Virginia coach Mark Bernardino made a concerted effort to recruit and pull together a versatile team for the 1996-97 season. His effort paid off in the postseason, where the Cavaliers finished third in the ACC and 28th at the NCAA Championship meet with a core group of seven freshmen leading the way.
“This team came in with a lot of potential and realized a lot of that potential early,” said Bernardino of his 1996-97 freshman class.
Seven swimmers — all freshmen — competed at the NCAA Championship for Virginia in 12 events. The 200 freestyle relay team of Rebecca Cronk, Julie Gehm, Emily Trakas and Meghan McCubbins posted Virginia’s best result at NCAAs, finishing 14th. Cronk had the top finish by a UVa swimmer in an individual event, coming in 25th in the 50 freestyle with a school-record time of 23.11. The Cavaliers’ 800 freestyle relay team of Cronk, Trakas, Sharon Riedlinger and Emily Carrig finished 15th, as did the 400 freestyle relay team of Cronk, Trakas, Carrig and McCubbins. All three Virginia relay teams earned honorable-mention All-America honors.
At the ACC Championship meet, Virginia swimmers posted season-best times in 14 events, including five relay events, to place third overall. Carrig and freshmen Katie Caratelli both set school records as UVa scored a total of 658.5 points.
Carrig won the 200 yard butterfly in a record time of 2:00.10, and was also the ACC Champion in the 500 yard freestyle. She became only the third UVa swimmer to win conference titles in two events as a freshman.
Caratelli won the ACC title in the three meter diving competition with a school-record score of 506.70. She also earned second place in the one meter competition with a score of 403.15. Caratelli was named 1997 ACC Diver of the Year for her strong performances throughout the 1996-97 dual-meet and championship season.
Another freshman, Riedlinger, won an individual title for the Cavaliers in the 1,650 yard freestyle with a time of 16:40.00. Cronk finished second in both the 50 yard freestyle and the 100 yard freestyle at the ACC meet.
Eight swimmers earned All-ACC honors for Virginia. The Cavalier honorees were Caratelli (one and three meter diving), Carrig (200 free, 500 free and 200 fly), Cronk (50 free and 100 free), McCubbins (100 fly), Riedlinger (500 free and 1,650 free), Trakas (200 free), Bridget Vogelsang (1,650 free) and Valerie Zammitti (100 fly and 200 fly).
Two Virginia relay teams also won titles at the ACC Championship. The 400 yard freestyle relay of Cronk, Carrig, Trakas and McCubbins placed first, while the 800 yard freestyle relay of Cronk, Trakas, Riedlinger and Carrig won in a meet-record time of 7:21.13. In addition, the 200 yard freestyle relay of Cronk, Gehm, Trakas and McCubbins swam to a school-record time of 1:33.30 at the ACC Championship meet.
“I thought last year we had some of our best freestyle relay teams since the mid-to-late 80s,” said Bernardino.
The women finished their dual-meet season at 8-2 overall, 4-1 in the ACC. Their only conference loss came against eventual ACC champion Clemson in a very close 123-120 meet at the UVa Aquatic and Fitness Center. UVa’s 4-1 record led the ACC in the regular season. Their biggest win was a 158-142 victory over North Carolina. The teams’ strong performances earned them a final ranking of 24th in the nation.