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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Swimming: 2023-24 Season Recap

The 2023-24 season saw possibly the fastest team in school history, but it may only be the start for the flourishing program.
Olivia Noell
The team cheers “Good job Florida, see you at SECs” as photographed on Sept. 29, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Olivia Noell)

Truthfully, it may be undeniable that the 2023-24 Commodores were the fastest in program history. But behind the curtain of their success lies a long and winding path stretching back to September 2023. To understand the gravity of this team’s accomplishments, its months of commitment must be considered.

Fall 2023

On Sept. 29, 2023, the University of Florida blew Vanderbilt out of the water, beating the Commodores 180-75 at Centennial Sportsplex in Nashville, Tenn. 

“The overall competitiveness of the group showed; we did a really good job of racing today,” head coach Jeremy Organ said. “That was one of the things that impressed us the most.”

Indeed, Vanderbilt bounced back a month later, outracing the University of Iowa to a 138-124 win at home. One of the difference-makers at the meet was graduate student Sophia Kosturos, who won the 100-yard backstroke with a time of 55.75 seconds. The time placed her ninth on Vanderbilt’s all-time top performers list — an impressive achievement to most, but only a starting point for Kosturos. 

The Commodores then traveled to Champaign for a dual meet against the University of Illinois, which they lost. However, the team did not go down without a fight. Kailia Utley set two pool records in the 100 and 200 butterfly, while Faith Knelson did the same in the 100 breaststroke.

In the final challenge of the fall season, Vanderbilt showed glimpses of its potential. Out of a field of eight teams at the Gamecock Invitational in Columbia, S.C., the Commodores placed second. The meet saw Vanderbilt break two school records in the 400 freestyle and 400 medley relays, the former being nearly a decade old.

Winter 2024

The Commodores got off to a cold start in a tri-meet against Iowa and the University of Miami. Despite besting Iowa earlier in the season, Vanderbilt lost 178-83 in its second meeting. Furthermore, Miami beat Vanderbilt 191-70. Not a single podium was topped by a Vanderbilt swimmer, and not a single team record was broken.

Ellie Taliaferro helped boost morale in the second meet of the winter, breaking the 100 freestyle school record in a tri-meet against the University of Georgia and Florida State University hosted by Georgia. But in spite of the team’s efforts, they were unable to walk out of the Gabrielsen Natatorium with a win.

Vanderbilt’s cold streak continued with a loss to the University of Arkansas. The team finally re-entered the win column with victories over North Texas and Little Rock to close out a long spell on the road. 

After 97 days and six away meets, Vanderbilt returned to Centennial Sportsplex to celebrate its seniors against Tulane. The team sent its soon-to-be graduates off in style with a decisive victory to close out the regular season. Knelson and Kosturos were both able to grab race wins in their final individual swims at the Plex.


Two weeks later, the Commodores traveled to Auburn, A.L. for the SEC Championships, and after a season of ups and downs, the team pulled out all the stops. When the dust settled after the five days of competition, Vanderbilt marched out of Auburn with 14 new school records. Taliaferro led the way by breaking records in seven total races, three of which were individual efforts. For some, the season did not end with the SEC Championships. Utley had met the NCAA B standards in the 100 and 200 butterfly, but she knew she had to make one last push to earn an invitation to the event. To do so, she attended the Bulldog NCAA Qualifying Meet in Athens G.A., where her time of 1:55.51 in the 200 butterfly was fast enough to make her the first Commodore to earn an invitation in 34 years. At the NCAA Championships, which was also in Athens, she placed 52nd in the 100 butterfly and 31st in the 200 butterfly.

The future

With the conclusion of the 2023-24 season, eight swimmers graduated from the program: Knelson, Kosturos, Abby Francis, Gabriela Pierobon Mays, Ella Platek, Maddie Smith, Alina Stout and Trinity Tran. As a result, Vanderbilt lost record-holders in five individual races and eight relay legs across five record-holding relays.

Knelson and Kosturos represent perhaps the two greatest losses, as they are the fastest backstroker and breastroker in school history, respectively. Their absences will no doubt be felt next year, but Kosturos sees a bright future for the program.

“I think this year was definitely a turning point for the Vanderbilt Swimming team,” Kosturos said.

It very well may be a turning point, as Vanderbilt will be welcoming a powerhouse of a recruiting class to West End for the 2024-25 season. Vanderbilt landed the commitment of breastroker Emily Constable, who will look to fill the shoes of Knelson’s absence next season. Constable’s best time in the 100 breaststroke of 1:01.80 is only 1.06 seconds slower than Knelson’s team record, and her time in the 50 is within a second — which could help to fill the voids left in the 200 and 400 medley relays.

As for Kosturos, Vanderbilt has recruited Aubrey Hull as a successor. Incredibly, Hull’s personal record in the 100 backstroke would beat Kosturos’s school record in the event. Furthermore, her personal best in the 50 backstroke is only 0.05 seconds slower than Kosturos’s mark. So it seems as though the future is secure in the breaststroke and backstroke departments for Vanderbilt.

Not only does Vanderbilt have new heavy-hitting recruits for the program, but it will return its stars in Taliaferro, Utley, Mercedes Traba and Megan Ciezczak. Traba will ensure that the long-distance disciplines will be locked down for at least one more year, as she is the school record holder in the 400 individual medley, 500 freestyle and 1000 freestyle. Ciezczak was a part of the school-record 200 freestyle, 400 freestyle and 200 medley relay teams at the SEC Championships and will be instrumental in those relays’ future success.

The 2023-24 team was the fastest in Vanderbilt Swimming history — but it may only be a stepping stone on the way to the top of collegiate swimming. At the very least, the team put Vanderbilt on the map as a growing and exciting program. For future reference, it would be wise to keep track of Vanderbilt swim’s records in pencil rather than pen.

Following the publication of this recap, The Hustler was informed that Faith Knelson would be returning for her final year of eligibility.

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About the Contributors
Vincent Xu
Vincent Xu, Sports Copy Editor
Vincent Xu (‘27) is planning on majoring in economics with a minor in data science in the College of Arts and Science. Outside of The Hustler, Vincent enjoys playing sports, watching sports, talking sports and a couple of other things that are sadly unrelated to sports. He can be reached at [email protected].
Olivia Noell
Olivia Noell, Staff Photographer
Olivia Noell (‘25) is from Anniston, Ala., and is majoring in neuroscience, medicine, health and society and gender and sexuality studies in the College of Arts and Science. She enjoys hammocking, spending time with friends and trying new restaurants around Nashville. You can reach her at [email protected].
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