Gretchen Walsh Swims Nation’s Fastest 100 Backstroke as Virginia Women, NC State Men Dominate Day One of ACC Tri-Meet

Gretchen Walsh -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Gretchen Walsh Swims Nation’s Fastest 100 Backstroke as Virginia Women, NC State Men Dominate Day One of ACC Tri-Meet

Three of the top programs in the Atlantic Coast Conference are meeting this week in Chapel Hill, N.C., with the Virginia Cavaliers having traveled four hours south and the North Carolina State Wolfpack 30 minutes east to face the North Carolina Tar Heels. The first day of the two-day meet produced some impressive swims by the reigning national-champion Virginia women as well as the NC State men, although team scores were unavailable. Virginia sophomore Gretchen Walsh led the way as she posted the country’s fastest time so far in the women’s 100 backstroke.

Walsh swam a 100 back time of 50.07 leading off UVA’s 400 medley relay at the start of the meet to continue her remarkable sophomore season. She edged out the 50.12 that Stanford’s Claire Curzan swam in November, while Walsh had previously been ranked second at 50.13. She joined with older sister Alex WalshKate Douglass and Maxine Parker to record a time of 3:28.63, and Virginia finished three seconds ahead of NC State’s Kennedy NobleAbby ArensKylee Alons and Katharine Berkoff.

The Wolfpack actually finished second to the Cavaliers in this event at last year’s NCAA Championships, but they were no match this time. Berkoff, the fastest swimmer in history in the 100 back at 48.74, anchored the relay rather than going head-to-head with Gretchen Walsh (who is No. 2 all-time at 49.00) on backstroke.

Alex Walsh, who won national titles last year in the 200 IM, 400 IM and 200 butterfly, topped the latter event in 1:55.95, and she finished a close second behind teammate Ella Nelson in the 400 IM, 4:03.66 to 4:03.79. Nelson was the only swimmer to win two individual events all day as she had previously won the 200 breaststroke in 2:08.20.

Individually, Gretchen Walsh took first in the 50 free in 21.43, easily topping defending national champion Douglass (21.87). Walsh already owns the country’s top time this season at 20.94. Virginia freshman Claire Tuggle took first in the 500 free (4:46.12), and the team of Gretchen Walsh, Parker, Lexi Cuomo and Douglass took first in the 200 free relay by more than two seconds in 1:27.46.

NC State’s Emma Muzzy won an extremely tight three-way showdown in the 200 back. The fifth-year swimmer touched in 1:54.54 to beat out Virginia’s Reilly Tiltmann (1:54.63) and NC State’s Kennedy Noble (1:54.66). Women’s 3-meter diving went to North Carolina’s Aranza Vazquez (409.60).

Meanwhile, neither the Cavaliers nor the Tar Heels could stay close to the impressive Wolfpack men’s squad. In the 400 medley relay, reigning 100 back national champion Kacper Stokowski opened up a big lead right away with his 46.15 split, and he was followed by Hunter Mason, Nyls Korstanje and Luke Miller on the way to a four-second victory in 3:07.27. Immediately after, NC State’s James Plage won the 500 free in 4:21.02 ahead of teammates Ross Dant (4:22.71) and Will Gallant (4:24.47).

In the 200 fly, NC State’s Noah Bowers overtook a fading Miller on the last 50 to claim the win, 1:44.70 to 1:44.97, while Aiden Hayes grabbed third in 1:47.58 for another 1-2-3 sweep. David Curtiss led the way in the 50 free in 19.28, with teammate Noah Henderson finishing second (19.58), and Hunter Tapp won the 200 back (1:43.33). The last individual event of the day, the 400 IM, brought another NC State sweep with Kyle Ponsler winning in 3:44.23 ahead of Owen Lloyd (3:47.82) and Conall Monahan (3:49.54).

Finally, Curtiss, Henderson, Miller and Korstanje blasted a mark of 1:16.31 in the 200 free relay, with Curtiss leading off in 19.33, Henderson and Miller both splitting 19.0s and Korstanje coming home in 18.89.

The Virginia men picked up a single win Friday as Noah Nichols dominated the 200 breast in 1:56.77. Nichols also split 52.55 on the Cavaliers’ 400 medley relay. UNC’s Anton Down-Jenkins scored 461.05 for the win on the 3-meter board.


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