The third night of the NCAA women’s championships featured an American and college short-course yards record of 3:54.60 from Ella Eastin, while The Cardinal teammate Ally Howe won her first individual national title at her last stand for Stanford and Greg Meehan‘s squad set an American record in the 200 medley relay at the McCorkle Aquatic Center.
So strong has Stanford’s show been that the 100 yard breaststroke stood out not only because of the dominance of Lilly King, the Olympic and World champion for Indiana, who trounced the rest with a 56.25 American and NCAA record, but the fact that this was the first race of the meet in which the Cardinal did not make the podium. Going into the last day, Stanford cannot now do anything other than keep its crown, 9 wins in 12 finals backed by several ‘two-on-the-podium’ outcomes and a sweep.
King, however, was the standout when it came to producing swims that men something beyond the moment of college spill and thrill.
Out in 26.32, she was home in 29.93, her regret only that she wanted to nail a first 55-plus effort but fell a touch shy. Michigan’s Miranda Tucker was closest, on 57.98, Lindsey Kozelsk, of Minnesota, third in 58.18.
Eastin’s effort, more than three seconds ahead of Stanford teammate Katie Ledecky, in second place, was the highlight of the day when it came to ‘the talk of American swimming’. That also highlights the gulf between s/c yards college racing and what happens out on the big wave of world swimming in metric measure: Eastin’s best is a 4:38.97 in long-course metres, that pace shy of what it would take to make a big global final, let alone make a major podium. She clocked that time when she was just 16 – and then came the plateau of multiple swims 4:40 to 4:42.
What her new 3:54 means to the wider picture remains to be seen. Short-course swimming is not like long-course swimming, 400 yards some 40 metres shy of 400 metres. It all adds up. The likes of Ledecky and Simone Manuel, in long-course context, are swimming ‘down’ in college wasters, not up: that’s to say, they can win without all four cylinders firing at the same rate they fired when the Olympic Rings were flying up the flagpole.
In the context of the night in Columbus, Eastin had reason to be more than cheerful as she contributed to Stanford, the defending NCAA women’s champions, taking its tally of wins to nine out of 12 events, five American records in the bargain and proof that the progress, so hidden from the scope of a metric world and not entirely relevant to it either, is real.
After three days, the team battle is all but over, the Cardinal on 414 points, Cal second with 268 and Texas A&M third with 186.
Ledecky entered the water as defending 400IM champion but Eastin matched her stroke-for-stroke the first two strokes before roaring ahead on breaststroke to establish a solid lead with a split that marked a 2-sec lifetime best, essential, perhaps, if you know Katie Ledecky has freestyle to come. By the close of play, her 3:54.60 was nearly two seconds faster than the American record she set at the Pac-12 Championships last month.
Eastin acknowledge that she is particularly good short-course but her latest progress, setbacks and experience in the bag, suggests that there is more to come long-course, too.
Eastin is just the fourth woman to three-peat in the event and the second Cardinal to do so, after Julia Smit (2008-10), while Ledecky’s second place made the race the first win over 20 years to feature a 1-2 from one college.
Ledecky, who celebrates her 21st birthday on Saturday, clocked 3:58.29, the battle for bronze settled by Sydney Pickrem, the Canadian For TAMU, on 3:59.05 to prevent a Stanford sweep, Brooke Forde on 3:59.34.
Stanford coach Greg Meehan said of Eastin’s swim:
“It was amazing. She can do some amazing things. Her work ethic is on point and she pays attention to the details. She is part of an incredible training group and they should all feel a part of it. They make each other better.”
In the wider long-course world, Eastin’s target this year comes down to the Pan Pacific Championships in the summer.
That long-course picture was also most evident in the 100y back: Stanford’s Ally Howe was 0.01sec shy of her NCAA record for a 49.70 victory, with Beata Nelson, Wisconsin, on 49.92, and Kathleen Baker, California, third in 50.18.
No slight intended to Howe but her 100m l/c best is 1:00.73. Baker’s is 58.54. A very different level of threat. That’s the wider context of all s/c yards and college meets and part off the reason why the wider world feels no keen need to tune in to a domestic moment that is truly significant to the building of competitiveness and ‘team’ for the world’s No 1 swim nation but is barely tangible on other levels.
Other teams managed to dent the Stanford bull run on day 3. The 100 ‘fly went to Swedish international Louise Hansson, of USC, in 49.80 ahead of Erika Brown, Tennessee, 50.34, and Stanford’s Janet Hu, 50.56.
Ledecky opted out of the 200 free, the race won by Mallory Comerford in 1:39.80 ahead of Honbg Kong international for Michigan, Siobhan Haughey, on 1:40.69, Stanford’s Simone Manuel on 1:41.48 in third and making sure the Cardinal kept its record of missing not a single swim podium. That record came to an end in the next race, the 100y breaststroke, King with the crown.
No matter, said Stanford. Next up, the 200 medley relay: Howe (23.54), Kim Williams (26.50), Janet Hu (22.62) and Simone Manuel (20.45): an American record of 1:33.11. In the mix, Manuel recorded the fastest freestyle split in the history of yards swimming, at 20.45 anchor leg.
It took that to ensure victory, the silver to California in 1:33.85, with Kathleen Baker, Abbey Weitzeil, Noemie Thomas and Amy Bilquist, the bronze to Indiana in 1:33.89, with Ally Rockett, Lilly King (25.38), Christie Jensen and Grace Haskett.
The thrill and spill of day 3
Stanford’s bull run
Greg Meehan on the meet: