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Chrös McDougall | NCAA.com | March 22, 2014

After years of runner-up finishes Stanford's DiRado breaks through

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MINNEAPOLIS -- Maya DiRado arrived at the Division I Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships this week as the perpetual runner-up. Second-place finishes? This Stanford senior had three of them.

It didn’t matter the year, and it didn’t matter the event, DiRado had made the rounds -- second in the 200-meter individual medley as a freshman, second in the 200 backstroke in 2012, and second in the 400 IM in 2013.

That streak has finally changed this weekend in Minneapolis.

Qualifying swimmers announced
DiRado, a Santa Rosa, Calif. native, first checked off the 200 IM, winning that event on Thursday. On Friday she won another one, this time pulling ahead of a stacked field in the 400 IM. And on Saturday, she’ll have a chance to change her fortune on her third individual event, the 200 backstroke, in the final day of competition at the University Aquatic Center on the Minnesota campus.

“As my dad likes to say, it’s playing with house money at this point,” said DiRado, who also swam the first leg of Stanford’s winning 400 medley relay on Thursday. “It’s a fun event and there’s not a lot of pressure in it, so hopefully we can continue momentum and see where that takes me.”

DiRado’s performance so far has been the highlight of a big weekend for Stanford. In addition to her two individual titles and the 400 medley relay win, the Cardinal also won the 200 free relay on Thursday and the 200 medley relay on Friday, and fellow senior Felicia Lee added a win in the 100 butterfly on Friday as well. The wins helped put Stanford in a surprise second place, behind only defending champion Georgia, in the team competition.

“If it’s possible, we out-did what we did last night, which is really hard to believe because last night was an amazing session,” Stanford head coach Greg Meehan said. “It was pretty emotional to see Maya win another individual title and see Felicia win her first individual title.”

Of DiRado’s four finals performances so far -- she also swam the third leg in Stanford’s third-place 800 freestyle relay on Friday -- her 400 IM result might have been the most impressive.

A loaded field included six of the top seven finishers from last year’s meet, including first place Elizabeth Beisel of Florida, second-place DiRado , fourth place Cammille Adams of Texas A&M, and fifth-place Stina Gardell of Southern California -- all seniors.

Another fast senior, Georgia’s Melanie Margalis (seventh place last year), had the fastest time in heats, followed by Beisel, Texas A&M junior Sarah Henry and DiRado. But when it counted on Friday night, DiRado and Beisel made it a two-horse race around the midway point, and DiRado pulled away in the last 50 meters for the win.

Touching the wall before Beisel, a two-time U.S. Olympian and the Olympic silver medalist in the event in 2012, was extra sweet.

“I’ve been racing Beisel for a while in the 400 IM, so it’s always fun to come out on top,” DiRado said. “And she is such a great competitor, you know when you’re racing her its going to be a good time, so its nice to get my hand on the wall first.”

For DiRado, the next step is yet to be determined. With her performance so far this weekend, there’s little doubt that she has the potential for a post-collegiate swimming career, and indeed she plans to keep swimming through the summer.

“[I’ll] re-evaluate from there,” she said. “Nothing is decided yet.”

At least part of the reason for the uncertainty is that DiRado will be graduating with a degree she really likes in management science and engineering.

“Everyone is always like, ‘What does that mean?’ she said. “My concentration is financial and decision engineering, so it’s kind of like decision analysis, financial analysis, some optimization and an engineering background.”

For right now, though, those kinds of decisions are a world away. This weekend, she’s enjoying a dream end to her college swimming career.

“It’s exactly the way you want to go out as a senior,” she said, “a good sign for where the program is going, and you couldn’t ask for more.”

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