2023 NCAA WOMEN’S SWIMMING AND DIVING CHAMPIONSHIPS
For the first and only time, the two most versatile athletes in college swimming history will be racing against each other at an NCAA Championships meet. In other words, this matchup between Alex Walsh and Kate Douglass in the 200 IM is going to be must-watch television.
The last time Walsh and Douglass raced each other in an NCAA 200 IM was the 2021 ACC Championships, where Walsh actually pulled off a huge upset. Douglass came into that meet with a best time (1:50.92) nearly three seconds faster than Walsh’s (1:53.69), but Walsh out-split Douglass by over a second on breaststroke to beat her, clocking a massive 1:51.53 compared to Douglass’s 1:51.97. Since then, Walsh has gone on to win the last two NCAA titles in the 200 IM, break the NCAA record (1:50.08), and take home a long course Olympic Trials and World Championships title in the event. Meanwhile, Douglass has taken a bit of a hiatus from the 200 IM, opting to race (and win) the 50 free at 2021 and 2022 NCAAs and scratching the event at the 2022 U.S. World Championships trials after winning Olympic bronze a year prior.
However, the tide turned at the 2022 Short Course World Championships. In her first time swimming the 200 IM in over a year, Douglass clocked a time of 2:02.12, getting within 0.26 seconds of the world record and beating silver-medalist Walsh by over a second. Douglass then went onto swim a 1:50.15 all by herself at ACCs, clocking a time 0.07 seconds away from Walsh’s NCAA record. And now here she is, up against Walsh at NCAAs to avenge her loss against her from two years for prior.
So what will a 200 IM race between Walsh and Douglass look like? Let’s take a look at the splits.
Splits Comparison, Walsh vs. Douglass:
Alex Walsh, 2022 NCAA Championships
Kate Douglass, 2023 ACC Championships
Similar to 2021, Walsh is still killing Douglass on breaststroke—it’s the margin of the race where their gap is the largest. However, that doesn’t feel like a problem when Douglass holds the three fastest 200 breast times in history and also out-split Walsh by half a second on breast at short course worlds. In addition, she also clocked a 50 breast best time of 26.90 at the UVA Sprint Olympics last week (meanwhile, Walsh went 27.22), which bodes well for her sprint breast on the 200 IM. With Douglass being the fastest sprint flyer in history, she also has potential to take her race out way more than 0.12 seconds faster than Walsh.
If Douglass improves on breaststroke (which seems very likely) and continues to outsplit Walsh on free and fly by a significant amount, this could be a blowout win for her like it was at short course worlds. However, it feels as if Walsh is largely untested in the event this year (aside from short course worlds), as she didn’t race it at midseasons or ACCs and her season-best stands at a 1:51.95 from the Cavalier Invite. If Walsh also pops a big swim, this race could be a very close one with multiple lead changes, considering Douglass’s strengths in sprint fly and free and Walsh’s strong middle 100.
Regardless of who wins, this 200 IM race is going to be one for the ages, and the 1:50-point barrier is going to be smashed.
Huske On The Horizon
In the midst of Walsh’s NCAA record last year, Torri Huske had a quiet but strong swim to get second, dropping over half a second from her best time to go 1:51.81. This season, she’s once again lost in the wash of Walsh and Douglass hype, which means her potential in the event gets a little bit overlooked. But in reality, Huske’s swims this year indicate that she’s ripe for improvement.
Huske is well-known for her success in sprint free and fly, but this year she set best times in back and breast, the two strokes that she’s weaker in. She swam a 23.82 50 back at midseasons and went a 52.45 at a dual meet, and also swam a 2:14.65 200 breast unsuited in October. Although Huske is not known for being a four-stroke star the way Walsh and Douglass are, she’s racing and improving in her “off” strokes, which bodes very well for her 200 IM. In fact, Huske’s splits of 23.87/27.52/32.73/27.69 actually make her faster than Walsh and Douglass on the first 100, she just lags behind them in terms of closing speed (where she has potential, considering how good she is as a sprint freestyler).
