Swimmers face fierce competition

Team travels to Bloomington for meet with Indiana, Penn State

With three decisive dual meet victories already under their belts, the Virginia swimming and diving teams head to Bloomington, Ind. this weekend to face their most formidable opponents yet — Indiana and Penn State.

The No. 8 Virginia men’s team (3-0) has enjoyed victories against No. 21 South Carolina, Pittsburgh, and Navy, but the stakes will be higher this weekend when it faces the No. 7 Hoosiers (2-2) and the No. 24 Nittany Lions (2-0).

The No. 14 Virginia women’s team (3-0) has come away with victories against those same opponents and will now face the No. 13 Hoosiers (2-0) and an unranked but still threatening Penn State team (1-0).

“This is going to be terrific competition,” coach Mark Bernardino said. “Indiana is historically one of the most storied NCAA swimming programs. They’ve won many NCAA championships, won many Big Ten titles, and have produced many Olympians… Penn State is outstanding in their own right. They’ve been Big Ten champions in both their men and their women over the last 12 years.”

The Cavalier men are already climbing atop the national leaderboard for times — 12 Virginia personal bests have cracked the top 25 in their respective events this season. Indiana’s men have posted their own impressive marks, however, especially in backstroke events, where they are among the best in the nation.

Senior Brady Fox will be the Cavaliers’ primary weapon against the Indiana backstroke threat. Hoosier juniors James Wells and Eric Ress have both broken the 49-second mark in the 100 Backstroke, whereas Fox currently sits at 49.44 seconds. The leading time, however, will likely come from Penn State junior Sean Grier, who ranks second in the nation with a 48 flat.

“We’re both very fast,” Fox said. “It’s all going to come down to the end of each race — just who wants it more. I think we’ll come out ahead.”

If Fox doesn’t prevail in the 100, he can still strike back in the 200 backstroke, where he ranks ninth in the nation and trails Indiana’s top swimmer by just seven tenths of a second.

“I know Indiana’s Eric Ress — we sort of grew up swimming and have raced for a long time,” Fox said. “It’s pretty fun to get out there and race people like that. In the past couple meets it’s sort of been us racing teammates, which we do everyday in practice. It’s exciting to get some new people to race.”

The men will look to rack up their most points in freestyle events. Senior Tom Barrett has posted faster times than any Penn State or Indiana swimmer in both the 50 and 100 freestyle events. In distance events, Cavalier juniors Brad Phillips and Jan Daniec each rank in the top 15 nationally in the 500 and 1000 free. Although they face no major threat in the 1000, Indiana redshirt senior James Barbeire swims about seven tenths of a second faster than the Virginia duo in the 500.

The women’s team will face similar competition from the two opponents, and as with the men, Indiana will likely pose a greater threat than Penn State. Senior Olympian Lauren Perdue will pin the Cavaliers up in the 50 free, where her 22.59 is best among Division I women, and in the 100 free, where she ranks a respectable seventh. In addition to Perdue, the Cavaliers have eight other swimmers who have posted top 25 times in their events.

“As a team we’re really together and already know where our strengths and weaknesses are,” freshman Courtney Bartholomew said. “We have a great group of both underclassmen and upperclassmen, and as a team we all fit together and know our place.”

Bartholomew will serve as a rock for the Cavaliers in backstroke. In the 100, she is 13th in the nation with a 53.91, but Indiana freshman Brooklyn Snodgrass is right behind her with a 53.96. In the 200 back, Bartholomew posts the eighth best time in the country, but Snodgrass currently outpaces her by an entire second.

“I’m really excited to have some really close competition,” Bartholomew said. “I want to race and see what I can do and also get the competition for us to both get a great time and maybe even an NCAA qualifying time.”

Virginia Rachel Naureth posts top-10 times nationally in both the 1000 free and the 200 fly, but much like with the other Cavalier swimmers, Indiana will post times just as competitive in both events. Bernardino expects close races will be a trend across the entire weekend.

“Between the three schools there is not a single event that doesn’t have an athlete of national renown,” he said.

The three teams held this same tri-style meet last year in State College, Pa., where the Cavalier women were able to beat out both Indiana and Penn State, but the men only topped the Nittany Lions. In the NCAA Championships last year, both Virginia teams finished above Penn State but fell to the Hoosiers.

“This meet is always a lot of fast swimming,” Fox said. “Indiana is right with us, if not better than us right now. They have kids who [were] runner up at NCAAs and almost made the Olympic team. Penn State, I know, also has some quick guys.”

Bernardino also noted that the competition is among the best they’ll see all regular season and that he will not hold back by only swimming his athletes in their best events.

“We’ve mixed up lineups before, but we will not be mixing it up against Penn State and Indiana,” Bernardino said. “This will be probably be as close to our ‘A’ line up as we will see in the first semester.”

The meet will begin Friday at 6 p.m. and will start up again Saturday morning at 11 a.m.

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