The Louisville Cardinal women have had their rise into the NCAA’s upper tier powered by their current upperclassmen – Kelsi Worrell and Andee Cottrell, among others – but it’s their freshman class that has them looking even more exciting in 2015-2016.
That rookie crew accounted for 6 wins in the Cardinals’ latest big test, a hard-fought home win over top-10 opponent Tennessee, three of them from freestyler Mallory Comerford.
Comerford, in her first collegiate season out of Kalamazoo, Michigan, pulled off a brutal double early, winning the 1000 free and 200 free back-to-back to stake her team to a big points lead.
Comerford went 9:57.97 in the 1000, beating Tennessee’s tough distance corps of Maddy Tegner (10:02.55) and Morgan Dickson (10:12.01), both NCAA qualifiers a year ago. Louisville’s Marah Pugh, a sophomore, was third between those two.
Then Comerford hopped right back in the pool to win the 200 free in 1:48.57, going 1-2 with teammate Andrea Kneppers (1:49.12). That netted the Cards a 25-point lead just three points into the meet, and though Tennessee would surge back to win 4 of the next 5 events, they wouldn’t ever overcome Louisville’s early margin.
That run for the Volunteers started with transfer student Kira Toussaint, who won the 100 back in 54.39, beating out Louisville freshman Alina Kendzior (54.76).
Louisville would answer with a 1-2-3 in the 100 breast, led by the aforementioned Cottrell, who went 1:02.07. But the Vols fired back with back-to-back sweeps of their own. Michelle Cefal went 2:01.59 to lead a 1-2-3 of the 200 fly, and Faith Johnson led a top-four sweep of the 50 free in 23.24 (though the fourth swimmer was only an exhibition entrant).
A Sarah Chewning diving win later, the score was 75-74 in favor of Louisville heading into the meet’s second half. But the Cards had an ace up their sleeve: NCAA record-holder Kelsi Worrell had yet to swim an individual race. She burst onto the scene in the 100 free, winning in 48.82 to give her team some breathing room.
Then Louisville freshmen strung together three straight wins to ultimately put the meet out of reach. First, Kendzior broke through with a win in the 200 back, going 1:58.76. Rachael Bradford-Feldman (2:15.28) and Andee Cottrell (2:17.10) went 1-2 in the 200 breast, and Comerford completed her triple with a 4:51.11 win in the 500 free.
At that point, the home team led by 21 and Worrell was back on the blocks for her signature event. Tennessee managed to go 2-3-4 in that 100 fly, but Worrell’s win in 53.03 was enough to all but clinch the win for the Cardinals.
Chewning won her second diving event, but Louisville officially ended the meet when the freshman Bradford-Feldman got her second win with a 2:01.80 in the 200 IM.
Helping matters was that Louisville swept the relays. Swimming fly, Worrell nearly outsplit the freestyler on the medley (22.98 to 22.83) as Kendzior, Cottrell, Worrell and Kneppers went 1:39.43 for a blowout win. In the 400 free relay, Worrell was 49.20, with Kneppers, Comerford and Cottrell joining her to go 3:21.81.