By James Hemker
The women’s swimming and diving senior class ended its four-year regular-season career without a dual meet loss. No. 5 Stanford trounced (7-0, 6-0 Pac-12) second-ranked Cal (7-1, 5-1 Pac-12) in Avery 193-104, the largest margin of victory in the rivalry’s history.
Seniors Megan Byrnes, Katie Drabot, Brooke Stenstrom, Allie Szekely and Erin Voss were honored before the team’s final competition of the dual meet season. The storied class’ achievements include three NCAA team championships, three Pac-12 Championships, a perfect 30-0 dual meet record and 19 All-America honors.
“Overall it was sad knowing that this is my last time I’ll be swimming in Avery,” Szekely said. “But I think more so we were just very excited to race and see what we could do because we’ve all been trading super well.”
Byrnes (1000-yard free), Drabot (200-yard fly), Szkeley (200-yard IM) and Voss (200-yard backstroke) each won events in their final home meet. Except for Szekely, each of the seniors comprised a leg of a 200-yard free relay — the last event of the meet — as a final send-off.
Szekely had her own finish in the 200 IM, the final individual race which comes just before the relay. Though she was aware it was her final event in Avery, the only thing on her mind was to finish strong, she said. And she did exactly that, leading from wall-to-wall to finish (1:56.80) two seconds ahead of the competition.
“I guess on my last lap, I did think ‘Oh this is my last lap at Avery,’ but it was more so just finish and put my head down,” Szekely said.
Of the 16 events in the pool, Stanford took first in all but four. Additionally, sophomore Carolina Sculti had the top score on both the 1-meter (315.15) and 3-meter (352.50) boards. Perhaps the most impressive individual swimming performance of the day went to junior Lauren Pitzer, who was the only Cardinal to take gold in two events.
Opening her day with the 200-yard freestyle, Pitzer was locked with Cal’s Robin Neumann from the leap off the blocks. After falling just behind on the final turn, Pitzer surged less than 15 yards from the wall, electing not to take a breath while her Cal counterpart continued to breathe between strokes. The decision was crucial, as she touched the wall .08 seconds before Neumann.
“I had no idea who had won,” Pitzer said. “I knew it was gonna be within a tenth of a second of so, so I put my head down in that last 12-and-a-half and just gave it everything.”
In her second event of the day, the 500-yard free, Pitzer started slow, flip-turning fifth at the 150-yard mark. However, a 28.89 split brought her all the way up to first by the end of the next 50 yards. Pitzer (4:45.37) would hold that position to the wall, increasing her lead to three seconds by the end of the race.
“I did care a little bit [when in fifth], but a lot of it is just trusting yourself and your race strategy.” Pitzer said “I’ve trained a lot for the 500 and the coaches have really counted down what I need to do, so there’s that element of trust with yourself.”
Right after the 200 freestyle, the 100-yard backstroke ended in equally exciting fashion. Freshman Alex Crisera trailed Cal’s Isabel Ivey — who came in fourth in the event at NCAA’s last year — by more than three-tenths of a second at the halfway point. Over the next 50 yards, Crisera (52.70) swam nearly a second faster than Ivey (53.16) to storm ahead on the final turn and steal the win.
With dual meets over, the Cardinal have two competitions, Pac-12’s and NCAA’s, left in their 2019-20 season. The team is looking for its fourth consecutive title at both meets. The Pac-12 Championship will start in Federal Way, Washington, on Feb. 26.