Tennessee Invitational: Gretchen Walsh Swims Fastest 100 Fly Ever in Freestyle Race For Unofficial American Record

Gretchen Walsh -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Tennessee Invitational: Gretchen Walsh Swims Fastest 100 Fly Ever in Freestyle Race For Unofficial American Record

A remarkable midseason performance for University of Virginia junior Gretchen Walsh has included breaking the American record and tying the fastest time ever in the 50 freestyle before she unleashed a 1:41.32 200 free to move to 11th all-time in the event. Now, in the 100 free final Friday evening at the Tennessee Invitational, Walsh swam the fastest mark ever in the 100 butterfly — although the time will not count as an official record.

Walsh finished second in the 100 free in 48.30, 16-hundredths ahead of the previous all-time best mark of 48.46 that former UVA teammate Kate Douglass recorded on the way to an NCAA Championships win over Olympic champion Maggie Mac Neil in March. Officially, Walsh ranks fourth all-time in the event at 49.11 from the Texas-Virginia dual meet last month after breaking into the 49-low range last season.

In high school, Walsh was best known for her sprint freestyle abilities before breaking into sprint backstroke as a freshman with the Cavaliers. But she has quickly become one of the country’s premier 100 butterfly swimmers, even in long course, where she placed second at U.S. Nationals this summer before making the final of the event at the World Championships and handling the fly leg on the U.S. women’s gold-medal-winning 400 medley relay.

The Friday night race went to Tennessee freshman Camille Spink, who touched in 47.28, becoming the second-fastest swimmer in the country so far this season. Walsh, of course, ranks first at 46.42 from the Texas-Virginia dual meet, and she is the second-fastest performer ever at 45.61, a mark five hundredths off Simone Manuel’s American and NCAA records.

Later on, Tennessee’s Jordan Crooks exploded in the men’s 100 free while some of Walsh’s older sister Alex picked up a win of her own before Walsh concluded the meet by swimming the fastest 100 free relay split ever.

Women’s 1650 Freestyle

Virginia freshman Cavan Gormsen upstaged a field of veterans to take the win at her first college invitational. Gormsen beat Tennessee senior Aly Breslin by almost three seconds as she touched in 16:08.99, with Breslin taking second in 16:11.65. Breslin was sixth at last year’s NCAA Championships, but Gormsen’s time was six seconds away from last year’s NCAA scoring range.

The Cavaliers’ Maddie Donahoe, a fifth-year swimmer who placed 11th at NCAAs last year, touched third in16:21.19, followed by Virginia’s Sophia Knapp (16:23.32).

Men’s 1650 Freestyle

The win in the men’s mile went to Tennessee’s Joey Tepper, who out-paced teammate Jake Narvid by just over two seconds. Tepper touched in 14:56.76, with Narvid second in 14:58.90. The Volunteers completed the 1-2-3 sweep with Rafael Ponce De Leon touching on 15:11.56.

Women’s 200 Backstroke

Virginia’s Ella Bathurst held off a strong closing charge from teammate Reilly Tiltmann to grab the 200 back win by five hundredths. Bathurst came in at 1:54.08 while Tiltmann, the silver medalist in the 200-meter back at last month’s Pan American Games, took second in 1:54.13. Kentucky’s Grace Frericks placed third in 1:54.73, just ahead of Virginia’s Tess Howley (1:54.92).

Men’s 200 Backstroke

A pair of freshman finished atop the men’s 200 back as Alabama’s Tommy Hagar built a strong lead and held on to win in 1:41.65 while Virginia first-year Will Thompson hit the pad second in 1:42.24. Tennessee’s Harrison Lierz finished in 1:42.82, just ahead of Alabama’s Jake Marcum (1:42.94).

Men’s 100 Freestyle

Tennessee’s Jordan Crooks nearly achieved the first sub-41 performance of the early college season as he stormed to a time of 41.08. Crooks was just off his best time of 40.92, which ranks him tied with Cesar Cielo for 10th all-time in the 100 free. Entering the weekend, Notre Dame’s Chris Guiliano and Arizona State’s Jack Dolan were the only men to crack 42, but now, the Tennessee Volunteers have doubled that total to four.

Gui Caribe was the second Tennessee swimmer to excel as he touched in 41.66 for third nationally while Alabama’s Charlie Hawke, who blasted a mark of 1:31.30 in the 200 free Thursday, took third in 42.31, just ahead of a fourth-place tie between Bama’s Kaique Alves and UVA’s Matt Brownstead at 42.36.

