Gretchen Walsh Lowers NCAA 50 Free Record: ‘She is Doing Things No One Has Ever Done’

Gretchen Walsh. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Gretchen Walsh Lowers NCAA 50 Free Record: ‘She is Doing Things No One Has Ever Done’

Gretchen Walsh is in a zone few swimmers ever reach, so elite, a record is a possibility – even expected.

At ACCs, the Virginia junior blasted the NCAA and American record in the 50-yard freestyle.

At NCAA prelims, she was even faster, going a 20.41, stunning the crowd with an incredible 9.99 split on the first 25.

More speed was expected in the finals. It was 9.88 to start in the finals and Walsh broke her own record with a 20.37, another NCAA and American record.

“Fast is a baseline for her,” Alex Walsh said. “Getting to see her, she is really shining. She is the fastest ever. That is so cool.”

The fastest woman in history. The pool announcer said that to the crowd and Gretchen Walsh actually reacted to the announcement.

“It is really exciting. I was really happy with my swim in prelims. I wanted to have fun and when they announced my name, I wanted to throw up the Hoos and look up at my family and friends in the stands and interact with the crowd. There is good energy out there and I wanted to feed off of that, and I think it helped me drop that little bit extra,” Gretchen Walsh said. “It is hard to have it all sink in, but one day I will look back and be like, ‘Wow!'”

Virginia coach Todd DeSorbo has had a lot of those moments.

“She has put in a lot of work to get that fast,” he said. “To go from 20.7 to 20.3 it is shocking. She continues to shock me. She continues to do it, which is really hard. We might not appreciate it as much as we should because we are around her all the time and used to it, but she is doing things nobody has ever done and things nobody will do for a long time.”

Another part was taking one fewer stroke during finals.

“I have been trying to figure out on my own ways I can cut down time. I didn’t take that extra stroke tonight. I think I would have hit my head because I was too close to the wall. I didn’t think I was going to go faster after that, but it turns out I pulled it out of something. I like playing with that event, but there is only so much you can do,” Walsh said.

It shouldn’t be overlooked as NC State’s Katharine Berkoff was second in 21.09 as she inches closer to the 21 barrier.

But the champion continued her dominant meet.

“I do think it has sunk in a little bit with how much time I have dropped in the events that I swim, which are all short,” Gretchen Walsh said. “I feel so grateful that I am still dropping at this point. Just this season I have dropped four tenths in the 50 free, which is crazy. I wasn’t sure I would drop four tenths in four years. But I am in the middle of the 20.0 … and it almost feels like, ‘Should I be going for 19?’ That is what would be mind-blowing. But this fast is crazy.”

On Wednesday, Walsh had the fastest 50 backstroke relay split of all time in 22.10.

The meet isn’t even halfway over, either. Walsh still has two more individual events and two more relays to stun the swimming world.

How has she been able to be at NCAA-record form at the ACC Championships and then go even faster at NCAAs with such a short turnaround?

“We actually do the same exact thing every year. It was bringing out a lot of memories from my first year and second year,” Gretchen Walsh said. “It is nice to know that what has always worked is what we are doing. Every year I have been fast at ACCs and even faster at NCAAs. The first couple weeks after ACCs is really hard on your body and your mind. You have just missed a week of school, so that is on your mind. We were all destroyed by the end of that first week.

“That is what sets us up so well. It is not easy. We know we have to bring up the intensity to another level to perform better here.”

Virginia’s Jasmine Nocentini was third in 21.10 ahead of a trio of Louisville Cardinals.

Christiana Regenauer finished fourth (21.48), followed by Julia Dennis (21.60) and Gabi Albiero (21.67).

Virginia’s Maxine Parker and Michigan’s Brady Kendall tied for seventh (21.74).

Event 5  Women 50 Yard Freestyle
         NCAA: N 20.37  3/21/2024 Gretchen Walsh, Virginia-US
         Meet: M 20.37  3/21/2024 Gretchen Walsh, Virginia-US
     American: A 20.37  3/21/2024 Gretchen Walsh, Virginia-US
      US Open: O 20.37  3/21/2024 Gretchen Walsh, Virginia-US
         Pool: P 20.37  3/21/2024 Gretchen Walsh, Virginia-US
    Name                 Year School            Prelims     Finals Points 
                       === Championship Final ===                        
  1 Walsh, Gretchen        JR Virginia            20.41      20.37N  20  
     r:+0.75  9.88        20.37 (10.49)
  2 Berkoff, Katharine     5Y NC State            21.23      21.09   17  
    r:+0.69  10.24        21.09 (10.85)
  3 Nocentini, Jasmine     SR Virginia            21.29      21.10   16  
    r:+0.61  10.02        21.10 (11.08)
  4 Regenauer, Christiana  5Y Louisville          21.37      21.48   15  
    r:+0.66  10.40        21.48 (11.08)
  5 Dennis, Julia          SO Louisville          21.71      21.60   14  
    r:+0.61  10.26        21.60 (11.34)
  6 Albiero, Gabi          SR Louisville          21.54      21.67   13  
    r:+0.63  10.42        21.67 (11.25)
  7 Parker, Maxine         SR Virginia            21.71      21.74   11.5
    r:+0.70  10.52        21.74 (11.22)
  7 Kendall, Brady         SO Michigan            21.69      21.74   11.5
    r:+0.65  10.46        21.74 (11.28)
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