Virginia Continues Roaring With Fourth Straight National Championship

Virginia Cavaliers
The Virginia women’s swimming and diving team celebrates the National Championship. ~ Photo courtesy of Jamie Holt/Virginia Athletics Media Relations

The 1920’s earned the nickname “The Roaring ’20s” for what Wikipedia describes as a period of “prosperity with a distinctive cultural edge.” The Virginia women’s swimming and diving team has created quite the reprisal a hundred years later.

The Hoos continued their own period of prosperity Saturday with their fourth straight National Championship. That made UVA just the third program to win four straight titles in the sport and the first in 30 years. Texas won four in a row from 1984-1988, while Stanford claimed five in a row from 1992-1996. In terms of Virginia sports history, the program has now matched Bruce Arena’s men’s soccer run of four consecutive championships from 1991-1994.

UVA outpaced Texas in the steam standings 527.5 to 441. The Cavaliers have scored more than 500 points in each of the last three title runs, while the average winning margin during the four-peat has been 120 points.

“I’m not sure I can put it into words,” Virginia coach Todd DeSorbo said. “It’s really hard to digest even that we won. I told the girls before the session tonight that there are only nine teams, I think, that have ever won one National Championship, and we are one of nine. And when you have 70 teams at a National Championship, you know, that’s pretty impressive in and of itself. So it’s just wild. I really can’t put words to it. I’m just really proud of them and happy for them. And this one was a lot of fun.”

A lot of individual performances obviously rolled up the point total for the Hoos. They won 7 individual titles and 4 of 5 relays at the meet. UVA has won 11 event titles in each of the last three seasons at the NCAA Championships. For 2024, here’s the list: 200 IM, 50 Free, 400 IM, 100 Fly, 100 Breaststroke, 100 Free, 200 Breast, 200 Medley Relay, 200 Free Relay, 400 Medley Relay, and 400 Free Relay.

The Walsh sisters spearheaded that effort this time around as both went 3-3 in individual events. Gretchen Walsh claimed the top spot in the 50 Free, 100 Free, and 100 Fly, while Alex Walsh won the 200 IM, 400 IM, and 200 Breaststroke. Both were part of the 200 Free Relay, the 400 Free Relay, and the 400 Medley Relay as well. Jasmine Nocentini, who captured the individual gold in the 100 Breaststroke, Maxine Parker, and Carly Novelline teamed up with the dynamic duo on relays.

Gretchen Walsh, meanwhile, didn’t just win her events, she obliterated records in the process. She now owns or has participated 8 eight NCAA Records in her career: 100 Free, 50 Free, 100 Back, 100 Fly, 200 Free Relay, 400 Free Relay, 200 Medley Relay, and  400 Medley Relay. At the NCAA Championships this week, she set new American and NCAA records in the 50 Free (20.37), the 100 Free (44.83), and the 100 Fly (47.42). The 400 Medley Relay also set a new NCAA mark of 3:21.01 with the Walsh sisters, Nocentini, and Parker making up the quartet.

To put the 50 Free and 100 Free in some further perspective, Gretchen Walsh is one of just three women to go 20.84 or better in the 50 Free alongside Maggie MacNeil and Kate Douglass. For the 100, she’s won of just four women to break the 46-second barrier in the event along with Simone Manuel, Erika Brown, and Kate Douglass. Walsh is the first to go sub-45 and she holds 5 of the top 7 fastest swims in history.

After the 50 Free earlier in the week, Walsh said it is hard to absorb exactly what she’s accomplished in terms of those fast times.

“It is really exciting,” Gretchen Walsh said in this article. “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. It is hard to have it all sink in, but one day I will look back and be like, ‘Wow!'”

Beyond the record-breaking swims, Virginia needed a lot of contributions down the lineup to capture the team title.

Ella Nelson, for example, added more All-America honors during the meet to reach 19 for her career. She earned first-team All-America spots in the 200 IM, 400 IM, 200 Breaststroke, and the  800 Free Relay. On the other side of that spectrum, Lizzy Kaye earned the first All-America honors in her career as she became the first diver in program history to reach that level as she placed 8th in 3-meter diving and 10th in 1-meter diving.

Other swimmers, beyond the Walsh duo, Nelson, Nocentini, Novelline, and Parker, that finished as First-Team All-Americans included Aimee Canny (800 Free Relay), Cavan Gormsen (500 Free), Abby Harter (200 Fly), Tess Howley (200 Fly), Anna Keating (200 Breast), and Reilly Tiltmann (800 Free Relay). Canny (200 Breast), Tiltmann (100 Back, 200 Back), and Emma Weber (100 Breast, 200 Breast) landed Honorable Mention All-America recognition as well.

Harter and Howley set the tone on the final day of the meet when they both earned a spot in the A final of the 200 Fly in prelims. That one-two punch guaranteed points higher than projected seed times and elevated the team’s chances of the National Championship. Later in the night, Howley took fourth (1:52.41) and Harter sixth (1:52.49) in the event to clinch the title.

“We knew we had to be good today, like really good, maybe great,” DeSorbo said. “I think it was after the breaststroke this morning, when I was really like okay, we’re good. And then the 200 butterfly. Abby Harter and Tess Howley, when they went top eight, I literally cried. I cried after the 200 Breast and the 200 Fly. It was just an amazing feeling to have them step up in a really pressure situation. We haven’t been in that situation before. After Friday night, usually we felt pretty good about things. They just came out and really just set the tone this morning right away and put us into a really good position.”

The swimming and diving title delivered the 34th National Championship in NCAA competition won by the UVA athletics department.