The last time the USC women’s swimming and diving team won a conference championship, most of the current swimmers’ and divers’ parents were still in high school. The year was 1985 — a year before the then-Pacific 10 began recognizing women’s athletics — when the Trojans swam their way to the Western Collegiate Athletic Association title.
Just over three decades later, the Trojans are conference champions once again.
Led by solid veteran leadership and explosive young talent, the No. 4 USC women’s swimming and diving team beat the odds to defeat Stanford, the nation’s top-ranked team; Cal, the defending conference and NCAA champions, as well as six other teams to capture the crown. A year after the men’s swimming and diving team won their first conference championship in 36 years, head coach Dave Salo understood the impact that the win had on not only this team but the entire Trojan family that they represent.
“There is nothing better than making Trojan alumni and fans proud of their Trojans,” Salo said. “The drought of team championships is over for USC.”
Historically, USC has boasted several outstanding individual swimmers but hasn’t been able to put together the team effort it takes to win a collective title. That script was flipped this year, as the Trojans — despite only winning three events — won the championship by over one hundred total points.
USC, who finished third in the 2015 Pac-12 Championships, posted a total of 1481 points. They were followed by No. 1 Stanford, who scored 1344, and No. 6 California, with 1306. From there, the gaps between schools widened: Arizona came in fourth with 1125 points, and UCLA, Utah, Washington State, Arizona State and Oregon State all finished with fewer than 1000 total points.
One of USC’s individual winners, junior swimmer Chelsea Chenault, was there when the Trojans fell short of their goal last season.
“It’s just an awesome experience to be the first team to ever win the Pac-12 Championship for our school,” Chenault said. “We’ve just been so strong, we’ve been fighting on this whole year.”
Chenault was the individual winner in the 500-yard freestyle on Thursday evening, and freshman Elizabeth Stinson went the distance on Saturday night to win the 1650-yard freestyle. They would be the only two Trojans to win their individual events.
“Nothing is more satisfying than a team championship, especially when it was as balanced as this was,” Salo said. “No one star propelled this. It was everyone taking responsibility and making a contribution.”
USC’s other team victory came in the 800-yard freestyle relay on the first night of the championships, when the quartet featuring freshmen Kirsten Vose and Allie Wooden, and juniors Anika Apostalon and Chenault obliterated the school record with a time of 6:55.17. Their finish in the 800 free was good for an NCAA “A” cut time and is currently the nation’s top time in the event this year.
While the Trojans certainly deserve to celebrate after their first-ever Pac-12 conference title, they won’t have long to relax. The NCAA Championships begin in mid-March at Georgia Tech, and with the confidence the team has built up after winning the conference title, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them in position to compete for their first national championship since 1997.
“The lesson learned throughout this championship was that when we put our mind to something we can get it done,” Salo said. “But at this point, winning the Pac-12 championship was one of those events that can transform a team not just for the immediate NCAA championship but for many championships we may face over the next several years.”
With only ten graduating seniors on the roster of 34 swimmers and divers — including fifteen talented freshmen — this may not be the last time we see the Trojans at the top of their conference in the near future.