Photo by Jack Spitser / Spitser Photography / NCAA.
It’s one of the fastest swim meets of the year, where impressive feats of speed often call for the history books to be re-written when the lights come down. However, this is not a competition between professionals swimmers, but for college kids. Many putting down the books between midterms to pick up the mantle as some of the most elite swimmers in the world. The NCAA championships were held in Austin, Texas from Mar. 20 to 23 this past weekend.
The first session of the meet began with Stanford taking the win in the 2×400 yard freestyle relay. It was a dominant performance by Katie Drabot, Ella Eastin, Taylor Ruck (Canadian and Freshman), and Brooke Forde, who won the head almost three seconds ahead of Cal in 6:47.22.
The first individual events contested were the 500 free, 200 individual medley (IM), and 50 free, followed by the 400IM relay.
For the first time in a couple years, Katie Ledecky, who turned professional last year, would not be in the field as a favourite for this event. This weekend event was dominated by Stanford’s Brooke Forde, who dropped over five seconds from a 4:38 to win in 4:31.34. Second belonged to Virginia’s Paige Madden, who also dropped massive time to touch in 4:32.98. While the race was impressive, both ladies were far off the NCAA record held by the legendary Ledecky.
- GOLD: Brooke Forde, Stanford, 4:31.34
- SILVER: Paige Madden, Virginia, 4:32.98
- BRONZE: Mackenzie Padington, Minnesota, 4:35.21
Beata Nelson from Wisconsin upset Stanford favourite Ella Eastin to become the second fastest-ever performer in this event, and NCAA champion. Nelson has been working on her breaststroke and the training paid off as she pulled away in that leg.
- GOLD: Beata Nelson, Wisconsin, 1:50.79
- SILVER: Ella Eastin, Stanford, 1:51.81
- BRONZE: Sydney Pickrem, Texas A&M, 1:51.84
The sprint events got going with the good old splash and dash. It had been three years since Abbey Weitzeil from Cal had set her American Record, and finally she swept it away. She touched in a 21.02, taking a tenth of her best. Weitzeil remains the fastest woman in history, owning four of the ten fastest times ever. The rest of the field was extremely tight. There was just a hundredth between fourth and fifth, and fifth and sixth.
- GOLD: Abbey Weitzeil, Cal, 21.02
- SILVER: Erika Brown, Tennessee, 21.23
- BRONZE: Mallory Comerford, Louisville, 21.49
400 IM Relay
Amy Bilquist took it out hard for Cal in the first 100 fly, clocking 50.84. Cal would have to hold off breaststroke queen, Lilly King, who came storming back in the third leg, digging into Cal’s lead. After her win in the 50 free, Weitzeil was ready to rip and took the lead immediately after diving in, blowing away the field with a split of 45.87 for her 100 yard free. Cal touched first in 3:25.24.
Five individual events were contested on the third day: the 400 IM, 100 fly, 200 free, 100 breast, and 100 back. The session closed with the 200 medley relay.
After winning this event for the last three years, Ella Eastin from Stanford was the favourite in the field. However, she had relinquished her streak in the 200IM just yesterday to a young rookie, so this was a redemption performance. And redeem she did – Eastin held off late charger Sydney Pickrem to touch first. While Eastin’s time of 3:57.03 was well off her record of 3:54.60 set last year, a win is a win.
USC’s Louise Hansson struck gold last year in this event, and was right on her own record after the first 50. She stormed to the finish, posting the fastest time in NCAA history with a new record of 49.26. Michigan freshman Maggie MacNeil touched just behind her in 49.66.
- GOLD: Louise Hansson, USC, 49.26
- SILVER: Maggie MacNeil, Michigan, 49.66
- BRONZE: Katie McLaughlin, Cal, 49.97
Coming into the final turn, Louisville’s Mallory Comerford, Stanford’s Taylor Ruck, and Michigan’s Slobhan Haughey were neck and neck. While Comerford, the defending champion, shot off the turn, all three women came to the wall stroke for stroke. At the touch, Comerford defended her title in 1:40.26. Ruck was only a fingertip behind Comerford, touching in 1:40.27, and Haughey came in with a 1:40.70.
Breaststroke queen Lilly King came to these NCAAs looking to defend her title streak in both the 100 and 200 breaststroke. If she did, she would become the first woman in history to four-peat in both breaststroke distances. She came to make a statement, and there was no denying who was in charge of this event. King was well under her own record pace at the 50, splitting 25.98. At the touch, she was 55.73, breaking her own American record and making history in the event.
