Gretchen Walsh Dazzles, Four Other Swimmers Double as Virginia Women Dominate Florida

Gretchen Walsh -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Gretchen Walsh Dazzles, Four Other Swimmers Double as Virginia Women Dominate Florida

With the University of Virginia women returning the entire core of a two-time defending national championship squad, it would be tough for any other team in the country to challenge the Cavaliers this year, and in Virginia’s first dual meet of the season the Florida Gators could not keep pace. Olympic and World Championships medalists Alex Walsh and Kate Douglass were standouts, but the star in Virginia’s 180-115 victory was Walsh’s younger sister Gretchen Walsh.

The meet began with a 200 medley relay where Virginia split up its top swimmers and recorded a 1-2-3 finish. The “A” team of Carly NovellineZoe Skirboll, Alex Walsh and Maxine Parker finished three hundredths ahead of the “B” squad, 1:36.34 to 1:36.37, but the stunner was Gretchen Walsh splitting 21.91 on butterfly as part of the “B” squad. That split is believed to be the fastest 50 butterfly split ever, surpassing the 21.95 Douglass swam last November (which in turn beat a 21.96 from Kelsi Worrell in 2015), and Walsh, like all Virginia swimmers, was competing in a practice suit.

The younger Walsh then won the 50 freestyle in 21.40, crushing the previous top time in the country, Maggie Mac Neil’s 21.90 from two weeks ago, and the time would have been good enough for fourth place in last year’s NCAA final. In the 100 fly, Walsh won in 50.53, again beating Mac Neil’s previous top time nationally (50.94) and again swimming a mark good enough for big points at last year’s NCAA Championships (fifth). Coming off a breakout long course performance at U.S. Nationals in late July, Walsh is carrying that momentum into the start of her second year of college swimming.

In the 200 free, Alex Walsh won in 1:45.25 while teammate Ella Nelson placed second in 1:45.81. Those were the two quickest marks in the nation, surpassing the 1:45.86 that Texas’ Kelly Pash swam Friday. Walsh, the world champion in the 200 IM, went 2:09.89 in the 200 breaststroke for an easy win and the third-best time nationally. Douglass, meanwhile, scored individual win in the 100 breast (59.27) and 100 free (47.49). Those times were good for third and second, respectively, in the country.

Reilly Tiltmann scored double wins in the 100 backstroke (53.18) and 200 back (1:56.87), and Abby Harter claimed first place in the 200 fly (1:57.55) and 200 IM (1:59.85). Virginia freshman Claire Tuggle claimed first in the 500 free in 4:47.19, while Florida’s only swimming win came in the 1000 free, where Hayden Miller won in 9:43.68 while Anna Auld and Elise Bauer secured a Gators’ sweep. In diving, Florida’s Elettra Neroni won 1-meter (278.78) and 3-meter (316.50).

Virginia ended the day with a dominant 400 free relay performance as Gretchen Walsh (47.61), Douglass (47.08), Parker (48.22) and Alex Walsh (48.43) combined for a time of 3:11.34.