Sports Journalism Blog

Posted on March 19th, 2017 by reaharri | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

By Jared McMurry

Sports Capital Journalism Program

INDIANAPOLIS — Stanford used strong performances from Katie Ledecky and Simone Manuel in the final day of the NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships to pull away from California 526.5-366 and win its first national title since 1998.

Ledecky and Manuel joined teammates Janet Hu and senior Lia Neal on the 400 free winning relay in the meet’s final event with a time of 3:07.61. Although the win wasn’t a deciding factor in the team standings, it was a special moment shared by the entire Stanford team.

“We just really wanted to win that last relay for Lia,” Stanford coach Greg Meehan said. “We wanted to give her a victory lap. There is just no better moment for a senior than to win your last race in the NCAA Championships when you win a team title. That is a storybook ending.”

The Cardinal finished second last year behind Cal, but in Meehan’s eyes the building toward a championship began when Neal committed to the program five years ago.

“She set this thing in motion when she committed to our program five years ago as an Olympian out of high school,” he said. “When she made that decision to come to Stanford, she made it okay for the Simone’s and the Ally’s, and the Janet’s and the Katie’s to come.

“I laugh,” he said. “But that’s the reality, she legitimized our program in that moment.”

Neal was ecstatic after the meet concluded.

“Well for me it’s like the perfect ending,” she said. “And especially to win for the first time in 19 years, just goes to show how strong of a program we have led by really great coaches.”

In all, Ledecky earned five national titles in her freshman season to help propel Stanford. After winning the 800 free relay and both the 200 and 500 individual free events earlier in the week, she capped the meet Saturday by winning the 1650 free with a new NCAA Championship and IU Natatorium pool record of 15:07.7.

Manuel also ended her sophomore season by adding her fourth individual title in her career with a win in the 100 free. She shattered her own American and NCAA record in the final with a time of 45.56 and became the first woman to break the 46-second mark.

“I think the 45.5 has kind of been there all along,” she said following the victory. “Sometimes you are working really hard and the results don’t always show. In the 50 and 100 free I didn’t hit some of the goal times I had set out for myself, but I was a little angry going into that race (100), so I put all my emotions into that.”

Sophomore Ella Eastin pulled away during the last 50 meters to win the 200 fly with a time of 1:51.35.

Kathleen Baker of California was named the meet’s most valuable swimmer. The sophomore went three-for-three in her individual events and also won a national title as part of the 200 medley relay team. Baker added to the 100 back title she won Friday by cruising to victory in the 200 back with an effort of 1:48.44.

Indiana’s Lilly King also won her second title of the meet, and second consecutive championship in the 200 breast with a record-breaking performance. King’s Big Ten foe Kierra Smith of Minnesota pushed her inch for inch, but in the end it was the Hoosier breaking her own NCAA and American record, winning the final with a performance of 2:03.18.

King also won the 100 breast on Friday, but didn’t break the record, and that fueled as determination in her final race of the season.

“Last night I was pretty upset after my 100,” she said. “I was really glad to get back tonight. That was a really tough field and I was kind of able to redeem myself.”

Northwestern’s Olivia Rosendahl also redeemed herself during the platform diving final. Heading into the 3-meter diving final on Friday, the sophomore was seeded first, but came away with an eighth place finish.

She also headed into the platform final with the highest score Saturday, but this time came away with a much better result. Rosendahl scored a 72.8 on her final dive, passing several competitors, and winning the event with an overall score of 339.