- GOLD: Lilly King, Indiana, 55.73
- SILVER: Delaney Duncan, EMU, 57.83
- BRONZE: Sophie Hansson, NC State, 57.90
Young speedster Regan Smith broke the American Record in this event just a couple weekends ago, stealing it from Beata Nelson. Nelson was in the hunt to reclaim her title, and she took off with a blistering opening 50, turning at 23.76. She charged home crushing the American record by over half a second, and also setting a new NCAA standard. This performance makes Nelson two wins over two years in this event. Amy Bilquist took second, and Canadian, Taylor Ruck took her second bronze of the night with a best time.
- GOLD: Beata Nelson, Wisconsin, 49.18
- SILVER: Amy Bilquist, Cal, 50.05
- BRONZE: Taylor Ruck, Stanford, 50.34
Tennessee took this relay out hard on the backstroke leg, with Meghan Small splitting 24.05. With the field excruciatingly tight, Erika Brown held off Cal’s charging Abbey Weitzeil for the win. Weitzeil tied the fastest freestyle leg in history in her pursuit of Tennessee and kept raking in the points for Cal. This performance put Cal at the top of team points board going into the final session with 328 over Stanford’s 299.5.
- GOLD: Tennessee- 1:34.10
- SILVER: Cal- 1:34.43
- BRONZE: NC State- 1:34.80
The final session saw the individual 1650 free, 200 back, 100 free, 200 breast, and 200 fly. The meet closed with the 400 free relay.
Again the shadow of Katie Ledecky’s legacy kept any record from being broken, or even approached by the field. However, the athletes put up a great back and forth in the first part of the race, with Ally McHugh from Penn State building her lead over the back end of the race. With 500 yards to go, she dominated the field. She touched with a 15:39.22. Molly Kowal of Ohio dropped almost five seconds to take silver in 15:44.61. Mackenzie Padington from Minnesota touched third.
- GOLD: Ally McHugh, Penn State, 15:39.22
- SILVER: Molly Kowal, Ohio State, 15:44.61
- BRONZE: Mackenzie Padington, Minnesota, 15:47.16
This event was a back and forth battle between Wisonsin’s Beata Nelson and Stanford’s Taylor Ruck. It was Ruck at the 100, and then at the 150, but then Nelson used her killer underwater to pull away. Nelson touched at 1:47.24, just ahead of Ruck with 1:47.59. Ruck’s performance was a Stanford school record, and the third fastest time in the event.
- GOLD: Beata Nelson, Wisconsin, 1:47.24
- SILVER: Taylor Ruck, Stanford, 1:47.59
- BRONZE: Asia Seidt, Kentucky, 1:48.65
Favourite, Abbey Weitzeil hyperextended her elbow on the touch of the relay last night and was swimming with some serious tape to stabilize the injury. A very fast field took advantage and shut her out of the medals. Mallory Comerford set a new pool record in 46.24 to win gold.
- GOLD: Mallory Comerford, Louisville, 46.24
- SILVER: Anna Hopkin, Arkansas, 46.56
- BRONZE: Siobhan Haughey, Michigan, 46.64
Lilly King was back in the hunt, looking to go two wins for the two breaststroke events for all four years of her collegiate career. The pressure was on, but so was King. She was over a second ahead already at the 50 mark, turning in 27.39. She continued dominating the field and touched only just off the record she set last year in the event. Her performance was the second fastest ever in the event, as she continues to duel herself for speed. Texas A&M’s (and Canadian) Sydney Pickrem took off almost a second to get silver.
- GOLD: Lilly King, Indiana, 2:02.90
- SILVER: Sydney Pickrem, Texas A&M, 2:03.65
- BRONZE: Sophie Hansson, NC State, 2:06.18
100 butterfly winner from USC Louise Hansson was out fast in her usual fashion, way under record pace. Ella Eastin, the woman who owns the record in this event, started chasing her down after the first 100, putting the sprinter to the test. Hansson was able to just hold off Eastin’s charge, touching a fingertip ahead at 1:50.26 over Eastin’s 1:50.46.
- GOLD: Louise Hansson, USC, 1:50.26
- SILVER: Ella Eastin, Stanford, 1:50.46
- BRONZE: Grace Oglesby, Louisville, 1:50.80
400 Freestyle relay
In the final event of the championships, the schools lined up to contest the 4×100 yard freestyle relay. It was a dead heat leading into the anchor leg; the gold could belong to anyone. But it was Abby Weitzeil still with her elbow wrapped in tape, whose speed could not be denied. She split a 46.07 on the way to Cal collecting a new NCAA record of 3:06.96. Although this time is also faster than the current American record, Weitzeil’s tape job is against the rules.
The meet ended with Stanford as the champions for the third year in a row. They scored 456.5 points to California’s 419.