The quest for a Three-Peat has entered the final phase for the Virginia women’s swimming and diving team. The Cavaliers, who have won back-to-back National Championships, start the NCAA Championships in Tennessee on Wednesday night with relay finals.
As winners of the last two trophies with Olympians and record-setting swimmers all over the roster, it’s clear who the competition will be aiming to dethrone in Knoxville. Psych sheets that project UVA as the winner only add fuel to that motivational fire.
Of course, it’s something that Virginia has grown accustomed to in recent seasons. Cavalier coach Todd DeSorbo said that the coaches have tried not to let all of the hype change the team’s approach or become too much of a pressure cooker.
“I’m not sure it really changes our strategic approach throughout the whole season,” DeSorbo said. “I think the mentality [changes] a little bit. Now, it’s a little more like you’ve got a target on your back and not that people didn’t want to win last year, but I think the more you win, the more people get sick of you and they want to beat you even more. But that hasn’t changed our approach. We talk about pressure a lot, but we also talk about pressure being a privilege. You’ve heard that, people say it all the time, and it’s true. For our team to be in this position is pretty special. Not every team is in a position to contend for a National Championship so that’s just special for them to be a part of and we try to get them to celebrate that and enjoy it rather than think of it as pressure.”
The Hoos won the third most events in NCAA Championships history last season with 11, just two behind the record of 13 held by Florida and Stanford. They took home the 2022 crown with 551.5 points to easily outpace Texas by 145.5 points.
Virginia still features many of those same swimmers this time around. Three individual champs are back, including Kate Douglass and Alex Walsh, who won three events each last March. Gretchen Walsh returns as well after winning her first career title at last year’s meet. With those swimmers on multiple relays, the Cavaliers also claimed four of the five relays.
SwimSwam.com projected out potential points from that trio in this article that explains why Texas could make a strong run at the Wahoos. Douglass and Gretchen Walsh could lead the way with 60 and 57 points, respectively. Alex Walsh is seeded to score 32 points, but that’s probably shy of what’s likely as the article details. When you add in quiet star Ella Nelson with another possible 43 points, it’s clear why UVA enters as the favorite in the meet.
Even with Texas lurking and other teams chasing the Cavaliers, though, that’s not really where DeSorbo wants his team’s focus.
“We try to take the focus off of what any other team is doing and just put it on ourselves and just try to be the best that we can be,” DeSorbo said. “Each individual, can you be better than you’ve ever been and that’ll just help the team be better.”
That focus is what brings UVA’s depth into play.
All told, Virginia will have the maximum number of competitors at the NCAA Championships with 17 swimmers and 2 divers (who count as a half each for the 18-member limit in the rules). With the maximum number of competitors in Knoxville, if multiple swimmers from the top of the roster all the way through the divers can outperform their seeding or their best performance of the season, it will make Virginia really tough to beat.
So, yes, that includes the Walsh sisters, Douglass, and Nelson, but the Hoos also have multiple other scorers back from a year ago for this Three-Peat quest. In addition to Nelson, Lexi Cuomo, Maddie Donohoe, Anna Keating, and Reilly Tiltmann were first-team All-Americans and Abby Harter was an honorable mention All-American too. Cuomo and Tiltmann joined in on championship relay teams as well.
That doesn’t mention additions like freshmen Aimee Canny and Emma Weber or transfer junior Maxine Parker, who are projected to contribute points based on seeding.
“To win, you’ve got to have those athletes that are going to get first, second, and third and your relays have to be up at that level as well but you also have to have athletes getting sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth, 10th, 11th,” DeSorbo said. “I think last year we had 12 girls score at NCAAs. Hopefully this year, we can have even more. It’s a full-team effort to be able to go in and be in a position to challenge for a National Championship.”