McHugh becomes highest-finishing Penn Stater in NCAA women’s swimming

March 19, 2018

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Penn State junior Ally McHugh claimed silver at the NCAA Women’s Swimming & Diving Championships in the 1650 freestyle Saturday with a historic swim of 15 minutes, 36.27 seconds in McCorkle Aquatic Pavilion.

“It’s huge to have somebody from Penn State perform as Ally did on the big stage,” said Penn State head coach Tim Murphy. “The only person that beat her was the best swimmer ever, so it’s a nice reflection on Ally and the work she’s done and the work [assistant coach] Erik Posegay has done to prepare her. She rose to the occasion, so it’s an honor well-deserved, and I think it shows what people are capable of doing coming to Penn State.

“I think, most importantly, is the pride she has in representing Penn State. You can’t ask for more than that.”

McHugh made both Penn State history and individual history. By placing second, she becomes Penn State’s highest-finishing swimmer all-time at the NCAA Women’s Swimming & Diving Championships and the program’s third NCAA medalist, joining bronze medalists Sarah Haupt (2004, 100 back) and Kristen Woodring (2001, 100 breast). Her time was not only good enough to break her previous school record of 15:43.34, set at last month’s Big Ten Championships, it also stamped her place in the American and international record books outside of the NCAA, ranking her as the sixth and eighth-fastest performer all-time, respectively. 

“Going into it I just wanted to have a lot of fun,” said McHugh. “I was feeling really good in warm-ups and I was excited to race some really fast girls in my first A-finals at the National Championships. I was just trying to swim my race plan and it went really well, so I’m really happy with it.

McHugh also became Penn State’s first first-team All-American since Alyson AckmanCarolyn FittinKaitlin Jones and Caitlyn Karr earned the honor in the 800 free relay in 2015.

McHugh finished second to Stanford sophomore Katie Ledecky, the world record holder in the event. Ledecky, a gold medalist at the 2016 Summer Olympics, was off her record pace, but touched first in 15:07.57.

“She dove in and swam her own race to start off with, and it’s real easy to get too excited and over swim the front part of that race, but she didn’t,” said Penn State head coach Tim Murphy.” She kept her composure, and that speaks well for her ability to handle the moment. The moment was not too big for her.”

McHugh was nearly three seconds quicker through 500 yards and approximately six seconds quicker through 1000 yards compared to her Big Ten swim, also setting the record for that distance.

“Toward the end it became a grind,” said Murphy. “She said that at about 40 laps in she began to feel it a little bit, but from that point on she did a really nice job of racing.

“It was a big moment, and not only did she handle it well, she crushed it. It was just so fun to watch.”

The event concludes a successful NCAA Championships for McHugh. She totaled 26 points to single-handedly place Penn State 29th as a team.

Thursday, McHugh broke her own record in the women’s 500 freestyle, winning the consolation finals to place ninth. Thursday morning, McHugh placed 10th in the preliminaries in 4:37.80, breaking her school record of 4:38.44 set at the Big Ten Championships in the same pool last month. She then continued to drop time in the evening, touching the wall first in the consolation finals in 4:36.17.

Friday, McHugh was less than two-tenths of a second and one place shy of advancing to the consolation finals in the 400 IM. She placed 17th in the morning preliminaries in 4:07.52, making her the first alternate for the evening, but without any scratches she did not crack the finals field. She would have needed to surpass 4:07.38 in prelims for the 16th and final qualifying berth.

Last Updated March 27, 2018