Though we don’t predict Huske to beat Walsh or Douglass right now, she is our clear pick for third, and could possibly get under the 1:51-point barrier as well. This season, she comes into the meet seeded third with a time of 1:53.37 from midseasons.
Now let’s talk about the two Texas swimmers entered in this event—Kelly Pash and Emma Sticklen. Pash had a big swim in the 200 IM ‘A’ final last year, finishing fifth in a time of 1:53.31 and dropping nearly two seconds from her PB of 1:55.13 coming into NCAAs. She was about half a second off her NCAAs time at midseasons last December, going 1:53.81 to take the sixth seed headed into this meet. However, Pash feels like one of those swimmers that gets faster every time she jumps into a pool (given her massive drops at NCAAs last year in all of her events), and we think she’s primed to finish fourth and get under the 1:53-point barrier.
Sticklen didn’t race the 200 IM last year, instead opting to swim the 50 free. However, she clocked a massive 1:54.70 at the NC State-Texas dual meet, dropping nearly two seconds from her previous best time of 1:56.57. Sticklen was pretty good at improving from in-season meets to NCAAs last year, and given her drops in other events this season and 1:54-mid being right around what it took to ‘A’ final last year, we think she’ll get into the top eight despite being seeded 10th.
Ella Nelson is one of the best 200 IMers in the nation, she just gets overshadowed a bit by her superhuman teammates. Last year, she finished 8th in the finals and set a best time of 1:54.48, and has since then improved that time to a 1:53.69 at this year’s Cavalier Invite to earn herself the fifth seed at NCAAs. Like Walsh, Nelson hasn’t raced the 200 IM at a big championship meet this season yet, which means she could be in for a big swim at NCAAs.
Another swimmer who has been sub-1:54 this season is Georgia’s Zoie Hartman, who is the fourth seeded with her SECs winning time of 1:53.58. She’s historically had trouble improving from her seed time from conferences to NCAAs in the breaststroke events, but she’s been pretty good at that in the 200 IM—her season-bests in the event during the 2021 and 2022 seasons were both set at NCAAs, and she improved from a 1:53.79 at SECs to a 1:53.15 at NCAAs last year to finish fourth overall. Given her consistent ability to swim 1:53-lows, we think she’ll be in the ‘A’ final as well.
Let’s also talk about Duke’s Sarah Foley, who dropped nearly three seconds from a 1:57.03 to a 1:54.38 last season and finished sixth at NCAAs. She’s gotten even faster this season, clocking a 1:54.12 for a second place finish at ACCs, and she’ll likely be a familiar face in this ‘A’ final. Her ACC rival Abby Hay is also a returning ‘A’ finalist, placing seventh with a personal best of 1:54.93. This season, she’s seeded down in 15th with a 1:55.07, but if she can improve just a bit from her seed while those in front of her add, she’ll be able to find herself in the same spot as last year.
Also keep an eye on Lea Polonsky and Josephine Fuller, the seventh and eighth seeds with times of 1:54.02 and 1:54.09 respectively. Polonsky finished 9th in prelims to just miss the ‘A’ final last year, and with an improved time, she’ll be vying for the top heat this year. Fuller, meanwhile, improved from a best time of 1:57.97 from last season, though she went 1:59.05 to finish 57th at NCAAs and saw similar adds in other events.
Dark Horse: Aimee Canny, Virginia— A big reason as to why we have Canny as our dark horse is because of her 27.40 50 breast at the UVA Sprint Olympics, which shows she’s proficient in a stroke besides freestyle and bodes really well for an IM event. She’s seeded down in 25th with a time of 1:55.90 (which was her time from ACCs when she clocked her second 200-yard IM ever), and with an extra month of yards training and a few more tenths dropped, she could find herself in a stronger scoring position.