Following the completion of a nearly undefeated regular season and an impressive turnout at the Big Ten Championships, the No. 22 Ohio State women’s swimming team is set to travel to Indianapolis to compete in the NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming National Championships beginning Wednesday evening.
The Buckeyes enter this meet ranking behind four of their Big Ten competitors, including Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and Minnesota, who are ranked at No. 6, 12, 15 and 19 respectively. Though there will be many fierce competitors from these teams as well as others, the Buckeyes remain focused on their own performances.
“We don’t spend a whole lot of time talking about other teams or schools or athletes. We really put the focus on us,” OSU coach Bill Dorenkott said. “That being said, to reinforce the point of what an amazing meet this is, you have Katie Ledecky, Simone Manuel, and Lilly King who are Olympic medalists and world record holders. It’s an honor to compete against the best not just in the country, but in the world. This is why we do what we do every day — it’s to get this opportunity.”
Ledecky and Manuel will both be competing for top-ranked Stanford. Both athletes were medalists at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, with a combined seven gold medals, as well as two silver. King, who swims for No. 15 Indiana, earned one individual gold at the Rio Games in addition to a gold in the 400-yard medley relay.
Athletes from Stanford, including Ledecky and Manuel, are the top seeds in 10-of-13 events. King fills two of three No. 1 seeds in the remaining events, while Olympic medalist Kathleen Baker from No. 2 California Berkeley fills the other.
The adversaries OSU will face this week might seem intimidating on paper, but they have not deterred OSU from continuing to put in countless hours in the pool and the weight room in order to fine tune their techniques before the big meet.
“We’ve been focusing on the fine details, and honing in on the smaller things,” senior Taylor Vargo said. “We’ve been working on technique and enjoying the process as well as the last few weeks of swimming.”
Vargo will be competing in both the 200-yard and 400-yard medley relays, as well as the 100-yard and 200-yard breaststroke. This will be her fourth and final year competing in the NCAAs, and said she can’t wait to experience the competition one last time.
“My sophomore year, we were No. 41, I believe, and last year we were No. 14. It’s just exciting to be able to go and compete against some of the fastest swimmers in the world,” Vargo said. “It is the fastest meet in the world, and it’s just nice to be able to go up and be recognized, and to be considered at the highest level.”
Vargo will be joined by nine other teammates, two more of which are returning NCAA competitors as well.
“We have a nice combination of youth and experience. We return Liz Li and Lindsey Clary, who were both Top Eight a year ago, and then we return Taylor Vargo who has been there four times,” Dorenkott said. “We also have a nice group of freshmen going, probably as good a group as anybody in the country.”
Molly Kowal and Kathrin Demler are the two freshmen that will be competing in the meet, each competing in three events. Kowal will be swimming the 1,650-yard freestyle, along with the 500-yard freestyle and the 400-yard individual medley. Demler will be joining her teammate in the 500-yard freestyle and 400-yard individual medley, in addition to competing in the 200-yard backstroke.
“It is a meet that rewards experience, and so for some of those kids it’s the opportunity to get there and see what it’s all about. For some of them, I keep telling them how good they are and sooner or later they’re going to start believing me,” Dorenkott said. “We have a couple of freshmen who are world class, they’re just not there today, but they’re going to be special and the sooner they believe it the better we’ll all be.”
One of those freshman is Kowal, who said her nerves will be undeniable in her first NCAA appearance.
“I think it’s going to be fun to go with the group of girls that are going. I mean, I’m pretty nervous because it will definitely, by far, be the biggest meet I’ve ever gone to,” she said. “There are also going to be some really big names there like Katie Ledecky, which will be cool, but it’s also kind of intimidating. But I get nervous for every meet so it’s nothing I can’t handle.”
Junior Meg Bailey will compete in the 200-yard and 400-yard individual medleys, as well as the 200-yard butterfly.
Vargo — being an experienced NCAA competitor — said the team’s goal is to compete at the highest level in each race.
“We want to move up spots, move up places, get some points, and represent Ohio State,” Vargo said. “It’s okay to be nervous, though. Everyone’s a little bit nervous when you go, but just realize that you represent The Ohio State University and I don’t think there’s a better feeling in the world.”
The Buckeyes would be grateful to earn some winning titles, but they are just as grateful to compete and improve both individually and as a team.
“In terms of winning — whether it’s an individual title or a team title — that’s something that’s out of your control,” Dorenkott said. “The only thing you can focus on is the effort you put into winning, and that’s really where our minds are right now. We’re focused on getting some rest, getting sharpened up, and getting ready to roll.”
The competition begins Wednesday night at the Indiana University Natatorium in Indianapolis, and will continue through Saturday.