In 2015, the North Carolina State men cemented their rise into college swimming’s elite by winning the ACC title: their first in 23 years since Don Easterling led the team to the top in the 1992 championship meet.
In 2017, then, the Wolfpack women broke an even bigger history with their first ACC title since 1980. The NC State women won the first two sponsored ACC titles in 1979 and 1980, before the NCAA even sponsored women’s athletic championships, and haven’t won since. Their 83-point margin of victory, powered by wins in 4 of 5 relays, not only won NC State their first title in 37 years, it snapped the Virginia women’s bid for a 10th consecutive conference title.
That final margin of victory was a relatively tight one on a conference level, and it would be easy to point to Virginia’s early relay DQ as their undoing. The Cavaliers touched third, but were disqualified on an early departure, and that resulted in a 54-point dip, which would’ve tightened the margin to under 20 points. There’s no way to quantify the value of momentum, but that DQ wasn’t the real difference in this meet.
The real difference came in the backstroke races. Last year, Virginia had the best backstroker in the ACC and one of the best in the country in Courtney Bartholomew. While the backstroke group wasn’t deep behind her, they had enough to get the job done to the tune of 90 points in 2016. This year, the Cavaliers scored only 15 points in backstroke events – and a gut-wrenching 0 in the 200 backstroke on the final day that really sealed their fate.
The Cavaliers didn’t waste a whole lot of dead roster spots on the backstrokes (they actually didn’t enter anybody in the 200), but it was a glaring hole that cost them in the 400 medley relay as well – they were almost 3 seconds back of NC State after the leadoff leg.
Meanwhile, NC State’s backstroke group, which was good last year, became world-beaters this year. In 2016, the team scored 122.5 backstroke points. In 2017, they picked up a whopping 207 points, or about 25% of their individual points, from the two backstroke events. That included 4 A-finalists in the 100 backstroke, including sophomore transfer Elise Haan, who had the top seed out of the 100 back prelims.
That means that the backstroke races alone were responsible for a 159.5 point scoring swing as compared to last season.
And that group was led by Alexia Zevnik, who did what Bartholomew last year and swept the backstrokes. At this meet, the Lasalle, Canada native became a bona fide star. She won three events – the 200 IM, 100 back, and 200 back – the first NC State woman to win conference titles in those events in the 39-year history of women’s swimming in the league in any of those events, and she did it all in the same season.
The NC State women’s rise has been on a few yearss lag behind the men’s, but otherwise has been on a parallel. They started with sprinters, and then started to expand out from there into other specialties. When the Wolfpack men won their first ACC title in 2015, they came in 8th at NCAAs with 199.5 points, and the Wolfpack women were already 9th with 155 points last year, so they might even be ahead of the men’s pace at the national meet.
A year later, the NC State men finished 4th and cemented their place at the table of college swimming’s elite.