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Card looks to defend Pac-12 title against challenging field

The No. 1 Cardinal women’s swimming team (10-0) has torn through its dual-meet season, beating all but two of its opponents by margins greater than 30 points.  Heading into this week’s Pac-12 Championships, Stanford knows that the conference meet provides a different challenge in settings both more formal and more competitive than those of the duals. However, an experienced Cardinal squad enters the competition prepared to defend its 2013 title.

(TONY SVENSSON/triphoto.com)

Senior Maya DiRado (right) hopes to help Stanford defend its conference title this weekend in Federal Way, Wash. In the 2013 Pac-12 Championships, she won the 400-yard individual medley and contributed to the team’s win in the 800-yard freestyle relay. (TONY SVENSSON/triphoto.com)

Stanford’s veteran corps of seniors — swimmers Felicia Lee, Maya DiRado and Andie Taylor and diver Stephanie Phipps — have contributed some of the best performances in the country this year and will look to draw upon their experience in championship meets of years past to lead the Cardinal to a second straight conference crown.

At last year’s Pac-12 Championships, Phipps won the conference title in the 3-meter dive, while DiRado and Lee both contributed to an 800-yard freestyle relay victory. In addition, DiRado won the 400-yard individual medley (IM) and placed in second in the 200-yard backstroke. Lee and Taylor both also contributed third-place individual finishes at last year’s meet.

This year, Lee has been an absolute force in the pool, having won every dual-meet event that she has competed in since an Oct. 3 meet against Washington State. That includes four events in a solid 167-133 victory over the then-No. 1 California Golden Bears to wrap up the dual-meet season.

DiRado has also been consistently strong in her last season on the Farm; her 200-yard IM time of 1:53.50 is the second-fastest time in the country this season.

In addition, junior Maddy Schaefer and freshman Lia Neal will also look to make big splashes for the Cardinal. Schaefer has quietly become one of the best sprinters in the country, and is tied with Margo Geer of Arizona for the top 50-yard freestyle time in the conference with her mark of 21.78.

Meanwhile, Neal, an Olympic bronze medalist, has also emerged as one of the Cardinal’s premier forces this season. Her 100-yard freestyle time of 47.48 has clocked in at fourth in the nation thus far this year, and her 200-yard freestyle time of 1:43.86 has been good enough for fifth in the country. The catch? The three swimmers ahead of her in the 100-yard freestyle all swim for Pac-12 squads and will be swimming against her at these championship meets.

The conference teams that the Cardinal will compete against this weekend will undoubtedly constitute a challenging field to navigate. That field includes three other top-15 teams in No. 2 USC, No. 5 Cal and No. 11 Arizona, which all figure to be strong in the championship meet setting — particularly Cal, led by four-time Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin, who easily won each of her individual events in the Big Swim against Stanford. USC also fields one of the deepest teams in the country and will be led by three reigning Pac-12 individual champions.

The Cardinal will look to ride the momentum from its perfect dual-meet season to another conference title starting today in Federal Way, Wash. The championships will conclude on Saturday.

Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dpark027 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Do-Hyoung Park

Do-Hyoung Park is the Head Copy Editor at The Stanford Daily. Even though he is finally able to get into R-rated movies now, he instead chooses to spend his time writing half the sports section every week. Do-Hyoung is a sophomore originally from Seoul, South Korea and raised in Saint Paul, Minnesota pursuing a major in chemical engineering. To contact him, please email him at dpark027 'at' stanford.edu.