For the second year in a row, James Madison is the swim and dive champion of the CAA. After making up a two-point deficit on the final day, the Dukes outlasted second place William & Mary by 69 points, 726-657. With the victory, the Dukes maintain their near decade-long streak of finishing in the top two in the CAA.
"I'm elated and really happy for the girls, because they worked really hard for this and I'm glad they could experience it,” swimming head coach Dane Pedersen told JMU Athletics. “I'm really happy for our program and to bring home a championship for JMU means a lot. On a lot of different levels, it means a lot. It's an honor to go back-to-back, but each year is special in its own way and this year was certainly special."
Through the first two days of competition, JMU comfortably sat atop the CAA. The 200-meter medley relay — consisting of sophomores Paige Assaid and Anna Ober, junior Megan Marsh and senior Jillian Breeger — recorded a season-best time of 1:41.34 with a fifth-place finish. Additionally, a miraculous come-from-behind victory in the 800-meter freestyle relay helped to put points on the board for the Dukes. Breeger, freshman Jillian Santiago and juniors Kristie Darmody and Bonnie Zhang shaved a remarkable 12 seconds off their season-best time for a 7:14.78 finish.
On the third day, William & Mary managed to slide into first place. While the Dukes led throughout the day, the Tribe secured the top spot during the 400-meter medley relay. Zhang, in the 200-meter individual freestyle, took first place with an NCAA B time of 1:45.21 to break the school, CAA meet and all-time records. Despite the explosive performances by several JMU swimmers, the team fell two points behind first place at the end of the day, 442-440.
Despite having fallen a spot, the Dukes began the final day dominantly. Sophomore Julianna Jones earned a gold medal in the 1650-meter freestyle with an NCAA B time of 16:18.65, breaking a near decade-old school record (16:38.24) set by Emily Konieczny on Feb. 28, 2009.
Zhang had another first-place finish on the final day, this time in the 100-meter freestyle. The junior recorded a NCAA B time of 48.50, breaking the school record (49.54) formerly set by Eva Hannesdottir. Likewise, freshman Morgan Whaley placed third in the 200-meter butterfly with a personal best time of 2:01.89.
Heading into the 1-meter diving event, the Dukes still trailed William & Mary, this time by 11 points. However, four of five divers made it into the A-final and JMU swept the podium with a first-place finish by junior Hope Byrum — who had an NCAA Zone qualifying score of 281.34 — and second and third place finishes by sophomores Emily Gross (269.30) and Sami Ullman (262.30), respectively, to earn JMU the victory.
In addition to winning the tournament, several Dukes received CAA honors. Byrum was named the Most Outstanding Female Diver of the Meet for the second year in a row, while Zhang was named the Most Outstanding Female Swimmer of the Meet. Moreover, Pedersen was awarded CAA Coach of the Year honors, and diving head coach John Wolsh was named CAA Diving Coach of the Year for the third consecutive season.
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