Virginia’s Women’s Swimming and Diving program became back-to-back NCAA Champions in dominant fashion Saturday night at the McAuley Aquatic Center in Atlanta, Ga. The Cavaliers took four of the five overall relays, while also capturing seven individual titles en route to victory with a total of 551.5 points — over a hundred more than the runner-up, Texas, who earned 406.
Junior Kate Douglass and sophomore Alex Walsh were key to Virginia’s victory, with Douglass sweeping all three of her individual events. Walsh contributed three individual event wins of her own, while her sister freshman Gretchen Walsh, earned one of her own. The trio — as well as the rest of the team — set numerous records for the Cavaliers, the NCAA and the United States.
Virginia started the meet off strong, as the 200-yard medley relay team consisting of Gretchen Walsh, senior Alexis Wenger, junior Lexi Cuomo and Douglass captured the Cavaliers’ first title of the championships. They combined for a time of 1:32.16 — a meet record. Douglass swam a 20.55-second anchor leg to secure the victory over conference opponent NC State.
Virginia also finished second in the 800-yard free relay, falling about five seconds short of Stanford’s impressive time of 6:48.30. Freshman Reilly Tiltmann, Alex Walsh, junior Ella Nelson and freshman Emma Weyant combined for a 6:53.47 finish. After a day of swimming, the Cavaliers held an early advantage in the overall standings. They maintained this lead throughout the meet.
The Cavaliers substantially grew their lead over the competition on day two of the meet, starting with a victory for Alex Walsh in the 200-yard IM. She clocked in with a blazing time of 1:50.08, breaking the American record by .59 seconds and held over a second of advantage for the duration of the race.
Douglass would not be outdone, swimming an American and NCAA record in the 50-yard freestyle prelims, before going on to break her new record in the finals with a time of 20.84 seconds to take the event. Gretchen Walsh placed second in the finals behind Douglass. They now hold the first and second spot for the event in Virginia’s record books.
The Cavaliers’ third title of the day came from the 200-yard freestyle relay team made up of Douglass, Alex Walsh, Cuomo, and Gretchen Walsh. The group combined for a total time of 1:24.96, placing second all-time in Virginia history.
Freshman Emma Weyant finished second overall in the 500-yard freestyle, in a career-best time of 4:34.99. Weyant finished just behind University of Pennsylvania senior Lia Thomas who made history by becoming the first transgender athlete to win an NCAA D-1 title with a time of 4:33.24.
Rounding out the Cavaliers’ performance on the second day of competition were junior Ella Nelson and sophomore Abby Harter taking eighth and 11th respectively in the 200-yard IM.
Additionally, junior Maddie Donohoe finished 15th in the 500-yard freestyle and Cuomo took 14th in the 50-yard freestyle.
Alex Walsh won another individual title to begin the third day of the championships. This time, Walsh swam the 400-yard IM in just 3:57.25 to set a new Virginia record. Nelson and Weyant also took third and fourth in the event.
Douglass followed this performance with another American record in the 100-yard butterfly with a time of 49.04. Senior Jessica Nava and Cuomo took 14th and 15th respectively in the event.
Both Walshes, Wenger and Douglass combined to tie their own American record in the 400-yard medley relay to win the event. The group once again swam it in just 3:22.24, matching their time at the ACC Championships. Wenger and Gretchen Walsh also claimed second place spots in the 100-yard breaststroke and 100-yard backstroke respectively.
Tiltmann emerged victorious in the consolation finals of the 200-yard freestyle to place ninth following her fifth-place finish in the 100-yard backstroke. Sophomore Anna Keating earned 13th in the 100-yard breaststroke with a time of 59.05.
Though the Cavaliers already had a substantial lead heading into the final day of the meet, they refused to ease up. Fittingly, Saturday began with another individual title for Douglass. The Olympian set her third American record of the NCAA Championships, finishing in 2:02.19 to complete her individual event sweep.
Alex Walsh earned her own third individual title in the 200-yard butterfly with a Virginia record time of 1:50.79. Her sister followed suit, taking her first individual NCAA title in the 100-yard freestyle. Gretchen Walsh swam the event in 49.05 seconds to set her own Virginia and pool record.
The final event title for Virginia came in the form of the 400-yard freestyle relay team. The Walshes, Tiltmann and Douglass cruised to yet another American record and NCAA Championship in 3:06.91.
Other finalists included Donohoe in sixth in the 1650-yard freestyle and Tiltmann in fifth in the 200-yard backstroke. Nelson, Keating and Wenger earned fourth, eighth and 11th in the 200-yard breaststroke, while Harting took 11th in the 200-yard butterfly.
While the Cavaliers’ dominant nature made this outcome unsurprising to many, Coach Todd DeSorbo made sure to give the team their due, commending them for their motivation and strength.
“This team is unreal,” DeSorbo said. “They blow my mind. Every one of them, they are my heroes. They do it for each other, push each other every day and hold each other accountable. They do it for the rest of the team in the stands, their parents, our alumni. It is just an amazing group of women that are the strongest women I have ever been around.”
Before DeSorbo can begin preparing for a three-peat, he’ll remain in Atlanta and turn his attention to the Men’s NCAA Championships Wednesday through Saturday at the same venue.