says will be her last NCAAs ever, Douglass seems poised to have a Caeleb Dressel senior year-like performance to close off her career. MacNeil, meanwhile, has made it clear that she wants to end her NCAA career on her own terms. After a bad season last year, she’s out for revenge this time around, and has one final chance to prove herself at this year’s NCAA meet. Though Douglass may seem unstoppable now, MacNeil might be the only person capable of halting her momentum—in fact, MacNeil is the only woman who’s ever beaten Douglass at an NCAA Championship meet. That being said, Douglass isn’t the same swimmer that MacNeil beat back in 2021, and it’s going to take MacNeil everything she’s got to pass her this time around.
Currently, Douglass is 3-2 against MacNeil in individual NCAA Championship races. If MacNeil beats Douglass in their final showdown together in this 100 fly race, she will be able to get even with her.
List Of Douglass-MacNeil NCAA Showdowns
50 Free, 2021
100 Fly, 2021
100 Free, 2021
50 Free, 2022
100 Fly, 2022
Kate Douglass vs. Maggie MacNeil, 100 Fly season-bests throughout the years
For now, we picked MacNeil over Douglass as the “safe” choice. She went 48.99 this year with virtually zero competition behind her, and her world record from December shows that she clearly has more in the tank (for reference, a 54.04 in SCM converts to a 48.69 in yards). However, in this career-defining 100 fly showdown between the only two sub-49 women ever and two NCAA legends swimming their final college meet, either woman could come out on top and pop a swim for the history books.
The Stanford Duo
If there’s any two swimmers that could potentially disrupt Douglass and MacNeil’s standing as the favorites to go 1-2, it’s the Stanford duo of Torri Huske and Claire Curzan.
Huske is the reigning long course world champion and actually beat MacNeil by 0.01 of a second at NCAAs last year, going 49.17 to become the third-fastest performer ever. She’s currently ranked third in the event this year as well, having clocked times of 49.25 and 49.27 at midseasons and Pac-12s respectively. And while her times right now seem far away from Douglass and MacNeil’s 48s, it’s important to note that she dropped in all of er events from Pac-12s to NCAAs last year. If she makes the same 0.26-second drop this year that she did from conferences to NCAAs last year in the 100 fly, she’ll be right around the 48.9 range, which we thinks will put her in a favorable position to take third and maybe break into the top two.
Then there’s Curzan, who’s going to be swimming this race as the front half of a 100 fly/100 back double. She briefly held the American record when she set her best time of 49.24 back in 2022, a metric that makes her our pick for fourth. Despite the fact that Curzan’s season-best is a 49.93 from midseasons, we believe that she’ll be closer to her fastest time at NCAAs, which should leave enough distance between her and the fifth-fastest swimmer in this field. Historically, she’s had trouble swimmer her fastest at taper meets (ex. she set several of her 2021 and 2022 long season-bests at in-season meets rather than at Olympics or Worlds), but a new training environment at Stanford where swimmers don’t really go all-out in season might make her more prepared to drop during championship season down the line.
Curzan also has the factor of youth to her advantage—she was faster at age 17 than any of the other swimmers in the field when they were her age. So despite the fact that she hasn’t yet improved on many lifetime bests in her freshman year of college, she’s got the biggest window of hope.
Other 49s And Those Knocking On The Door
Despite the fact that only 11 women in history have been under 50 seconds in the 100 fly, we are getting to the point where 49-point flat start swimmers are being included in “best of the rest” section of a preview article because this event is just so stacked. But that being said, just because they aren’t seeded at the top doesn’t mean they should be overlooked.
A swimmer that saw a big jump this year is Emma Sticklen, who finished fourth in this race last year with a time of 50.29. This year, she bettered that time at a dual meet, clocking a 49.79 against NC State to become the eighth-fastest performer of all-time. The Texas women have been on a freight train of momentum all season, with names like Sticklen making big drops in several events. Though it might not seem realistic for her to beat the top four in this ultra-competitive race, it’s very much a possible scenario given her improvements throughout the year.
