By Dan D’Addona.
Janet Hu and Ally Howe were forever linked long before they ever set foot on Stanford’s campus.
It started on Dec. 7, 1995, where on opposite sided of the country, they were born on the same day — Hu in Virginia and Howe in California.
“We even share the same birthday,” Hu said. “I remember when (coach) Greg (Meehan) emailed us our senior year in high school and told us. And we swim the same events. We celebrated our 21st birthdays together. We definitely bond over a lot of stuff. It is pretty cool to have her in my class and share a lot of things.”
As high school swimmers, their birthday was the icebreaker when they first met.
“That is how we first talked to each other,” Howe said. “We had heard of each other in high school but we first talked to each other when we found out we had the same birthday.”
The similarities continued. They are listed one after the other alphabetically on the roster and both swim the same strokes. Both have combined to win multiple national titles on relays.
Now, the juniors are in the same position heading into the Pac-12 and NCAA Championships: Under-the-radar stars that will determine the outcome.
The Stanford women’s swim team is loaded with talent, including some household names.
But, while Olympians Katie Ledecky, Simone Manuel, Lia Neal and Kassidy Cook (not to mention NCAA champion Ella Eastin) will score major points for the Cardinal at the Pac-12 and NCAA Championships, they won’t be the deciding factor.
Hu and Howe will be.
After racing and training together for nearly three years, they have pushed each other to greatness.
“Janet and I have the ideal competitive swimmer teammate relationship,” Howe said. “We swim a lot of the same events and train together every day. We want to do the best we can in the sport, which makes us competitive. We definitely push each other to be the best.”
And their best came in the biggest meet of the season as Howe and Hu led the No. 1 Cardinal past No. 2 Cal in an epic showdown.
Hu won the 100-yard backstroke in 51.61 seconds, breaking Cal’s pool record and finishing ahead of Cal’s Amy Bilquist, who has the fastest dual-meet time in the event in the country, and Kathleen Baker, an Olympic medalist in the event. She also won the 100 butterfly in 51.93.
“Obviously it was very exciting. No. 1 vs. No. 2,” Hu said. “We went in knowing every race was going to be a close matchup. We were able to come away with a win in the majority of the events. The score was misleading in the fact that it seemed like we won by a lot, but every race was really close. Knowing who was in the race with me. In the 100 back, Amy and Kathleen and Ally and in the fly, Farida Osman and Noemie Thomas. Knowing the meet will be close definitely pumped me up.”
Meanwhile, Howe won the 200 backstroke in 1:53.98, finishing ahead of Bilquist and Baker. Howe also took third in the 100 backstroke (52.58) to finish between Bilquist and Baker.
“The Cal meet always falls at an interesting part of the year because it is that last bit of hard training. Both teams are pretty beat up and it is just about racing. We go into it with the mindset of focusing on the details. It is definitely a lot of fun. You get to race some fast people. It is a friendly competitive vibe. We respect them a lot, so it is definitely a good rivalry,” Howe said. “The Cal meet for me was definitely a surprise. I don’t think of myself as a bad dual meet swimmer, but I do definitely do better at the end of the season. It was a good confidence builder to pop some fast times in a dual meet.”
And it was just the beginning. Stanford and Cal will go head-to-head for the Pac-12 Championships this week in Federal Way, Wash., and then be the top two teams heading into the NCAA Championships in Indianapolis.
“They are not going away,” Howe said of Cal.
Neither is Georgia, the defending champion. And there will be plenty brought to the table by Texas, USC, Michigan, N.C. State and Texas A&M — among others.
With that much talent in the water, the Cardinal know — better than most teams — how big a slip up can be. Stanford was disqualified in a relay last year and ended up being edged for the title by Georgia.
“At the beginning of the season, our goals have been pretty clear that our focus is NCAAs. The bigger picture is NCAAs but when we are at Pac-12s, that is where the focus in the moment. (But knowing how we missed out last year) is definitely a motivating factor — especially with the group we have with a very legitimate shot at winning,” Hu said. “From the get-go, we all had that goal in the back of our minds. It is what has been motivating us all year.”
Click here to view the psych sheet for the women’s Pac-12 championships.