Virginia Claims First NCAA Relay Title in School History

The 2021 NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming & Diving Championships are here! With limited attendance to swimmers, coaches, sports information directors and team staff in the venue, it is definitely looking like a different championships, but many did not think we would get to this point a few months ago. There is only one event on tonight’s schedule with the timed finals of the 800 freestyle relay in Greensboro, North Carolina.

800 Freestyle Relay

The Virginia Cavaliers, the heavy favorites to win this year’s team title, won their first ever NCAA relay in school history to open the championships in Greensboro with a 6:52.56. The team of Kyla Valls (1:44.64), Paige Madden (1:41.63), Ella Nelson (1:43.11) and Alex Walsh (1:43.18) dominated the fifth and final heat to open their pursuit of winning their first team title in school history as the Cavaliers are seeded first in all five relays. The winner of the last five 800 free relays at the women’s meet has gone on to win the team title.

“It means everything,” Valls told Swimming World remotely of winning the first relay national title for UVA. “Going into this meet, we just wanted to start it off on the right note. We are still in a little bit of shock but we are happy with how it turned out.”

Virginia’s win also marks the first winner in this relay outside the SEC and Pac-12 since SMU won in 1997 and this is also the first time any team in the current ACC has won this relay.

This has been a long time coming for Virginia, who missed out on potentially winning last year’s NCAA meet due to the pandemic cancelling the meet, and the team is grateful to be able to finally compete against the rest of the country.

“I was so excited (to be here),” Madden said from her hotel via Zoom. “We weren’t able to be here last year so it is just really special to be here, period.”

“Especially after last year, we had gotten so excited for the meet and obviously it didn’t happen,” Valls said. “For the whole year, we had this in the back of our heads that we wanted to do it. Todd had said so many times we just wanted to get to this point so to finally be here and kick off the meet the way we did is super exciting.”

“Our mentality all year has been ‘if we can make it to this meet, we will do something special,’” Nelson said. “I think we got the ball rolling for the rest of the meet.”

“It’s going to be hard getting to sleep tonight,” Nelson added. “We are all so excited and I think the rest of the team is super excited also.”

It is hard to believe Virginia has never won a relay at this level, having gotten as close as 0.01 shy back in 2015 in this pool in the 400 medley relay when the Cavaliers were out-touched at the very last stroke by Stanford’s Simone Manuel in what is still the fastest 100 freestyle relay split of all-time. Virginia was a favorite to win a few relays at last year’s meet before it was unfortunately cancelled so this win isn’t out of nowhere for a Cavaliers team that has been quickly building a powerhouse in Charlottesville with coaches Todd DeSorbo and Tyler Fenwick.

Also in the pool

With only a certain number of swimmers allowed behind the blocks, only four teams were allowed to swim in a heat at a time with an empty lane in between each school. And with many of the athletes staying at the hotel and not occupying the bleachers, it was a bit of a quiet environment for an NCAA championships.

Kentucky finished runner-up at 6:57.02 from the penultimate heat as the SEC champions proved that swim a few weeks ago was not a fluke. The team of Izzy Gati (1:44.27), Riley Gaines (1:42.81), Sophie Sorenson (1:44.97) and Kaitlynn Wheeler (1:44.97) picked up 34 big points for the Wildcats in their pursuit of their first top ten finish as a program.

California finished in third at 6:57.06 to out-touch Texas (6:57.21) in the final heat as the Golden Bears were swum with Robin Neumann (1:44.09), Ayla Spitz (1:43.87), Rachel Klinker (1:44.98) and Alicia Wilson (1:44.12), while Texas was fourth with Kelly Pash (1:43.07), Evie Pfeifer (1:44.00), Kyla Leibel (1:45.11) and Julia Cook (1:45.03).

Virginia’s Madden had the fastest split out of everyone in the event with the only sub-1:42 split among the 17 teams.

“It felt really good,” Madden said of her split. “I don’t really know what happened in the race. I touched the wall and I was like, ‘that was it!’ And then we won which was really special. I wish I could remember more of it.”

Kentucky’s Gaines (1:42.81), Georgia’s Zoie Hartman (1:42.89) and Texas A&M’s Chloe Stepanek (1:42.89) were the only swimmers along with Madden to split faster than 1:43 as Stepanek’s was done on the lead-off leg as the fastest in the entire field.

Georgia (6:59.82), Alabama (7:00.38), Ohio State (7:00.79) and Stanford (7:01.05) rounded out the top eight to stand on the socially distant podium.

The audio interview with Kyla Valls, Paige Madden, Ella Nelson and Alex Walsh is below. Valls and Madden are in the first half and Nelson and Walsh are in the second half.