Another team that has a lot of momentum coming into NCAAs is Louisville, the school of Gabi Albiero and Christiana Regenauer. Albeiro, last year’s sixth-place finisher, improved from her 2022 best time of 50.84 to go 50.04 at 2023 ACCs. Regenauer finished all the way back in 39th last year, but she’s one of the swimmers that has seen the biggest breakthroughs this season and has improved all the way to a 51.03. If there’s one thing to know about Louisville, it’s that their conferences-to-NCAAs drop rate is one of the highest in the country. That’s why we think Albiero will dip under 50, while Regenauer will place top eight despite only being seeded 10th.
The last two swimmers entered in this event who have been sub-51 this year are NC State’s Kylee Alons and Abby Arens, who have season bests of 50.64 and 50.84 respectively. While last year’s 5th place finisher Alons was off her season-best of 50.63 from the Texas-NC State dual and went 50.93 at ACCs, she also became just the fifth woman in history to split a sub-22 50 fly at the same meet. Given how well she did in the 50 fly this season, a good taper could have 49-point swim knocking on her door. After all, her 100 fly best time of 50.35 from back in 2021 seems long overdue to be erased.
Arens didn’t have the greatest ACCs to NCAAs transition last year, swimming a 51.62 in the 100 fly at ACCs and a 52.58 at NCAAs. In fact, this seems to be a problem for her every year, as she added in all of her events at both the 2021 and 2022 NCAA meets. This year, she improved her 100 fly time to a 50.84, but we are leaving her out of the top 8 just based on track history.
Auburn’s Meghan Lee and Ohio State’s Katherine Zenick are both close to hitting 50-point, being the 9th and 11th seeds respectively. Lee is relatively new to the 100 fly, as prior to this season, she had never raced the event at a championship meet. She improved her best time from a 54.26 to a 51.03 this season, which culminated to a second-place finish behind MacNeil at SECs. She was pretty good with improving from SECs to NCAAs last year in her events, though this year with the 100 fly being part of a day 3 double with the 100 back, it might be a little more of a challenge.
Zenick set a best time of 51.03 at the Tim Welsh Classic and then proceeded to swim a 51.48 (a time that matches her 13th place mark from NCAAs last year) to win Big Tens. She, like most other Ohio State swimmers, added at NCAAs after going all-out at Big Tens, so it will be interesting to see if she can turn the tide around this year and make the final.
Virginia’s Lexi Cuomo turned some heads due to her sprint free performances at ACCs, as she split 21.14 on the 200 free relay and dropped from a 48.44 to a 47.71 in the 100 free. However, she’s a contender in the 100 fly too, having nearly missed the ‘A’ final last year to finish 9th in prelims. To add on, her personal best of 50.65 from 2021 would make the ‘A’ final handily, so if we see similar improvements in her 100 fly at NCAAs like we saw in her sprint free at ACCs, she could beat out her best time and make the ‘A’ final handily. Currently, she’s seeded 14th on the psych sheets with a season-best of 51.47.
It’s important to note the Gretchen Walsh and Olivia Bray both opted for the 100 back over the 100 fly, despite the fact that both of their times are ranked top eight in the country. Walsh’s 49.34 from ACCs would have made her the fourth seed, while Bray’s 50.07 from Big 12s (which notably was her first PB in the event since 2019) would have made her the seventh seed.
Dark Horse: Olivia Peoples, Florida— The Florida women have been on fire this year, and Peoples is just one of the many Gators to make huge jumps to qualify for NCAAs. This season, she improved from a 52.49 to a 51.81 to earn her first-ever NCAA berth, and is seeded 24th on the psych sheets. Despite the fact that this year will be her first time completing the conferences to NCAAs taper, Florida was very good at that last year (the Gators improved by the second-highest amount from their seed out of all NCAA teams last year), which means that there’s potential on Peoples making yet another big drop.