The Cardinal just didn’t know how to stop winning.
Momentum isn’t a term that’s usually used in swimming, but it might have been the only word that could explain the Stanford women’s swimming and diving squad’s impressive performance at the NCAA Championships in Minneapolis this weekend.
Stanford won event after event over the course of the three-day meet, racking up seven event titles — the same number that it won in the last four NCAAs combined — en route to a second-place finish. Though not many expected the Cardinal to land in the top four, Stanford wound up 16.5 points ahead of third-place finisher and Pac-12 champion Cal — led by Olympic star Missy Franklin, no less — and 66.5 points above Texas A&M. Only Georgia boasted the depth to hold off the star-studded Cardinal squad, as the Bulldogs easily took the team title by a margin of over 100 points.
In just his second year on the Farm, head coach Greg Meehan was named the CSCAA Swimming Coach of the Year for leading his team to a runner-up finish — in which Stanford scored its most points at NCAAs since 2000 — and bouncing back from a somewhat disappointing showing at the national meet last season.
“It’s pretty rewarding,” Meehan told GoStanford.com. “I think mostly for our seniors. For them to go out like this, with a second-place finish and winning four of five relays, is just special.”
For the seniors, this past weekend was about redemption and capturing the elusive gold medal.
Senior Maya DiRado paved the way with four total first-place finishes, two in individual events and two in relays — a defining moment for DiRado, considering that an NCAA title had eluded her by the smallest of margins every season since her freshman year. DiRado swept the individual medley events, first chasing down Georgia’s Melanie Margalis in the final lap of the 200 individual medley and then beating out Olympian and defending champion Elizabeth Beisel in the 400 individual medley.
Senior Felicia Lee also captured her first NCAA title, winning the 100 butterfly, 200 freestyle relay, 400 medley relay and the 400 freestyle relay in addition to taking third in the 100 backstroke. In the 100 butterfly, Lee was sixth at the halfway mark, but exploded off the last two turns to touch the wall first with a time of 50.89. The senior also swam a blistering 21.20 in her leg of the 200 freestyle relay.
Though DiRado and Lee stole the show, the juniors also stepped up in a big way. Breaststroke specialist Katie Olsen played a critical role in three of Stanford’s four winning relays and swam personal best times in the 200 breaststroke and 100 breaststroke to finish second and fifth, respectively. Junior Maddy Schaefer also swam in three winning relays, while placing in the top eight in both the 50 freestyle and 100 freestyle.
Despite being a freshman, sprint specialist Lia Neal didn’t seem to be fazed at all in her first NCAA meet. Not only did she help Stanford win the 200 freestyle relay, 400 freestyle relay and 400 medley relay, but she also out-touched Franklin in the 100 freestyle to finish second in the event. Though Franklin is known for her back-half speed, it was Neal who had the fastest second 50 in the event.
The Cardinal is losing two of its best swimmers in DiRado and Lee to graduation, but with a veteran core consisting of Olsen and Schaefer along with young talent like Neal and freshman Nicole Stafford, Stanford should be in contention for the national team title next March.
Contact George Chen at gchen15 ‘at’stanford.edu.