By James Hemker
The women’s swimming and diving team will take to the pool at the University of Georgia next week to try for its fourth straight NCAA championship.
Of 54 institutions with swimmers competing at the championships, only No. 2 Virginia matches top-ranked Stanford with 15 invited swimmers. The Cardinal also qualified teams for each of the five relays.
Remarkably, this is the first time since the 2012-13 season that Stanford will not have a swimmer on the roster who has already won an Olympic medal. As a result, the Cardinal will have to rely on their depth across the array of strokes instead of banking on individual titles.
Because of the way the team trains for the NCAA championships, comparing the Cardinal qualifying times to other swimmers’ gives an often misleading picture of what’s to come. Stanford trains hard all the way through the conference championships, and then begins its taper — the period of rest that allows the body to recover and perform at a high level for a big competition. Stanford’s times are often lower than most other teams’ times, as those teams taper earlier in the season for better results at conference championships.
Junior Brooke Forde is the only athlete on the roster with an individual title to call her own. The seven-time All-American won the 500-yard freestyle last year by almost 1 1/2 seconds. Adding to the point on inaccurate preliminary rankings, Forde came into the meet with the 20th fastest time, seven seconds slower than her winning time.
Complimenting Forde will be a cast of 12 swimmers who combine for 36 All-America honors, as well as two freshmen, Alex Crisera and Emma Wheal. Every swimmer has the goal of touching first to claim the title, but six Cardinal swimmers are poised to do so, having reached the finals in those events last year.
The 500 free has two returning athletes in Forde and junior Lauren Pitzer, who finished sixth last year. Both sit in the top-four of Stanford’s record books for the event.
After swimming in the shadow of four-time 400-yard IM champ Ella Eastin for the last two seasons, Forde will try to extend Stanford’s streak in the race to a fifth year. Sophomore Allie Raab also made the finals in the 400 IM as a freshman, coming in seventh overall.
In the 200-yard backstroke, senior Erin Voss and sophomore Lucie Nordmann will both try to improve upon their fourth and fifth place finishes, respectively.
At the conference championships, Voss was named the 2020 Pac-12 Scholar Athlete of the Year for women’s swimming and diving. She is the third consecutive Cardinal to win the award after Eastin in 2019 and Janet Hu in 2018.
Finally, senior Katie Drabot is on a collision course with USC’s Louise Hansson for the 200-yard butterfly title. Hansson and Drabot have the first- and second-best times coming into the meet. Hansson owns last year’s title, but Drabot placed third at the World Championships last summer in the 200-meter long-course variant. The shorter pool and increased number of walls may prove the differences for the 6’2” Hansson, who is listed seven inches taller than Drabot.
The diving qualifiers will not be announced until Sunday, but sophomore All-Americans Daria Lenz and Carolina Sculti, as well as two-time (2018, 19) Pac-12 platform champion junior Mia Paulsen, should all be at the championship.
The final stage of the journey to go four-for-four will begin next Wednesday at the University of Georgia.