It’s hard to deny that a new era has arrived for Stanford women’s swimming and diving as the storied program, home to nine NCAA championships, prepares to embark on the 2012-2013 season.
Gone is the sprint tandem of Sam Woodward and Betsy Webb, a duo that led the Cardinal 200- and 400-yard freestyle relays to NCAA titles last season. Gone are breaststroke specialists Jamie Bruce and Kerry Kraemer, two veterans who provided critical depth for a team that finished second at the Pac-12 Championships and fourth at the NCAA Championships.
But despite these heavy departures, the Cardinal looks to be revitalized by an impressive freshmen class that features four top-50 recruits. Among the talented group is Sarah Haase, a national high school record-holder who has already broken the minute barrier in the 100-yard breaststroke. Haase is primed to make an immediate impact as she joins sophomore Katie Olsen for an effective one-two punch in the breaststroke events.
While there will be some new faces in the pool this season, the coaching staff on deck is also undergoing major changes. Head coach Greg Meehan is taking the reins on the heels of Lea Maurer’s decision to step down from the role in early July citing family reasons. Newly appointed assistant coach Tracy Duchac, who served as an assistant coach at Arizona last season, has also come aboard.
“The transition has gone smoothly,” Meehan commented. “I’ve only been here for three and a half weeks with the season just starting, but it’s been great so far. I’m looking forward to the season.”
Meehan, the former associate head men’s swimming and diving coach at Cal, inherits a program that amassed two conference titles, seven top-five NCAA finishes and a 66-5 dual meet record in the last seven seasons under Maurer. He has plenty of experience in guiding teams to extraordinary performances at the highest level, testified to by the consecutive national titles that the Golden Bears have claimed in the last two years.
“I’m very thankful for having gotten the chance to work with [Princeton women’s head coach] Susan Teeter, [UCLA women’s head coach] Cyndi Gallagher and [Cal men’s head coach] David Durden,” Meehan said. “I was able to learn so much about coaching from all of them.”
Stressing the importance of “building respect” within the team early in the season, Meehan hopes to make certain that his swimmers become fully acclimated to the coaching transition before the practices crank up in yardage and intensity.
Yet even with the inevitable changes that occur every year, the Cardinal still maintains a core of determined swimmers hoping to carry the team to a national title that has eluded Stanford for the past 14 seasons. Leading the talented roster is standout junior Maya DiRado, a nine-time All-American specializing in the backstroke and individual medley events.
After finishing second at the 2011 NCAA in the 200-yard backstroke, third in the 200-yard individual medley and fourth in the 400-yard individual medley, the Santa Rosa native will be contending for national titles in the same three individual events come March. Meehan credited the “experience” she has accumulated from both grueling practices and high-pressure competitions with giving her a special edge.
Another swimmer who has emerged on the national scene is junior Felicia Lee, who notched a 12th place finish in the 100-yard butterfly and a 15th place finish in the 100-yard backstroke at the NCAA Championships last season. Lee suffered a shoulder injury over the summer but has been “getting back into the water,” according to Meehan–a promising sign for the team’s fastest sprinter in the butterfly and backstroke events.
On the diving board, junior Stephanie Phipps returns after qualifying for the NCAA Championships and earning All-American status in back-to-back seasons. Under the guidance of head diving coach Rick Schavone, who was part of Team USA’s Olympic coaching staff this past summer, Phipps hopes to enhance her status as one of the best divers in not only the Pac-12, but also in the nation. The arrival of freshman Kelly Markle, who finished ninth in the 3-meter synchronized event at the 2012 US Olympic Trials, will also provide a much-needed boost to the diving squad.
One of the biggest challenges that all Pac-12 teams must face is to not only perform well at the conference championships in early March, but also to peak at the NCAA Championships three weeks later.
Stanford women’s swimming and diving will kick off its dual-meet season on Sept. 28 against San Jose State at the Avery Aquatic Center.