Disclaimer: Swim of the Week is not meant to be a conclusive selection of the best overall swim of the week, but rather one Featured Swim to be explored in deeper detail. The Swim of the Week is an opportunity to take a closer look at the context of one of the many fast swims this week, perhaps a swim that slipped through the cracks as others grabbed the headlines, or a race we didn’t get to examine as closely in the flood of weekly meets.
It’s a yearly tradition: using our Swim of the Week to highlight a ‘turning point’ swim that ultimately led to the NCAA team title.
This year, the turning point came at the very start of the meet, with Virginia’s historic 800 free relay win.
To that point, just 11 schools in NCAA history had won a women’s relay title. Virginia joined that extremely exclusive list on opening night of NCAAs, blowing out the field by 4.46 seconds for an emphatic arrival among the NCAA’s elite.
The relay included senior Kyla Valls (1:44.64 leadoff), senior Paige Madden (1:41.63), sophomore Ella Nelson (1:43.11) and freshman Alex Walsh (1:43.18). The Cavaliers finished at 6:52.56, beating Kentucky by a massive margin and setting up an 8-point lead over Cal, expected to be their top threats for the team title.
The swim gave Virginia momentum it never let up. It also foreshadowed individual NCAA titles for both Madden (the 200 free, 500 free, and 1650 free), and Walsh (the 200 IM). Equally impressive, the relay win came without arguably the team’s best swimmer: Kate Douglass, who swam the other four relays and was an individual NCAA champion in the 50 free.
The win also showed Virginia’s ability to both recruit elite talent and develop high-level swimmers. Valls was 1:45.9 out of high school. Madden was 1:46.0. Nelson was 1:47.4. And Walsh was 1:45.2.