After yet another undefeated dual-meet season, the Stanford women’s swimming and diving team will begin competition today at the Pac-10 Championships in Long Beach, Calif. The Cardinal (9-0, 5-0 Pac-10) will head south not only as the sole undefeated team in the conference, but also as one of the top-ranked teams in the country. It currently shares the No. 1 ranking with Georgia.
Stanford will look to bring its first conference team championship since 2005 back to the Farm. In the course of its current season, the Cardinal has defeated its toughest conference opponents by decisive margins. It scored a 173-125 win over No. 4 Arizona (8-2, 4-2) and a 167-131 victory over No. 5 California (5-2, 3-2). It also added a 179-119 win over No. 9 USC (11-2, 4-2) in Los Angeles.
Despite the Cardinal’s recent success, Stanford head coach Lea Maurer believes that her squad is not entering the tournament as the favorite to win.
“[The No. 1 ranking] is a dual-meet ranking, not a championship ranking,” she said. “We’re still the underdogs.”
Indeed, recent history would seem to validate Maurer’s view. Last year, the Card finished third in the conference tournament, behind Cal and Arizona, and the Golden Bears went on to win the national championship. However, Stanford defeated both teams in dual meets last year.
In order to bring home the Pac-10 championship, Stanford will look to several key events to score the majority of its points. Some of its strongest events this year have been the short-distance freestyle races, at 50, 100 and 200 yards. In the 50 free, senior Julia Smit and sophomore Betsy Webb have the second and third fastest times in the nation, with times of 22.35 seconds and 22.37 seconds, respectively. In the 100 free, junior Kate Dwelley has the second fastest time in the country at 48.57 seconds.
“Shockingly, the sprint freestyles are looking like strong events for Stanford,” Maurer said. “We train a lot over distance, so [the swimmers] are perplexed by how that’s happening. But that’s definitely one we’re looking really good in.”
The Cardinal will look to two of its senior leaders, Smit and classmate Elaine Breeden, to power the team to a win. Both swimmers have competed in the Olympics and are defending NCAA champions. Breeden will look to score her second consecutive conference title in the 100-yard butterfly and her fourth straight Pac-10 championship in the 200 fly.
“I’ve won a few events before, and I think that would put me as a contender to win,” Breeden said. “But swimming is unpredictable — there could be favorites, but it all comes down to who swims fastest on that one day. It doesn’t really matter who’s favored to win, just who swims the fastest.”
Smit will also look for her second straight title in her signature events, the 200- and 400-yard individual medleys. Indeed, she is the current short-course world record holder in both events. She also has the second fastest time in the country this year in the 200-yard backstroke — she won that event once before, in 2007.
Stanford will also look to its diving team to score points. The Cardinal’s top two divers, senior Carmen Stellar and junior Meg Hostage, have both won conference championships in the past. Last year, Stellar won the platform while Hostage won the 3-meter springboard in 2008.
Victories in these events alone will not carry the Cardinal, so Maurer is looking to score wins in some closely contested events as well, specifically the 100- and 200-yard breaststroke.
“The war of the conference is going to be the breaststrokes,” she said.
The Cardinal’s top performer in both events this year has been junior Liz Smith, who will look to score upsets against some of the conference’s more established swimmers.
Even if it meets with success in Long Beach, the Cardinal’s focus remains on the season-ending NCAA Tournament in March.
“The focus is getting as many people as possible to that meet,” Maurer said. “If we race tough, the qualifying times will come . . . We’re just looking for more than last year, and our goal is always to get more people to score.”
“NCAAs are definitely the focus of the season,” Breeden added. “Pac-10s are a lot of fun, and it’s great to win a Pac-10 championship, but NCAAs are the focus, and winning there is the goal.”
The Pac-10 Championships will open competition today and run through Saturday.