The Texas Longhorns brought the Halloween scare a day early, spooking the Stanford Cardinal women with a 156-144 win in Palo Alto Thursday night.
The Texas women trailed by as much as 24 late in the meet, but won the last four events, going 1-2 in two of them, to reach up from the grave and pull the Cardinal back down.
Stanford won the opening 200 medley relay, putting together three of its stud freshmen to take the event in 1:39.78. Ally Howe (back), Janet Hu (fly) and Simone Manuel (free) were all first-years on that squad, with Manuel’s 21.94 anchor leg being a highlight. Junior Sarah Haase swam breaststroke. All three of those freshmen would go on to win individual races.
But Texas immediately evened the score on senior Kaitlyn Pawlowicz‘s 9:54.27 win in the 1000 free. That exploited one of Stanford’s biggest weaknesses, distance freestyle, at least until Katie Ledecky shows up, presumably next fall.
The way Stanford has tried to cover over that weakness so far this year has been to throw star sprint freestyle prospect Simone Manuel into some of the longer events. It’s been working insofar as stopping the bleeding of points in the longer races, but it also takes away production from the other events Manuel could be competing in – sprints and especially relays.
That strategy was in full effect in the very next event, as Manuel won the 200 free with a blazing 1:45.20. Despite the team loss, Manuel was on her game all day, and this was her first of three individual event wins. Important for Texas, though: Madisyn Cox, who was named to the U.S. World University Games team earlier in the day, took second in 1:47.33, easily beating out one of Stanford’s other young stars Lia Neal.
Janet Hu picked up the 100 back win in the next race to push Stanford back out to a 12-point lead. Her 53.63 just beat Tasija Karosas, who was 53.86 for Texas.
The Longhorns needed to make a move quick to keep the deficit manageable, and they did just that in the 100 breast. Gretchen Jaques came crashing onto the scene like a banshee in a haunted house, opening in 28.79 and nearly breaking the minute barrier with a 1:00.15 win. That beat Stanford’s tough duo of Sarah Haase (1:00.95) and Katie Olsen (1:01.39). Texas’s top freshman, Bethany Leap, was 1:02.83 for fourth.
Where Jaques would go on to sweep the breaststrokes, her teammate Kelsey Leneave would do the same with the butterfly races. She put up her first win in the next event, going 1:58.68 to beat Stanford freshman Ally Howe in the 200-yard distance.
That vaulted Texas into its first lead of the night, just two points ahead of Stanford. Next came the 50 free, though, an event where the Cardinal is scary good. Senior Maddy Schaefer crushed a 22.82 to take the win, though the point differential wasn’t as painful as it could have been, given Simone Manuel didn’t swim this race in lieu of longer events.
Stanford sophomore Cassidy Cook took 1-meter diving, but Texas went 2-3-4 to only lose a single point on the team scoreboard. But then Manuel was back, combining with Lia Neal to go 1-2 in the 100 free. Manuel was an absolute terror, haunting the entire field and going 48.57, a time that would have placed her just outside of the top 20 at last year’s NCAA Championships. Neal, the national runner-up a year ago, was 50.30 in taking second.
That kept the ball rolling on what was a devastating 4-in-a-row run for the Cardinal, who benefited by a major slip-up from the ‘Horns. Texas’s Tasija Karosas was well on her way to a win in the 200 back, but was disqualified after winning in a 1:57.57. Card freshman Ally Howe was suddenly in the driver’s seat, taking the winning 9 points with a 1:59.08.
That stumble left Texas buried deep in a Halloween graveyard, staring down a 24-point deficit with just a handful of events to go.
But left for dead, the Longhorns clawed their way through the dirt like a pack of angry zombies, cobbling together a furious comeback. First, Gretchen Jaques defended her 100 breast win by taking the 200 in 2:12.10.
Simone Manuel was back in action in the 500 free, winning a tight race with Texas sophomore Madisyn Cox 4:48.12 to 4:48.55. But even that quick swim wasn’t enough to slow the charge of the Zombie Longhorns. Cox, 1000 free winner Pawlowicz and freshman Sammie Hashbarger went 2-3-4 to earn 9 points to Stanford’s 10.
Then came the attack from Texas. Kelsey Leneave won the 100 fly in 53.49, adding it to her 200 fly win from earlier, and Emma Ivory-Ganja picked up the 3-meter diving title. To make things even more interesting, Brynne Wong and Murphy Bromberg each took second in those respective contests, giving the ‘Horns back-to-back 1-2 finishes and staking them to a narrow 2-point lead, just the second time all day they’d led.
Coming off a painful 500 free loss to Manuel, Madisyn Cox had every reason to dead for the 400 IM just three races later. But like her Zombie Longhorn team, Cox found new life, roaring to the IM win in 4:13.84
That boosted Texas to a 145-138 lead, meaning a win in the final relay would complete their eerie comeback. Helping the cause: Manuel, perhaps the best sprinter in the nation, had already used up all her event entries and could not swim the relay. (That’s the downside of using Manuel in the 100, 200 and 500 free we hinted at earlier).
Still, like the hero of a horror movie, Stanford put up a ferocious fight. Maddy Schaefer put the Cardinal in the lead with a 22.68 leadoff, and freshman Lindsey Engel just barely kept the team out front. But Texas got a 22.9 from Emily Williams on the third leg to officially take the lead.
That set up a major showdown in the final 50. Riding a lead of just .08, one of Texas’s youngest ‘Zombie Longhorns’ – freshman Rebecca Millard – had to hold off Stanford’s NCAA runner-up Lia Neal. But Millard came through in the clutch, splitting 22.59 to Neal’s 22.57 and the Longhorns put the final nail in Stanford’s coffin with a 1:31.26-1:31.32 victory.
(Also notable on those splits: Neal’s relay exchange was listed at .50, which, if the time is correct, is nearly as slow as a flat-start. Millard was a .23, still a middle-of-the-road exchange, but a difference of two tenths in a race that came down to mere hundredths. In a DQ-heavy post-season on the men’s side last year, we noted the tendency of women’s teams to play it safe on relay exchanges, but this is a good example of how safe-but-slow relay starts can burn a team nearly as badly as an occasional DQ).
The meet also served as a “pink out,” with head coaches Carol Capitani and Greg Meehan each donating $1 to charity for each fan who showed up to the meet in pink. Capitani will donate to the Susan G. Komen foundation while Meehan will be splitting his donation between Komen and the Movember Foundation, according to Stanford.
The Texas-Stanford series has a history of producing great meets; last year Stanford came into Texas’s home and emerged with a narrow win, with the meet also coming down to the final relay.
The Zombie Longhorns will be back in action already tomorrow night, heading to Berkeley to take on California on Halloween and hoping to continue playing the Boogey-man for the Pac-12’s best programs. Stanford is off until next weekend, when they face the Wisconsin Badgers at home.