Swim and dive teams face fierce ACC competition at home
The Virginia swimming and diving teams open ACC competition this weekend with home dual meets against North Carolina and Duke.
The dive teams are coming off a successful trip to the Tennessee Diving Invitational two weeks ago, but the swimmers have not faced competition since the first weekend in December.
Sophomore JB Kolod led the way for the men’s diving team in Knoxville with a school-record breaking performance on the 3-meter springboard. Kolod finished fifth in the event overall and also notched a fifth-place finish in the 1-meter springboard competition. For the women’s team, freshman Becca Corbett finished seventh on the platform and 12th on the 1-meter springboard.
“JB Kolod had a tremendous weekend on the springboards,” coach Mark Bernardino said. “From the perspective of our athletes, that was their first competition since December, so we’re hopeful that it was a good opening meet for them and that it will guide them through the remainder of the season … There’s no question that good divers can make a huge difference in your results in dual meets and championship seasons.”
For the swimmers, the last six weeks have been filled with rigorous training Bernardino said is critical to late-season success. Though fatigue may be starting to set in for the team in the short run, the strength and conditioning work should pay dividends during the championship season.
“Sometimes you get so beat up over winter break that you feel like you’re going slower, but we get a lot stronger at the same time,” junior Jan Daniec said.
Saturday’s dual meet against the Tar Heels will likely be the fiercest ACC competition for both the No. 8 Cavalier women and No. 15 Cavalier men until the conference championships in late February. The No. 16 North Carolina women are the second-highest ranked ACC team behind the Cavaliers, and the No. 22 Tar Heel men fall behind only Virginia and No. 17 Virginia Tech.
“UNC is one of the strongest teams in the conference,” Daniec said. “We can use this meet as a measuring stick to see where we are. I think we’re in a good place. We haven’t raced since the Georgia Invite six weeks ago, so there’s no better way to start the spring than with [a] dual meet with UNC.”
Junior Stephanie Peacock is the most threatening of the Tar Heel women. In December, Peacock broke the NCAA record for the 1650-meter freestyle. She leads all ACC swimmers in the 500 and 1000 free, in addition to the 1650. The Tar Heels and the Cavaliers both account for the majority of the top conference times in every freestyle event, most notably in the 500 free, where each of the top nine times comes from the two schools.
“This meet is a great chance to get focused and see a preview of the ACC championship meet,” junior Rachel Naurath said. “UNC is without a doubt our biggest competitor in the conference — at least on the woman’s side — so that rivalry is a huge thing for us.”
On the men’s side, the 500 free looks to be just as interesting as the women’s contest. Virginia and North Carolina swimmers account for the eight fastest conference times in the event, including Virginia’s Daniec, who tops the list. In the 1650 free, however, Daniec sits slightly more than a second behind conference-best Brett Nagle, a senior from North Carolina.
“I really like swimming in [a] high-pressure situation like that,” Daniec said. “I know if I win, I’ll be one of the best guys in the conference in the event, so I’m really looking forward to it.”
Virginia senior Tom Barrett looks to lead the Cavaliers past the Tar Heels in the shorter distance freestyle events. Barrett ranks above every North Carolina swimmer in the 50, 100 and 200 free. The 200 individual medley provides another interesting matchup on the men’s side: Cavalier sophomore David Ingraham holds the conference’s best time, but Tar Heel freshman Matt Kwatyra sits five one-hundredths of a second behind him.
A year ago when the teams visited Chapel Hill, the women’s squad earned the victory but the men’s squad was less fortunate, falling to the Tar Heels 166-134.
“This meet has become one of the most talked about and most anticipated meets in college swimming,” Bernardino said. “The two teams have been so closely matched and are so highly ranked programs nationally with so many great athletes.”
The Cavaliers will have another opportunity against ACC competition before the championships when they face Duke Sunday, but the unranked Blue Devils should not provide the same challenge as North Carolina.
On the men’s side, however, Duke junior Hunter Knight has a faster time in the 100 and 200 breast than any Cavalier, and on the women’s side, Duke junior Christine Wixted also boasts better times in those same events than any Virginia swimmer.
“Duke is one of the most improved teams in the ACC over the last four years,” Bernardino said. “They’ve made steady and impressive progress, and they represent a different kind of challenge than North Carolina does. This weekend will be two days of competition for a team that hasn’t raced in six weeks, so we need to be mentally, physically and emotionally sharp and be prepared for the pressure both teams can bring.”
The Cavaliers begin swimming against North Carolina Saturday at noon and against Duke Sunday at noon. Both meets will be held in the Aquatic & Fitness center.