Virginia women win 7th consecutive ACC Championship
Busch wins first conference title as Cavalier coach; Swimmers shatter records
Coach Augie Busch came into the season with one lofty goal — to build the Virginia swimming and diving teams into a nationally-recognized top-five program. The results displayed by the Cavaliers in the past week leave little doubt that Busch is well on his way to achieving just that.
The No. 9 Virginia women won their seventh consecutive ACC Championship Saturday, routing their competition as they have for most of the season. Leading after every day of competition, Virginia finished with 1,433 points, 228 points ahead of second-place North Carolina’s 1,205. Ten other conference teams competed, but no team scored more than 1,000 points.
“The title means a lot in and of itself, but the fact that the women swam so well, fought so hard, and cared so much about each other during this whole battle, that’s what really is the most special,” Busch said. “Competing at a high level is fun to watch. It was a heck of a ride for me and the coaches to be a part of it. Winning a title is great, but even if we hadn’t won, it’s about how they compete, how they fight and how they come together.”
Busch expressed his admiration for the way the women competed not just this weekend, but throughout the season. The coach said his team’s constant pursuit of excellence starting in August practices made the ACC Championship victory less surprising.
“There’s a reason there’s such a long streak win by the women,” Busch said. “We show up. We fight hard. We’re all about that mentality.”
Virginia has been setting record-breaking times throughout the season, a theme which continued in a merciless onslaught as the week progressed.
Freshman Leah Smith led her team to victory, winning the 500-yard freestyle Thursday in 4:34.35, setting a new school and conference record while also notching the fastest time in the nation this season. Smith was also victorious in the 1,650-yard freestyle Friday, coming from several seconds behind in the final 100 yards to win the event in a new school record of 15:47.99.
Sophomore Courtney Bartholomew also contributed a strong performance for the Cavaliers, winning the 100-yard backstroke in 51.50 and the 200-yard backstroke in 1:52.37. Both times set new ACC Championship records.
Freshman Laura Simon won the 100 and 200-yard breaststroke, setting the school record for both with times of 58.96 and 2:07.68, respectively. Junior Ellen Williamson broke one more individual school record with her time of 52.19 in the 100-yard butterfly Friday.
Virginia also broke three school and conference records in the relay events. The team of Bartholomew, Simon, Williamson and senior Emily Lloyd won both the 200 and 400-yard medley relays with times of 1:36.16 and 3:29.94, respectively. The 800-yard freestyle relay team — Smith, senior Caroline Kenney, freshman Kaitlyn Jones, and Williamson — was victorious with a time of 7:01.39. These records came as a pleasant surprise as many of the Cavalier swimmers have yet to completely hit their taper.
“We’re not all shaved and tapered right now,” Bartholomew said. “So just for us to have such a great meet, it’s just icing on top of the cake. In four weeks we should be ready to go again, but just this weekend it was very exciting to see.”
Despite the intensity of the competition, the Virginia women stayed loose and enjoyed the meet. The special team bond certainly played a role in helping the team remain upbeat and ready to perform during four consecutive days of continuous competition.
“I thought it was just the team atmosphere,” Bartholomew said. “I personally have never had such a great week with my team. Just to laugh and have fun made it a wonderful, wonderful week.”
On March 20, Virginia will compete in the NCAA Championships. Busch has maintained throughout the season that the NCAA Championships will be his and his coaching staff’s primary focus. With such a strong regular season and conference showing already completed, Busch will now lead his team back to practice with the goal of winning the elusive national title.
“We talk about what the next level is and we talk about how competing at a high level and cashing in on opportunities is what allows you to experience and reach the next level,” Busch said. “So here’s the next level — four weeks away. It’s a chance for us to test our power against the best in the world, really. We’re excited to do it. The women are going to enjoy this for the next couple of days, and then it’s right back to work.”