 Event 1  Women 800 Yard Freestyle Relay
==================================================================================
         NCAA: N 6:45.91  3/15/2017 Stanford
                          S Manuel, L Neal, E Eastin, K Ledecky
         Meet: M 6:45.91  3/15/2017 Stanford
                          S Manuel, L Neal, E Eastin, K Ledecky
     American: A 6:45.91  3/15/2017 Stanford
                          S Manuel, L Neal, E Eastin, K Ledecky
         Pool: P 6:50.99  3/20/2015 California
                          C Runge, C Cheng, E Pelton, M Franklin
    School                                 Seed     Finals Points 
==================================================================================
  1 Virginia                            6:54.31    6:52.56   40  
     1) Valls, Kyla SR                2) r:0.30 Madden, Paige SR      
     3) r:0.20 Nelson, Ella SO        4) r:0.22 Walsh, Alex FR        
    r:+0.71  24.13        50.58 (50.58)
      1:17.60 (1:17.60)   1:44.64 (1:44.64)
        2:08.30 (23.66)     2:34.13 (49.49)
      3:00.02 (1:15.38)   3:26.27 (1:41.63)
        3:50.00 (23.73)     4:15.96 (49.69)
      4:42.57 (1:16.30)   5:09.38 (1:43.11)
        5:32.55 (23.17)     5:58.72 (49.34)
      6:25.45 (1:16.07)   6:52.56 (1:43.18)
  2 Kentucky                            6:58.58    6:57.02   34  
     1) Gati, Izzy JR                 2) r:0.33 Gaines, Riley JR      
     3) r:0.33 Sorenson, Sophie JR    4) r:0.32 Wheeler, Kaitlynn SO  
    r:+0.66  24.47        50.76 (50.76)
      1:17.42 (1:17.42)   1:44.27 (1:44.27)
        2:08.11 (23.84)     2:34.10 (49.83)
      3:00.33 (1:16.06)   3:27.08 (1:42.81)
        3:50.97 (23.89)     4:17.45 (50.37)
      4:44.86 (1:17.78)   5:12.05 (1:44.97)
        5:36.16 (24.11)     6:03.05 (51.00)
      6:29.80 (1:17.75)   6:57.02 (1:44.97)
  3 California                          6:55.43    6:57.06   32  
     1) Neumann, Robin SR             2) r:0.22 Spitz, Ayla SO        
     3) r:0.05 Klinker, Rachel SO     4) r:0.24 Wilson, Alicia JR     
    r:+0.62  24.39        50.72 (50.72)
      1:17.36 (1:17.36)   1:44.09 (1:44.09)
        2:08.12 (24.03)     2:34.43 (50.34)
      3:01.16 (1:17.07)   3:27.96 (1:43.87)
        3:51.08 (23.12)     4:17.18 (49.22)
      4:44.58 (1:16.62)   5:12.94 (1:44.98)
        5:36.55 (23.61)     6:02.40 (49.46)
      6:29.66 (1:16.72)   6:57.06 (1:44.12)
  4 Texas                               6:58.42    6:57.21   30  
     1) Pash, Kelly SO                2) r:0.35 Pfeifer, Evie SR      
     3) r:0.32 Leibel, Kyla SO        4) r:0.19 Cook, Julia JR        
    r:+0.69  23.99        50.05 (50.05)
      1:16.37 (1:16.37)   1:43.07 (1:43.07)
        2:07.41 (24.34)     2:33.85 (50.78)
      3:00.67 (1:17.60)   3:27.07 (1:44.00)
        3:50.64 (23.57)     4:16.66 (49.59)
      4:43.86 (1:16.79)   5:12.18 (1:45.11)
        5:35.39 (23.21)     6:01.27 (49.09)
      6:28.57 (1:16.39)   6:57.21 (1:45.03)
  5 Georgia                             6:59.42    6:59.82   28  
     1) Harnish, Courtney SR          2) r:0.45 Parker, Maxine FR     
     3) r:0.26 Reinstein, Sloane FR   4) r:0.34 Hartman, Zoie SO      
    r:+0.75  24.09        50.20 (50.20)
      1:17.23 (1:17.23)   1:44.71 (1:44.71)
        2:08.73 (24.02)     2:35.14 (50.43)
      3:02.08 (1:17.37)   3:29.82 (1:45.11)
        3:54.26 (24.44)     4:21.53 (51.71)
      4:49.16 (1:19.34)   5:16.93 (1:47.11)
        5:40.25 (23.32)     6:06.04 (49.11)
      6:32.88 (1:15.95)   6:59.82 (1:42.89)
  6 Alabama                             7:01.36    7:00.38   26  
     1) Scott, Morgan JR              2) r:0.29 Dupre, Cora SO        
