After a strong start to the season, the No. 3 Stanford women’s swimming and diving team (4-0, 0-0 Pacific-10 Conference) faces its stiffest test yet this weekend. No. 2 Arizona (6-0, 3-0 Pac-10) and Arizona State (6-3, 2-2 Pac-10) will visit The Farm on Friday and Saturday respectively.
The meet against Arizona is the toughest dual meet remaining on the Cardinal’s schedule. Arizona is a perennial powerhouse and Stanford’s annual duel with the Wildcats is usually the most anticipated dual meet on the schedule.
Last year, the Card defeated the Wildcats by a razor-thin margin, winning 150.5-147.5 in Tucson, Ariz. Stanford was trailing for most of the meet, but with five events remaining the Cardinal stormed back to claim the victory. Junior Liz Smith won the 200-yard breaststroke and the 400-yard individual medley and senior Elaine Breeden won the 100-yard butterfly to bring Stanford close to victory. Senior swimmer and Olympic medalist Julia Smit won the meet by .16 seconds in the final event, the 400-yard freestyle relay.
Both teams went on to finish the season among the country’s elite programs. At the NCAA Championships, the Wildcats and the Cardinal finished third and fourth, respectively.
This year’s meet figures to be just as close and exciting.
“It’s a really tough matchup — their strengths match up with our strengths,” said Stanford head coach Lea Maurer. “We anticipate a meet similar to last year’s. It will come down to who wins the touchouts.”
The teams enter this weekend separated by just four points in the national rankings and match up well against each other. However, Maurer isn’t really focusing on the rankings table.
“We don’t really pay attention to them,” she said. “We’ve had a big rivalry [with Arizona] for the past few years — the meets always come within 10 points. We’re worried about the rankings the day after.”
“We don’t put too much emphasis on rankings heading into meets. I believe your performance in a competition says a lot more about what kind of team you are than the rankings before a meet,” Breeden added.
While the Cardinal can usually count on Smit, Breeden, Smith and junior Kate Dwelley to deliver a certain number of points in a meet, Arizona’s top swimmers are in similar events. Both teams have strong freestyle relay squads in the 200, 400 and 800-yard distances. Breeden will also face tough competition in her signature event, the 200 fly, from Arizona’s Ana Agy, Whitney Lopus and Erin Campbell.
“We have some events that we normally pencil in as wins, but their big [swimmers] match up well against ours,” Maurer explained.
This weekend also marks the start of Pac-10 competition for the team. Arizona, Stanford and Southern California are this year’s top contenders for the Pac-10 crown.
“I think that the fact that both the Arizona and ASU meets are conference meets signify that we have entered a new phase of the season where the quality of competition increases,” Dwelley said. “We have to be prepared to race with more intensity.”
While Arizona is the main focus of the weekend, the Cardinal still have to face Arizona State, which is on a three-meet winning streak going into a meet at Berkeley on Friday.
When asked if Stanford would keep the same intensity as the Arizona match on Saturday, Maurer responded. “The pressure’s on now. We have to race, we have to sharpen our focus and be able to handle the elements.”
“The focus of these meets is to practice racing and work on the details,” Breeden said.
While these meets are certainly significant, the main focus remains on the all-important Pac-10 and NCAA tournaments at the end of the season.
“Leading up to the meet we are not doing anything special to prepare for this meet in particular — we are working hard in preparation for the end of season meets,” Dwelley commented.
“We always head into dual meets with the goal of winning, but winning dual meets is not as important of a goal to our team as winning at the championship meets,” Breeden added.
However, the team won’t be distracted during its dual meets.
“On Friday and Saturday the team will be completely focused on the task at hand . . . racing Arizona and Arizona State,” Dwelley said.