FAU – MOVIN’ ON UP: THE TOP 25 MOST IMPROVED WOMEN’S TEAMS
With the November Invitationals over, teams all over the country are gearing up for the harsh conditions that are Winter Break training, if not already gritting their way through it. At collegeswimming.com, we looked through all the data and compiled the twenty-five teams that have improved themselves the most since this time last year. We based it on current ranking (collegeswimming.com points), change in ranking from last year, and change in power point score from last year.
1. Virginia Cavaliers – Augie Busch is in his second year and is doing a marvelous job with the Hoos. After an 11th place finish at NCAAs last season, this Virginia team is in contention to compete for a top four spot this year. Sophomore Leah Smith is No. 1 in the nation currently in the 500 and 1650, while junior Courtney Bartholomew is No. 1 in the 100 back and third in the 200. Sophomore Laura Simon has the fastest yards time in the 200 breast this season and is fourth in the 100. Virginia’s IM group is also making some noise in the national rankings with Bartholomew, Ellen Williamson, and Kaitlyn Jones all ranking in the top 16 in the 200 IM while Jones and senior Shaun Casey are in the top 16 in the 400. With Bartholomew, Simon, Williamson, and Ellen Thomas, the Hoos’ 400 Medley Relay is ranked tops in the nation while the 200 is second. They will be a tough unit to beat at the NCAAs in March. Another reason for the success in Charlottesville this year has been thanks to their freshmen class that was ranked No. 9 in our rankings from July. Augie Busch is doing a tremendous job with this team and this could be a historic year for Virginia. Their highest finish at NCAAs was seventh way back in 1988.
2. Michigan Wolverines – Michigan women? In our men’s article, we highlighted how the Georgia men are finally in national prominence joining their women (who have been there for years). This Michigan team is the same way but in reverse. One of the best men’s universities historically has one of the most improved women’s teams this year. Although a powerhouse in the 90s, the Wolverines have not been the same since winning their last Big Ten title in 2004. Special thanks to the second-ranked recruiting class in our system, the Wolverines could challenge for a Big Ten title this season. Freshman Gillian Ryan ranks first in the Big Ten in the 500 and 1650, as well as third in the 200. Her freshmen classmates Hannah Moore, Emily Kopas and Clara Smiddy also rank in the top 16 in a few events in the crowded Big Ten. Returning All-American Marni Oldershaw is also doing her job for the Wolverines as she is a part of the impressive IM group with three girls ranked in the top 16 in the 400 IM. Mike Bottom has done a tremendous job in Ann Arbor with the men and women as both have chances at Big Ten titles this season. Don’t sleep on the Wolverines.
3. Tennessee Volunteers- The Lady Vols had their best season ever in finishing third at the 2013 NCAAs. They’ve had a few graduations since then but are getting back on track with a very improved team this year. It seems like breaststroker Molly Hannis has been around forever but the senior is as good as ever, ranking first in the SEC in the 200 breast and second in the 100. Junior Faith Johnson is another seasoned veteran who ranks fifth in the nation in the 50 this season and second in the SEC and her 100 is eighth in the conference. The Vols best chances at winning a relay at SEC are in the medleys. Madison Hahn, Hannis, Harper Bruens, and Johnson have the 200 medley sitting in second in the stacked SEC and that relay could go to really any team. Their 400 medley meanwhile is ranked fifth. Lauren Driscoll, Morgan Dickson, Madeline Tegner, and Mary Griffith have provided boosts for the Vols distance program as Tyler Fenwick is really making his voice heard with this group. The Vols were also on our men’s most improved list so Matt Kredich must be doing something right over there in Knoxville, but we knew that already.
4. Kentucky Wildcats- Lars Jorgensen’s tenure in Lexington is still young but he has done a tremendous job with this team this season. Their headliner is senior butterflier Tina Bechtel who leads the nation in the 200 fly and is second in the 100. Also headlining this team is an 800 free relay that currently leads the SEC. Bechtel, Danielle Galyer, Abby Myers, and Kendal Casey stand fifth in the nation. Sophomore Galyer has also been instrumental in the Cats’ improvement this season as she stands fifth in the SEC in the 100 and 200 back. Her rookie teammate Bridgette Alexander also stands at 14th in the 100 and 15th in the 200 to give them more depth. Sophomore Kendal Casey has also been much improved for the Cats this season standing at seventh in the conference in the 1650 and fifteenth in the 500. The Wildcats were 10th at SECs last season and could sneak up on some teams this time around.
