Leah Smith Captures 500 Freestyle NCAA Title
March 19, 2015
GREENSBORO, N.C.–Virginia sophomore swimmer Leah Smith captured the 500-yard freestyle NCAA title and the Cavalier 400 medley relay placed second on the first night of the NCAA Championships Thursday night (March 19) at the Greensboro Aquatic Center.
After one day of action, the Cavaliers sit in a tie for fifth place with Louisville at 76 points. Georgia leads with 172, followed by California (162), Stanford (111) and Texas A&M (82).
“It was a great first day for us,” UVa head coach Augie Busch said. “For the most part, we had really solid swims and the couple misses we had, I am very confident that they can bounce back tomorrow.”
Smith (Pittsburgh, Pa.) led from the start, winning in a time of 4:31.54, ahead of California’s Cierra Runge (4:33.82) and Texas A&M’s Sarah Henry (4:34.34). Smith becomes the program’s second national champion after Cara Lane won the 1,500-meter free and 1,650-yard free in 2000 and 2001, respectively.
In addition to her national championship, Smith broke the NCAA record in the prelims, posting a time of 4:30.37. With the time, Smith became the second-fastest performer ever in the event. Only Katie Ledecky, who holds the American and US Open record in a time of 4:26.58, has gone faster in the event.
“It was similar to the race I had at the Georgia Invite,” Smith said. “In the morning my coach just said, `I want you to have a strong race, but be sure to bring it back fast.’ That morning (in Georgia), I thought I was going to touch 4:39 and I touched 4:32. Last year, I didn’t make the A-final which I was very upset about, so this year I went in there with a mindset of doing anything I can to have the best race possible.
“People were telling me, `Hey, you are ahead by 5 seconds. It is not going to be that hard.’ But I knew it was going to be difficult with the field of competitors. However, I did realize it wasn’t going to take another huge drop for me to win the race, so I was just realistic while trying to have a great race.”
Smith is now a four-time All-American. She placed third in the 1,650-yard freestyle and fifth with the 800-yard freestyle at the 2014 NCAA Championships. She placed ninth in the 500-yard freestyle in 2014, earning honorable mention All-America honors.
“Leah is the consummate team player,” Busch said. “She is all about energizing her teammates with her behavior, words and actions. I could not be happier for her because she is team through and through.”
The 400 medley relay team of junior Courtney Bartholomew (Holland, Mich.), sophomore Laura Simon (Simmern, Germany), senior Ellen Williamson (Ft. Mitchell, Ky.) and sophomore Ellen Thomas (Guildford, United Kingdom) was out-touched at the wall by Stanford’s Simone Manuel, placing second in a school-record time of 3:26.42. Stanford’s time of 3:26.41 and the Cavaliers’ mark rank as the top-two times in the history of the event.
“I am so proud of the four women in that relay,” Busch said. “It was their goal to win it and tonight, they fought like the wanted to win it and performed like they wanted to win it. We put down some incredible splits, but Stanford had a future Olympian (Manuel) as the anchor for their relay and hats off to them.”
The second-place finish stands as Virginia’s best relay finish ever and is the first time the Cavaliers have finished in the top eight in the 400 medley relay since 2010.
Bartholomew earned All-America honors in the 200 IM, placing fifth in 1:55.71. Williamson took home honorable mention All-America accolades, placing 15th overall in 1:57.09.
The 200 free relay of sophomore Shannon Rauth (Glenmoore, Pa.), Thomas, freshman Caitlin Cooper (Atlanta, Ga.) and Williamson placed 14th overall in a time of 1:28.89, the third-fastest time in school history. The prelim relay of Cooper, Thomas, Bartholomew and Williamson finished in a time of 1:28.74, the second-fastest time in program history.
In 1-meter diving, junior Becca Corbett placed 33rd with a score of 275.10. Corbett is the first female diver from UVa to compete at the NCAA Championships.
The action continues Friday (March 20) with the 200 medley relay, 400 IM, 100 fly, 200 free, 100 breast, 100 back, 3-meter diving and 800 free relay events being contested. Prelims will begin at 11 a.m. with finals set for a 7 p.m. start.
1. Leah Smith – 4:31.54
33. Becca Corbett – 275.10