Todd DeSorbo’s biggest concern this year isn’t how his swimmers and divers will perform during meets, but rather arriving at each event with his team safe from COVID-19 issues.
“I told them beyond that, like if we get there, we’re gonna kill it,” said DeSorbo, Virginia’s swimming and diving head coach. “I’m not worried about that.”
His words rang true last week when the UVa women’s swimming and diving team captured the ACC title. It’s UVa’s 17th ACC championship, which is the most of any ACC women’s swimming and diving program.
The Cavaliers were impressive over the four-day meet, setting the American and NCAA record in the 200-yard medley relay on the first day. The relay team of senior Caroline Gmelich, junior Alexis Wenger, sophomore Alexa Cuomo and sophomore Kate Douglass broke Stanford’s 2018 record and finished the event in 1:32.93.
“It was kind of a surprise, for me at least, when I found out that we broke the record,” Douglass said. “It was just super-exciting and kind of unexpected.”
The team also set an ACC record in the 800-yard freestyle relay, beating the rest of the ACC field by four seconds. Both of the historic relay marks came on the first day of competition, and the Wahoos maintained their lead over the competition across every day of the event.
Once the Cavaliers arrive at meets, DeSorbo tells his team the hardest part is over. Following COVID-19 protocols and avoiding the virus is a major challenge. It’s arguably tougher for the Cavaliers than cruising past their ACC peers.
“He’s definitely drilled that into our heads for the entire year,” senior Paige Madden laughed. “I mean, that being said, we still come to practice every day and work really hard. I guess it kind of ironically takes the pressure off just because we are so focused on getting there.”
Arguably the most challenging aspect of competing this season is the uncertainty. The swimmers don’t know if their season will be cut short by COVID-19 issues like it was last year before the NCAA Championships. Even though they’re able to compete, a rise in positive cases can quickly sideline the team or cancel a meet altogether.
Madden says the team follows the health protocols diligently.
They want to stay healthy, and with the NCAA Championships scheduled to start on March 17, they’re trying to do whatever it takes to compete safely. Madden mentioned that some swimmers are trying to go above and beyond the protocols, even considering having their groceries delivered to avoid possible exposures in the community.
“I’m super-excited about it,” Madden said of NCAAs. “I’m trying not to get so excited about it because I don’t want to face the same disappointment we had last year when it was canceled, but I would give anything to swim there this year.”
As the Cavaliers train and ready for the big stage in a few weeks, they know nothing is guaranteed. COVID-19 could take away their shot at a national title. On the other hand, they made it through the ACC Championships safely with spectacular results.
The goal, like it’s been all season, is to do whatever it takes to get to each meet. When the Cavaliers get there, good things happen.
“I’ve never been more proud of a group of athletes than I have been this year,” DeSorbo said. “Balancing everything that they normally go through on top of all the protocols from a COVID perspective, they’ve blown my mind.”