By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
Stanford is on the blocks to begin its title defense at the Pac-10 Conference Women's Swimming and Diving Championships, which get under way Wednesday in Federal Way, Wash. The nationally No. 1-ranked Cardinal is hoping to win back-to-back titles for the first time since 2004-05, but it won't be easy after losing all-everything Julia Smit to graduation.
Smit was as spectacular as she was dominating while being named the 2010 Swimmer of the Meet for good reason. Smit won three individual events and swam on three winning relays. She set American records in the 200 and 400 IMs and set a school record while winning the 200 back.
Fellow Olympian Elaine Breeden wasn't bad, either. She won the 100 fly, took second in the 200 fly and finished third in the 200 IM and swam on the winning 400 medley relay.
Stanford has no big-point swimmers quite like Smit or Breeden on this season's roster, and thus defending will be tough for coach Lea Maurer and her crew as they seek their 18th conference championship since 1987.
Only two individuals return to defend their Pac-10 titles for Stanford, junior Betsy Webb in the 50 free and senior Liz Smith in the 200 breast. Webb's winning time of 22.04 moved her to No. 3 all-time in Stanford history while Smith's 2:07.50 victory made her No. 2 all-time. Webb also is the school recordholder in the 100 back in 52.39.
Webb currently ranks No. 6 in the nation in the 50 free (22.26) while Smith is unranked in the 200 breast, but is No. 15 in the 100 breast (1:00.53).
Senior Kate Dwelley did not win an individual Pac-10 title last season, but she did swim on the winning 200 free, 400 medley and 400 free relays. Not only will she have to help those relays again, but Dwelley will have to step up in the sprints where she currently ranks No. 7 nationally in the 50 free (22.40), No. 4 in the 100 free (48.58) and sixth in the 200 free (1:45.34), where she holds the school record of 1:43.14.
Taking over for Smit in the IMs will be freshman Maya DiRado, who already has put herself among Stanford's finest in a handful of events. DiRado ranks No. 2 in the nation in the 400 IM (4:03.73), which is No. 3 all-time in school history behind Smit and Olympian Summer Sanders.
DiRado also is third in the nation in the 200 IM (1:56.28), No. 6 in school history, while her No. 2 national time of 1:52.04 in the 200 back also makes her No. 2 in school history, again just behind Smit.
Should DiRado duplicate her season bests at the Pac-10 meet, she could pull a Smit and help the Cardinal make a successful title defense.
Another top freshman expected to contribute is Andie Taylor. She is now fourth all-time in school history in the 400 IM (4:06.12) and has moved into fifth all-time in the 500 free (4:40.91) and eighth in the 200 fly (1:56.70).
The key to the Pac-10 title, of course, is depth. Stanford needs to have plenty of swimmers not only in the championship finals, but in the consolation races, as well. Senior Kelsey Ditto (distances), sophomore Andi Murez (sprints, relays), and junior Sam Woodward all will have to move up from last season's finishes. Senior diver Meg Hostage will have to contribute, as well, along with freshman Stephanie Phipps. Hostage was fourth on the one-meter board last season.
Hostage has won eight of nine diving events heading into this week's championships, with the lone loss to Phipps at Cal. Hostage's top score this season is 334.65 in the three-meter and 337.75 in the one-meter, both against USC. Phipps top scores are 305.10 (Cal) for the winning three-meter and 299.93 at Arizona State. Hostage was the 2008 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year.
Maurer, in her sixth season as head coach, is a former Stanford Olympian and All-American backstroker. Over the first five seasons, the Cardinal has finished first (2010), second (2007, 2008) or third (2006, 2009) at the conference meet and fifth (2006), fourth (2007, 2009), third (2008) and second (2010) at the national meet.
Maurer, then Loveless, was a part of the great Stanford swim teams in the mid 1990s, when the Cardinal won three-straight NCAA titles from 1992 to 1994. She knows all about winning and how to prepare her swimmers to win. Only four school records, held by only two athletes, remain from swimmers not coached by Maurer.