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Women’s Swimming and Diving claims its fourth-consecutive NCAA Championship

Led by junior Gretchen Walsh, the Cavaliers became only the third team to ever four-peat at the NCAA Championship

<p>Virginia became only the third ever team to win four consecutive NCAA Championship titles.&nbsp;</p>

Virginia became only the third ever team to win four consecutive NCAA Championship titles. 

The No. 1 ranked Virginia women’s swimming and diving team dove into the NCAA Championship meet in Athens, Ga. this week and came out with a fourth-consecutive national title. The Cavaliers took home 11 gold medals over the course of the week, becoming the first program since 1996 to claim four consecutive NCAA Championship team titles. In a week full of highlights, junior Gretchen Walsh, as she has all season, put on a spectacular performance, torching multiple American records and claiming a total of seven titles. The victory marked the 34th NCAA Championship won by a Virginia program.

Day 1

Virginia wasted no time Wednesday when they opened up the meet by winning their ninth-straight NCAA Championship relay win, a record dating to 2022, in the 200-yard medley relay. Gretchen Walsh led off for the Cavaliers with a 22.10 50-yard backstroke split, the fastest in history. Graduate student Jasmine Nocentini, sophomore Carly Novelline and senior Maxine Parker rounded out the lineup, which won by 1.51 seconds in 1.31.58, just missing their own NCAA record set in 2023.

Virginia’s relay winning streak came to an end in the 800-yard freestyle relay, where they finished fourth. After having the top qualifying time, the Cavaliers were run down on the anchor leg to finish just behind Stanford. After the two events of the first day, the Cavaliers sat in second place, just two points behind Florida. 

Day 2

While Virginia entered day two of the meet in second place, it certainly did not finish there, winning three of five of the day’s events. Two individual victories along with a relay win propelled the Cavaliers past the Gators and into first place.

The day’s individual victories came in a one-two punch from the Walsh sisters. Alex Walsh reclaimed her title in the 200-yard individual medley with a pool record of 1:49.20, becoming only the second swimmer ever to break 1:50 in the event. 

Following her sister’s victory, Gretchen Walsh smashed the 50-yard freestyle NCAA, American and U.S. Open records for the fourth time this season, swimming a 20.37 in the finals, and beating the 20.41 record she had just set in preliminaries. Nocentini also swam a personal best in the event, swimming a 21.10 to claim the bronze medal.

The lone diver for Virginia, junior Lizzy Kaye, became the first female diver in program history to make the finals of an NCAA Championship. She finished second in the one-meter B-final to claim 10th overall, earning honorable-mention All American status, another first for a Virginia diver.

The Cavaliers ended day two with a victory, and a meet record, in the 200-yard freestyle relay. Nocentini, Gretchen Walsh, Alex Walsh and senior Maxine Parker threw down a 1:24.05 to claim their third-straight NCAA victory in the event. Off of the NCAA record they set at last month’s ACC Championship, the quartet still finished well over a second ahead of second-place Louisville.

This trio of victories, along with their other All-America performances thrust Virginia into first place during day two which they finished with 210.5 points, ahead of Florida’s 163 and Texas’ 141. 

Day 3

Virginia once again rewrote history books Friday, taking victory in four events to firmly cement themselves in the front of the pack. 

Alex Walsh set another pool record in the 400-yard individual medley with a 3:55.97, continuing her sweep of individual medleys at the meet. She held off challenger and former teammate, Florida junior Emma Weyant, who had the fastest time in preliminaries. Nelson finished sixth overall in the event earning All-America status.

For the second straight night, Gretchen Walsh demolished every record possible in an individual event, this time in the 100-yard butterfly. Walsh became the fastest woman of all time in the event, and the first to break the 48-second barrier with a blazing 47.42. Since last year's NCAA Championship, she has lowered the NCAA record by 1.04 seconds.

Nocentini earned her first-ever individual NCAA title in the 100-yard breaststroke, setting a pool record in the process. Before this week she had never scored a point at an NCAA Championship, but her time of 56.09 destroyed her personal best by 0.90 seconds and put her at second fastest all-time in the event. Her victory marked the first time a Virginia swimmer has won the event.

Kaye made history again for the dive team, earning a spot in the three-meter A-final. She finished eighth with a score of 267.30, the first time any Cavalier had made the A-final at the NCAA Championship.

Virginia absolutely dominated yet another relay to close out the day, this time in the 400-yard medley relay. Gretchen Walsh, Nocentini, Alex Walsh and Maxine Parker broke their own NCAA and U.S. Open records with a race that saw them firmly in the lead from the first 25 yards. After day three, the Cavaliers had 360.5 points ahead of Texas’ 319, heading into the final day solidly in first place. 

Day 4

After the week Virginia had at the NCAA Championship, it almost seemed natural that the Cavaliers close out their victory in record-setting fashion, and that's exactly what they did. For the fourth consecutive day, Gretchen Walsh once again rewrote history, smashing every record possible in the 100-yard freestyle with a time of 44.83. She became the first woman to ever swim sub-45 seconds in the event, winning by 1.4 seconds.

Alex Walsh claimed her third individual title of the week in the 200-yard breaststroke in another dominating win with a personal best and pool record of 2:02.07. Nelson came in third in the race with a 2:04.80. Freshman Tess Howley finished fourth in the 200-yard butterfly with a 1:52.41, which, along with senior Abby Harter’s sixth-place finish, was enough to clinch the NCAA title for the Cavaliers before the final race even began.

Despite already clinching victory, Virginia did not let up in the final event, where Nocentini, Alex Walsh, Gretchen Walsh and Parker closed out the meet as they had all week, with a relay win. The quartet swam a 3:05.89 to claim the Cavaliers’ 11th title of the meet. 

With 527.5 points, Virginia claimed its fourth-consecutive NCAA Championship title, even further entrenching itself as a dynasty. Thirteen Cavaliers earned First Team All-American honors across the week, and the team rewrote four NCAA records.

“I think realizing that only three teams in the whole nation have been able to achieve a feat like this really kind of puts it into perspective,” Alex Walsh said. “It feels really cool to be a part of history and to be a part of U.Va.’s history, considering that our first national championship ever was [in 2021], and now we’re at four consecutive.” 

While the NCAA Championship marks the end of the collegiate season for the Virginia women, the year is far from over for many of Virginia’s swimmers as the U.S. Olympic Trials are set to begin June 15. Coach Todd DeSorbo will serve, for the first time, as head coach of the U.S. women’s swimming team, while multiple Virginia swimmers, including the Walshes, will have their sights set on Olympic appearances.

The men’s team will close out their season next week at the NCAA Championship in Indianapolis. They finished fifteenth at last year’s meet and will be looking to improve that standing following their fifth-place finish at the ACC Championship in February.

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