By James Hemker
For the third straight year, the women’s swimming and diving team has captured the Pac-12 conference title, marking the first three-peat since Arizona from 2006-08. The 1,775 point victory was the third highest score in the history of the meet, and it fell just 1.5 points short of last year’s performance.
This victory was the definition of a team win, as four different girls claimed six conference titles. 12 of the 25 swimmers and divers on the roster contributed a top-three finish. The Cardinal found the podium in 15 of the meet’s 21 events, and the team had a top-eight finalist in all but one event.
“I think the score reflects a really strong performance from our team, A-to-Z,” head coach Greg Meehan said. “It is probably as deep a team as we have ever had. I’m just really proud of the impact that each and every one of them has made — from all 21 swimmers and our four divers, it’s just been a great week”
Saturday, the final day of the meet, was Stanford’s most dominant day of competition. The Cardinal claimed four of the seven events and placed swimmers in the top five of the other three events.
Senior Leah Stevens jump-started the evening with her first career conference title in the first event, the 1,650-yard freestyle. The mile-long race, which she completed in 15:51.26, came down to the final lap, which the senior won by less than half a second. Freshman Morgan Tankersley (15:59.98) claimed bronze, and junior Megan Byrnes (16:05.50) was good for sixth.
Immediately following Stevens’ win, senior Ella Eastin nabbed her third conference title of the week. Eastin’s final title came at the head of a 1-2-3-4 sweep of the 200 backstroke. Both Eastin (1:48.53) and freshman Taylor Ruck (1:48.67) smashed the school’s previous event record of 1:49.36. Freshman Lucie Nordmann (1:51.34) and junior Erin Voss (1:51.43) completed the sweep. Junior Allie Szekely (1:54.51) placed seventh to make it five Cardinal swimmers in the top eight.
“I’ve been training backstroke for my 400 IM, and I think that’s been the best training I could have done with Greg (Meehan),” Eastin said. “It’s allowed me to experiment with different events, and I have awesome training partners, which is pretty obvious by looking at that heat. I was just trying as hard as I could to put my hand on the wall.”
Sophomore Grace Zhao also earned her first Pac-12 title in the 200-yard breaststroke. Zhao maintained her first-place seeding coming out of prelims by crushing her personal best with a time of 2:07.07. That time is good for third-fastest in school history. Freshmen Allie Raab (2:08.11) and Zoe Bartel (2:08.93) claimed spots four and five.
“I just relied on my training,” Zhao said. “I’ve been really consistent in practice, and seeing Kim Williams, our senior breaststroker, race before me — I got really emotional. I just hammered it in toward the wall. I just went for it.”
The final Cardinal victory did not start on the blocks, but on the boards. The exact opposite of Zhao, sophomore Mia Paulsen managed to sneak into the platform diving finals with the eighth-best morning score. Paulsen emerged from the finals fray with a score of 256.30 and her first conference title. Freshman Daria Lenz (242.20) joined her on the podium in third, and freshman Carolina Sculti (204.95) took seventh.
“It feels so good,” Paulsen said. “I wanted to represent my school that I love so much. It feels great. I just tried to make the corrections that I needed to make and focus on what I had to do, and I didn’t even pay attention to what scores I got. I just tried to get it done.”
The Cardinal earned its final individual podium finish off the efforts of junior Katie Drabot in the 200-yard butterfly. Drabot won silver and set a new personal best with a time of 1:51.42. Sophomore Brooke Forde (1:53.67) was edged off the podium by three tenths of a second.
The 100-yard freestyle was one of Stanford’s barest races. Sophomore Lauren Pitzer was alone against a strong field of Cal sprinters. Pitzer stopped the clock at 48.25, tying for fifth. Freshman Anya Goeders (48.71) won the B finals with the ninth fastest time overall.
The meet concluded with the 400-yard free relay. Stanford’s A team of Ruck, Pitzer, Goeders and Eastin shaved two seconds off their seed time to finish at 3:10.43, but the Golden Bears (3:07.41) claimed first and broke the NCAA record in the process.
The Cardinal accrued a 423 point difference over second-place Cal (1,352 points), which was the largest margin of victory since 1996. Under Meehan’s tutelage, Stanford has claimed four total Pac-12 conference titles.
The team now looks for their next three-peat at the NCAA championships at the end of March.
Contact James Hemker at jahemker ‘at’ stanford.edu.