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Women’s swimming takes NCAA title in largest victory since 2003
Junior Simone Manuel was one of the Cardinal leaders in Indianapolis as she earned two individual titles to go along with two first places in relays. Manuel also became the first woman ever to finish the 100-yard freestyle in under 46 seconds. (BILL DALLY/isiphotos.com).

Women’s swimming takes NCAA title in largest victory since 2003

After a four-day domination of the pool in Indianapolis, top-ranked Stanford women’s swimming and diving took home its first national title in 19 years thanks to 47 All-America honors to compliment seven individual championships and three relay titles.

This is the Cardinal’s ninth title, marking the 37th straight time Stanford has finished in the top eight.

In the victory, the Cardinal cruised to a 526.5 point performance. They dominated the championships, finishing ahead of No. 2 Cal by almost 166 points.

“We have an amazing group, and we were inspired by our seniors day-in and day-out,” said coach Greg Meehan. “It takes a lot of people to make this happen. I have the best coaching staff, some amazing alumni and an incredible group of parents.”

Stanford hit the ground running as the championships started on Wednesday, setting NCAA and American records in the 800-yard freestyle relay for the start of the meet. Junior Simone Manuel, senior Lia Neal, sophomore Ella Eastin and freshman Katie Ledecky won the race in 6:45.91, shaving almost four seconds off the previous record the team had set in the Pac-12 championships earlier this season.

“We had an opportunity tonight to put those four together,” Meehan said, “and do something historic and have fun with it, and just get rolling the rest of the meet.”

After the first day of competition, Stanford led the race with 40 points.

Manuel and Ledecky kept Stanford going on Thursday, earning individual record-setting titles. Manuel was first to enter the pool as she set the NCAA record in the 50-yard freestyle, finishing in 21.17. Manuel’s title was accompanied by a career-high performance from Neal, who posted the second-fastest time (21.65) in school history as she cruised to a first place in the B final.

In the 500 free, Ledecky outdid her own record to win her first individual title. While Ledecky and Virginia’s Leah Smith became the first two women to finish the race under 4:30, the Cardinal freshman took the title in 4:24.06, finishing four seconds ahead of her runner-up. In the meantime, sophomore Leah Stevens and freshman Megan Byrnes added to the Cardinal lead as they finished third and first, respectively, in the 500 free B final with two personal-best times.

“We hadn’t scored a point in the 500 free in the last four years, and today we scored 35,” said Meehan. “To see Leah, Megan and Katie swim so well was a really fun moment for our team.”

Stanford’s 400-yard medley relay also earned a national title after Cal was disqualified to give Stanford the lead with 213 points to Cal’s 136 after the first two days. Neal, junior Ally Howe, sophomore Kim Williams, and junior Janet Hu won the event in 3:26.35.

The Cardinal continued its record-setting performances, as Manuel, Neal, Hu and Howe set the American record in the 200 free relay in the preliminary rounds with a time of 1:26.15. The Cardinal eventually finished second behind Cal in the finals.

Meanwhile, senior Kassidy Cook was named an All-American after she placed eighth in 1-meter diving. Her score of 305.65 earned Stanford an extra 11 points.

Eastin and Howe added 24 points to the scoreboard as they qualified for the finals of the 200-yard individual medley. Eastin finished second thanks to a season-best time of 1:52.27, Howe placed 10th in the B final.

In the 400-yard individual medley, Eastin broke Ledecky’s records with a time of 3:57.57, and earned her first NCAA title of the meet.

“I’m so excited. I honestly didn’t expect to see that time on the board when I finished,” Eastin said of her record-setting swim. I take a lot of pride in winning for my team, and getting my hand on the wall first for them.”

After Friday, the Cardinal had extended their lead as they controlled the meet with 374.5 points. The runner-up, Cal, had 255 points.

Stanford notched four more titles on the final day of competition. Manuel once again got the Cardinal started as she became the first woman to break 46 seconds in the 100-yard freestyle. Her 45.56 finish earned her the title as she outswam her opponents by almost a second.

Eastin added another title to her record as she finished the 200-yard butterfly in 1:51.35, while Ledecky clinched her third title in the 1,650-yard freestyle, finishing in 15:07.70 to set the meet record.

“I’ve had a lot of fun this whole year,” Ledecky said. “It’s been a blast. I’m really proud of my teammates for everything they’ve done, both in the pool and in school. We’ve been on this journey together all year, and we wanted to finish strong.”

Stanford ended the meet like it started it, with a record-breaking performance from Manuel, Ledecky, Hu and Neal in the 400-yard freestyle, finishing in 3:07.61.

“It feels surreal,” Neal said. “This is the perfect ending. Especially to win for the first time in 19 years just goes to show how strong of a program we have. I am very glad I got to end my career with a relay because relays are my favorite. Being able to share the experience with my teammates, that is the most fun part about swimming.”

After the Cardinal victory, Meehan was named NCAA Swimming Coach of the Year for the second time.

“This is a really close group,” Meehan said. “It’s just really fun to get excited for them because I know what they do every day. They work hard and they grind. They are passionate about what they do.”

 

Contact Alexandre Bucquet at bucqueta ‘at’ stanford.edu