2021 NCAA Division I Women’s Championships: In Changing of Guard Year, Cal Still Among Top Four Halfway Through

The 2020 season was supposed to be the start of a new era in NCAA Division I women’s swimming & diving, with the power shifting from the west coast to the east as Stanford was seeded to hand the baton over to Virginia before the meet was unfortunately cancelled due to the COVID pandemic. This year, Virginia is well on its way to not only its first national team title, but also its first finish in the top four as the Cavaliers have seemingly built an unstoppable dynasty over night. The Hoos took three of the five pool events last night, and finished second in both relays in nail-biting finishes.

NC State has emerged as a top four contender in the last two years as well, winning its first national title in the pool last night in the 400 medley relay, and also has a chance to add a few more individual events today. NC State has never finished higher than seventh, and yet sit second place in the team standings after seven events.

Texas has also emerged as a top four contender, which isn’t totally shocking since the Longhorns finished achingly close to a top four finish in 2017, and have been signing top recruits like Kelly PashOlivia Bray and Anna Elendt, who all helped finish third in the 400 medley relay last night. Texas is currently in third place and hasn’t been top four since 2001.

And then there is Cal.

Even when the Golden Bears lose an all-time talent like Missy Franklin in 2015, the team re-loads and finishes no lower than fourth. Even losing superstar Kathleen Baker, the team wins three relays in 2019 and almost snaps Stanford’s winning streak. Even after losing relay beasts like Abbey Weitzeil, Katie McLaughlin and Amy Bilquist, the Golden Bears are still national champs in the 200 free relay, having won five of the last six. Even in a pandemic when Cal is out of competition for most of the year, and even when a tornado delays the start of finals by 30 minutes, Cal shows out every single year. It is time to give Teri McKeever the recognition she has earned as one of the top coaches in the entire NCAA.


Ayla Spitz. Photo Courtesy: NCAA Media

“It is such a great honor to win,” anchor Izzy Ivey said after the race. “We wanted to keep up the Cal legacy in the 200 free relay so we went for the gold on this one. We had that tornado delay and Teri (McKeever) has really prepared us for scenarios like that, so we were one of the best prepared teams.”

McKeever’s Cal teams haven’t finished outside the top four since 2008 when the team was fifth. And even with a relay DQ last night in the 400 medley, the Golden Bears are in a solid position to challenge for the top two. Consistency on the national stage is hard to obtain, and especially in a pandemic when so many swimmers have opted out and so many have struggled to swim personal best times.

In Cal’s 200 free relay, third leg Elise Garcia was a 22.4 split last season on Cal’s B 200 free relay at Pac-12s. Before this season, she had never broken 23 from a flat start and has improved all the way to playing a key leg on a national championship winning relay. Alicia Wilson scored in her first NCAA final with a third in the 200 IM. Ayla Spitz scored in her first NCAA final with a fifth place in the 500 and will be back in the B-Final of the 200 free, while Emily Gantriis seemingly transitioned from meters to yards coming from Denmark in swimming a 21.2 on the 200 free relay and scoring 10th in the B-Final of the 50 free.


Izzy Ivey. Photo Courtesy: NCAA Media

From this morning, Cal will have four A-Finalists in the pool, including Ivey and Isabelle Stadden in the 100 backstroke, and will certainly factor into the 200 medley relay tonight.

Cal has a rich history in women’s swimming and diving. Since McKeever took over in the fall of 1992, the team has won four national titles, and has had individual Olympic gold medalists Franklin, Natalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer walk the deck. In addition to 11 straight top five finishes, Cal hasn’t finished outside the top ten since getting 17th in 1996.

Even in a historic year for the current top three of Virginia, NC State and Texas, who are all seeking their first top four finish either in school history or in two decades, the Golden Bears from Cal are still in the top four – a testament to how well Teri McKeever prepares them for any scenario, and a testament to the culture in place in Berkeley.

