Women’s NCAA Day 2 Finals Preview: Can Virginia Go 5-For-5 In The Pool?

2021 NCAA WOMEN’S SWIMMING & DIVING CHAMPIONSHIPS

After winning last night’s 800 free relay, the Virginia Cavaliers have a great shot to sweep all five swimming events on Day 2 in Greensboro, having claimed the top seed in all three individuals while holding the fastest time in the nation in both relays.

We have seen this Thursday sweep at least once before: at the 2018 NCAA Championships, Stanford opened the meet by winning the 800 free relay, 200 free relay, 500 free (Katie Ledecky), 200 IM (Ella Eastin), 50 free (Simone Manuel), and 400 medley relay.

Ella Eastin continued that streak by winning the first race on Friday, the 400 IM, but Louise Hansson’s 100 fly win snapped the run.

Ally Howe would go on to win the 100 back, Ledecky won the mile, Simone Manuel won the 100 free, Eastin won the 200 fly, and the Cardinal swept the relays, giving them 13 swimming event wins that year. One of the more dominant performances in the recent era, that gave the Cardinal a 220-point margin of victory over Cal.

500 Free

Senior Paige Madden got the Cavs off to a great start on Thursday by cruising to the top time in the 500 free, clocking 4:35.07 to sit almost two and a half seconds clear of the next-fastest swimmer.

Madden ranks first in the NCAA this season with her 4:33.09 from November, and no one else has been faster than her prelim time for the entire 2020-21 campaign. The closest is Georgia’s Courtney Harnish, who went 4:35.33 at last month’s SECs.

Harnish snuck into the ‘A’ final in eighth (4:40.72), while Stanford’s Brooke Forde, who won the 2019 title over Madden, was 4:37.49 this morning for second overall. Both Harnish and Madden were a bit off on the 800 free relay, while Madden roared to a 1:41.63 split, putting her in a great position to win her first individual NCAA title.

200 IM

Freshman Alex Walsh led the 200 IM prelims in an easy 1:54.62, with the top seven women all within 1.1 seconds of her. According to the pick ’em contest, Walsh is the biggest favorite of the entire meet to win the 200 IM, and given that her 800 free relay split was almost identical (.01 faster) than at ACCs, she should have at least three seconds to drop from her morning time.

Alicia Wilson and Zoie Hartman are the only others in the field who have been sub-1:54 this year, but their season-bests still leave them two seconds back of Walsh. They both had solid morning swims and will be in the thick of what could be a wild race for second.

50 Free

Virginia sophomore Kate Douglass had the swim of the prelims session, putting up an ACC and Pool Record time of 21.21 in the 50 free. She had held the previous conference record of 21.42, set last season.

NC State’s Kylee Alons (21.50) and Michigan’s Maggie MacNeil (21.58) are her main contenders in tonight’s final, though three-tenths is a pretty significant margin in the 50 free. MacNeil (21.44) is the only swimmer besides Douglass to crack 21.5 this season.

Relays

With all five relays being timed finals, things become much more difficult to project coming into the evening session. Based on their early form, it would be difficult to bet against Virginia in either the 200 free or 400 medley.

Douglass had a great 50, and Kyla Valls and Walsh have both been dead-on on their ACC times early. Lexi Cuomo had a bit of an add in this morning’s 50 free, though she was still faster than her time from the ACC prelims.

NC State will challenge, with Alons and Katharine Berkoff getting into the 50 free ‘A’ final, and Cal saw adds this morning from all three of their 50 freestylers from the Pac-12 relay. Izzy Ivey, who has yet to race at the meet, could make all the difference, however.

While UVA was the overwhelming favorite in all five relays according to the pick ’em contest, the 400 medley was the closest according to the readers, with the Cavs garnering about 64% of people’s picks to win. Cal was next up at 26%.

It’s incredibly tight at the top, with four teams all within just over six-tenths this season in the 3:26s. Virginia’s formidable lineup should include Walsh, Alexis Wenger and Douglass, and they’ll need a big fly leg from Cuomo.

Isabelle Stadden was a bit off this morning for Cal in the 200 IM, though she did have the field’s fastest backstroke split which is a positive sign for their lead-off leg. Berkoff and Alons look solid for NC State, but there are too many variables to have a clear outlook on how things will play out, with multiple swimmers having yet to race. This includes breaststrokers Sophie Hansson (NC State), Ema Rajic (Cal) and Anna Elendt (Texas). Virginia’s Wenger raced the 50 free and added .05.

The top four teams – Virginia, Cal, Texas and NC State – will battle head-to-head in the fifth and final heat. It should be a good one.

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Joel Lin
1 month ago

But who will win the race to Boom Shaka Laka Laka from Sam Kendricks?

That’s the real question.

Coach Rob
1 month ago

Very real chance they go 5 for 5 in the pool tonight. Has that ever happened before?

Editor
Reply to  Coach Rob
1 month ago

Yes. 2018 Stanford women. They swept all 5 relays that year. Ledecky in the 500. Eastin in the IM. Manuel in the 50.

Hswimmer
Reply to  Andrew Mering
1 month ago

Dang I didn’t realize that!

Swimmer
1 month ago

5 for 5 tonight and 5 for 5 in the relays.

Snarky
Reply to  Swimmer
1 month ago

I think UVA will drop one relay tonight. Might be the only one though.

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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