Feb. 25, 2014
CHARLOTTESVILLE — On the women’s side, UVa pummeled the rest of the field at the ACC swimming and diving championships in Greensboro, N.C., finishing 228 points ahead of second-place North Carolina on Saturday night.
The ACC title was the seventh straight for the Virginia women, ranked No. 7 nationally. The UVa men can match that streak this week in Greensboro, but if they do so, their margin of victory figures to be considerably smaller than the women’s.
Still, the Cavaliers are conceding nothing. The ACC men’s meet begins Wednesday and runs through Saturday night, and “I think there’s about five or six [teams] with a shot,” said head coach Augie Busch, who’s in his first year overseeing UVa’s men’s and women’s programs.
The Virginia men, ranked No. 20 nationally, are among those contenders. The Wahoos, whose standouts include seniors Jan Daniec and Parker Camp and sophomore Luke Papendick, have steadily improved over the course of the season.
“We’ll be fighting for it,” Busch said.
Many UVa swimmers distinguished themselves in late November at the Ohio State Invite — an event for which the `Hoos tapered — and “we’re fully expecting them to be sharper,” Busch said, “because they’re more tested and they’re a lot more race-ready, just from all the dual meets they’ve had.”
The diving portion of the ACC men’s meet was held last week in Greensboro. Heading into the swimming events, Virginia Tech leads with 205 points, and UVa is fifth with 102, four ahead of North Carolina.
At the ACC women’s meet, UVa sophomore Becca Corbett set a school record in platform diving. The Cavaliers’ dominance in swimming, though, was the story of the meet.
Sophomore Courtney Bartholomew and freshman Leah Smith won two individuals titles apiece — the 100 and 200 backstroke for Bartholomew, the 500 and 1,650 freestyle for Smith — and junior Ellen Williamson captured the 100 butterfly in a school-record 52.19 seconds.
Smith set UVa and ACC records in each of her victories, and her time in the 500 free (4:34.35) is the nation’s fastest this season.
Also in Greensboro, Virginia won the 200 medley relay (Bartholomew, freshman Laura Simon, Williamson, senior Emily Lloyd), the 800 free relay (Smith, senior Caroline Kenney, freshman Kaitlyn Jones, Williamson) and the 400 medley relay (Bartholomew, Simon, Williamson, Lloyd), setting school and ACC records in each race.
Moreover, freshman Laura Simon set school records in the 100 and 200 breaststroke, finishing in 58.96 and 2:07.68, respectively, and taking second in each race.
Busch, who took over at UVa last summer after legendary coach Mark Bernardino retired, won’t soon forget his first ACC championships.
“It was just one fun experience after the other, it was really was,” Busch said. “We were lights out pretty much from the opening bell. Obviously that puts smiles on [the athletes’] faces, and every coach or teacher loves that.”
What made the Cavaliers’ performance in Greensboro especially impressive was that more than half of their swimmers did not taper for the ACC meet.
“The target is four weeks from now,” Busch said, referring to the NCAA championships, which start March 20 in Minneapolis.
Busch has made clear that he places more emphasis on the NCAAs than on the ACC meet, and his top swimmers “were all running out of gas by Day 3 [in Greensboro],” he said. “Their legs were toast, those people who are targets for NCAAs. I couldn’t believe some of the times they were still putting up.
“They were really good, but there’s a lot of details and just sharpness things that are going to be cleaned up, just with fresher legs. My experience tells me that they need more rest. Does it guarantee anything [at the NCAA meet]? Obviously not, but I feel like we’re in a good spot, and I think their confidence is through the roof right now.”
His seniors have told him, Busch said, that “this is the tightest they’ve ever felt the team is.”
Good chemistry is only one of the Cavaliers’ attributes. “I feel like they’re tough,” Busch said. “They race hard, for sure. When we get down in a dual meet, they fight back, so they’re resilient. They welcome competition. There’s nothing they’re scared of when it comes to the competitive arena.”
Busch expects 12 or 13 swimmers from UVa to qualify for the NCAA women’s championships. Bartholomew and Smith will be among the favorites in the 100 and 200 back and 500 free, respectively.
The `Hoos should also score well in the relays. “We’re in a great spot,” Busch said. “Our three best relays are relays that I feel can be not only top eight at NCAAs, but top four or five.”
The NCAA men’s championships begin March 27 in Austin, Texas.
In his 35 years as head coach at his alma mater, Bernardino built the ACC’s premier swimming and diving program, winning 16 conference titles with the men and 11 with the women. His retirement was announced July 1. UVa hired Busch nine days later, and he found himself well behind many of his counterparts with recruiting targets in the Class of 2014.
Busch and his assistants scrambled, however, and by November they had put together two well-regarded groups of recruits.
“I felt great about them on signing day, and I feel about 10 times better about them now, because they’ve gone on to swim really, really fast since signing day,” Busch said.
“Henrik Pohlmann and Anthony Marcantonio, two of our men’s signees, have gone off, to the point that if it were signing day tomorrow, they’d be top-20 recruits in the country and top three or four in their respective events.
“That is always a huge plus, when you lock someone up and then they go really fast before the year’s over. That’s the case with those two. That’s the case with several of the women, also. So I feel really, really good [about the classes].”