     3) r:0.32 Felner, Gracie FR      4) r:0.15 Antoniou, Kalia JR    
    r:+0.67  23.90        50.16 (50.16)
      1:17.01 (1:17.01)   1:44.15 (1:44.15)
        2:08.07 (23.92)     2:34.69 (50.54)
      3:01.28 (1:17.13)   3:27.92 (1:43.77)
        3:52.30 (24.38)     4:19.72 (51.80)
      4:47.09 (1:19.17)   5:14.59 (1:46.67)
        5:38.73 (24.14)     6:05.73 (51.14)
      6:33.44 (1:18.85)   7:00.38 (1:45.79)
  7 Ohio St                             7:03.76    7:00.79   24  
     1) Romano, Kristen SR            2) r:0.27 Fulmer, Amy SO        
     3) r:0.28 Tafuto, Sally JR       4) r:0.27 Trace, Katie SR       
    r:+0.74  24.62        51.19 (51.19)
      1:18.01 (1:18.01)   1:44.83 (1:44.83)
        2:09.42 (24.59)     2:37.05 (52.22)
      3:03.79 (1:18.96)   3:30.25 (1:45.42)
        3:55.34 (25.09)     4:21.85 (51.60)
      4:48.52 (1:18.27)   5:15.23 (1:44.98)
        5:39.59 (24.36)     6:06.49 (51.26)
      6:33.88 (1:18.65)   7:00.79 (1:45.56)
  8 Stanford                            6:58.60    7:01.05   22  
     1) Raab, Allie JR                2) r:0.19 Tankersley, Morgan JR 
     3) r:0.32 Pitzer, Lauren SR      4) r:0.27 Forde, Brooke SR      
    r:+0.67  24.90        51.67 (51.67)
      1:18.97 (1:18.97)   1:46.28 (1:46.28)
        2:10.25 (23.97)     2:36.55 (50.27)
      3:03.78 (1:17.50)   3:31.42 (1:45.14)
        3:55.86 (24.44)     4:22.97 (51.55)
      4:50.18 (1:18.76)   5:17.71 (1:46.29)
        5:41.94 (24.23)     6:07.83 (50.12)
      6:34.23 (1:16.52)   7:01.05 (1:43.34)
  9 Florida                             6:58.91    7:01.43   18  
     1) Bates, Talia SO               2) r:0.40 Mack, Katie SO        
     3) r:0.51 Miller, Nikki SR       4) r:0.28 Golding, Kathleen SO  
    r:+0.71  23.71        49.73 (49.73)
      1:16.85 (1:16.85)   1:43.70 (1:43.70)
        2:07.46 (23.76)     2:33.93 (50.23)
      3:01.56 (1:17.86)   3:29.91 (1:46.21)
        3:54.63 (24.72)     4:20.91 (51.00)
      4:48.20 (1:18.29)   5:15.81 (1:45.90)
        5:40.14 (24.33)     6:07.04 (51.23)
      6:34.16 (1:18.35)   7:01.43 (1:45.62)
 10 Michigan                            7:02.22    7:01.81   14  
     1) Housey, Sophie FR             2) r:0.17 Glass, Megan SO       
     3) r:0.02 Carter, Olivia JR      4) r:0.09 Schmidt, Sierra SR    
    r:+0.74  24.75        51.12 (51.12)
      1:18.25 (1:18.25)   1:45.45 (1:45.45)
        2:09.74 (24.29)     2:36.69 (51.24)
      3:03.85 (1:18.40)   3:31.24 (1:45.79)
        3:55.08 (23.84)     4:21.91 (50.67)
      4:49.26 (1:18.02)   5:16.68 (1:45.44)
        5:40.74 (24.06)     6:07.48 (50.80)
      6:34.89 (1:18.21)   7:01.81 (1:45.13)
 11 Indiana                             7:02.62    7:02.42   12  
     1) Grote, Josie SR               2) r:0.22 Peplowski, Noelle JR  
     3) r:0.24 Kirkpatrick, Abby SR   4) r:0.06 Eiber, Laurel SR      
    r:+0.79  25.12        51.85 (51.85)
      1:18.58 (1:18.58)   1:45.43 (1:45.43)
        2:10.26 (24.83)     2:37.45 (52.02)
      3:04.36 (1:18.93)   3:31.51 (1:46.08)
        3:55.70 (24.19)     4:22.04 (50.53)
      4:48.93 (1:17.42)   5:16.54 (1:45.03)
        5:40.91 (24.37)     6:08.11 (51.57)
      6:35.51 (1:18.97)   7:02.42 (1:45.88)
 12 Texas A&M                           7:02.93    7:02.48   10  
     1) Stepanek, Chloe FR            2) r:0.18 Toney, Camryn SR      
     3) r:0.16 Theil, Caroline JR     4) r:0.25 Quah, Jing SR         
    r:+0.68  24.36        50.51 (50.51)
      1:16.75 (1:16.75)   1:42.89 (1:42.89)
        2:07.96 (25.07)     2:35.16 (52.27)
      3:02.60 (1:19.71)   3:29.93 (1:47.04)
        3:54.43 (24.50)     4:21.66 (51.73)
      4:49.05 (1:19.12)   5:16.53 (1:46.60)
