Virginia Swimming finally Gets Opportunity to Prove Itself on National Stage — And Delivers

Ella Nelson and Alex Walsh. Photo Courtesy: NCAA Media

The expectations have been building for the University of Virginia swimming and diving team. The Cavaliers’ rise and strong youth movement began last year, but without an NCAA championships in 2020, the Cavaliers remained unproven on the national stage.

No more.

Virginia had a stunning first full day to the 2021 NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships on Thursday in Greensboro, North Carolina, winning three individual events and taking second in both relays.

That gives the Cavaliers four wins and two runner-up finishes through seven events and a commanding lead as the team aims for its first-ever NCAA championship.

Virginia has 184 points to lead the meet, followed by NC State (124), Texas (119), Cal (114) and Ohio State (101.5).

It didn’t start how they had hoped. Virginia, the top seed in all five relays coming into the meet, was knocked off in the 200-yard freestyle relay by Cal to open the evening.

It just took one event to shake that off as Paige Madden got the Cavaliers rolling by winning the 500 freestyle (4:33.61), joining the likes of Leah Smith and Cara Lane who have won distance titles for Virginia.

“It feels great. I have been working (toward) it for the past two years, ever since I finished second. It is definitely a good feeling,” Madden said after the race. “I just wanted to do it for my team. After we got second in the relay, I wanted to hype us up a little big more.”

It got the Cavaliers moving. Virginia had not won any NCAA titles in non-distance events in the team’s history until Thursday.

That all changed one event later when freshman Alex Walsh won the 200 IM (1:51.87), helping usher in the new era for Virginia swimming and admitting that her goals continue to grow.

“My goal has always been to be 1:51-1:50, that American record,” Walsh said after the race. “I think me and Kate Douglass are both looking at it. Coming to Virginia, I have been doing a lot more endurance-based training and I think that really showed. I am grateful to being a part of such a great group of women who are pushing every day in practice. I knew I had the capability of splitting faster on by backstroke, so I was like. ‘I am going to send it in the first half and make it as fast as I could possibly make it … with the ability to still come home strong.”

Douglass, a junior, took the 50 freestyle in the first of three highly anticipated showdowns with Michigan’s Maggie MacNeil.

“I definitely didn’t think I would go that fast today. Going a best time twice today was really great,” Douglass said after the race. “I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy race because Maggie (MacNeil) is really fast and there were a lot of other really fast girls in the field, but I tried to focus on my own swim and hoped that would do the job.”

Douglass was asked what it would mean to be part of Virginia’s first-ever NCAA championship team.

“It would mean so much to me and all of my teammates,” she said. “That would be so exciting to be Virginia’s first national champions.”

They are well on their way, but the Cavaliers are far from celebrating. They were edged in both relays on Thursday, giving them a little extra motivation heading into Day 3.

Stunningly, Virginia swimming was that close to having won every swimming event of the meet so far.

The Cavaliers finally had the opportunity to prove themselves on the national stage. They have done that and their real charge toward a national championship begins now.

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Barb Kelley
2 years ago

Wow! That is amazing! Our son Eric was a diver and part of the ACC Champions from ‘02-06 and that was awesome… but wow… the NCAA’s?? That’s beyond awesome!! Go Wahoos! ??‍♀️?‍♀️?‍♀️