Squads travel to Georgia to compete in prestigious invitational
Swim and dive teams face off against array of top-ranked programs
Fall competition culminates this weekend for the Virginia swimming and diving teams as they compete among the nation’s best at the Georgia Fall Invitational in Athens, Ga. The field will include storied programs such as Georgia, Auburn, California and Texas.
“One the goals of our team is to work up to being a top-five program, and the only way to do that is to get out there and race the teams there right now,” sophomore Ellen Williamson said.
The No. 9 men will face teams accounting for 15 of the last 17 national champions, while the field for the No. 10 women makes up 12 of the last 14 titles. The highest-ranked program in the field for both genders, California, is the two-time defending national champion on both the men’s and women’s sides.
“Three of the perennially top five teams in NCAA swimming competition [Georgia, Cal, and Auburn] will be at this meet,” coach Mark Bernardino said. “I think it’s important that we’re seeing them in the regular season, because when you get to the national championship, these are the people you have to beat.”
The Cavaliers most recently completed a successful trip to the Midwest, where they faced Indiana and Penn State two weeks ago. The Virginia women (5-0) convincingly defeated both opponents. The men (4-1) bested the No. 23 Nittany Lions but fell by one point to the No. 7 Hoosiers.
“I was pleased with the performance of both teams,” Bernardino said. “We swam extremely well, and I give a lot of that credit to the athletes and their mental and physical toughness … What the men took from this meet was the fact that they had a lot [of] personal season-best times. We weren’t so much focused on the one-point loss.”
The Georgia invite will serve as a litmus test for both Virginia teams, as it will feature a style of scoring and level of competition much like that of the NCAA championship meet in March. The meet is also the team’s last contest for nearly two months.
The men’s competition will include, among others, No. 3 California, No. 4 Texas, No. 11 Georgia and No. 16 Auburn. Every event will likely feature swimmers vying for an individual national championship, something that excites junior Brad Phillips.
“From top to bottom it’s going to be a stacked meet,” Phillips said. “I think that’s really going to give us an advantage come ACCs, where we’ll know we’ve already faced teams with just as much speed. Going up against that quality of opponents helps bring out the best in us.”
Phillips will lead the Cavaliers in distance events. His 500-meter freestyle time of 4 minutes, 19.85 seconds is 14th in the nation, second-best in the meet only to Texas sophomore Clay Youngquist.
“We’re really looking forward to the 500 and mile races we’re going to have with them,” Phillips said. “You couldn’t ask for a better field. We all know each other, so we really like to bring out the best in each other.”
The women’s squad will also face nationally-ranked teams, including No. 2 California, No. 3 Georgia and No. 9 Auburn.
“We raced at the Georgia Invite last year, and Cal was there and then went on to win NCAAs,” Williamson said. “This meet gives us a lot of confidence going into NCAAs because we’ve already seen some of the top teams that are going to be there. I feel like we swim better at NCAAs because of this meet.”
The women’s side features many names that will likely earn top finishes. Among them, senior Lauren Perdue ranks second in the nation in the 50-meter freestyle and third in the 100-meter freestyle, and freshman Courtney Bartholomew, the reigning ACC co-swimmer of the week, ranks fifth in the nation in the 200-meter backstroke.
The Cavaliers look likely to go from strength to strength. With the recruiting process finally wrapping up for the Cavaliers the entering freshman class looks as impressive as ever, especially on the women’s side. In all, the Cavaliers will introduce four top-25 swimmers in the world aged 18 and under.
“We have two recruiting classes that we are extremely excited about,” Bernardino said. “We are very excited about this group of women, and we have definitely improved our team … The men’s side is an outstanding class, and we have filled some holes we’ve needed to fill.”
This weekend’s meet will consist of prelims and finals, a format the Cavaliers have yet to experience this season. Action begins 9:30 a.m. Friday and will continue late into Sunday.