The Virginia women’s swimming and diving team emphatically captured its first National Championship in 2021 so the Cavaliers knew opponents would be focused on derailing their quest for a repeat this season. Even so, the Hoos welcomed the challenge and they had confidence they could rise to meet it.
In fact, UVA coach Todd DeSorbo looked back at the recipe that delivered the ACC and NCAA titles last season with an eye on possibly making an even bigger splash, pun intended, in 2022. “Certainly, we tweak things and we want to do even better,” he said.
The Hoos sealed their second straight National Championship in convincing fashion Saturday night in Atlanta. They took the team title with 551.5 points to outpace Texas (406)and Stanford (399.5) at the top of the standings. The Cavaliers bettered their 2021 performance in every way. They scored more points (551.5 to 491), posted a larger margin of victory (145.5 to 137) and recorded more individual (7 to 5) and relay titles (4 to 1). That’s the second highest team total in the last decade behind only Stanford’s 593 points in 2018. UVA also set five new American Records and three new Virginia records.
Even with raised expectations, that performance impressed DeSorbo.
“This team never ceases to amaze me and exceeds every expectation we ever would have had for them,” DeSorbo said. “This is better than we ever could have hoped for. This team is unreal. They blow my mind. Every one of them, they are my heroes. They do it for each other, push each other every day and hold each other accountable. They do it for the rest of the team in the stands, their parents, our alumni. It is just an amazing group of women that are the strongest women I have ever been around.”
In the end, Virginia simply had too much firepower for any other team to overcome. At the top of the board, Kate Douglass and Alex Walsh poured it on with three individual titles each. On the relays, the Cavaliers put together sterling efforts to pile up points. Elsewhere on the roster, they picked up personal best swims from numerous different swimmers. The Wahoos had 15 A-final finishes and 9 B-final finishes. In a way, it played out like a four-day coronation as UVA repeatedly performed well every morning and every evening to storm to the title.
“This year, it was definitely like there was a target on our backs and it was definitely going to be more competitive and a lot harder to win this year, but I think from the first prelim session, we started it off really great and then we just kept that momentum going,” Douglass said. “I think we all exceeded expectations at this meet … and it’s been so much fun.”
Here are some of the highlighted swims that added to the total score:
- 200-yard Medley Relay – 1st place, NCAA Record time of 1:32.16 (Gretchen Walsh, Alexis Wenger, Lexi Cuomo, Kate Douglass)
- 200-yard Individual Medley – 1st place, American Record time of 1:50.08 (Alex Walsh)
- 200-yard Individual Medley – 8th place, personal best time of 1:54.48 (Ella Nelson)
- 200-yard Individual Medley – 11th place, fifth fastest in UVA history with personal best time of 1:55.08 (Abby Harter)
- 50-yard Freestyle – 1st place, American Record time of 20.84 (Kate Douglass)
- 50-yard Freestyle – 2nd place, personal best and No. 2 all-time at UVA time of 20.95 (Gretchen Walsh)
- 50-yard Freestyle – 14th place, time of 22.03 after a personal best 21.80 in prelims (Lexi Cuomo)
- 200-yard Freestyle Relay – 1st place, second fastest time in UVA history of 1:24.96 (Kate Douglass, Alex Walsh, Lexi Cuomo, Gretchen Walsh)
- 500-yard Freestyle – 2nd place, third fastest time in UVA history of 4:34.99 (Emma Weyant)
- 500-yard Freestyle – 15th place, time of 4:40.49 after a personal best 4:39.61 in prelims (Maddie Donohoe)
- 400-yard Individual Medley – 1st place, UVA and pool record time of 3:57.25 (Alex Walsh)
- 400-yard Individual Medley – 3rd place, time of 4:02.25 (Ella Nelson)
- 400-yard Individual Medley – 4th place, personal best time of 4:03.17 (Emma Weyant)
- 100-yard Butterfly – 1st place, American Record time of 49.04 (Kate Douglass)
- 100-yard Butterfly – 14th place, time of 51.88 (Jessica Nava)
- 100-yard Butterfly – 15th place, time of 51.97 (Lexi Cuomo)
- 400-yard Medley Relay – 1st place, American Record tying time of 3:22.24 (Gretchen Walsh, Alexis Wenger, Alex Walsh, Kate Douglass)
- 100-yard Breaststroke – 2nd place, time of 56.97 (Alexis Wenger)
- 100-yard Breaststroke – 13th place, time of 59.05 (Anna Keating)
- 100-yard Backstroke – 2nd place, time of 49.00 (Gretchen Walsh)
- 100-yard Backstroke – 5th place, time of 50.67 (Reilly Tiltmann)
- 200-yard Freestyle – 9th place, time of 1:43.55 (Reilly Tiltmann)
- 200-yard Breaststroke – 1st place, American Record time of 2:02.19 (Kate Douglass)
- 200-yard Breaststroke – 4th place, time of 2:05.51 (Ella Nelson)
- 200-yard Breaststroke – 8th place, time of 2:07.10 after personal best 2:06.89 in prelims (Anna Keating)
- 200-yard Breaststroke – 11th place, fourth fastest time in UVA history of 2:06.53 (Alexis Wenger)
- 200-yard Butterfly – 1st place, UVA record time of 1:50.79 (Alex Walsh)
- 200-yard Butterfly – 11th place, fourth fastest time in UVA history of 1:53.38 (Abby Harter)
- 100-yard Freestyle – 1st place, UVA and pool record time of 49.05 (Gretchen Walsh)
- 400-yard Freestyle Relay – 1st Place, American Record time of 3:06.91 (Kate Douglass, Alex Walsh, Reilly Tiltmann, Gretchen Walsh)
- 1650-yard Freestyle – 6th place, third fastest time in UVA history in time of 15:55.14 (Maddie Donohoe)
- 200-yard Backstroke – 5th place, second fastest time in UVA history of 1:49.63 (Reilly Tiltmann)
Douglass and Alex Walsh combined for 120 points individually thanks to six event victories. The duo also chipped in on the 194 relay points for Virginia. Between individual and relay events, they broke six American Records during the meet. Gretchen Walsh scored 54 points, including an event win.
In a performance that ESPN commentator Rowdy Gaines called “breathtaking” during the broadcast, Douglass had a meet for the ages. She not only won all three individual events she swam, she set new American Records in all three. Making that feat even more impressive, of course, was the variety. She set those records in three different strokes and three different distances. It started with the 50 freestyle, continued with the 100 butterfly, and wrapped up with the 200 breaststroke.
“Knowing how hard she works and what she puts into it, [I knew] that she was capable,” DeSorbo said. “I knew she was capable of doing that in the breaststroke, I knew she was capable of doing that in the 50. I didn’t know if she could do it all at once, in one week, in the same weekend. It’s wild. Certainly to do it here, to do it against the competition she was doing it against … it’s pretty phenomenal to see her do something like that. Not only that, to say she wants to do, commit to it, and then actually do it.”
With those performances leading the way, the Virginia swimming and diving program became just the second repeat National Championship winner in women’s sports at UVA. The women’s cross country program won titles in 1981 and 1982. The women’s lacrosse team came close with titles in 1991 and 1993. The only other programs with repeat championships in consecutive years are men’s soccer with a four-peat (1991, 1992, 1993, 1994) and men’s tennis with a three-peat (2015, 2016, 2017). The UVA men’s lacrosse team repeated in back-to-back tournaments in 2019 and 2021, but not in consecutive years since the pandemic canceled the 2020 tourney.
Virginia now owns 30 National Championships in school history.