TOBIN: Chasing sweet No. 10

spleahsmithrdizon

Olympic gold medalist Leah Smith looks to lead Virginia to another ACC Championship this weekend.

Richard Dizon | Cavalier Daily

If you asked anyone to name the most prolific Virginia sports program of the past 10 years and they answered anything other than “Virginia women’s swimming and diving,” they’d be wrong.

For the past nine years, the Virginia women’s swimming and diving team has walked out of each season’s ACC tournament as a champion. Last season, the result wasn’t even close, as Virginia scored 1,332.5 points to second-place NC State’s 1,178. In their path to victory, the Cavaliers won a total of 10 events and broke five school records — including then-junior swimmer Leah Smith’s 1,650 free, which broke the NCAA record at 15:25.30.

Although Virginia had a dominant season — which concluded with a fifth-place finish at NCAAs that tied its program best — this season has been a bit of a different tune. Whereas the Cavaliers finished 8-0 last season, they slipped once this season, finishing the regular season with a record of 6-1.

A loss in a regular-season matchup is certainly not the end of the world — even the New England Patriots have to lose once in a while. However, it is important to note that this loss came at the last meet of the regular season and to ACC rival NC State. Regardless, Virginia coach Augie Busch said the meet was a net positive for his team.

“We knew this would be a stiff challenge for the men and women, but [the] majority of people embraced it and competed well,” Busch said following the meet. “It was a great dual-meet season for us. Now it is time to get some rest and put the focus on the meets that really matter to us and the program — ACCs and NCAAs.”

With a strengthened NC State squad, Virginia will have to push especially hard to win its tenth-consecutive ACC championship. Currently, NC State is one slot above Virginia in the CSCAA Top 25 — with each team at No. 7 and No. 8, respectively.

Spending the past few years chasing Virginia, NC State finally had the Cavaliers’ number in the regular season. However the Cavaliers should not be discouraged by that loss. The meet came down to the final race — the 200-yard freestyle relay — to give NC State the narrow 153-147 edge. Also, Virginia won seven events, including what has become a routinely strong performance from Smith and a breakout performance from sophomore diver Kirsten Parkinson, who swept all her events.

There are other viable competitors who can rob Virginia of its tenth-straight ACC championship. The Cavaliers haven’t faced the No. 10 Louisville Cardinals, who ended the season on a high-note by beating then-No. 14 Indiana on the road. Outside of Louisville and NC State, Virginia will have to face three other teams in the Top 25 — No. 18 Duke, No. 23 North Carolina and No. 24 Notre Dame.

However, in the face of this tough competition, Virginia has experience on its side. The Cavaliers return many key members who competed at the ACC Championships last year, such as Smith, senior swimmers Laura Simon and Kaitlyn Jones and junior swimmer Jennifer Marrkand. With these athletes competing at several ACC Championships, count on Virginia to have another very strong performance.

A tenth-consecutive conference title would only continue to add to the already-impressive resume of the Virginia program. No other Virginia swimming and diving team has a longer active ACC championship winning streak. The streak has run through multiple coaches, and it will go down as one of the best runs for any program in Virginia history.

Regardless of what happens at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center in Atlanta, Ga. this week, nothing can take away from the absolute greatness that is Virginia women’s swimming and diving. However, this team did not just receive those conference titles without earning them. Although the Cavaliers were knocked down by NC State at the end of the regular season, do not be surprised if they walk out of this week with their tenth-straight ACC title.

related stories