Relay dominance continues as women’s swim & dive cruise to midseason titles

Nov. 24, 2022, 7:03 a.m.

With a series of dual meets under their belts showing glimpses of early season speed, the men and women of Stanford’s undefeated swimming & diving programs – competing together for the first time since their season-opening victory over Utah – jetted across the country to take part in their heavily anticipated mid-season invites.

The team’s divers launched into the 2022 Texas Diving Invite, while their swimming teammates converged on the Greensboro Aquatic Center for the 2022 NC State / GAC Invitational alongside Duke, Penn State and US Military Academy, as well as fellow swimming heavyweights Arizona State and hosts North Carolina State. The six-team showdown in Greensboro, N.C. encompassed three days of prelims-finals action and marked the first meet of this format for the swimmers this season.

The Cardinal women returned home buoyed by lifetime bests, NCAA Championship qualifications and strong performances across the pool as the team raced to a 1897 team score that saw them take a close second to hosts NC State in the Greensboro meet.

Day 1 Unrivaled relays as multiple Cards notch NCAA qualifying standards

Making waves in the very first event of the meet, Stanford’s women dominated the 500-yard freestyle prelims, with five members of the squad making the top-eight ‘A’ final. A lifetime best 4:42.95 from freshman Natalie Mannion saw her enter the final as the top-seeded swimmer, while graduate student Morgan Tankersley and sophomore Aurora Roghair earned second- and third-place finals lanes, respectively, as sophomore Lillie Nordmann and freshman Charlotte Hook closed out the top eight in prelims. While the event’s final saw ASU’s Lindsay Looney swim up from fourth to take the gold-medal spot, Tankersley (4:41.87) and Roghair (4:41.91) both bested their morning swims by two and three seconds, to hang on to second and third spots overall in a close finish as Mannion (fourth) and Nordmann (fifth) gave Stanford four of the top five finishes.

Of the seven Stanford women in the 200-yard IM, it was star sophomore Torri Huske who finished on top of the pile – her time of 1:53.37 was over two and a half seconds faster than her second-placed prelims finish, and also good for first overall and an NCAA ‘A’ cut. Freshman Lucy Bell jumped three places in the final to finish fifth, posting a 1.62 second improvement to go 1:57.45.

Huske again swam her way onto the podium in the very next event in the women’s schedule, finishing less than a tenth of a second back from ever-impressive freshman Claire Curzan in the 50-yard freestyle as both swimmers beat out Huske’s previous meet record of 21.70. Curzan (21.55) and Huske (21.63) also dipped under the event’s NCAA ‘A’ cut, as senior Taylor Ruck (21.93) completed yet another top-three sweep for the Cardinal this season. Those three were the only sub-22 swimmers, but senior Emma Wheal and sophomore Amy Tang rounded out the final in seventh and eighth, respectively – marking another final stacked with Stanford swimmers.

The day’s events were sandwiched between two relays during the finals – the 200-yard freestyle relay, and the 400-yard medley relay. Opening the evening session, the three Cardinal women from the individual 50-yard freestyle podium joined Wheal to claim the freestyle relay title in 1:25.90, winning by almost two seconds and smashing the meet record in the process with an NCAA ‘A’ relay standard. All four women on that A relay swam sub-22-second splits, with Huske’s 21.54 lead-off leg proving the fastest flat-start 50 of the day and Curzan’s 21.15 the fastest split in the field.

Curzan, Huske and Ruck were again integral in Stanford’s 400-yard medley A relay – the former’s 50.32 100-yard backstroke opening up a full second lead over NC State’s reigning NCAA champion in the event, Katharine Berkoff. Sophomore Sam Tadder (a stalwart in the breaststroke events this season, with graduate student Allie Raab out injured) took over for the breaststroke leg (1:00.25), before Huske (butterfly, 49.38) and Ruck (freestyle, 47.02) charged home to touch first in 3:26.97 – this time nearly three seconds clear of second-placed meet hosts NC State, while claiming another NCAA ‘A’ relay standard. Both relay wins cemented Stanford’s women atop the team score standings after day one, with 639 points.

Meanwhile at the Texas Diving Invite, sophomore Maria Papworth scored 280 in the 3-meter event for 17th overall, followed by freshman Emilie Moore (20th, 273.10) and sophomore Lauren Burch (23rd, 249.05).

Day 2 – 200 freestyle – the Stanford signature event?

The Cardinal’s momentum continued into day two, highlighted by a relay masterclass and individual wins for Taylor Ruck, Torri Huske and Claire Curzan.

While Stanford’s women couldn’t quite replicate their 400-yard medley relay glory over 200-yards, the same ‘A’ team of Huske (backstroke, 23.82), Tadder (breaststroke, 28.05), Curzan (butterfly, 22.30) and Ruck (freestyle, 21.77) did secure another NCAA ‘A’ standard to accompany their second-place finish in the event, going 1:35.94. Huske and Curzan swapped strokes this time around – an effective tactical change, with the latter’s 22.30 50-yard butterfly split the fastest in the pool while a rogue yet rapid 50-yard backstroke from Huske could open up further options for future Cardinal relays.

