NCAA swimming: The short and long of winning freestyles

Junior Simone Manuel and freshman Katie Ledecky each earned national titles in record-setting fashion to lead top-ranked Stanford on Thursday night at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships inside IUPUI Natatorium.

Stanford's 400-yard medley relay also earned a national title to give Stanford the lead with 213 team points after two days and seven events. Cal is second with 136 points and Texas is third with 119.

"This is a really close group," Cardinal coach Greg Meehan said. "It's just really fun to get excited for them because I know what they do every day. They work hard and they grind. They are passionate about what they do."

Manuel set the NCAA record in the 50-yard freestyle with a time of 21.17, edging last year's champion and former record holder Olivia Smoglia of Georgia.

It was the second straight NCAA title in the event for Manuel, who won in 2015 and redshirted in 2016.

Senior Lia Neal was also a winner in the event as she bested the field in the B final with a career-best time of 21.65 – second-fastest finish in school history.

Ledecky toppled her own American and NCAA records in the 500 free to earn her first individual national title.

She went head-to-head with the meet record holder in Virginia's Leah Smith, and the pair both broke 4:30 in the event; the only two women to ever accomplish that feat.

"I told her 'welcome to the club,'" Ledecky said. "It's one of the more exclusive clubs."

Ledecky won by four seconds at 4:24.06 to earn Stanford's first victory in the event since Jessica Foschi in 2001.

Cal appeared to have won the 400 medley relay, but was disqualified.

The Stanford quartet of Ally Howe, Kim Williams, Janet Hu and Neal took home the title at 3:26.35.

"We were shocked," said Howe, a Sacred Heart Prep grad. "We were in that position last year. It's not fun to see any team DQ'd. But it was a close race all the way through."

It marked the Cardinal's fourth straight victory in the event. In those four years, Stanford used four different combinations including three different breaststrokers, two different backstrokers, flyers and freestylers.

The Cardinal set the American record in the 200 free relay when Manuel, Neal, Hu and Howe were tops in the prelims at 1:26.15.

In the final, the same foursome finished as the national runner-up with a school record time of 1:25.91, bested only by Cal's NCAA record of 1:25.59.

In diving, Kassidy Cook earned her third career All-America honor with an eighth-place finish on the 1-meter. She scored 305.65 to earn another 11 points for the Cardinal.

Sophomore Leah Stevens also earned some big points. As the 28th seed in the 500 free she qualified for the B final with a career-best 4:39.67, and then topped that with a third-place finish of 4:39.10 in the B final.

"I got excited watching watching Megan and Leah have really good swims in the heat ahead of me," Ledecky said.

She was just behind freshman teammate Megan Byrnes, who won the B final and set a personal-best with the fifth-fastest time in school history at 4:37.78.

"We hadn't scored a point in the 500 free in the last four years, and today we scored 35," Meehan said. "To see Leah, Megan and Katie swim so well was a really fun moment for our team."

Stanford compiled 24 more points in the 200 individual medley.

Sophomore Ella Eastin was the national runner-up in the event with a season-best time of 1:52.27, while Howe qualified for the B final and finished 10th overall with a career-best finish of 1:54.82.

— Palo Alto Online Sports/Stanford Athletics


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