Sports

Even without Olympians, Stanford women will contend

 

Sarah Haase, Lia Neal, Janet Hu and Ella Eastin may not have the name recognition of, say, world recordholder Katie Ledecky or American recordholder Simone Manuel in the world of swimming, even though the foursome owns some of the top times in the nation this college season.

Ledecky, who deferred her admission to Stanford for a year to train full time for the 2016 Rio Olympics, and the redshirting Manuel, who won two individual NCAA titles and swam on two NCAA championship relay teams, would have made the Cardinal heavy favorites to win a national title this season.

Thanks in large part to Haase, Neal, Hu and Eastin, along with Lindsey Engel and Sacred Heart Prep grad Ally Howe among others, the Stanford women remain in the national conversation.

The second-ranked Cardinal (6-0 in dual meets) hosts Bay Area rival and defending national champion California (6-1) in the final dual meet of the season at noon Saturday in a meet that promises to provide a glimpse into the championship season that follows.

Stanford coach Greg Meehan is all too aware that Stanford is 18 years removed from its last NCAA title while the third-ranked Golden Bears, who count Gunn grads Rachael Acker and Jenna Campbell among their members, have won the title three times in the past five years and four in seven. The Cardinal has four runner-up finishes, including 2014, since winning its eighth NCAA title (and ninth overall) in 1998.

"Everybody is excited about next year, but we want to make sure this current team is recognized," Meehan said. "We don't want to rush through this. The idea is to enjoy what this team has to offer."

Especially considering that Haase, a four-time All-American, is the defending NCAA champion in the 100 breast and Neal, Hu, Howe and Engel have combined for another 18 All-American honors and all four swam on at least one championship relay team.

"Sarah is an amazing swimmer," Meehan said. "She has gone through the full range. She had a strong freshman season, struggled as a sophomore and came back with a vengeance last year. She's so good every day and has set herself up for great success."

Another missing Stanford competitor is diver Kassidy Cook, also concentrating on the Olympics. Manuel and Cook scored 90 of Stanford's 363 points in last year's NCAA meet, where the Cardinal finished third overall.

Neal, currently the only lone Olympian on the team, has the fastest time in the nation in the 100 free (47.20) this season and ranks among the leaders in the 50 free and 200 free.

"Lia steps in and it's not a step down," Meehan said. "She's an amazing relay swimmer."

Neal finished second to Manuel in the 100 free last year and placed third in the 200 free. Only Manuel has swum a faster 100 free for Stanford.

Eastin, who broke Missy Franklin's national private school record in the 200 IM at Crean Lutheran in Irvine last year, has the top time in the 400 IM (4:01.4) and ranks second in the 200 IM and 200 fly.

"We look for versatility in the recruiting process and she is versatile," Meehan said. "Her strength is the IM, but she can also swim the 200 fly and 200 free."

Hu ranks among the top seven in five different events, including fourth in the 100 back (51.45), just behind Cal senior and Olympian Rachel Bootsma (51.39).

"Janet struggled a little last year," Meehan said. "It took her time to learn how to train. She's been our fastest, most consistent swimmer since September. She's huge on the relays."

Three of the five Stanford relay teams rank second in the nation while the 200 medley relay is No. 3 and the 800 free relay is No. 5.

Engel ranks No. 10 nationally in the 100 fly and Howe has been a major contributor.

"Ally is doing great," Meehan said. "She had a successful freshman year and is really coming into her own in the back. She helps in free relays, too."

Stanford's roster is filled with talented swimmers and divers who add to the depth and excitement of the team. Junior Nicole Stafford is a two-time All-American, senior Allison Brown, junior Tara Halsted, sophomore diver Grace Leydon-Mahoney, sophomore Heidi Poppe and freshman Leah Stevens have won multiple events this year.

"Depth will determine how well we do at the Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments," Meehan said. "We've won six relays over the last two NCAAs and it's been different people. The idea is the next person up. Even without Simone, our relays are in a good place."

Saturday's meet also serves as Senior Day and a fund raiser (#ForTheKids) for the Lucile Packard Stanford Children's Hospital. Fans can make donations at the entrance as the Cardinal hopes to out-do last year's collection of $2,500.

Gunn grad Julia Ama will be among the seniors honored and will be joined by Julia Anderson, Alex Clay, Lilly Hinrichs, Kelly Markle, KC Moss and Jaynie Pulte in addition to Haase and Brown.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by member
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 12, 2016 at 11:19 am

Please check your facts before posting. Lia Neal is an Olympic medalist


Like this comment
Posted by Rick Eymer
a resident of University South
on Feb 12, 2016 at 6:07 pm

This story was concerned with college swimming, not the Olympics. Still, where is it specifically mentioned that Lia Neal, certainly a world class swimmer, was not an Olympian?


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Post-election reflections -- and sponges
By Diana Diamond | 12 comments | 1,457 views

Couples: Philosophy of Love
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,126 views

El Camino: Another scheme to increase congestion?
By Douglas Moran | 5 comments | 658 views

Trials of My Grandmother
By Aldis Petriceks | 1 comment | 338 views