By Dalton Ray–
Louisville swimming and dive team crowned their fourth national champion in sophomore Mallory Comerford on March 17. The Kalamazoo, Michigan native won the 200-free with a time of 1:40.36, tying with five-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky.
For Comerford, the moment will last forever.
“It’s one of the coolest moments I’ve ever had and I got to experience it with my team. It was an awesome experience and it’s hard to explain the emotions behind it,” Comerford said. “I was shocked we tied and at first I didn’t realize it. It’s such an honor to be a national champion for Louisville. Representing Louisville and this team is just awesome.”
Not only was Comerford competing with Ledecky, but two-time gold medalist Simone Manuel and 2016 200-free champion Siobhan Haughey were also in the pool. Stanford’s Olympic pair of Ledecky and Manuel have 10 Olympic medals between them.
“(Ledecky and Manuel) are one of the best swimmers in the world and I respect them,” Comerford said. “I knew I was going to have to race the best race of my life to win. I had nothing to lose and just went out and had fun.”
In the race, Manuel led for the opening 150 yards. Manuel, Ledeckey, Comerford and Michigan’s Haughey were neck and neck. During the final 50 yards, Manuel, Ledecky and Comerford separated themselves.
In the final turn, Comerford went from third to first and it was a sprint in the final 15 yards with Ledecky. The two touched at 1:40.36, stunning the crowd.
Race strategy played a large part in Comerford’s comeback.
“This year we’ve spent hours watching video and finding out what my strengths are in the race,” Comerford said. “We talked about going out with my easy speed because we knew Simone was going to be ahead of me. That third 50 (yards) is when I needed to make my move and take it home.”
Winning a national championship is always goal for any college athlete, but to achieve it so quickly wasn’t on the agenda for Comerford.
“I wanted to succeed here and bring as much to table as I could to help my team win. After the first summer, I had a really successful summer,” Comerford said. “After that, I just realized what I could do and it made me hungry for more. Last year I placed second (in the national championships) and it was just an awesome year.”
Even though Comerford as two years left as a Cardinal, she has reached the highest individual honor one can achieve.
“It’s really just an awesome feeling and it’s really hard to describe. It doesn’t feel real yet,” Comerford said. “I’m excited for what’s next and I’m still hungry. I’m taking a few days off then we’re going to get right back into it training for the summer.”
You can watch the race here. Comerford is in lane six (third lane from the top).
Courtesy photo / Louisville Athletics