From This Morning

Virginia had another dominant morning in Greensboro, grabbing three of the five top seeds, with their conference rivals NC State taking the other two (NC State’s Katharine Berkoff is tied for the 100 back top seed with Alabama’s Rhyan White). Based on the ups, downs, the Cavaliers are expected to grow their lead by a big margin tonight, no matter what happens in the 200 medley relay.

The battle for second will get interesting though. Texas has an additional B-finalist in the pool compared to NC State and Cal as ten points separate those three schools in the scoring. Texas has an A-Finalist in diving too to potentially get past NC State and sit in second with a day to go. They don’t call Friday “moving day” for nothing. The 100s of strokes and the 200 medley relay certainly separate the pretenders from the contenders, and then Saturday comes down to who is toughest.

NCAA records may not be in danger of falling, but each event should produce a fantastic race, and that is what swimming fans have been dying to see all year — great racing.

Friday’s 2021 NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming Championships Ups, Downs

  1. Virginia 7, 4
  2. Texas 5, 3
  3. NC State 4, 2
  4. California 4, 2
  5. Michigan 3, 1
  6. Kentucky 2, 5
  7. Ohio State 2, 3
  8. Alabama 2, 1
  9. Texas A&M 2, 1
  10. North Carolina 2, 1
  11. Georgia 2, 0
  12. Stanford 1, 2
  13. Tennessee 1, 2
  14. Northwestern 1, 2
  15. Indiana 1, 3
  16. Virginia Tech 1, 1
  17. Florida 1, 1
  18. Wisconsin 1, 0
  19. Southern Cal 1, 0
  20. Minnesota 1, 0
  21. Miami 1, 1
  22. Nebraska 1, 0
  23. Georgia Tech 1, 0
  24. Purdue 1, 0
  25. Louisville 0, 2
  26. Missouri 0, 2
  27. Notre Dame 0, 2
  28. Arkansas 0, 1
  29. Arizona 0, 1
  30. Nebraska 0, 1
  31. Duke 0, 1
  32. Houston 0, 1
  33. LSU 0, 1
  34. San Diego State 0, 1

Scores Based on Seed:

Data compiled by Price Fishback. The numbers below are the amount of points each team gained or lost this morning based on the psych sheet seeds.

  1. Northwestern +22
  2. Virginia +16
  3. North Carolina +14
  4. Indiana +14
  5. Michigan +13
  6. Ohio State +9
  7. Florida +5
  8. Wisconsin +5
  9. Tennessee +2
  10. Southern Cal 0
  11. Missouri -3
  12. Texas A&M -3
  13. Kentucky -6
  14. Alabama -7
  15. Louisville -8
  16. NC State -11
  17. Stanford -11
  18. Georgia -14
  19. Cal -18
  20. Texas -32


 Event 13  Women 3 mtr Diving
         Meet: M 437.75  3/20/2009 Christina Loukas, Indiana
    Name                 Year School               Seed    Prelims        
                      === Preliminaries ===                       
  1 Bacon, Sarah           SR Minnesota              NP     380.70  
  2 Hidalgo, Camryn        SR Georgia Tech           NP     361.50  
  3 Pineda, Paola          JR Texas                  NP     359.30  
  4 Vazquez-Montano, Aran  FR UNC                    NP     352.50  
  5 Campbell, Charlye      SR Texas A&M              NP     347.85  
  6 Bretscher, Emily       SR Purdue                 NP     345.55  
  7 Gullstrand, Emma       FR Miami                  NP     345.40  
  8 Knapton, Abigail       SR Nebraska               NP     339.20  
  9 Straub, Kelly          SR Notre Dame             NP     335.15  
 10 Crawford, Mackenzie    SO Ohio St                NP     331.55  
 11 Vallee, Mia            SO Miami                  NP     331.50  
 12 Gilliland, Tarrin      FR Indiana                NP     327.10  
 13 Fowler, Anne           FR Indiana                NP     323.40  
 14 McCool, Ashley         SR Florida                NP     322.65  
 15 Schultz, Brooke        JR Arkansas               NP     315.65  
 16 Lavenant, Montserrat   FR LSU                    NP     313.75