By Jared McMurry
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS – Champions at last.
California’s Farida Osman and Louisville’s Mallory Comerford each reached the top of the podium as individuals for the first time Friday during the third day of the NCAA Women’s Division I Swimming and Diving Championship.
Osman overcame a slow start in the 100 fly to take the race with an effort of 50.05.
The senior swam the anchor for the Golden Bears on both the 200 freestyle and medley winning relays in 2015, and led off the winning 200 free relay team in 2016. She also has a handful of other top-eight finishes to her credit, but no individual titles. Her top performance in a solo race came last year in the 100-fly when she took third.
That was until Friday evening.
The long wait to be crowned as the nation’s best finally ended for the swimmer from Cairo, Egypt. Osman is a native of Indianapolis, born in 1995 to a pair of IUPUI graduates, so the homecoming win was extra bittersweet.
“It’s definitely coming full circle,” she said.
Winning the 100 fly was something Osman worked toward all season long, knowing it would be her last shot a title.
“Honestly that was my goal at the beginning of the season,” she said. “I was just trying to look at that in the future and practice really hard for it.”
For Comerford, her first title came in just her sophomore season for the Cardinals, but the victory was just as impressive as Osman’s.
Comerford lined up on the blocks for the 200 free next to two of the world’s greatest swimmers, Stanford’s Katie Ledecky and Simone Manuel, gold medalists at the Olympic Games last summer.
“Before the race we talked about me going out and doing my own race tonight,” Comerford said. “I had nothing to lose.”
She was right. She had nothing to lose, because she won.
The 19-year-old from Kalamazoo, Michigan and Ledecky reached the wall at the same time, sharing the title in a time of 1:40.36.
After the race Comerford appeared to be shocked by the result, and the feeling may not be wearing off anytime soon.
“When I saw the board it was just kind of unreal, it is still kind of unreal,” she said. “I can remember talking about Katie Ledecky when I was little. And you never really think that you’ll be next to her.”
The title in the 200 free was Ledecky’s second of the meet, as the Cardinal freshman also won the 500 free Thursday evening.
A pair of swimmers also repeated as NCAA champions in their respective events.
Stanford’s Ella Eastin swam to victory in the 400 individual medley in a time of 3:57.57. Sophomore Lilly King of Indiana also won her second consecutive title in the 100 breaststroke with an effort of 56.71.
In the 100 backstroke California’s Kathleen Baker found the top of the podium for the second straight night, holding off Georgia’s Olivia Smoliga to win in a time of 49.84. The sophomore took the title Thursday in the 200 individual medley with an effort of 1.51.69.
Golden Bear teammates Baker and Osman also helped their team find redemption in the 200 medley relay, after being disqualified in the 400 medley relay Thursday. The duo paired up with Abbey Weitzeil and Noemie Thomas to win the night’s final event in 1:34.10.
Minnesota senior Yu Zhou took honors in the three-meter diving with a finals score of 392.75.
With one day remaining of competition, Stanford stretched its lead over California to 374.5-255. Texas A&M sits in third with 209, while Georgia and Texas round out the top five with 170 and 168 respectively.
The Cardinal has won eight NCAA championships, with the most recent in 1998, while the Golden Bears are searching for a second consecutive title.