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Despite comeback, women’s swimming and diving falls just short of national title

After an impressive performance during the regular season, Ella Eastin (above) capped off her freshman year with two individual national titles and five All-America honors at the NCAA Championships this past week. (SHIRLEY PEFLEY/stanfordphoto.com)

For the second time in three years, Stanford women’s swimming and diving cemented its status as one of the nation’s elite at the NCAA Championships but fell just short of the national title. The Cardinal fought back from a sixth-place ranking going into the third day of the championship meet in Atlanta, Georgia, but ultimately fell 19 points short of top-place Georgia.

Along the way, Stanford earned three individual national championship honors — by means of freshman Ella Eastin in the 200 and 400 IM and Gracia Leydon-Mahoney in the platform — as well as two titles in the 200 and 400 medley relays. Ten swimmers (Julia Ama, Eastin, Lindsey Engel, Sarah Haase, Lilly Hinrichs, Ally Howe, Lia Neal, Nicole Stafford, Janet Hu and Leydon-Mahoney) also combined for 35 All-America honors. The results marked Stanford’s 36th consecutive top-eight finish in the NCAA Championships and its 12th top-five finish in the last 13 years.

The Cardinal kicked off the four-day event on Wednesday with Stafford, Eastin, Ama and Engel earning sixth place in the 800-freestyle relay, giving the group All-America status. On the second day, Stanford appeared to earn the national championship in the 200 free relay, but the team was later disqualified for a lane violation. Eastin, however, helped the team move on from the devastating disqualification by securing American, NCAA, school, meet and pool records with her 1:51.65 finish in the 200 IM.


Howe, Haase, Hu and Neal would add to the record-breaking night with a 3:26.14 finish in the 400-yard medley relay, breaking their own record from a few weeks ago by .11 seconds.

A strong third day propelled Stanford to third place, a half-point behind second-place California and within 20 points of first place going into the final day of competition. The comeback was spurred by another national-title earning performance from Eastin in the 400 IM.


Howe, Haase, Hu and Neal were back at it again on Day Three, completing their sweep in the medley relays with a 1:34.81 finish in the 200 medley relay.

On the fourth and final day of competition, the diving duo of Leydon-Mahoney and Hinrichs pulled Stanford within 15 points of first-place Georgia after the former won the national title on the platform, the first Cardinal to do so since 2001. With the latter coming in sixth place, the pair of divers earned Stanford 33 points in the event.


With a single event to go, the 400-yard freestyle relay, the Cardinal had the potential to capture the title if the stars aligned (Stanford had to win the event, and Georgia had to get seventh or eighth place). The squad came in fourth just behind Georgia, sealing the national title for the Bulldogs for the program’s seventh national title.

A Stanford title would have been the program’s ninth overall, with the Cardinal’s last title coming in 1998. Despite the nearly 20-year span since last winning at the NCAAs, Stanford still boasts the most national championships of any team in women’s collegiate swimming. Under current head coach Greg Meehan, Stanford has come in eighth, second and third, respectively, in the previous three NCAA Championships.

Along with its second-place finish in this year’s NCAA Championships, Stanford ends the 2015-2016 season with a unbeaten regular season record. It had been ranked as high as No. 1 in the country during the season.

The future is bright for the Cardinal, which next year will welcome back seven-time All-American and four-time national champion Simone Manuel from her redshirt season. Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky will also be joining the Cardinal on The Farm this fall after deferring her freshman year to train for the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

 

Contact Alexa Philippou at aphil723 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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