Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - February 26, 2010

Seniors' last shot at a title

Breeden, Smit hoping to lead Stanford to a Pac-10 crown

by Keith Peters

Elaine Breeden and Julia Smit are to Stanford swimming as Cagney and Lacy were to TV crime shows. Or Laverne and Shirley were to TV comedy. Or even what the Indigo girls are to music.

Breeden and Smit are a winning tandem. They are the latest, and two of the greatest, pair of swimmers to ever rewrite the Stanford women's swim record book. The two currently hold a combined six individual school records, eight including relays. On Stanford's top 10 all-time list for the 18 swimming and relay events, the two are missing on only three of them.

"Elaine and Julia have been the building blocks of this program for the past four years," said Stanford coach Lea Maurer.

During their careers, Breeden and Smit have helped Stanford compile a 36-1 dual-meet record. This season, the Cardinal went 9-0 and is currently ranked No. 1 in the nation.

That lofty status, however, means little in the final two meets of the season where the Cardinal seniors are still looking for their first Pac-10 and NCAA championships.

The Stanford women are in Long Beach this week for the 2010 Pac-10 Swimming and Diving Championship. The focus is on the team effort because great individual performances alone can't bring home the title. It takes a handful of top athletes in the very least.

History shows that the Stanford women have had those kinds of athletes, because the Cardinal once won 13 straight conference crowns. In each and every one of those seasons, it took a minimum of a one-two punch from double-winners to get the job done.

In 1992, for example, Maurer (then Loveless) won the 100 and 200 backs while Lori Heisick won both breaststroke events. In '94, Loveless again swept the backstrokes while Jenny Thompson won the 50 and 100 freestyles plus the 100 fly. In 1999, Catherine Fox won the 50 and 100 frees while Misty Hyman won both butterfly races. And in 2004, sisters Tara and Dana Kirk swept the breaststrokes and flys, respectively, as Stanford won the title once again.

Even in Stanford's last Pac-10 title-winning year (2005), Lacy Boutwell swept the 50 and 100 free while Caroline Bruce took the 200 breaststroke and 200 IM.

Maurer is hoping her current one-two punch of Breeden and Smit can help get the job done when the meet wraps up Saturday at the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool. Stanford is seeking its 17th Pac-10 title since 1987, but only its first since 2005.

"I think we'll be in the hunt," said Mauer."If we swim up to our potential and get beat, I'll still be happy . . . The focus is getting as many (swimmers) qualified (for NCAAs) as possible. If we just race tough, the times will be there."

Stanford was in third place following Wednesday's opening night, which featured only the 200 medley and 800 free relays. The Cardinal finished second in both. Arizona and USC both had 116 points with Stanford at 112. There's still plenty of swimming to do.

Smit and Breeden, members of the 2008 U.S. Olympic team, did their part in last year's Pac-10 meet. Smith won the 200 and 400 IM while Breeden swept the 100 and 200 fly with American record times. The Cardinal, however, finished only third behind California and Arizona — teams it defeated during the dual-meet season.

Stanford's Achilles' heal last season was the relays. The Cardinal failed to win any, starting the meet with a disqualification in the 200 medley relay. Had the Cardinal finished among the top three, it would have finished second in the meet behind Cal, which went on to also win the NCAA Championships.

Breeden, Smit and diver Carmen Stellar (platform) were Stanford's only winners in 2009. That raises the obvious question of what the three seniors can do this week to end the team's Pac-10 title drought. Stanford's best relay finish last year was a second in the 800 free. The Cardinal, in fact, hasn't won a Pac-10 relay event since 2007 (Breeden is the only current senior that was on that squad) and Smit, strangely enough, has yet to swim on a winning squad.

"Our team hasn't won a Pac-10 championship since I've been here," said Smit, the current national leader in both the 200 IM and 400 IM. "Winning would be awesome. I'm just really excited to see how our team does. It's good to see how we compare with the other conferences. For me, it's just a meet to get excited about."

Breeden has similar thoughts.

"My goal is to score as many points I can for my team," said Breeden, who has battled back from illness earlier in the season -- first the flu then mononucleosis in the fall. That caused her to miss several dual meets while slowing her season progress. "I would like to think I haven't peaked yet."

Breeden comes in with season bests of 52.95 in the 100 fly and 1:56.22 in the 200 fly. Her school records are 50.87 and 1:49.92, the latter of which is also an American and NCAA record. She swam both times at the 2009 Pac-10 meet. The times, however, are secondary this week.

"I'd like to see us win a relay," Breeden said. "Our relays are very strong. A team title? That would be huge. It has been our goal since Day 1."

Smit and Breeden are both 19-time All-Americans and have their names splashed all over the school record book. Yet, they will need plenty of help from their teammates this week for them to win their first Pac-10 team crown. Stanford had only two events where it placed three in the finals (200 IM, 1-meter diving).

"A team title takes a lot of effort," Breeden said, "and hopefully the girls can be rewarded for their work. This year is probably the first year we have had the depth (to win)."

Maurer sees her team as an underdog this week, despite being ranked No. 1 nationally during the dual-meet season.

"The underdog role is a good position for our girls," Maurer said. "Since I've come here (as a coach), we've never won."

During her swimming days at Stanford, however, Maurer never lost. She'd like to get back to those days.

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