The Stanford women’s swimming and diving team is set to compete in the inaugural Pac-12 championships at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way, Wash., starting this Wednesday. The four-day conference championship will be the Cardinal’s second-most important meet of the year, behind only the NCAA championships that will take place in March.
Recent conference history seems to be on Stanford’s side, as the Cardinal has won the past two Pac-10 championships. In 2011, Stanford trailed Cal by over 50 points with one more day of competition left, but the Card managed to storm back and edge out the Golden Bears by 22 points. Two years ago, the Cardinal’s margin of victory was much larger, as it finished ahead of Cal by over 100 points.
Once again, the biggest competition for No. 8 Stanford (9-1, 6-0 Pac-12) will most likely be No. 1 Cal (7-1, 7-1 Pac-12). Despite Cal’s higher ranking and status as the top-ranked team in the nation, it’s important to note that the official polls have not been updated since late January. Much has changed since then, most importantly the Cardinal’s dual-meet win over the Golden Bears in early February.
Stanford will be bringing a host of veterans to the meet. Leading the way is senior Sam Woodward, who has the fastest 100-meter butterfly time in the Pac-12, as well as the second-fastest time in the nation. Sophomore teammate Felicia Lee follows closely behind as the third-fastest seed in the event. If Lee can edge out second-seeded Lauren Smart from Arizona, a Cardinal 1-2 punch would certainly boost Stanford’s momentum.
At last year’s Pac-10 Championships, Woodward and Lee finished sixth and seventh, respectively, in the 100 butterfly, but both of their times during this regular dual-meet season have already been faster than their postseason performances last season.
Despite being just a sophomore, Maya DiRado will also be a major contender at the conference championship. Backstroke specialist DiRado has the fastest time in the nation in the 200 backstroke. Just as impressive is the fact that no other Pac-12 swimmer is within eight-tenths of a second of DiRado’s time this season.
The versatile Cardinal swimmers will also be competing in the 200 and 400 individual medleys. In these events, the competition will be much tougher, as the conference is especially strong in the medley. Three of the country’s four fastest times in the 200 individual medley and the three fastest times in the 400 individual medley come from Pac-12 swimmers.
DiRado is ranked second in the Pac-12 in the 200 individual medley and third in the 400, and will have to square off against USC’s Katinka Hosszu, the fastest swimmer in both events. The Trojan senior may arguably be the best swimmer in the country, as she looks to defend her three conference and national titles this postseason. Hosszu was so dominant last year that she was nominated for ESPN’s ESPY Award for Best Female College Athlete. Going into the conference championship, Hosszu is the top seed in four individual events. Cal junior Caitlin Leverenz, seeded third in the 200 individual medley and second in the 400, will also be in contention for the conference titles in the two events.
In its bid to win its third consecutive conference title, Stanford will look to claim as many relay titles as possible. The Cardinal’s safest bet is probably the 200 freestyle relay–an event in which the team has the fastest time in the country. In the other four relay events that will be contested, Stanford is seeded second in two of them and fourth and fifth in the other two.
On the diving board, sophomore Stephanie Phipps will be the top diver for the Cardinal. Despite finishing fourth in the 3-meter springboard event at last year’s Pac-10 Championships, Phipps managed to cap off an impressive postseason campaign by qualifying for NCAAs at the Zone Diving Regional and earning All-American honors. Phipps hopes to build off last year’s success and possibly come away with a Pac-12 title on the springboard.
The 2012 Pac-12 Championships at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way, Wash., will splash off at 6 p.m. this Wednesday and conclude on Saturday.