Despite the lack of crowds in the stands at Willis R. Casey Aquatic Center, the energy was palpable as the Wolfpack swimming and diving teams faced off against Virginia on Saturday, Jan. 23.
The Wolfpack men handled Virginia solidly with a final score of 190.5-107.5, although the women experienced their first loss of the season as Virginia pulled off a narrow victory of 153-144.
“We knew that they [were] going to bring in some pretty heavy artillery and give us a really good competition,” said head coach Braden Holloway. “It was just another opportunity for us to test ourselves [and] test a really good team that has no weak areas— put ourselves out there, execute our races, execute our dives, against arguably the best competition we’re going to see this season.”
The stakes were high for the No. 6 Wolfpack women to perform well against the No. 2 Cavaliers ahead of the ACC Championships in February. The first two events went quite well for NC State, as both the men and women placed first in the 200 medley relay.
Then, in a stunning turn of events, both Virginia women in the 1000-yard freestyle were disqualified due to swimming in the wrong lanes. As a result, senior Kate Moore, freshman Yara Hierath and sophomore Kay Foley swept the podium and gave the Wolfpack women a sizable lead heading into the 200-yard freestyle. The NC State men similarly swept the podium in the 1000-yard freestyle, led by sophomore Ross Dant’s time of 8:58.89.
As the Wolfpack men dominated the 200 freestyle with another sweep, sophomore Katharine Berkoff and junior Emma Muzzy finished first and third in the 100-yard backstroke with times of 52.26 and 53.92, respectively. Although Berkoff’s time was well off her record-setting performance of 50.40 back in December, the national team member showed that she still had plenty of talent as she narrowly edged ahead of the competition to take first.
In the men’s 100-yard backstroke, sophomore Kacper Stokowski made his debut with the Wolfpack after taking a gap year from the NCAA to train at home in Poland as an Olympic hopeful. Stokowski nabbed first by an extremely narrow margin of 0.35 seconds. Freshman Abby Arens similarly posted an incredible come-from-behind performance in the 200-yard butterfly, setting a personal record with a time of 1:58.33.
As the Wolfpack men and women headed into the sprint events, one of the sweetest victories came as junior Kylee Alons pulled off an upset in the 50-yard freestyle against Virginia’s Kate Douglass, who currently holds the No. 1 time in the country. On the other side, the men were clearly feeling the loss of junior Nyls Korstanje, an elite sprinter who is currently taking a redshirt year to train in the Netherlands due to COVID-19, but junior Giovanni Izzo and sophomore Noah Henderson still managed to take second and third, respectively, in the 50-yard freestyle.
“We have our internationals [Giovanni Izzo and Kacper Stokowski] back, and they add a huge portion of the team, just with their energy and speed,” Dant said. “They make our team whole— at the beginning of the year, we were lacking our internationals, but right now, they’re right here.”
The meet was tight right up to the final races for the NC State women, as they were only up one point against the Cavaliers. Heading into the last event, the 400-yard freestyle relay, the pool was abuzz with the knowledge that the winner would take all. However, despite NC State’s early lead, the race came down to the anchor leg and Moore was unable to outsplit the competition.
“I feel like this meet was just about the mentality going into it, focusing on your race strategy but not allowing yourself to crack under the pressure,” Alons said. “I feel really good about my performances and the team’s performances, I feel like we raced our heart out.”
As for the divers, sophomore Bayne Bennett picked up an individual win in the 1-meter dive with a 296.48. His teammate, sophomore Patrick O’Brien, narrowly placed first in the 3-meter with a 278.33, his best score of the season so far.
The NC State swim team will return to Willis R. Casey Aquatic Center on Saturday, Jan. 30 for their final meet of the regular season against Virginia Tech. The diving events will take place on Friday, Jan. 29 at 5 p.m.