By James Hemker
Top-ranked women’s swimming and diving (1-0, 0-0 Pac-12) will open up its conference slate by hosting its annual fall meet with Washington State (1-1, 0-0 Pac-12). The Cardinal enter the meet having won their last 30 dual meets, including 20 straight at home in Avery.
Most recently, Stanford rolled over Arkansas, posting eight top-ten NCAA times in the 186-105 win. The Cougars are coming off of a 90-point victory over Idaho last Friday, though the team dropped its season opener to Nevada in late September.
While these early-season dual meets count towards the team’s record, the win-lose-or-tie outcome has no real effects on Stanford’s ultimate goal of returning to the NCAA championship and winning a fourth-consecutive title. Eligibility for NCAA’s will be based purely off of best-times on a swimmer-by-swimmer basis, regardless of how the team performed in head-to-head competition. As a result, Wednesday’s meet will have a heavy focus on the technical aspects of swimming.
“We want to go out there and put together the race details of how we want to swim these races,” said associate head coach Tracy Slusser. “We want to make sure we have the strategy down, the kicks off the wall, the breathing patterns, and making sure we go into the wall really well. The times will take care of themselves when we get to March.”
Further proof that the times are not the focus comes from the fact that some, if not most, of the swimmers will be competing in off-events. For the more senior swimmers who have raced the same events for two or three years, these off-events will give them the chance to showcase their skills in unfamiliar waters. Additionally, getting up on the blocks for an unfamiliar race can be just the right amount of uncomfortable for swimmers to learn from.
While the team lost a chunk of its individual star power over the offseason, Stanford is still an early-season favorite for the championship due to the fact that the team returned 19 of its 22 NCAA qualifiers. With 13 juniors and seniors on the 25-woman roster, the Cardinal are shaping into a veteran team that only understands one result: winning.
Junior Brooke Forde, the reigning 500-yard free national champion, took first in the 1,000-yard free and the 200-yard breaststroke against the Razorbacks two weeks ago. Sophomore Amalie Fackenthal also claimed two races (200-yard free, 100-yard butterfly) for the Cardinal. Freshman Alexandra Crisera had the race of the meet against Arkansas, claiming gold in the 200-yard backstroke by a full seven seconds. Her 1:54.99 is currently sixth-fastest in the country.
The addition of just four freshmen compared to nine last year means that the team won’t have to introduce a quarter of the roster to collegiate swimming. The fall season can have a much heavier focus on pure training, as the foundations are already there.
“We’ve seen a huge bump because our group looks very similar to last year,” said Slusser. “From underclassmen to upperclassmen, everybody just understands what the expectations are, and they are running with it.”
Watch the defending champs take on the Cougars in Avery Aquatic Center on Wednesday evening. Swimmers are set to first leap from their blocks at 5:00 p.m. PT.
Contact James Hemker at jahemker ‘at’ stanford.edu.