SwimmingVirginia Women Set to Highlight Conference Championship Meets

Virginia Women Set to Highlight Conference Championship Meets

Dominant Virginia Women Set to Highlight First Wave of Division I Conference Championship Meets

Before the University of Virginia Cavaliers earned a second consecutive national championship with a 145.5-point drubbing of second-place Texas last March, the team picked up a third consecutive conference title and a 13th win in the last 15 years. The meet was not nearly as close as the final score (1418.5 to NC State’s 1347) indicated. Led by the star trio of Kate DouglassAlex Walsh and Gretchen Walsh, Virginia won 10 out of 13 individual events plus all five relays.

Virginia swam the fastest time ever in four of the five relays last season, and the top marks in three of those events came at the conference meet (with one of those marks then tied at the NCAA Championships). It would be no surprise to see the Cavaliers again pushing for historic relay marks this time, even if the biggest names on the roster are saving some juice for next month’s national meet in Knoxville, Tenn., and a bid for a national three-peat.

It’s unclear what individual events the top Virginia swimmers will race this week. For instance, Alex Walsh is entered in eight different events, including the 500 freestyle, 200 IM, 400 IM, 200 free, 200 butterfly, 100 breaststroke, 200 backstroke and 200 breast. A swimmer can only race three individual events for the meet, but it’s worth noting that Walsh, last year’s world champion in the 200-meter IM, would likely be favored in whichever she chose.

Her NCAA program last year consisted of the 200 IM, 400 IM and 200 fly — and she won all three, with an American and NCAA record in the 200 IM — but before that, she swam the 200 free and 200 breast at ACCs. Her 200 free time at the conference meet would have been good enough for third at the NCAA Championships, and in the 200 breast, Walsh ranks third in history behind Douglass and Lilly King with her time from the ACC meet last season.

Douglass is listed in the 200 IM, 50 free, 100 fly, 100 breast, 100 free and 200 breast, while Gretchen Walsh will choose three out of the 50 free, 100 fly, 100 back, 200 back and 100 free.

The ACC meet will provide a hint into Virginia’s relay strategy for the main event, and this will surely look different than one year ago. For one, star breaststroker Alexis Wenger has graduated, so throughout most of this season, Alex Walsh has handled the breaststroke leg on both the 200 and 400 medley relays while while Douglass has moved from her usual freestyle position to butterfly. Maxine Parker, a junior transfer from the University of Georgia, has handled freestyle duties.

Simple switch? Well, not really, since swimmers can only swim four out of five relays each at a college championship meet if they want to race three individual events. The elder Walsh sister is the only one of Virginia’s central trio to race on the 800 free relay, and last year, she sat out the 200 medley relay. This time around, maybe Cavaliers head coach Todd DeSorbo will switch her off the 200 freestyle relay and go with Parker alongside Douglass, Gretchen Walsh and Lexi Cuomo. DeSorbo might also opt to experiment with a strategy this week on the ACC level and then revamp it on the national stage.

Virginia will get plenty of competition at the conference level from NC State, featuring 100 back NCAA-record holder Katharine Berkoff plus Abby ArensKylee Alons and a strong supporting cast, and from North Carolina, with a strong stable of sprinters, but expect this meet to be the Virginia show, a dress rehearsal for the national meet one month later.

How Do Florida and NC State Men Stack Up?

On the men’s side, we have to wait on Cal, Texas and this year’s most impressive team so far, Arizona State, but a pair of national top five contenders will race in their conference meets this week: the Florida Gators and NC State Wolfpack. Florida, the third-place team last season, will be going for an 11th consecutive SEC title led by freshman sprinter Josh Liendo, already a World Championships medalist and Commonwealth Games champion.

Typically, a team that loses Olympic medalists Bobby Finke and Kieran Smith to graduation would be in store for a substantial drop in the standings, but Florida is in an unusually strong position with Liendo joining a mostly-intact sprint group returning Adam Chaney and Eric Friese from a pair of national-championship 200-yard relays last season. At the SEC meet, we’ll get a sense for how fast Florida’s relays might be able to go plus where Liendo, Chaney, Friese, breaststroker Dillon Hillis, IMer Kevin Vargas and freestylers Alfonso Mestre and Jake Mitchell will stack up in their individual events.

NC State, meanwhile, will be seeking an eighth ACC men’s title in the last nine seasons with a similar roster construction to Florida: high-ceiling talent, such as reigning 100 back NCAA champion Kacper Stokowski and 1650 national runnerup Will Gallant, and really strong sprint relays. The well of talent includes Luke Miller, Nyls Korstanje, David Curtiss, Aiden HayesNoah Henderson, Hunter Tapp and Bartosz Piszczorowicz. That’s a lot of pieces to maneuver but an enviable position for Wolfpack head coach Braden Holloway to be in.

Neither the Gators nor Wolfpack have received the attention of the Cal, Texas or Arizona State, and even this week, the Virginia women might overshadow the efforts of these two elite men’s squads. But these are two programs used to delivering strong end-of-season results, so it would be a good idea to keep an eye on their conference swimming.

Also in Action

In addition to combined-gender meets in the ACC and SEC, both of which run five days beginning Tuesday, the Big Ten women will be racing beginning Wednesday in Ann Arbor, Mich., with Ohio State favored for a fourth consecutive title. The Atlantic 10, American Athletic Conference, Patriot League, and Horizon League will also have dual-gender meets this week while the Ivy League and Mountain West women compete.

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