Coming into this year’s NCAA Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships as the number one ranked team in the nation proved to be undaunting for Virginia. The Cavaliers led from start to finish in a stalwart showing, never looking back from the jump.
The Virginia women excelled in every race, placing a swimmer in the top eight in every single individual event and pacing the rest of the field of teams by 137 points this weekend in Greensboro, N.C. A number of All-American and record-setting swims resulted in Virginia hoisting the trophy for the first time in program history, becoming the ninth different school to win the National Championship and the first-ever team from the ACC.
Virginia finished with a total of 491 points, well ahead of the second-place No. 5 NC State Wolfpack, who put up 354 points and the third-place No. 3 Texas Longhorns, who were not far behind with 344.5 points. This year’s historic meet marked the first-ever ACC 1-2 finish as well, as no ACC team has ever placed higher than third at the NCAA Championship.
“I’m so proud of this group,” Coach Todd DeSorbo said. “They have been on a mission all year and just been grinding and excited for it. They just performed at a really high level all week. It is an exciting time for our program and our conference. To put someone in the ‘A’ Final in every single event is pretty impressive. It just shows overall depth. I think it takes a full team to win a national title and these ladies brought it every minute of every day.”
Senior Paige Madden and the rest of the Cavaliers were nothing short of impressive all week long. Madden took first place in three individual events while participating on a winning relay team and was ultimately named Most Valuable Swimmer of the meet.
Much like in last month’s ACC Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships, Virginia jumped out to an early lead. The 800-yard freestyle relay team of senior Kyla Valls, Madden, sophomore Ella Nelson and freshman Alex Walsh crushed the competition by just under five seconds with a time of 6:52.56 to notch the Cavaliers’ first-ever NCAA Championship relay win in program history.
The second day of competition, however, is when Virginia really took command of the meet, sweeping all three individual swimming events and widening the gap between first and second place to jump ahead by 60 points.
The 200-yard freestyle relay team of sophomore Kate Douglass, sophomore Lexi Cuomo, Valls and Walsh took second place, setting a new Cavalier school record. Then, Douglass led off the relay with the fifth-fastest 50-yard freestyle time in history in 21.09, and Madden won her first individual event of the meet with the 500-yard freestyle. Madden paced the rest of the field by two seconds and took the title with a blisteringly quick time of 4:33.61, while sophomore Maddie Donohoe placed 15th, earning more points for Virginia.
Following Madden's dominant win in the 500-yard freestyle, Walsh raced to a winning time of 1:51.87 in the 200-yard individual medley while also beating out the rest of the field by two seconds. Shortly thereafter, Douglass stepped up to the blocks to narrowly beat second place in the 50-yard freestyle with a time of 21.13. With her 21.09 time earlier in the night, Douglass improved her own Virginia record and became the third-fastest swimmer ever in the event.
To cap off the incredibly successful night of swimming, the Cavalier team of freshman Reilly Tiltmann, junior Alexis Wenger, Cuomo and Douglass placed second in the 400-yard medley relay with a time of 3:25.13 — the third-fastest time in NCAA history and a new Virginia school record.
Heading into the third and penultimate day of swimming, Virginia was poised to further extend its lead, having a swimmer seeded in the top three in almost every individual event. The Cavaliers converted on their seeding and more, with Madden taking first place in the 200-yard freestyle in a school record time of 1:42.35, Nelson and Douglass both taking second place in the 400-yard individual medley and the 100-yard butterfly, respectively, and Wenger swimming to a third-place finish in the 100-yard breaststroke. On top of these podium finishes, senior Caroline Gmelich improved on her 14th-place seed in the 100-yard backstroke to place eighth and earn a spot in the A final.
Nelson and Douglass both improved their own Virginia school records in their events, while the Cavaliers racked up numerous more All-American honors and All-American honorable mentions on the night.
The Cavaliers extended their streak of podium finishes in relay events as well, taking second place in the 200-yard medley relay with the team of Gmelich, Wenger, Cuomo and Douglass finishing with a time of 1:34.13.
The Cavaliers entered the final night of competition up over 100 points but did not let that stop them from further establishing their dominance at this year’s championships.
Madden closed out a phenomenal meet for both herself and the Cavaliers with a victory in the 1,650-yard freestyle in a personal-best time of 15:41.86. Virginia then scored more points from Nelson and Douglass, who both took second place in the 200-yard breaststroke and the 100-yard freestyle, respectively, with Douglass setting a Virginia record in a time of 46.30. Finally, the Cavaliers took yet another second-place finish in the 400-yard freestyle relay as the team of Douglass, Madden, Walsh and Cuomo finished with a time of 3:10.45.
As for the diving portion of the meet, senior Jocelyn Porter notably notched a 22nd-place finish in the 3-meter springboard, while sophomores Charlotte Bowen and Jennifer Bell finished 33rd and 35th, respectively, also in the 3-meter springboard.
In the end, Virginia was alone on top for the very first time in program history.
For Madden, it was the perfect end to an incredible career, while for the Cavaliers, it is the beginning of what could be a streak of title contentions. Virginia’s younger classes, especially the freshmen and sophomores, are some of the strongest in the nation, so the future is certainly bright for the Cavaliers.
Up next for Virginia swimming and diving is the men’s 2021 NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships in Greensboro, N. C., which will start March 24 and finish March 27.