Swimming

2023 W. NCAA Previews: Gretchen Walsh, Maggie MacNeil Clash In 100 Free

2023 NCAA WOMEN’S SWIMMING AND DIVING CHAMPIONSHIPS

Maggie MacNeil. (photo: LSU Athletics).

By the time that the 2023 Women’s NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships rolls around to day 4 and the 100 freestyle, Gretchen Walsh and Maggie MacNeil will have already gone head-to-head in the 50 freestyle. They’re the two favorites there as well, and one will likely be looking to even the score against the other. On the last day of the meet though, the 100 freestyle is a whole different animal than the splash-and-dash.

Walsh won the 2022 title as a freshman, and MacNeil won the event in 2021. They’re seeded at 46.27 and 46.32, with MacNeil holding the edge over Walsh. MacNeil’s personal best is also faster than Walsh’s, but the margin of difference is even smaller there than with their seed times–just three-hundredths. MacNeil clocked 46.02 to win her title, and Walsh swam 46.05 to collect hers.

Both had incredibly strong regular seasons and backed them up at their conference championships. Walsh has been on the rise ever since the summer, while MacNeil has been electric for LSU ever since reuniting with Rick Bishop. This is going to be an incredibly close race and if both are at their best we could see at least one more person break 46 seconds.

The Sub-47 Club

Torri Huske (photo: Jack Spitser)

In addition to Walsh and MacNeil, there are four other swimmers in this race that hold lifetime bests under the 47-second mark. Leading the way for the four of them this season is Torri Huske. The Stanford sophomore threw down a 46.85 at midseason, which is just three one-hudredths off her fastest time of 46.82. She swam that personal best to win the ‘B’ final of 2022 NCAAs, where she found herself after adding a second in the morning.

At PAC-12s, she swam 47-low to win the event easily as the only swimmer in the championship heat under 48. With a full taper, expect her to be back in the 46-range, though she’ll need a huge swim to challenge Walsh and Macneil, whose season-best times are already at least half a second faster than her best.

Huske’s teammate Taylor Ruck opted for the 100 free this year instead of the 200 back. Ruck actually has the fastest personal best in the field behind Walsh and Macneil with a 46.76. However, she swam that time in 2019 and hasn’t been sub-47 since. She went 47.54 leading off Stanford’s relay at PAC-12s, which is solid but doesn’t guarantee her anything in a field crowded with 47-mids.

Louisville’s Gabi Albiero has been having a strong season, and at ACCs she dipped under 47 seconds for the first time with a personal best 46.95. The last two seasons she’s dropped time from ACCs to NCAAs, which suggests that she still has more to give in this event this year. She swam her 46.95 leading off the 400 free relay, so it’ll be important for her to replicate the relay hype in her individual swim. If she does that, she projects to be one of the top finishers in the event.

In the individual 100 free at ACCs, Katharine Berkoff out-touched Albiero by four one-hundredths for third place. Last year, she made the same switch that Ruck made this year, opting for the 100 free over the 200 back. Her choice earned her third in 46.95, just off her lifetime best of 46.89. Her lifetime best puts her on par with Huske, the question is if she’ll hit it–last season she added time from ACCs, but this year she’ll have a better sense of how to prepare for doing this event at NCAAs.

Walsh and MacNeil are the favorites for the top two spots, but there should be an equally tight race between Huske, Albiero, and Berkoff for third.

Aiming for the ‘A’ Final

Amy Fulmer (photo: Jack Spitser)

Ohio State’s Amy Fulmer is tied with Berkoff on the psych sheet at 47.02. The difference is that for Fulmer, that time is a personal best. She swam it last month at Big Tens, and is sure to be eager to become the next person to break 47. It’s going to take doing that to finish highly on the podium and there’s enough depth in front of her that Fulmer could achieve that goal and still wind up sixth.

There’s no shortage of 47-mids on the psych sheet. Depending on where you put the line between a 47-mid and a 47-high, there are six to eight swimmers who fall into the category. After Berkoff and Fulmer, the next swimmer on the psych sheet is Fulmer’s teammate KitKat Zenick, seeded seventh at 47.37. That’s Zenick’s lifetime best and she’s made improvements in all three of the sprint freestyle events this semester, now slashing 21.85/47.37/1:44.77. Zenick finished 14th last year and has positioned herself well to move up and make it two Buckeyes in the ‘A’ final.

Kalia Antoniou, Christina Regenauer, and Lindsay Flynn are separated by four-hundredths of a second this season. Both Antoniou and Flynn made the ‘B’ final last year, with Flynn finishing 11th and Antoniou 15th. Antoniou and Regenauer swam lifetime bests at their respective conference championships in 47.46 and 47.47. Regenauer has made big strides in this event over the last 12 months; she swam 48.45 at last year’s NCAAs for 28th.

For her part, Flynn a sophomore at Michigan, has tied her best of 47.50. Both times are faster than what it took to qualify for the ‘A’ final last year (47.55) but with so many athletes seeded so close together on the psych sheet, they’ll need to be right on their bests in the morning to make the championship heat.

On The Bubble

Lexi Cuomo (photo: University of Virginia)

Lexi Cuomo has been a key part of Virginia’s success the last two seasons, particularly on the relays. She swam a personal best at this meet last year but missed a second swim and finished 27th. She’s dropped more time since then, posting 47.71 at ACCs this year. That would have earned her a swim in the ‘B’ final last year and puts her at 13th on the psych sheet. Her earning a second swim here will be key as Virginia may need to have to fend off Texas’ diving points.

Talia Bates, Chloe Stepanek, and Laticia-Leigh Transom all added time in prelims last year. Bates was able to sneak into the ‘B’ final in 16th, but Stepanek and Transom, both of whom were seeded to score, missed out. Once again, Stepanek and Transom are seeded to score with season-bests of 47.67 and 47.86. They’ll be eager not to repeat those mistakes.

Bates finished 16th last year in 47.95, and has since brought her best time down to 47.75, which she swam at midseason. The Gator women have made big strides this season–highlighted by their first SEC title since 2009–and the trio of Bates, Ekaterina Nikonova, and Micayla Cronk will aim to have there be more than one Gator cap featured in finals.

SWIMSWAM PICKS

Dark Horse: Aimee Canny (UVA) — Canny arrived at UVA this semester from South Africa. She’s new to yards and improved her bests quickly as the Cavaliers finished up the regular season. Her lifetime best in the 100 free stands at 48.05, which puts her outside of scoring range at 23rd on the psych sheets. However, her 46.85 split on Virginia’s 400 medley relay at ACCs shows that she hasn’t come close to her potential in the individual event. If she can get closer to that split on her flat start, she’ll find herself right in the middle of the action. 

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