Cavaliers look to earn sixth consecutive ACC Championship
Greatness has come to be expected of the Virginia swimming and diving program during the last decade. The men’s and the women’s squads have combined to capture 16 conference titles in the span of 10 years, including each year’s since 2008. The No. 11 women will have the first crack at building on the incredible feat as they vie for their sixth consecutive ACC Championship during the next four days in Greensboro, N.C.
The Cavaliers (9-0, 3-0 ACC) come into the championship meet tied for first place in the conference standings having gone undefeated during the regular season for the second consecutive year, and coach Mark Bernardino said an 11th conference championship for the women’s program is the definite goal.
“Any team competing for a championship should go in with the goal of winning,” Bernardino said. “For any group swimming at this University, if their goal is anything less than winning a championship, then I wouldn’t want those athletes around to begin with.”
Virginia boasts a slew of swimmers and divers with strong chances to finish atop the ACC in their respective events. Seven different Virginia women have earned ACC Swimmer of the Week honors this season and there are only two ACC Championship events where a Cavalier swimmer does not hold one of the top three fastest times in the conference this season.
“I think we have a really good shot,” senior Lauren Perdue said. “We have a very deep and very talented team. Every year is challenging and every year we really have to fight and rely on each other, but I think we have a really good chance this year and I’m excited.”
Perdue, an Olympic gold medalist in London, highlights the exceptional squad and will look to expand on her already impressive total of 17 ACC championship first place finishes. Perdue will compete in the 50, 100 and 200 yard freestyle events in addition to four relays. She has won a title in each of these events in her first three seasons, including three straight victories in the 100.
“I’m really excited to finish my career here on a strong note,” Perdue said. “I want to help the team be as successful as possible and hopefully get that sixth straight championship.”
Perdue is part of a senior class that could become just the third in Virginia history to win an ACC Championship in each of their four seasons.
Junior Rachel Naurath leads the way for the Cavaliers in the distance events, having posted the second best conference times in the 500 and 1000 freestyle and the fifth best mark in the 1650 free. Fellow Cavaliers sophomore Kelly Offutt and junior Caroline Kenney rank No. 2 and No. 4 in the 1650, respectively.
Outside the freestyle events, the Cavaliers will especially look to dominate in backstroke and IM. Sophomore Ellen Williamson owns the fastest conference time in the 200 IM, while fellow sophomore Shaun Casey ranks second best in the 400 IM. Freshman Courtney Bartholomew paces the entire conference in backstroke this season with the best times in both the 100 and 200.
“I’m a bit nervous, with this being the first ACC Championship for me, but it’s a good nervous,” Bartholomew said. “I would love to have a best time in all three of my events and help my relays to contribute as much as I can and score as many points as possible.”
The Cavaliers also hold the top times in the ACC for all but one relay event, but after weeks of tapering for each team and constant lineup changes, relay performances are notoriously hard to predict. On the boards, Virginia is led by freshmen Becca Corbert and Katie Warburg, both of whom broke school records in their inaugural seasons.
Virginia will receive its fiercest opposition in this meet from No. 22 Florida State and No. 15 North Carolina. In addition to posting a perfect record in ACC dual meets, the Seminoles (13-1, 5-0 ACC) pulled off a win against No. 5 Florida back in November, though they never swam against Virginia. Bernardino indicated, however, he was most concerned about the Tar Heels (5-2, 3-1 ACC), whom the Cavaliers narrowly defeated in a dual meet in January.
“I think the University of North Carolina has an outstanding team,” Bernardino said. “They are extremely deep this year, and not only do they have depth, but individual talent, as well … Our victory earlier in the season is irrelevant, because this meet is scored completely differently. A dual meet victory doesn’t have anything to do with the potential for a championship.”
The meet kicks off Wednesday with the first slate of preliminary rounds and will run until Saturday evening, with finals beginning Thursday.
“We’re all really positive and really excited for the meet,” Bartholomew said. “We all want to do well and push each other both as a team and as a family, and I think we’ll swim very well because of that.”