The women’s swimmers and divers are coming off impressive performances last weekend, defeating two national top-25 teams, No. 5 Arizona and No. 24 Arizona State, in two consecutive days. But No. 6 Stanford (6-1) isn’t being rewarded with any rest as it prepares for another tough weekend. The next two days will consist of an all-too-familiar back-to-back dual meet as the Cardinal faces UCLA (2-2) on Friday and undefeated No. 3 USC (5-0) on Saturday.
This weekend could prove to be even more difficult than last weekend, as both meets will be away for Stanford. And as if traveling, unfamiliar pools and stellar opponents didn’t already make up a challenge, the women’s team will have competed against four quality Pac-12 teams, three of which are ranked in the national top 25, in just one week.
But rather than complaining about the tough schedule, the team is using the adversity as motivation and, perhaps more importantly, as preparation for the much bigger Pac-12 Championship and NCAA Championship meets at the end of the season.
“The Pac-12 is really competitive, and we have meet after meet after meet starting with last weekend and going right through to the NCAA meet,” said women’s swimming and diving head coach Lea Maurer. “I’m not sure people understand that at the NCAA meet we swim from 7 in the morning until 2, then we swim again from 4:30 in the afternoon until about 10 in the night. And we do that for three straight days.”
“The dual meets are challenging, but they simply prepare us for the physical and mental challenges of the Pac-12 and the NCAA championship meet,” she continued. “We prepare by training doubles and doing the work that prepares us mentally and physically for the challenges that are in front of us.”
Recent history is certainly on Stanford’s side against the two Pac-12 opponents. The Cardinal has beaten UCLA five years in a row. Against USC, Stanford has won 11-straight dual meets — a streak that dates back to 2001.
Although the matchup against the Bruins should not be overlooked, the Trojans will likely be a much tougher opponent for the Cardinal. Senior Sam Woodward has been dominant all season for Stanford, holding the second-fastest time in the 100 butterfly and fifth-fastest time in the 50 freestyle in the country. This weekend, however, Woodward may have to race against USC’s sophomore Kasey Carlson, a national-caliber sprinter whose 50 freestyle time this season is three hundredths of a second faster than Woodward’s.
Stanford’s sophomore Maya DiRado is another key swimmer for the team, owning the nation’s fastest time in the 200 backstroke and second-fastest time in the 200 individual medley. She, however, will likewise be tested against USC. Should Coach Maurer put her in the 200 individual medley against the Trojans, she will have to face senior Katinka Hosszu, the nation’s fastest swimmer in that event so far this season. Beating Hosszu would be an impressive feat, considering that she represented Hungary at the 2008 Olympics and finished in the top 20 in both of the events that she swam.
While Woodward and DiRado are essential to the team’s success, the Cardinal’s depth may be their most powerful weapon of all. Stanford’s remarkable depth, especially in the sprint events, explains why the team’s 200 freestyle relay currently owns the fastest time in the country by almost half a second. Winning relays will be critical against both UCLA and USC, as winning a relay event gives a team 11 points while winning an individual event is only worth nine.
The Cardinal should have plenty of confidence going into the two meets, as the team has been racking up dual-meet victories on a consistent basis. In fact, Stanford’s only loss of the season came against SEC powerhouse No. 6 Florida in a tri-meet at Michigan back in early November.
“I believe confidence comes from day-to-day preparation,” Maurer said. “It’s always nice to see when the team can capitalize on their preparation and execute when the pressure is on. That is the real challenge.”
Stanford will swim against the Bruins at UCLA at 1 p.m. on Friday and then travel to USC to face the Trojans at 12 p.m. on Saturday.