While March Madness has been holding much of the country’s attention around college sports, many schools on the tournament brackets also dominated the psych sheets for the NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships.
The McAuley Aquatic Center at the Georgia Institute of Technology — the host site of the championships — was a hotspot of swimmers, supporters, and media through all four days of the competition.
Extensive media coverage throughout the event reflected the heightened attention on the NCAA and its policies regarding the participation of transgender athletes. The press row was full for Penn swimmer Lia Thomas' 500-yard freestyle win, which included seats assigned to the Associated Press, ESPN, Fox News, and The New York Times.
The height of protests occurred in the first days of competition. Protestors traveled distances to demonstrate outside the entrance of the aquatic center, while counter-protestors consisted mostly of Georgia Tech students.
But beyond Penn's presence at the championships, the top standings were dominated by a few powerhouse schools.
The schools with the most participating swimmers were reflected in the greatest numbers amongst the spectators, standing out by wearing coordinated school gear.
The best seats in the stands centered nearest to the pool were occupied each day by a rotation comprised of Stanford, Auburn, Virginia, and Wisconsin supporters numbered in the dozens. The seats — which sold out for around $120 per day — were packed every day, with just a few remaining in the nosebleed sections.
With the top swimmers of the nation gathered for one competition, broken records are almost sure expectations of the national championships. Thirteen out of the 18 different events in swimming saw at least one type of record broken during the four days of competition. Nine of them were broken by Virginia, which placed first overall in the team rankings.
Olympian and Virginia swimmer Kate Douglass broke records in three different strokes. Her teammate Alex Walsh — who competed with Douglass at the 2020 Olympic Games and won a silver in the 200-meter individual medley, with Douglass claiming bronze — also set new records of her own as well.
Ivy League athletes finally had the chance to compete on the national stage in their first full season on return from COVID-19 cancelations. There were six swimmers from the Ancient Eight, including three Quakers. Brown, Harvard, and Yale were represented by one swimmer each.
The three swimmers from Penn — juniors Catherine Buroker and Anna Kalandadze, and fifth-year senior Lia Thomas — did not break any competition or national records. However, Thomas bested her own personal and Penn program record with a 500-yard freestyle win.
Buroker and Kalandadze both competed in the 500- and 1650-yard freestyle events. Thomas competed in the 500-, 200-, and 100-yard freestyles, placing on the top-eight podium for each.
With 551.5 points in total, Virginia placed first in the team rankings, scoring almost 150 points more than second-place Texas.