Stanford sophomore Katie Ledecky remained unblemished in her NCAA Championships career, opening this year’s meet by anchoring the Cardinal to an 800-yard freestyle relay title in Columbus, Ohio, on Wednesday.
The five-time Olympic champion had the second-fastest split of the event as Stanford clocked 6:46.93 to beat runner-up Michigan by 3.1 seconds.
Katie Drabot, Ella Eastin and Brooke Forde were the first three legs, handing a lead to Ledecky.
For the second straight year, Ledecky was outsplit by Louisville’s Mallory Comerford.
2017 NCAA Champs: 1:40.46
2018 NCAA Champs: 1:39.87
2017 NCAA Champs: 1:40.21
2018 NCAA Champs: 1:39.14
Ledecky and Comerford went on to race to a tie in the individual 200-yard freestyle last year. That won’t happen this week. Ledecky is entered in the 400-yard individual medley on Friday rather than the 200 free.
Stanford, which last season won its first women’s team title since 1998, is favored to repeat thanks in part to having two of the most decorated female swimmers in NCAA history.
Simone Manuel, a four-time Rio Olympic medalist, reportedly said she will forgo her last year of eligibility next season, making NCAAs her last college meet. This is Manuel’s fourth year at Stanford, but she redshirted the 2015-16 season in preparation for the Olympics.
She went nearly six months between meets from the July 2017 World Championships until mid-January, missing the first three months of the college season due to a hip injury.
No matter, Manuel repeated as Pac-12 champion in the 50- and 100-yard freestyles last month and can repeat as NCAA champion in those events on Thursday and Saturday, respectively.
Though Manuel did not swim Wednesday’s relay, she is also the top seed in Friday’s 200 free field with Ledecky’s absence.
Ledecky hasn’t discussed with Stanford whether she will return for her junior season or turn pro, according to the school. Next up for her are individual finals each of the next three days — 500 free, 400 IM and the 1,650 free on Saturday, her 21st birthday.
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