Iowa’s Graves tunes out distractions ahead NCAA Championships

Freshman standout Alyssa Graves enters her first NCAA Championship meet slated to compete in the 1650-free and 200-fly.

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Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa’s Alyssa Graves completes the women’s 1000m freestyle during a swim meet at the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021. The women’s team hosted Nebraska while the men’s team had an intrasquad scrimmage. (Shivansh Ahuja/The Daily Iowan)

Evan Bruner, Sports Reporter


Iowa women’s swim and dive freshman Alyssa Graves was one of just three Hawkeye swimmers to qualify for the 2021 NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming Championship this week.

For Graves, qualifying for the event has been more exciting and exhilarating rather than intimidating.

“It’s all really exciting,” Graves said. “We, as a team, have worked so hard and I’m excited I was able to qualify as a freshman.”

Graves’ first season in the Black and Gold has been unusual, as COVID-19 limited the Hawkeyes’ early-season training opportunities and caused the Big Ten Conference to shorten its women’s swimming and diving schedule.

On the season, the Hawkeyes only competed in four regular season meets — three of which saw Graves hit the pool deck.

Despite all that, Graves has been solid throughout her inaugural collegiate season. In Iowa’s 2020-21 campaign-opener at the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center Jan. 16, she swam the 1,500-free in 9:55.59.

Then, at a triangular meet in Evanston, Graves posted a 9:48.33 time — good for second in Iowa women’s swim and dive history.

“After our meet against Northwestern, I started to see that I had a good chance to qualify for the NCAA Championships. It wasn’t really something I was talking about, I was just thinking it in my head, and I became more confident as the year went on.”

RELATED: Iowa’s swim and dive teams set for NCAA Championships

The freshman continued to impress throughout the shortened season, taking sixth place in the 200-fly and 11th in 1650 fly at the Big Ten Championships.

Despite her strong individual performances, the Hartland, Wisconsin, native still had to deal with a variety of distractions during the season.

In August, the University of Iowa announced its women’s swimming and diving program would be eliminated at the end of the 2020-21 academic year.

In September, four Hawkeye women’s swimmers — Sage Ohlensehlen, Kelsey Drake, and Alex Puccini — filed a Title IX Complaint against the University of Iowa, claiming the school was non-compliant with the education amendments of 1972, specifically as it pertains to sex-based discrimination.

The UI retracted its decision to discontinue its women’s swim and dive program in February. Although the ruling was a relief to some, Graves felt like it may have been difficult for many of the swimmers to process.

“It took us by surprise for the sport to be continued, especially right before Big Tens,” Graves said. “In a way, it brought more pressure because many of us were looking at schools to transfer to and some of our scholarship offers depended on those races.”

Like several of her teammates, Graves planned on transferring after the school’s initial ruling back in August. She picked Purdue as her future home, but with the recent developments, it is unclear which women will end up returning to Iowa City next year.

For now, Graves is keeping her focus on the upcoming NCAA Championships, where she will be competing in two events: The 1650-free and 200-fly. She is currently ranked 37th nationally in the 1650 and 43rd in the 200.

Graves will be joined in Greensboro, North Carolina, by Drake and sophomore Mallory Jump March 17-20 for the national event.

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