MCSL – The Nuts and Bolts

Summer swim season is in full swing.  Practices started two weeks ago, and some teams have already had their first B meet of the season. Here at Reach For The Wall, the anticipation is killing us.  We understand that the “swim geeks” know swimming inside and out.  But the reality is, only a small percentage of swim families really understand how MCSL swimming is organized.  The rest of us just show up when we are told.  In an effort to make the summer swim experience a little less mysterious, we have put together a nuts and bolts synopsis of MCSL swimming.  We would encourage every team to share this with their team members – those new to the sport, as well as the old pros.  We also welcome questions.  If there is something you don’t understand or are dying to know, please post in the comments below!  We will get the answers for you if we don’t know them ourselves.

MCSL Divisions

There are fifteen divisions in the MCSL rated from “A” Division through “O” Division. Teams are placed in divisions each year based on a computer swim-off using times from the previous season.  That is, MCSL (i) creates one virtual team for each MCSL team based on the median times from all five of that team’s dual meets the prior year, and then (ii) runs a virtual meet between every virtual team (similar to how Reach for the Wall runs virtual meets).  The team with 90 wins (meaning their virtual team beat every other virtual team in the league) is the top seed of Division A. The team with no wins is the lowest seed in Division 0 (excluding new teams to the league).

Swim Teamsmcsl

There are six teams in each division. The MCSL schedules five dual “A” meets on Saturday mornings so that each team can compete against each other once before the Divisional swim meet where all the teams in the division race each other. The MCSL rules limit the number of events in which each swimmer may participate at a Saturday meet.  There also are swim meets on Wednesday nights called “B” meets for swimmers who don’t have the opportunity to swim at the previous Saturday A meet. Teams can hold Wednesday B meets with whoever they want (i.e., they are not restricted to teams in their own division, as is the case for Saturday meets).  

Team Equipment

Grab a suit, cap and goggles and you are ready to go.  Sure, there is plenty of other equipment you CAN get, but any swimmer can have a successful swim season with just the bare necessities.  Swimmers generally aren’t even obligated to purchase the team suit, although wearing the same suit does provide a feeling of team unity and pride.  Team caps are also available, but again are not usually required.  (Club affiliated caps are prohibited at all MCSL Meets.

Time Trials

The purpose of time trials is to establish official times for the swimmers in each event prior to the first Saturday A meet.  For summer swimmers, these times can be used to measure individual progress throughout the season. Time trials are typically held one week before the first Saturday meet.  Often teams will have “make up” days for time trials, but ideally you should try and make the time trials – it is great meet simulation and is a great bonding experience for the team.

Saturday MCSL “A” Meets

The results of Saturday A meets determine a swim team’s standing within its Division each summer season.  In each dual meet, each swimmer’s place in an event is awarded points and total meet points for a team are compared against those of their opponent to determine the winner of the meet.  League standings for each division are based on each team’s win/loss record in the dual meets in their given division plus the points each team scored at relay carnival and divisionals.  Individual swimmers times are important as each swimmer’s best times at the end of the season determine who from each team will swim at divisionals and are taken into consideration in determining division assignments for the following year.

How does the Coach decide who swims each event on Saturdays?


Generally, the three fastest times in each event for each age group swim in the “A” meet on Saturday except for freestyle, which includes swimmers with the top six times.  Each event will run one heat with the exception of freestyle, which has two heats.  So at a dual meet, there will be three swimmers from each team in each event (or six in the freestyle events).  The exception to this is Divisionals, where each team will field their top two swimmers for a total of two heats in each event. The coach puts each swimmer in the event where the team needs that swimmer most. This may not necessarily be the child’s best event.

The relays swum at each dual meet are the Boys and Girls Open Medleys (events #27 and #28) and the Boys and Girls Graduated Relays (events #49 and #50). The Open Medleys are open to the fastest swimmers regardless of age. They are swum in the following order: back, breast, fly and free. Prior to the start of the dual meet, the head coach chooses the participants.  The Graduated Free Relays are swum in the following order: 9-10 (50M), 11-12 (50M), 13-14 (50M), and 8 & Under (25M). The participants are generally chosen by the Head Coach after the events are completed for that meet. Usually the fastest freestyle swimmers at the dual meet in each age group will swim in the graduated relay that week.  Each team at a dual meet will field two relays per event with the exception of Divisionals, in which each team will field one relay per event.

Scoring of “A” Meets

Points are awarded based on the place finish in each race.  For individual events, the team gets 6 points for First Place, 4 points for Second, 3 points for Third, 2 points for Fourth, and 1 point for Fifth in each event. For relay events, the team gets 8 points for First Place, 4 points for Second, and in the case of the Graduated Relay, 2 points for Third Place.  At most meets, the score of the meet is announced during half-time and again at the end of the meet.

Virtual Meets

During the summer swim season (and in the dead of winter if you happen to be daydreaming of summer days), you can run a virtual meet on any team in the MCSL.  The Virtual Meet simulator is one of our favorite features.   You simply select a league (Montgomery County Swim League) for MCSL and select any two teams (they do not have to be in the same Division).

This is a simulation of meets, scheduled or not, between any two teams in a league, based on the most recent swims of the teams involved, not season-best times. Simulations are not based on the coach’s submissions of who will swim in particular events in an upcoming meet. It is likely that the swimmers in some events will not be the same as  in this virtual meet.  Simulations will be updated when the teams have new meets.

You can click on any swimmer’s name to see all recorded times of that swimmer provided by the league for additional insight on likely performance.  These times listed go back as far as the swimmer has been swimming for MCSL as long as they took place at an “A” meet, Divisionals or All Star meet.  This feature is also a neat way to track swimmer progress over the years.

