NCAA Swim Meets of the Week: Virginia Women Take Down NC State to Seize Control of ACC, and Perhaps National, Title Race

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Morgan Hill helped Virginia send a message to the rest of the nation that they will be tough to beat after a win over NC State. Photo Courtesy: Virginia Athletics

NCAA Swim Meet of the Week

January is coming to a close and senior days have been happening all across the country. The college duel meet season is starting to wind down and taper is around the corner. As we inch closer to championship season, we are starting to get a clearer picture of who the contenders are in each event across the three NCAA divisions. In this last week, the Virginia women and NC State men made some big statements to show they are ready for the national stage in the coming years. In Division III, MIT had a hard fought win over Tufts to show they are primed to stay in the top ten once again at the end of the season.

We look back on our three biggest matchups in Division I, II and III in our NCAA swim meet of the week.

NCAA Swim Meet of the Week Division I: Virginia Women Take Down NC State in Start of New Era

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Virginia’s Paige Madden could be standing on top of the podium as a national champion. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The #6 Virginia women defeated #3 NC State on Friday night in Charlottesville 173 – 127 in the Division I NCAA swim meet of the week as the Cavaliers took control of the ACC with three weeks to go until the conference championships. We highlighted before the meet that this looked like it would be a matchup of two of the best teams of the future as the ACC rivals have been dominating the recruiting game recently. It was such a fast meet that some of the swims had us questioning if they were aided by tech suits. But alas, after reviewing the race videos, no tech suits were worn.

It seemed only fitting that two of the best performers on either side were freshmen, considering how bright the teams’ futures are.

Virginia’s Kate Douglass and NC State’s Katharine Berkoff have been particularly strong freshmen this season that have laid the foundation for both teams building for national titles. Douglass continued her impressive rookie season as she won the 50 free (22.22) and 200 breast (2:06.98) and also swam on both of the winning relays for Virginia. Berkoff won both the 100 (52.37) and 200 back (1:53.43) and anchored the 400 free relay against Douglass.

NC State had a two second lead on Virginia heading into the final leg of the 400 free relay but Douglass unleashed a 47.69 to run down Berkoff, who had a respectable 49.69. But it was not enough as Douglass ended the day how it started: with a Virginia win.

The race for the national title in women’s swimming seems particularly wide open this season with the lack of a clear and dominant favorite. Stanford has won three straight titles but there have been four different teams ranked in the number one spot this season including Stanford, Florida, Cal and now Michigan. There seem to be around six teams that have a chance at the title this season, including both NC State and Virginia. The winner of this meet would have proved they are one step closer to a national title at the end of the season. Although Virginia will be stronger in the coming years with the commitments of the Walsh sisters, they have a strong team to compete for a top four finish this season. If that happens, they will be tough to beat in the next half decade.

The big matchup of the meet came between the sprinters from the two schools as Douglass and senior Morgan Hill (22.38) went 1-2 in the 50 free while NC State’s Kylee Alons (48.80) won the 100 free ahead of Hill (48.86) and NC State’s Ky-Lee Perry (49.08). Even though NC State lost this meet, they should not be counted out in the ACC and national title race. In the last few years, NC State has saved their best for ACCs and NCAAs so a duel meet loss here is nothing to overreact to. Moving forward, they have four strong sprint relays that should score in the A-Final at Nationals with the presence of Perry, Alons and Berkoff, and breaststroker Sophie Hansson.

Hansson was one of the top breaststrokers coming into the season but was actually upended by Virginia’s Alexis Wenger in the 100 as Wenger broke a minute at 59.85 and Hansson was second at 1:00.38. Hansson would later finish third in the 200 breast at 2:11.82 behind Douglass and Virginia freshman Ella Nelson (2:10.50). It seemed for every strength that NC State had, Virginia had an answer.

And this was all without mentioning junior Paige Madden, who won the 200 (1:44.6) 500 (4:46.1) and 1000 (9:43.9) and could be a multi-national champion this season.

In the last few years, the west coast has dominated the landscape in NCAA Division I women’s swimming with Stanford winning the last three titles and Cal winning three titles earlier in the decade. With the recent recruiting domination, it appears that the power dynamic is quickly shifting from the west coast to the east coast.

Be prepared to hear a lot more about these two teams in the coming years.

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Coleman Stewart. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

That applies to the NC State men as well, who have had their fair share of big-time pickups in the recruiting game recently. The #7 Wolfpack men handled the #17 Cavaliers 169 – 131. Even though the women’s meet was predicted to be closer on paper, the men’s meet was actually closer.

Senior Coleman Stewart did his job, winning the 100 back (45.65), 200 back (1:43.31) and was on both winning relays. Freshman Ross Dant led a 1-2 finish in the 1000 (9:00.86) and a 1-2-3-4 finish in the 500 (4:23.60) as the Wolfpack showed some unprecedented distance depth. NC State has been known the last few years to have amazing sprint depth, which they still possess, but they have recently become a complete team with strengths across the board as they fight for their fourth straight top four finish in the NCAA.

Sophomore Nyls Korstanje is really one of the most underrated guys in the NCAA in the 50 (19.63) and 100 (43.78) as he won all four events he swam on Friday. Korstanje hasn’t broken out on the national stage quite yet, but he did win the 50 at the Pro Series in January against solid US national teamers and looks to be hitting on all cylinders eight weeks out of NCAAs.

The job that Braden Holloway has done in building NC State from a middle of the pack ACC team to a national title contender has been remarkable, and it is affecting other schools as well. Todd DeSorbo, who was an assistant under Holloway in Raleigh until the fall of 2017, is now doing similar things at Virginia as he pushes them to unprecedented success.

