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New faces, same standards for Virginia Swimming and Diving

With new additions, the loss of key point-scorers show no signs of slowing down the Cavaliers

<p>The Cavaliers look to earn their fourth straight national championship on the women's side of the sport.</p>

The Cavaliers look to earn their fourth straight national championship on the women's side of the sport.

Over the past six years, Virginia Swimming and Diving has emerged from relative obscurity to a national powerhouse under the guidance of newly minted Olympic Women’s Coach Todd DeSorbo. They are now the favorite to sweep the NCAA Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships next March. 

This season will feature new faces on both the women’s and men’s teams — multiple stars on the women’s side have chosen to sit out of the 2023-2024 NCAA season to train for the Olympics. An influx of recruits, both from the high school ranks and the transfer portal, provide the Cavaliers with just as much talent as the national champion squads of years past. A strong performance from the newcomers against a national powerhouse in No. 7 Florida Friday proves that Virginia is here to stay.

While the Cavalier women are still by and large expected to beat out their competition and take home a fourth consecutive NCAA title, the margin for victory is not anticipated to be quite as substantial as the 127-point lead over runner-up Texas that saw them clinch the 2023 national title. 

This is in large part due to the fact that the Cavaliers have lost their highest point-scorer, with Virginia legend and graduate student Kate Douglass forgoing her final year of NCAA eligibility to train for the upcoming 2024 Paris Olympics. In the 2023 NCAA Championships, Douglass was the top individual point-scorer, contributing 60 points to the Cavaliers’ 541.5 point total. The Cavaliers felt another key loss in recent graduate Lexi Cuomo, who contributed 15 points to last year’s championship run.

Although some hoped that sophomore Stanford transfer Claire Curzan would fill in the gap Douglass left behind, the high-impact recruit will also not be playing a role in the Cavaliers’ national title run this year — like Douglass, Curzan will be taking an Olympic redshirt year. Curzan was the fifth-highest point-scorer at last year’s national championship, amassing 51 total points for the Cardinal. As a result, questions about the depth of Virginia’s team emerged as the opening matchup of the season drew near.

However, the Cavaliers did not disappoint, as the No. 1 ranked Virginia women got their season started in the same dominant fashion that has become the norm over the last three years, sweeping the meet with a 164-136 victory over the Gators. The No. 15 men’s team did not fare as well, suffering a 202-93 loss.

The matchup saw several new additions shine, the first of which was freshman Cavan Gormsen, who won the women’s 1000 yard freestyle in a time of 9:42.49 and placed second in the 500 yard freestyle with a time of 4:42.37. 

Gormsen was the No. 4 recruit in the class of 2023 and is an incredible asset to the Cavaliers. Her best time of 4:36.34 in the 500 yard freestyle would have been enough to win the 2023 NCAA title, and her personal best of 15:57.20 in the 1650 yard freestyle is an NCAA scoring time. She is a contender for an individual national title at the upcoming NCAA championships, and fills an important gap for Virginia — since the loss of junior Emma Weyant after her transfer to Florida, the Cavaliers have lacked a standout distance freestyler.

Another standout performer was Tess Howley, who won the 200 yard butterfly in 1:54.75. Howley was the No. 5 recruit in the class of 2023, and was recently named to the 2023-2024 United States National Team. Howley, much like Douglass, is a star butterfly and backstroke specialist. Her best time of 1:52.76 can earn her an “A” final at the NCAA Championships, and her 100 and 200 backstroke times are just out of scoring range. 

Other high-impact additions are freshman Lainey Mullins, an individual medley and butterfly specialist, freshman Maggie Schallow, a butterfly specialist and graduate Northwestern transfer Jasmine Nocentini, a breaststroke and freestyle specialist. Nocentini's personal bests in the 50 and 100 yard freestyle and 100 yard breaststroke give her excellent scoring potential this season, working well alongside Howley’s strength in the other two strokes. 

On the men’s side, while suffering a blow from the graduation of Jack Wright and Matt King’s redshirt year, both key point-scorers, incoming high-impact recruits will act as a salve. 

Texas sophomore transfer Anthony Grimm is set to have the biggest impact for the Cavaliers. Grimm was the No. 1 recruit in the high school class of 2021, and has incredible versatility as a sprinter. 

Freshman recruits that are in a good position to make an impact are Jack Madoch and Hayden Bellotti, coming in as strong sprint freestylers and butterflyers. Bellotti was ranked fourth in the 2023 recruiting class in the 100 yard butterfly, and finished third in the event at the Florida dual meet with a time of 48.40. There is ripe opportunity for development as they join a Virginia sprint squad that set the 200 yard freestyle relay American Record last year.

While much of the recruiting class adds to a deep Virginia sprint team, UNC Wilmington junior transfer Sam O’Brien looks to fill in the gaps in men’s distance freestyle. O’Brien’s strength in the 500 and 1650 yard freestyle events will allow him to act as a reinforcement for the Cavaliers after the graduation of Wright, a key Virginia contributor in the 500 yard event.

After a tough year that saw the men fall to 15th in the 2023 NCAA championships, the Cavaliers are on the rise — their latest recruiting class is ranked eighth in the country. While none of these recruits are currently clear picks for NCAA scoring, they are getting close, with Grimm right on the brink. 

A strong recruiting class could be just what they need to begin to bridge the gap between the women's team. While it has yet to take effect, as seen in their loss to Florida, a combination of new talent and the development that is likely to occur under DeSorbo’s coaching suggests definite potential. 

The upcoming season will feature a great many dual meets against key conference players as well as Virginia’s toughest competition, particularly for the women. Next weekend will see the Cavaliers stay in Charlottesville to face off against Texas, one of their toughest rivals and one of the best teams in the nation, ranked No. 2 on the women’s side and No. 7 on the men’s side. For the women, it should be an early sign of how they will fare in their national championship run in March.

The final meet this calendar year is slated for Nov. 15-17, which is another dual meet against Tennessee, who currently stand at No. 6 in the country on both the men’s and women’s sides. In 2024, the Cavaliers are set to compete against Virginia Tech Jan. 13 and NC State and North Carolina in an ACC clash on Jan. 19-20. The annual Cavalier Invite will take place Feb. 9-11.  

These tough matchups will lay a great foundation before the ACC Championships slated for Feb. 20-24. With the usual ACC powerhouses in the mix — NC State, Louisville, Virginia Tech and North Carolina — the event will almost certainly be just as challenging of a test as any the Cavaliers will face. 

This is all excellent preparation for an NCAA championship — set for March 20-23 for the women and March 27-30 for the men — that looks to be more closely contested than previous years. With the addition of high-impact athletes, the men’s team seeks to make its way back up and the women look to cement their spot at the top.