Wednesday “B” Meets

The Wednesday night “B” league is structured to give ALL swimmers the opportunity to participate in a meet, particularly those swimmers who do not regularly swim in the Saturday MCSL meets.  There are multiple heats of each event and no limit as to the number of swimmers who can participate.

“B” Meet times do not count as official MCSL times or qualify athletes to swim at the Coaches Long Course and All-Star meets.  Nevertheless, B meet times often are important to swimmers who have improved over the season.  Coaches will use times obtained at “A” and “B” meets to determine who swims each week at the “A” meet – a drop in time could move a swimmer into that week’s “A” meet.

At B meets, the mission is to encourage full team participation and spirit. The goal is to give ALL swimmers the opportunity to compete in an actual meet on a weekly basis. Many future superstars started off as B meet participants.  Wednesday nights is where the real fun happens at summer swim meets, the emphasis is on growth as an individual swimmer and having fun.  The  structure of individual “B” leagues varies from team to team – some will give out heat winner ribbons and participant ribbons, others do not.  Some also have an end of the season “B” “championship” meet.   One thing they all have in common – they are the heart and soul of every team.

Relay Carnival/All-Star Relays

In addition to the dual meets on Saturdays and Wednesdays, teams will also participate in Relay Carnivals.carnival

There is an “A” Relay Carnival for every team in MCSL.  Some teams also host a “B” Carnival or an inter squad relay meet.  The Relay Carnivals feature competition in the four relays swum at dual meets (Boys Graduated, Girls Graduated, Boys Open Medley, and Girls Open Medley), but they also include relay races that are not swum at the dual meets.  Many of these other relays involve mixed gender teams as well as the individual age groups will have their own relay team.

Coaches’ Long Course

On the Tuesday after the fourth dual “A” meet, the Coaches’ Long Course Meet is held at the Rockville Pool. The events are the same as the non-relay events in the dual meets – however the distance is doubled and swam in Long Course Meters (vs. the regular Short Course Meters).  MCSL invites eight swimmers and two alternates to participate in each event, based on the fastest times from the first three dual meets. A swimmer may not compete in more than two events.  Medals are given to everyone who completes their event.  This meet is subject to weather conditions and in the past has not been made up for races that are not completed due to weather.

All-Stars Relays/Individual All-Stars

The All-Star Relay qualifiers for the four relays swum at each dual meet (Boys Graduated, Girls Graduated, Boys Open Medley, and Girls Open Medley) are based on the times recorded throughout the season. For those four events, the fastest relay teams in each division (based on all the five dual meets, Divisionals, and Relay Carnival) are chosen to swim those relays at the All-Star Relays.  All the other relays selected to particulate in the Relay Carnival are the winning relay teams from the “A” relay carnival.  Eight teams plus two alternates will be invited for each event at each section of the meet.

The All-Star Relay meet will be run in two sections: Section I and Section II. Section I will include teams in Division A through the middle MCSL division (e.g., Division H); Section II will include teams after the middle to the last division. When there is an even number of divisions, the sections will be divided equally. When there is an odd number of divisions, the Board will determine by a flip of a coin which section has the extra division for that year. In subsequent years, the extra division will alternate between sections until the MCSL adds enough teams to move to an even number of divisions.  For each section, the awards are as follows: plaques for first place, medals for second and third, ribbons for fourth through eighth with duplicates for ties.

    The Individual All-Star Meet is held the weekend after the Divisional meets. Sixteen swimmers and three alternates are invited by the MCSL to participate in each event, based on the fastest times from the dual meets and Divisionals. Two heats of eight swimmers will swim each event. The swimmers are seeded based on their times. Each swimmer can participate in 2 All-Star events.  In order to be eligible to swim at this meet, a swimmer must have competed in at least two MCSL dual “A” meets or one dual “A” meet and the Divisional Championship Meet during the current season.  Requests for a waiver of this requirement must be made in writing to the Rules Committee by the day after the Division Championship (Divisional) meet.  Awards received at this meet are plaques for first, second and third; medals for fourth, fifth and sixth; and ribbons for seventh through sixteenth and duplicates for ties.

What happens after All-Stars?  There are a few USA Swimming championship meets that remain for club swimmers.  That being said, many people go to the beach!

Any Questions?  Please ask!

5 thoughts on “MCSL – The Nuts and Bolts

  • Jun 19, 2022 at 9:01 pm

    What a good synopsis!!
    Looks like your relay event numbers need to be updated.
    My reading of the rules is that club affiliations on caps, etc. are prohibited at all A meets, not just All Stars & Coaches Long Course.
    Also looking for any advice on how to reverse sort an evening B meet (I’m talking to you, Meet Manager!) so that later events may be swum first sometimes to make up for evening thunderstorms…

    • Jun 21, 2022 at 9:31 am

      Thanks so much for pointing out the relay and cap rule change. We will update the article.
      Reverse sorting in Meet Manager would be neat. Perhaps someone here will chime in, cause I certainly don’t know. I’d personally like to see a short cut key (with numbers) for NS. Anyone?

    • Jun 21, 2022 at 5:30 pm

      Does this rule for caps apply to the RMSC Rays? Note: Full comment edited at the discretion of the site owner

      • Jun 24, 2022 at 1:35 pm

        It does in fact include the Rays. It’s the Rockville Rays, not the RMSC Rays, although quite a few do swim at RMSC! It’s an MCSL League, not a club league.

  • Aug 19, 2022 at 2:29 pm

    How does a start up team start the process to enter MCSL?


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