Backstroke, Not Relay DQ, Gives NC State First ACC Title in 37 Years

Braden Keith
by Braden Keith 20

February 17th, 2017 ACC, College, News

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.

Alexia Zevnik became the first NC State woman to win titles in the 100 back, 200 back, and 200 IM. (Courtesy: Tim Binning/

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.

North Carolina 16
Virginia 14
Clemson 4
NC State 3
Florida State 1
Maryland 1

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PACK Animal
7 years ago

So happy for the swimmers and coaches! Congratulations Pack Nation. Back was the big key but 3 & 4 up in sprint freestyles sure helped too!

7 years ago

very very great swimming all around. Sad!

Reply to  Sad!
7 years ago

What’s sad?

Eddie Rowe
7 years ago

NCAAs looks bright for the Wolfpack women. They should make top 8 in all five relays, top 8 in three events for Zevnik. Top 8 for Perry in the 50. Top 8 for Brumbaum in at least one breaststroke event. Top 8 for Moore in two events. That’s a minimum of 187 points already.

Joel Lin
7 years ago

I believe Braden Holloway becomes just the 3rd coach in ACC history to guide ACC championships in men’s and women’s programs.

Frank Comfort, Mark Bernardino & Braden Holloway. Congratulations coach.

Reply to  Joel Lin
7 years ago

Neil Harper at FSU in 06′ for the women, and 07′ for the men.

Reply to  PowerTower
7 years ago

Don Easterling coached the Pack’s prior 2 women’s championships and 15 on the men’s side

Reply to  GrantJ
7 years ago

LOVE Easterling. Met him at a UVA swim camp, that’s why I’m a Wolfpack fan

USA Swimming
Reply to  PowerTower
7 years ago

Weren’t those titles conceded due to academic issues?

7 years ago

Hats off to NC State…again no better team to go swim for in the country right now. Young, energetic coaches, teammates who love each other, what a culture. This has been proven now year after year since Holloway took over….no flukes here

UVA will be back…I again think they need to stop their December shave, just too close to ACCs. With Maroney and no relay DQ this could have gone the other way. They lose a lot but have a great class coming in

Louisville…just solid all around and a young young team that’s only getting better…they will clearly be in the mix for a title next year

UNC…what to say. They swam well, better than I expected, but had… Read more »

Joel Lin
Reply to  Porkchop2244
7 years ago

Busch has done a great job with the UVA women, but strategically he’s stuck in Univ of Arizona circa 2000 now. Having a team do a full Thanksgiving/early December taper is logical when you:

1. Write off team conference meet emphasis,
2. Have NCAA big scorer ringers.

Zona wasn’t delusional about beating Stanford at PAC 10s with Nythling, Schoeman, etc. There was no point in even trying, but Zona found a way to be competitive for a top 5 NCAA finish and to have individuals compete for individual (& maybe relay) titles.

The question for UVA is, should you spot rest ringers like Smith for cuts in 1st semester, then have them swim through conference? I’d say… Read more »

Reply to  Joel Lin
7 years ago

I think that UVA clearly did not fully rest their top guns or their A cut qualifiers. Those who got the cut in December were not on top of their game. Smith, Jones, Simon (I would guess), Maarkand, all had A cuts or easily qualified. Others like Thomas and the rest of those on relays who made A cuts didn’t seem to be lighting it up, so I can’t say when it comes to them. You say unless they have 5-7 national team caliber swimmers… and I would argue that they have at least 4 since 4 of them have A cuts in individual events, so that is pretty close.

I can see the argument either way though. Do… Read more »

Reply to  Joel Lin
7 years ago

Moroney scored 70 points last year and would have given UVA needed help on 3 relays. That and questionable DQ was the killer. Smith said in Swimswam interview that last week was a brutal training week for her. She swam thru ACCs as did Jones, Marrkand, Simon, and one or two other swimmers who were not tapered. Taper seems to be Busch’s strategy to get cuts for others early in the season. Seems to be working as UVA has gone 5 & 5 the last two years at NCAAs. NCS is a hot program for sure but UVA gets my nod due to recent ACCs titles and academics.

Reply to  Porkchop2244
7 years ago

UNC is ready for a new coaching staff. Poor recruiting and bad executive decisions. For example, several years in a row, UNC has left behind extremely talented swimmers in which they swam lights out at their meet (college cup)… many of them have swam fast enough to make the A final at ACC’s. Rachel Canty and Madison Boswell to name a few. Very sad. Hope to see some leadership changes next season.

Congrats to the NC state women. Happy to see NC swimming succeeding.

Eddie Rowe
Reply to  Porkchop2244
7 years ago

Carolina gets Caroline Hauder next year.

Reply to  Porkchop2244
7 years ago

UVA didn’t rest for December meet.

Sec Fan
7 years ago

*Elite well rounded Team guided by one of the best coaching staffs in the country gives NC state title

Lost In The Sauce
7 years ago

Moroney missing for the UVA women really proved to be killer, as those points in the backstrokes + on relays would have been a huge help to their cause. NC State sports the hottest coaching staff in the nation right now, and they came to race, and for the sake of swimming fans hopefully they can keep that speed up another few weeks into NCAA’s, where I have a feeling everyone else will be a little sharper. Definitely shaping up into what should be one of the tighter, more competitive NCAA’s in past years.

Reply to  Lost In The Sauce
7 years ago

competitive for #3 on down, at least, I guess maybe for #2 if Cal hits a real rough patch…

Reply to  Caleb
7 years ago

Not even close

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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