        5:41.22 (24.69)     6:08.71 (52.18)
      6:35.58 (1:19.05)   7:02.48 (1:45.95)
 13 Wisconsin                           7:04.91    7:02.63    8  
     1) Hosack, Lillie JR             2) r:0.46 Bacon, Phoebe FR      
     3) r:0.27 Palmer, Alana JR       4) r:0.46 Ecker, Emily FR       
    r:+0.73  24.64        51.30 (51.30)
      1:17.85 (1:17.85)   1:45.08 (1:45.08)
        2:09.40 (24.32)     2:36.27 (51.19)
      3:03.16 (1:18.08)   3:30.04 (1:44.96)
        3:54.37 (24.33)     4:21.03 (50.99)
      4:48.39 (1:18.35)   5:15.84 (1:45.80)
        5:40.88 (25.04)     6:07.72 (51.88)
      6:35.02 (1:19.18)   7:02.63 (1:46.79)
 14 Virginia Tech                       7:03.50    7:02.73    6  
     1) Atkinson, Emma FR             2) r:0.43 Shackelford, Sarah SO 
     3) r:0.29 Gyorgy, Reka SR        4) r:0.38 Vos, Loulou JR        
    r:+0.71  25.13        52.00 (52.00)
      1:18.88 (1:18.88)   1:45.72 (1:45.72)
        2:09.97 (24.25)     2:36.95 (51.23)
      3:04.37 (1:18.65)   3:32.05 (1:46.33)
        3:56.30 (24.25)     4:22.72 (50.67)
      4:49.27 (1:17.22)   5:15.87 (1:43.82)
        5:40.95 (25.08)     6:07.96 (52.09)
      6:35.25 (1:19.38)   7:02.73 (1:46.86)
 15 Louisville                          7:04.77    7:02.74    4  
     1) Kraus, Alena JR               2) r:0.53 Hetrick, Paige FR     
     3) r:0.23 Sumida, Duda JR        4) r:0.43 Dunn, Diana JR        
    r:+0.67  24.43        51.04 (51.04)
      1:18.23 (1:18.23)   1:45.31 (1:45.31)
        2:09.21 (23.90)     2:35.67 (50.36)
      3:02.69 (1:17.38)   3:30.21 (1:44.90)
        3:54.72 (24.51)     4:21.47 (51.26)
      4:48.67 (1:18.46)   5:15.81 (1:45.60)
        5:40.95 (25.14)     6:08.37 (52.56)
      6:35.46 (1:19.65)   7:02.74 (1:46.93)
 16 Tennessee                           7:02.41    7:04.08    2  
     1) Yager, Alexis SR              2) r:0.23 Nguyen, Claire SO     
     3) r:0.06 Rothrock, Trude JR     4) r:0.28 Pintar, Tjasa SR      
    r:+0.72  24.84        51.08 (51.08)
      1:18.39 (1:18.39)   1:46.36 (1:46.36)
        2:11.82 (25.46)     2:39.03 (52.67)
      3:06.73 (1:20.37)   3:34.25 (1:47.89)
        3:57.68 (23.43)     4:24.02 (49.77)
      4:51.30 (1:17.05)   5:19.19 (1:44.94)
        5:43.74 (24.55)     6:10.62 (51.43)
      6:37.80 (1:18.61)   7:04.08 (1:44.89)
 17 NC State                            6:58.48    7:04.89  
     1) Poole, Julia SR               2) r:0.23 Moore, Kate SR        
     3) r:0.32 Arens, Abby FR         4) r:0.33 Muzzy, Emma JR        
    r:+0.68  24.61        51.54 (51.54)
      1:18.44 (1:18.44)   1:45.75 (1:45.75)
        2:09.64 (23.89)     2:35.98 (50.23)
      3:03.07 (1:17.32)   3:30.28 (1:44.53)
        3:54.65 (24.37)     4:22.06 (51.78)
      4:49.65 (1:19.37)   5:16.88 (1:46.60)
        5:41.34 (24.46)     6:08.95 (52.07)
      6:37.30 (1:20.42)   7:04.89 (1:48.01)
Women - Team Rankings - Through Event 1                      
 
  1. Virginia                           40   
  2. Kentucky                           34
  3. California                         32   
  4. Texas                              30
  5. Georgia                            28   
  6. Alabama                            26
  7. Ohio St                            24   
  8. Stanford                           22
  9. Florida                            18  
 10. Michigan                           14
 11. Indiana                            12  
 12. Texas A&M                          10
 13. Wisconsin                           8  
 14. Virginia Tech                       6
 15. Louisville                          4  
 16. Tennessee                           2