Women’s 200 Breaststroke

Alex Walsh has never raced the 200 breaststroke at the NCAA Championships. That’s because Virginia has been more than covered in the event in recent seasons with Kate Douglass, who swam the fastest time ever at 2:01.29 on her way to a second consecutive title last season. But Walsh ranks third all-time in the event behind Douglass and Lilly King, so she is expected to switch her focus from the 200 butterfly to the 200 breast this season, and she will be a strong national-title favorite.

In Knoxville, Walsh cruised to a win by almost two seconds, touching in 2:04.22, four seconds quicker than any other woman had recorded this season entering the weekend. Walsh was followed by teammate Ella Nelson, who earned third at the national meet last year behind Douglass and Anna Elendt. Nelson touched in 2:06.10, with Tennessee’s Mona McSharry third in 2:06.64.

Men’s 200 Breaststroke

Virginia captured a men’s win for the first time all night as Scooter Iida beat out his more-accomplished teammate Noah Nichols by almost one second, Iida coming in at 1:53.22 with Nichols second in 1:54.20. Alabama’s Michael Deans claimed third in 1:54.71.

Women’s 200 Butterfly

An exciting race in the women’s 200 fly saw the top five finishers separated by just eight tenths. Virginia freshman Tess Howley had the early lead, touching a half-second ahead at the 100-yard mark before fading back into the pack on the third 50 as her teammate Abby Harter took over the top spot. Harter then held off Arkansas’ Betsy Wizard by two tenths over the last 50 yards.

Harter touched in 1:54.71, just ahead of Wizard in 1:54.93. Also closing fast was Virginia’s Maggie Schalow, who came in third at 1:55.28, followed by Tennessee’s Sara Stotler (1:55.47) and Howley (1:55.52).

Men’s 200 Butterfly

In the final individual event of the meet, Tennessee’s Martin Espernberger claimed a strong win as he touched in 1:41.78. Entering the weekend, only the Arizona State duo of Leon Marchand and Ilya Kharun and USC’s Krzysztof Chmielewski had been faster, and all three of those men were top-five finishers in the 200-meter fly at this year’s World Championships.

Finishing well back in second was Kentucky’s Ryan Merani in 1:43.28, just ahead of Virginia’s Sebastian Sergile (1:43.41).

Women’s 400 Freestyle Relay

The Virginia women concluded another dominant weekend with a big win in the 400 free relay, with the Cavaliers touching in a time of 3:07.60 that was less than two seconds off the NCAA record of 3:05.84 they set in March. Of course, that squad had Kate Douglass racing, but Jasmine Nocentini filled in admirably with a 46.75 leadoff leg. She was followed by Maxine ParkerGretchen Walsh and Alex Walsh, all returning swimmers from last year’s title-winning relay.

Gretchen Walsh split 45.18, much faster than the 45.85 in which she anchored the 2023 winning relay and believed to be the fastest split ever, ahead of the previous best of 45.26 that Maggie Mac Neil swam at last year’s SEC Championships.

Virginia came in six seconds ahead of the field, with Tennessee’s Mona McSharryBrooklyn DouthwrightJasmine Rumley and Camille Spink coming in second at 3:13.64. Spink, fresh off a win in the 100 free earlier in the night, split 46.61 to run down Alabama. The Crimson Tide team of Jada ScottCadence VincentKailyn Winter and Diana Petkova placed third in 3:13.95.

Men’s 400 Freestyle Relay

Not satisfied with his 41.08 100 free performance earlier in the evening, Tennessee’s Jordan Crooks made another run at a 40-second swim, only to settle for a time of 41.03, the top time in the country and good enough to set his Volunteer teammates up for a big 400 free relay performance. Gui Caribe followed with a 41.18 split, and then Nikoli Blackman and Micah Chambers held on to secure the win in 2:47.61.

Alabama, meanwhile, made it a race thanks to scintillating middle splits from Charlie Hawke (41.45) and Kaique Alves (41.44). With Zarek Wilson leading off and Tim Korstanje anchoring, Alabama finished in 2:47.95. Finishing third was the Virginia team of Matt BrownsteadConnor BoyleAugust Lamb and Tim Connery in 2:51.51.

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