FEDERAL WAY, Wash. -- Stanford’s trio of Olympians — Katie Ledecky, Simone Manuel and Lia Neal — had individually and collectively garnered almost every award the swimming world had to offer.
Now, they can add Pac-12 Conference champions to the list.
“It just goes to show how complicated swimming is,” said Neal, who competed in the past two Olympic Games for Team USA, winning a medal each time. “You’re not just good, and then you’re satisfied. There’s always something else to work toward. I think the best thing about collegiate swimming is that it’s more of a team effort.”
With all three adding individual or relay victories on Saturday at the Pac-12 Swimming and Diving Championships at the King County Aquatic Center, Stanford rolled to its first women’s conference title since 2013, piling up 1,587.5 points.
California, which won the title in 2014 and ’15, was second with 1,392 points. Defending champion USC was third at 1250.5.
“We’ve been second here the last three years, and actually been really good here the last three years, just not quite good enough,” said Stanford coach Greg Meehan. “But it’s really cool for them. You can see the excitement and that says a lot.”
Manuel, who in Rio became the first black woman to win an individual swimming gold medal, won the 100-yard freestyle in 46.36, the fastest time in the country this year. Neal, a silver medalist in Rio, was second in 46.97.
Stanford’s Olympic trio — along with Janet Hu — combined to win the 400 free relay in 3:08.51, a new American record. Manuel, a junior who won two gold and two silver medals in Rio, swam the first leg, followed by freshman Ledecky and junior Hu, with Neal, a senior, anchoring the final event of the competition.
“We like to put her last,” Meehan said. “She’s one of the best relay swimmers in the world. She’s done some amazing anchor legs for us. That’s kind of the relay order that we’ve had all year. I think there’s a lot to be said for having a senior on the end of the last relay on the last day.”
Cal’s Kathleen Baker, the 2016 Olympic silver medalist in the 100 backstroke and a member of the gold-medal-winning 400 medley relay team, won the 200 backstroke in 1:48.33, the fastest time in the country this year and a meet record. Hu was second, ahead of Stanford teammate Ally Howe, a 2016 Olympic Trials competitor.
Cal’s Abbey Weitzeil, who won gold in the 400 medley relay and silver in the 400 free relay in Rio, did not compete Saturday. Cal released a statement earlier Saturday that Weitzeil was not feeling well.
Weitzeil finished eighth in the 200 freestyle Friday night but laid down on the pool deck after the race.
Ledecky, a five-time Olympic gold medalist who has been almost untouchable in distance races this college season, did not compete in 1,650 freestyle Saturday. Meehan said after Friday night’s session, that that decision was based in part on preparation for the upcoming NCAA women’s swimming and diving championships, March 15-18 in Indianapolis.
Stanford swimmers set several new American records over the weekend, which Neal attributed to the strength and make-up of the team.
“One can argue with me on this, but if this weren’t a team scoring thing, we probably wouldn’t have posted those insane times,” Neal said. “We would have done really well, but I think not having that team component and knowing that you’re doing it for your team, not having that, wouldn’t have pushed them past that little threshold.”
“We have a lot of fun together,” she added. “We’re just breaking records and winning championships, which is fun, too.”
Jim Hoehn is a Seattle-based writer who spent much of his journalism career as a sportswriter for newspapers, magazines and wire services. He also is a former editor at Rugby magazine. Hoehn is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.