NCAA Swim Meet of the Week Division II: Grand Valley Sweeps Wayne State

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Photo Courtesy: Dan D’Addona

Grand Valley vs. Wayne State Results

In this week’s NCAA meet of the week, it felt more like a basketball game with the presence of the Grand Valley Lakers and Wayne State Warriors. On the men’s side, #7 Grand Valley defeated #11 Wayne State 157 – 142 on the backs of Oscar Saura Armengol and Jesse Goodyear. Wayne State did win both relays but it was not enough as Grand Valley took control of the GLIAC with their road win. Grand Valley did win both the women’s and men’s meets a year ago with Wayne State in hot pursuit. Wayne State put up a good fight, but they seem to be one or two pieces short from taking down their conference rival. Goodyear, one of the top distance swimmers in Division II, won the 1000 (9:40.60) and 500 free (4:42.45), winning the latter in a tight finish over Wayne State’s Ahmed Ahmed (4:42.89).

Saura Armengol won three individual events in the 200 fly (1:49.23), 100 free (46.40) and 100 fly (49.15), showing off his wide range of versatility. Last year, Saura Armengol only scored at NCAAs in the 100 fly and although that may again be the only event he scores in this year, he could have a chance to reach the A-Final as well as win the national title in that event. Goodyear right now is ranked third in the 1000 and 1650 in the country and with the departure of defending champion Adam Rosipal, the distance free field looks wide open as long as Alex Kunert doesn’t swim the 1000 like he did last year.

Last yea, Wayne State and Grand Valley were both in the top five, and with some notable departures from both teams it could be harder to replicate that this season. The conference title race should come down between these two schools, and the Lakers got a big confidence boost from their performances this weekend.

On the women’s side, the #15 Lakers beat the #16 Warriors 171.5 – 127.5. Those two schools are not as strong on the women’s side but represent the top two teams in the Great Lakes Conference. Wayne State finished ahead of Grand Valley at NCAAs last year despite the Lakers winning the conference crown. Will that trend continue this year or will Wayne State gain the upper hand?

Division III Meet of the Week: MIT Sweeps Tufts but Roger Gu Looks Unstoppable

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Roger Gu (center) looks again to be the man to beat in Division III sprint free. Photo Courtesy: Cathleen Pruden

MIT vs. Tufts Results

In a non-conference matchup for the Division III NCAA swim meet of the week, MIT escaped on the road with two hard fought wins at Tufts. On the men’s side, the #4 Engineers beat the #13 Jumbos 155 – 139 as they were led by freshman James Richardson and sophomore Jordan Ren, who won two events each. Richardson won both backstrokes (51.07, 1:50.70) and was also second in the 100 fly (50.61) behind senior teammate Sam Ubellacker (49.92).

Ren won the 200 free (1:43.78) and 200 IM (1:51.92) as the Engineers had three straight 1-2 finishes to end the individual events in the meet to push it to the last relay, and also won the 200 free relay to put the cherry on top of an excellent comeback. And of course they won the last relay in comeback fashion as well, with Emilio Sison (20.36) and Ubellacker (20.74) closing out the back half with a 1:22.42 for the win ahead of Tufts’ 1:22.57.

The Jumbos came out swinging, winning the first two events. Senior sprinter Roger Gu was the big performer on the day with a 19.45 split to finish off the 200 medley relay, and also won the 50 (19.71) and 100 free (45.07). Gu’s time in the 50 free put him as the second fastest man in Division III this season, sitting only behind MIT’s Ubellacker, who finished second on Saturday at 20.46. Today’s meet was a big matchup between Gu and Ubellacker as both guys are two of the best sprinters in Division III, but Gu was hardly challenged. He might have a chance to take a crack at the Division III record of 19.37 set by Oliver Smith of Emory in 2018.

Gu was able to keep the momentum rolling for the Tufts men, but he got some help from junior John Lalime in winning the 1000 (9:47.10) and Tar Tar Jarusinchai winning the 100 breast (58.88). The diving for Tufts kept them in the meet because MIT did not have any, but it was not enough to catch the Engineers, who also got wins from David He in the 200 fly (1:53.32), Samuel Song in the 200 breast (2:07.50) and Bouke Edskes in the 500 (4:45.10).

MIT looks solid for another top ten finish. But on Tufts, Gu is the defending NCAA champion in the 50 free and he looks to be primed to win that again in his senior year. How far can he pull Tufts in the top ten? And is a record a possibility?

On the women’s side, #8 MIT beat #6 Tufts 156 – 144 in a meet that came down to the very last relay. Similar to the men’s meet, the Tufts women started out quickly, picking up wins from Sook-Hee Evans in the 1000 (10:44.17) and Claire Brennan in the 200 free (1:55.08). Those two teamed up to go 1-2 in the 500 with Evans leading the way at 5:13.24 while Brennan was second at 5:17.84. That sparked some momentum for the Jumbos as Amy Socha won the 100 fly (57.29) and Grace Goetcheus won the 200 IM (2:10.80).

But ultimately, MIT pulled out the win by 12 points thanks to backstroker Laura Rosado and breaststroker Edenna Chen. Chen is the top breaststroker in Division III and she proved why on Saturday, winning the 100 at 1:03.04 and the 200 at 2:18.23, going 1-2 in each event with junior Sara Nicholas.

Although Denison’s KT Kustritz looks like the clear favorite to win both breaststrokes at NCAAs, Chen is right on her heels. Could she pull the big upset at the end of the year? Kustritz has won both breaststrokes each of the last two years and was the first woman in Division III to break a minute. She may be unstoppable in the 100 but she looks more vulnerable in the 200, and could Chen be the one to take her down?

MIT has been in the top ten every year on the men’s side since 2009 while the women have the same streak going back to 2012. MIT is looking strong to repeat that standing this year, but they had to get through a scrappy Tufts team to show their toughness.