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Women’s swimming and diving finishes fourth in Ivy Championships

<h5>Nikki Venema ‘23 won the 100m butterfly race at the Ivy League Championships.</h5>
<h5>Photo courtesy of GoPrincetonTigers.com.</h5>
Nikki Venema ‘23 won the 100m butterfly race at the Ivy League Championships.
Photo courtesy of GoPrincetonTigers.com.

In a grueling four-day Ivy League Championship at Harvard’s Blodgett Pool, the Princeton women’s swimming and diving team placed fourth with 1074 points, finishing behind Harvard, Yale, and Penn.

First-year Alexa Pappas, senior Vivian Wang, junior Nikki Venema, and junior Christina Bradley kicked off Ivies on Wednesday night with a stellar first-place finish in the 200 medley relay. A particularly speedy butterfly leg from Venema propelled the women to a 1:38.66 finish, 0.25 seconds ahead of second-place Yale. Princeton found fourth in the 800 Freestyle Relay of Venema, sophomore Ellie Marquardt, junior Amelia Liu, and sophomore Nathalie Valdman, placing the women second on the scoreboard after the first night.

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The second day started off with the 500 freestyle. Penn’s Lia Thomas finished first with a time of 4:37.32, breaking Harvard’s 15-year-old pool record of 4:37.64. However, she narrowly missed Marquardt’s own meet record of 4:36.37, set in 2020. 

After some pushback on Thomas’s participation in Ivy Championships due to her identity as a transgender woman, she was ultimately allowed to participate given that she was found to be in compliance with NCAA rules. The controversy is present even amongst members of Thomas’s own team — with 16 swimmers at Penn taking to the Washington Post to argue that Thomas ought not be allowed to participate, due to an “unfair advantage.” In recent weeks, Thomas has become a “target of transphobic rhetoric,” as described by NBC News. 

Thomas won the Ivy League Title 100-yard freestyle, 200-yard freestyle, and 500-yard freestyle events, and the performance earned her the high-point award for the Ivy League Championships.

In the 200-yard individual medley, sophomore Liza Whitmire finished third in 1:59.29, good for an NCAA B cut. Venema put up another impressive performance in the 50 freestyle to round out the individual events of the second evening, touching in at 22.30, placing her second behind Yale’s Iszac Henig. 

In a blazingly fast 200 freestyle relay heat, the Tigers finished 1:30.38, second behind a meet and pool record-breaking relay from Yale (1:29.66). Venema once again propelled the relay, putting up the fastest split of the entire field in 21.95 and out-splitting Yale’s third leg by 0.48. Venema was the only swimmer in the event with a leg under 22 seconds.

The excellent finish in the relay put the Tigers at 409 points for No. 2 on the record board at the end of day two.

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In Princeton’s individual highlight of the evening, Venema took first in the 100 butterfly in 52.42 for another NCAA B cut, a comfortable 0.27 seconds ahead of Harvard’s Abigail Carr. Though 0.18 seconds behind Carr after the first two laps, Venema powered through a strong back-half effort to take gold in a blazing finish.

Princeton found more individual success in the short-distance breaststroke and backstroke, with sophomore Margaux McDonald finishing fourth in the 100 breaststroke in 1:02.48. First-year Isabella Korbly finished second with a time of 53.88 in the 100 backstroke for an NCAA B cut.

A powerful Tiger 400 medley relay with a team of Korbly, McDonald, Venema, and Bradley taking second in 3:38.63, more than three seconds ahead of Brown, closed the evening. The relay brought the women to fourth place on the leaderboard heading into the final day of competition.

On day four, Marquardt proved her strength in the distance events again to open the final events, finishing second in the grueling, 66-lap 1650 freestyle. Her 16:28.22 finish was good for yet another NCAA B cut.

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Whitmire and Korbly put up strong swims amidst a tight finish in the 200 backstroke to take fourth and sixth, respectively. The heat’s finish was extremely tight; the second through sixth-place finishes all touched within 0.32 seconds of each other. Whitmire’s prelims swim of 1:57.08 was good for an NCAA B cut and placed her fourth all-time in Princeton’s history.

The main sprint event of the evening, the 100-yard freestyle, saw Venema finish third behind Penn’s Thomas and Yale’s Henig. Thomas set a meet and pool record of 47.63. Henig followed close behind with a time of 47.82. Venema’s 48.81 was good for another NCAA B cut.

The final two individual events of the evening — the 200 breaststroke and 200 butterfly — saw McDonald finish in third and sophomore Jess Yeager finish in fourth, respectively, in each first heat. Yeager’s 1:58.75 was good for an NCAA B cut and the eighth-fastest 200 butterfly in Princeton’s history. The 400 freestyle relay closed out the Championships, with a Princeton team of Bradley, Liu, Marquardt, and junior Jennifer Secrest taking fourth in 3:21.66.

The final results saw Harvard first with 1503.5 points, Yale second with 1258 points, Penn third with 1256 points, and Princeton fourth with 1074 points.

“We had a solid meet with some really strong swims up at Harvard,” said first-year Emily Appleton. “Our team was a lot smaller than we would’ve hoped, and that definitely hurt us in the scoring.” 

Appleton also highlighted Venema’s stellar swims: “[Nikki] in particular stood out on the individual end, and her 100 butterfly added to her great performances this week.”

The qualifying Tigers look forward to competing at the NCAA Championships March 16–19 at Georgia Tech’s McAuley Aquatic Center.

Editor’s Note: This piece has been updated to include further details around Thomas’s participation in the Ivy Championships.  

Nolan Musslewhite is a staff sports writer at the ‘Prince’ who typically covers swimming. He can be reached at nmusslewhite@princeton.edu.

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