There was a quick turnaround for Stanford’s current go-to breaststroker, who jumped back up to race the 400-yard IM final alongside Bell and freshman Sophie Duncan. Tadder dropped over two seconds from her prelims time, taking fourth in 4:11.83, but Bell followed up a big time drop and fifth-place finish in the 200-yard IM with a huge 6.89 second improvement from the morning to touch second (up from sixth-seed) in 4:08.37  – only a second off her lifetime best from earlier this year. There were prelims to finals improvements all around as Duncan also improved from her prelims swim to clock in at 4:18.07 for eighth place in the ‘A’ final. Tadder added a win in the ‘B’ final of the 100-yard breaststroke later in the evening, dropping just under a second from her qualifying heat performance to go 1:01.43.

“I am excited to swim the 400 IM, which is something I would probably never have said before,” Bell admitted, continuing, “it’s a very tough event, but it really tests all the strengths of a swimmer which I think is pretty cool.”

The freshman credited some of that newfound vigor to the dedicated group of swimmers she trains with day in and day out, as well as the confidence from knowing she has (and continues to) “put in the work”.

“I’m very happy with my times for mid-season,” she added. “All of them were right around my lifetime bests, and they were all season bests.”

Two more NCAA ‘A’ cuts were met with ease by Huske and Curzan in the 100-yard butterfly ‘A’ final, as two of Stanford’s top performers went to battle once again. This time, the reigning long course 100m butterfly World Champion got her revenge for the 50-yard freestyle showdown on day one, dropping nearly two seconds to go 49.25 and snatch the title back from the top-seeded Curzan (49.93). The freshman also dropped nearly a second from her prelims time, as both swimmers finished well clear of the rest of the field. Wheal put up a 53.53, which almost matched her 53.52 in prelims, to take eighth place. Huske’s 49.25 was just 0.08 away from her lifetime best, and is currently the fastest time in the nation so far this season.

“I’m really happy with my training right now, and for the first time in my life I didn’t really care as much about the time on the board,” Huske said. The sophomore explained that she has been training faster than she ever has before, and is also faster than she was at this point last year — both indicators of good things to come in championship season, with the Greensboro meet serving as a big confidence boost.

The 100-yard butterfly will, of course, be a staple in Huske’s schedule at both Pac-12s and NCAAs at the end of the season, as she remains a championship title favorite. The rest of her lineup is yet to be fully determined, but Huske expects to largely compete in similar events as at Greensboro, as well as at her championship meets last season — with the 50- and 100-yard freestyle and 200-yard IM coming to mind.

It wasn’t long before Curzan racked up a solo win of her own. In the final individual event of the day, the in-form freshman dropped 0.78 from her prelims time to grab the 100-yard backstroke crown with another NCAA ‘A’ cut under her belt, touching in a 50.12 – putting her at No. 1 in the country this season. Graduate student Lillie Nordmann claimed sixth in 53.10.

Their unrivaled program depth on display once again, Stanford’s women swept places one through five in the 200-yard freestyle ‘A’ final and accounted for six of the top eight in the race. Reigning NCAA champion Ruck dropped 1.74 from her morning swim to take first in 1:43.11, a little under two seconds off her NCAA-winning time from last season. She was joined on the podium by freshman Kayla Wilson (1:44.35) and Lillie Nordmann (1:44.83), with Tankersley and Mannion touching in fourth and fifth respectively. Tang claimed eighth place in the race at 1:47.34, while Roghair’s time of 1:46.77 – runner-up in the ‘B’ final – proved faster than three of the event’s A-finalists.

It should, with those results in mind, be no surprise what happened next. Relay mainstays Huske (1:44.25), Curzan (1:43.74) and Ruck (1:43.08) were anchored by a 1:45.38 from Wilson, as the freshman charged home to stop the clock first at 6:56.45 – comfortably inside the NCAA ‘A’ standard, a new meet record, and almost seven seconds quicker than the next best team in the 800-yard freestyle relay. Even then, cruising into second place at 7:03.39 was Stanford’s ‘B’ team of Mannion, Roghair, Tankersley and Lillie Nordmann – meaning the Cardinal put together two relay teams faster than any other team. That second unit still finished over two seconds ahead of third-place NC State’s ‘A’ team.

At the Texas Diving Invite, Papworth was again Stanford’s highest-placed finisher, at sixth overall in the 1-meter with a 292.30 score. Burch, Moore and senior Julia Wortman were 10th, 20th and 22nd respectively in the event.

Day 3 – Lifetime bests continue to tumble amidst a tide of Cardinal wins

Tired and battle-worn, the Cardinal marched ahead into the meet’s third and final day, and their last day of racing of the calendar year – but there was no slowing them down.