5. Virginia Tech Hokies- Another Virginia team? There must be something going on in the Old Dominion. Ned Skinner has been the head man of this team for a long time but this year’s women’s team could be one of his best. One of the big reasons for the Hokies’ success this season has been sophomore Fiona Donnelly. She is one of the most versatile swimmers in the ACC while she sits in seventh in the 200 IM and sixth in the 400. She is also a part of the 800 free relay that sits third in the ACC along with Gabrielle Bishop, Jessica Hespeler, and Emily Ryczek. Hespeler has also been big for the Hokies this year as she is seventh in the 500 and 1650 as well as fifteenth in the 200. Skinner and the Hokies also boast an impressive backstroke tandem with freshman Klaudia Nazieblo and junior Holly Harper both ranking in the top eight in both backstrokes. Nazieblo also is third in the 200 fly and tenth in the 200 IM. Their breaststroke group is even better with juniors Weronika Paluszek and Mackenzie Stewart and senior Alyssa Bodin ranking in the top 16 in both breast events. The Hokies were fifth last season in the now crowded ACC and are a dangerous team moving forward.
6. Alabama Crimson Tide- We highlighted the Tide’s men’s team in our last article and it is no surprise that the women are on here too. Dennis Pursley and Jonty Skinner are doing a fantastic job in Tuscaloosa and the results are showing. The headliner on this team is senior Kaylin Burchell who ranks fourth in the 100 breast and eleventh in the 200. The 100 at the SECs is wide open currently and she will be in the thick of things for the title in that event. Junior Emma Saunders is also playing a key role for the Tide this season as she sits in sixth in the conference in the 200 free and eighth in the 200 back. Sophomore Bridget Blood and freshman Mia Nonnenburg are also ranked in the top 16 in the 200 breast and 400 IM respectively. The Tide were 8th at SECs last season and will be swimming the conference meet this season in their home state, just down the road in Auburn. The Tigers may not be the only ones who will have home pool advantage.
7. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers- The Hilltoppers lead Conference USA in four of the five relays so far this season. Last year the Tops did not win any relays so this is a huge step for them. Bruce Marchionda and Brian Thomas are a very underrated coaching tandem and they are quietly moving up in the national rankings, sitting at 30th in our rankings. Sophomore Nadine Laemmler leads Conference USA in the 100 and 200 back and 200 IM; a key role in their No. 7 ranking here. Senior Allie Duff ranks in the top eight in four events in the conference, providing a big boost for the Tops as well. Junior Michelle Craddock is third in the 100, 200, and 500 free as she has been a big part of their relays this season. The rookies for Western have also made big impacts for them this year. Freshmen Haley Black and Hannah Musser have been big in the butterfly events as they are both in the top eight in both. Other big contributors for this team have been seniors Claire Conlon and Ashley Forsyth as well as sophomore Andrea VanderMey. The Hilltoppers have been on the rise the last few years and are in their second season in the Conference USA. They will be a team to watch come championship season.
8. Harvard Crimson- Stephanie Wriede Morawski has the defending Ivy League champions on the right track as they currently lead the Ivy League in four of the five relays. Freshman Geordie Enoch has been huge for the Crimson as she leads the Ivy League in the 200 IM and is second in the 400, as well as fifth in the 200 breast. Senior Stephanie Ferrell leads the Ivy League in both breaststrokes as her freshman teammate Katie Evans is in the top eight in both as well. The most impressive part of Harvard’s team this year is their backstroke trio of juniors Danielle Lee and Kendall Crawford, and freshman Kristina Li as they are 1-2-3 in the 100 back. Lee is also ranked in the top eight in three other events. Freshman Gabby Sims is also doing a good job apart of this deep Harvard team. She was a key member in our No. 18 ranked recruiting class for the Crimson in July.
9. NC State Wolfpack- In his fourth season, Braden Holloway has turned both teams at NC State from ACC bottom feeders to contenders. The most impressive aspect of this team this season has been their sprinters. Five girls from the Wolfpack are ranked in the top 16 in the ACC led by Riki Bonnema sitting in third. That translates to a third ranked 200 free relay in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Sophomore Alexia Zevnik is leading the team in the backstroke events while sophomore Kayla Brumbaum is leading the team in breaststroke duties. The majority of this team is returning next year so that bodes well for Holloway’s bunch moving forward as they continue their climb to the top of the ACC.
10. Wright State Raiders- Ahh the good ole Horizon League. Our highest score improvement percentage in the top 10 (Youngstown State at No. 24 had the highest). Head coach Kyle Oaks is in his second season and is already making a huge impact for the Raiders. Sophomore butterflier Emily Hayhow sits at second in the Horizon League in the 100 fly. The team has seven ladies ranked in the top 16 in at least one event in the conference. The Raiders were next to last at last year’s Horizon League meet so this improvement is really good for the team moving forward.
13. Florida Atlantic
15. Northern Iowa
17. Air Force
19. New Mexico
20. Brigham Young
23. Oregon State
24. Youngstown State
25. Colorado State