The University of Virginia women’s swimming & diving team begins its chase of an NCAA Championship four-peat next weekend with its annual intrasquad meet. On Friday, though, swimmers gave a preview at the end of practice with choice 100s, timed with touchpads, in their practice suits.
Gretchen Walsh, the NCAA Record holder and defending NCAA Champion in the 100 yard backstroke, swam 50.05 in that same event on Friday morning – without the benefits of a technical racing suit. That time would have placed 3rd at the NCAA Championships last year, behind only her own 48.26 and Katharine Berkoff’s 49.13.
Walsh, already a star of this team last year as a sophomore, will take on a new prominence this year after the ‘Hoos graduated one of the greatest collegiate swimmers of all-time Kate Douglass. Besides her NCAA title last year in the 100 back, Walsh also won the 100 free (45.61), just missing the all-time mark there, and was 2nd in the 50 free behind now-graduated LSU 5th-year Maggie MacNeil.
Gretchen Walsh and her older sister Alex will form the nucleus of the team as they chase another title. The team one of the top classes in the nation this year, and superstar power joining the varsity next year in the form of Leah Hayes and Stanford transfer Claire Curzan.
Curzan, who has already enrolled at Virginia and is training with the team during a redshirt year, was among the other swimmers participating in the meet. She swam 52.2 in the 100 fly, where the aforementioned Douglass swam 51.7 and Alex Walsh swam 53.8. Aimee Canny, best known as a freestyler, chose breaststroker for her end-of-practice timed swim and landed a 1:02.3.
Canny isn’t likely to supplant Alex Walsh (56.79 split at NCAAs last year) as the team’s medley relay breaststroker, nor the South African duo of Tatjana Schoenmaker or Lara van Niekerk internationally. It wouldn’t be the first time, though, that a Virginia woman came to Charlottesville with one specialty and wound up finding another.