Roghair was first into the water for the final session, swimming a strong and consistently split 16:09.84 in the 1650-yard freestyle. That time saw her take first in the mile by a comfortable margin of just under nine seconds. Having swam a relatively distance-heavy meet lineup both in Greensboro and throughout the season so far, the sophomore explained that having “a year of training under [her] belt” coming into this second collegiate season has helped her know what to expect and how to better manage the workload.

“I was pretty close to my (lifetime) best times and was able to improve on my times from last year at this point which is fun to see,” Roghair said after the meet, excited for the rest of the season ahead where she is confident the her and her teammates’ hard work will continue to pay off. She also spoke highly of the team’s freshmen, who already are proving to be key points scorers for the Cardinal.

“The freshman class matched the team’s dynamic so well immediately… and helped to elevate our energy. We’re always excited to get up and race together.”

Some of those freshmen were up in the very next event. The spotlight once again shone upon Curzan – and the young Olympian did not disappoint. Swimming a lifetime best by almost a second, the freshman posted an event-winning 1:48.50 in the 200-yard backstroke that was a little over three seconds quicker than senior teammate Ruck (1:51.66), who also improved from her prelims time to secure second place. The duo was followed into the ‘A’ final by Mannion (1:53.82) and Lucie Nordmann (1:54.77), who finished up in fifth and sixth respectively. That time for Curzan propelled her to No. 10 on the all-time US rankings in the event, and – per Stanford Athletics – is the third fastest time in program history.

Having accounted for four of the 200-yard backstroke ‘A’ finalists, Stanford’s women went one better in the ‘A’ final of the 100-yard freestyle. Headlined by a nation-leading (and NCAA ‘A’ cut) 46.85 from Huske that put her only 0.03 off her lifetime best, the Cardinal also claimed third, fourth, seventh and eighth place through strong performances from Lillie Nordmann (48.45), Wilson (48.70), sophomore Anna Shaw (48.92) and Tankersley (49.43) respectively.

Tadder was again the breaststroke standout for the team, dropping a second and a half from her heats swim to place fifth in the 200-yard breaststroke with 2:10.92.

Stanford’s freshmen showed up big yet again in the final individual event of the meet, with Hook throwing down an impressive 1:52.48 to emerge victorious from the 200-yard butterfly ‘A’ final. Charging home with a speedy final 100 after trailing ASU’s Lindsay Looney at the halfway point, the swim marked an improvement from the morning of over two seconds, a lifetime best of 0.24 seconds, and an NCAA ‘A’ cut for the first-year swimmer. Meanwhile, fellow freshman Bell capped a strong meet with a 1:55.55 for fourth place, also improving from her prelims time.

“The 200 fly was a best time, which was really great especially so early in the season,” said Hook — normally, it’s rare for swimmers (especially at a high level) to go their fastest when not fully rested. 

The newly-crowned distance butterfly champion explained that as a team, the Cardinal have taken on some ‘challenge sets’ together “to gear up for the upcoming meet season”. The squad also regularly split into training groups based on event focus — for Hook, this has meant lots of (you guessed it) 200 butterfly work, as well as individual medley focus and (ever important for endurance events) aerobic freestyle. 

It wouldn’t be a meet, or a relay race, without the Cardinal occupying the podium once more. Drawing the curtain on their 2022 mid-season invitational in style, Stanford claimed first and third place in the 400-yard freestyle relay. Ruck (47.44), Lillie Nordmann (48.21), Curzan (47.21) and Huske (46.96) combined for the gold, finishing in 3:09.82 with another NCAA ‘A’ cut, while their second team of Shaw, Wilson, Tang and Tankersley swam to third place with a time of 3:14.86.

In Texas, all three Stanford divers finished in the top 15 of the women’s platform event. Moore scored 256.75 that was good for sixth overall, while Wortman’s 212.20 and Burch’s 191.40 saw them take 14th and 15th place, respectively.

Per Stanford Athletics, head coach Greg Meehan spoke admirably of his squad’s performances. 

“I’m really proud of how the team battled the last three days,” The Paul A. Violin Director of Women’s Swimming and Diving said. He continued, “we recognize this is one step along our journey this year, but we can start to see what this is going to look like come February and March [Pac-12 and NCAA Championship meets], and that’s really exciting.”

After wrapping up in Greensboro and Texas, the Cardinal will buckle down for the winter training period before diving back into action at the UCLA Bruin Diving Invite in Los Angeles (Jan. 12-15), before heading to Tempe, Ariz. to face off once more against Arizona State on Jan. 20.

Alex Dakers is a contributing writer in the sports section and a first-year masters student studying Journalism. He is from the Cayman Islands (and more recently, an undergrad in the UK). You can catch Alex in the gym, at the pool or trying to find somewhere to watch the Premier League games — if he can wake up early enough to watch them! Contact him at sports 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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