Virginia Swimming and Diving took down Texas Friday in a dual meet that set a positive tone for both the men's and women's squads early on in the season. The women’s team defeated the Longhorns 113-71, while the men took down their opponents 99-89.
The meet showcased a No. 1 Cavalier women’s squad taking on No. 2 Texas in a high profile contest between the best two teams in the country. The No. 15 Virginia men went into the meet as underdogs against a No. 7 Texas that had bested them in both of their head-to-head clashes in the past two years.
The meet began Friday with an unconventional “super final” format in which the top swimmers from each team went head to head with one another in a “winner take all” style. The winner of the super final earned five points, and the loser zero. Everyone else competed in regular four versus four heats Friday.
The women started the super finals with a bang, a relay team featuring junior Gretchen Walsh, graduate student Jasmine Nocenteni, senior Alex Walsh and senior Maxine Parker winning the 200-yard medley relay with a time of 1:34.32, more than a full second ahead of Texas. Gretchen Walsh lowered her own American record in the 50-yard backstroke leg, clocking 22.54 on the way to the team’s victory.
Nocenteni then outdueled Texas senior Anna Elendt in the 100-yard breaststroke, carving out a new personal best time of 58.19 to defeat Elendt, who placed third in the event at the NCAA Championships last season.
The Virginia men, also victorious Friday, had numerous notable showings across the super finals. Perhaps most impressive was senior Noah Nichols, who, in a quick turnaround from his silver medal performance at the Pan American Games, threw down a time of 52.39 in the 100-yard breaststroke superfinal to defeat Texas freshman Nate Germonprez.
At the break, the Texas men led Virginia 55-41, with the women’s teams tied at 48. However, dominant performances from both Cavalier squads in the second half of the first day put them up, and they never looked back.
In keeping with her record-setting tradition, Gretchen Walsh set a Virginia pool record in the 50-yard freestyle super final, clocking a 20.95 in the event, just 0.16 seconds behind the NCAA record. The Cavalier men were also victorious in the event, with junior Connor Boyle swimming a 19.97, the only time under 20 seconds.
The women’s 500-yard free displayed a showdown between Virginia freshman Cavan Gormsen and Texas freshman Erin Gemmell. Although Gemmell edged Gormsen for the win, the Cavaliers took four of the top five spots, displaying their depth in the event.
Gretchen Walsh faced off in another super final in the 100-yard butterfly against Texas senior Emma Sticklen. Walsh defeated Sticklen, the 2023 NCAA champion in the 200-yard butterfly, with a time of 49.11, which put her 4th-fastest all time and over three seconds ahead of her opponent. The Cavalier men were also victorious in the event, as sophomore Kamal Muhammad defeated Texas freshman Will Modglin with a time of 47.43.
Both teams closed out the first day with victories in the 200-yard freestyle relay. The race was especially key to the men's team, which came into the event tied with Texas and emerged victorious after posting a time of 1:20.39. Friday concluded with both teams leading Texas, the women 113-75 and the men 99-89.
The Cavaliers picked up right where they left off Saturday, with the women topping Texas in the 400-yard medley relay at 3:27.56, the leading time in the country. The men’s team also won the event, led by Nichols, who contributed a 51.45 split time to steer the Cavaliers to a two-second victory.
After being bested the day before in the 500-yard freestyle, Gormsen defeated Gemmell in the 1000-yard freestyle, winning the event by over five seconds. The Cavalier women also swept the 200-yard backstroke, led by another freshman, Tess Howley, whose time of 1:53.73 put her at No. 2 in the nation in the event for the season. Howley continued on to defeat Sticklen with a time of 1:55.06.
Both Cavalier squads won the 200-yard breaststroke, with Alex Walsh’s time of 2:08.16 moving her to No. 2 in the nation, while Nichols continued to impress, taking yet another victory after a fast turnaround. The meet concluded with the 400-yard freestyle relay, an event that both Virginia squads emerged triumphant from, with the Cavalier women swimming to the fastest time in the nation.
The Cavaliers won a remarkable 15 of Saturday’s 18 events to capture a dual victory over the Longhorns. The men’s team defeated Texas 96-54, while the women won 119-48.
Beyond simply being a highly ranked duel, the meet was meaningful as a celebration of the Virginia women’s 2023 NCAA victory. Friday saw a record 1,223 fans in the Aquatic & Fitness Center to watch the team unfurl their victory banner.
If the Cavalier women can continue this momentum for the rest of the season, they may be well on their way to a fourth consecutive NCAA title. Texas was supposed to be Virginia’s toughest competition of the season, and if their domination at the meet indicates future success, it appears the Cavaliers are in for another record-breaking year.
Things are looking promising for the future of the Cavalier men as well. An underdog win will surely boost their momentum for the rest of the season, where they will continue to be challenged by highly ranked teams such as No. 4 NC State and No. 11 Virginia Tech. Returns from senior Matt Brownstead and junior Jack Aikins, who were absent this weekend due to their participation in the Pan American Games, will play key in their success for their 2023-24 campaign.
Virginia will travel to Knoxville Nov. 15 to compete at the Tennessee Invite. The Cavaliers won the meet, which featured some of the top teams in the nation, last year and are sure to remain competitive across the board this year as well.