By James Hemker
Stanford’s swimming and diving teams are set for a double-header this weekend in the Grand Canyon state. The No. 7 men’s team (2-0, Pac-12 1-0) and No. 3 women’s team (2-0, 2-0) will compete against Arizona this afternoon and Arizona State tomorrow.
Despite identical schedules, the two Stanford teams will be completely separate from each other, save for race time on the pool deck. To minimize distractions and keep focus completely on the meets at hand, the teams will be in different hotels, eat separate meals and travel by themselves.
The Cardinal men
The men are two weeks removed from their clinical victory over the University of the Pacific, when they placed first and second in every event. A performance of similar standards will be unlikely this weekend. The No. 15 Wildcats (1-1, 0-1) and the No. 17 Sun Devils (1-1, 0-1) are the highest-ranked foes Stanford has faced head-to-head thus far.
Head coach Ted Knapp said, “Last meet was a chance to race, but this weekend is a chance to compete against teams where each event could go either way. We feel very good about most of our events, but we probably won’t be the favorite in every event. All in all I think our team is ready to take on that challenge and travel.”
The Arizona schools are separated by just two spots in the rankings, yet the two teams cannot be approached with the same mindset. Knapp elaborated, “They are really pretty different. One is stronger in diving than the other, while the other is better in sprint and distance events. They really don’t mirror each other very well.”
Stanford is a balanced team with strong swimmers in each distance. As a result about half the events will be challenged today, then the other half will be challenged on Saturday.
The Cardinal also have an impressive cadre of divers, led by freshman Conor Casey. Casey was awarded Pac-12 Diver of the Week this past Wednesday after an impressive showing at the UCLA Diving Invitational last weekend.
For the rest of the season, Stanford’s freestyle swimmers will have to step up and fill the void left by junior Grant Shoults. Coach Knapp confirmed that Shoults suffered a torn labrum which required surgery, and that he would be unable to compete for the rest of the year. The 500 free Pac-12 champion has garnered six All-America honors so far, and he will be eligible to swim for a fifth year.
The Cardinal women
After a long hiatus from competition swimming, the back-to-back defending national champions are ready to torpedo their first opponents of the winter dual-meet season. Stanford enters this weekend on a 25 dual-meet win streak which stretches back almost four years.
The last dual meet the team swam was a 169-86 blowout against Washington State in early October. The team then claimed first at the Ohio State Invitational just before Thanksgiving. Though the meets stopped, the grind did not as the squad spent eleven grueling days at altitude in the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO.
Neither Arizona (3-2, 2-2) nor Arizona State (2-3, 2-2) are ranked, so Stanford will be able to bring themselves back into form without too much extra hassle. Head coach Greg Meehan said, “On this trip I want us to race with great effort and energy and give us, the coaches, great feedback to make minor changes as the season progresses.”
Normally, when racing against a significantly less skilled opponent, coaches will put swimmers in off-events, since the reduced competition affords a good opportunity for those events to stay fresh. However due to the long racing drought, Meehan will not follow that plan exactly.
He explained, “Since we haven’t raced that much this year, most people will get one or two of their best events for sure this weekend. They may get some of those events on both days. But we will still try and keep things fresh.”
This weekend will give fans their first look at the stellar freshman class after almost half a year under Meehan, who was named the 2020 Olympic coach at the end of November. A few of the young Cardinal swimmers have significant international experience, but Meehan contends that it doesn’t completely translate to collegiate swimming.
“In a meet with all your teammates, everyone has the same goal which is to score as many points as we can to be successful,” said Meehan. “It’s a different vibe from international competition where there is a lot more external pressure on the individual to represent their country.”
The teams will compete in the meets together, alternating men’s and women’s events. Today’s meet at University of Arizona will be at 1 p.m. PST, while tomorrow’s meet at Arizona State University is set to start at 11 a.m. PST.
Contact James Hemker at jahemker ’at’ stanford.edu.