Ramapo (N.J.) College swimmer Meghan Cortez-Fields put herself on the podium in the 100-yard butterfly at NJAC championships and was the first out trans student-athlete to reach an individual podium since 2022. | Ramapo College Athletics

Late February is make-or-break time in college swimming at every level. Conference championships are at stake, as well the last chances to put up a qualifying time for an NCAA championship in March.

Ramapo (N.J.) College senior Meghan Cortez-Fields was among those hopefuls as she took to the starting blocks at the inaugural New Jersey Athletic Conference Swimming Championships at College Park, Md., this weekend. Three individual events and two relays put her in position to win conference titles and possibly qualify for NCAA Division III nationals next month.

She was also in position to add to the small list of transgender student-athletes who have won a conference title at any level of her sport. The last one to do so, as far as we know, was the person who inspired her to stay in the sport through her transition: 2022 NCAA Division I national swim champion Lia Thomas.

Cortez-Fields pushed to three events finals and two relays on the weekend, in addition to setting two school records | Ramapo College Athletics

Her best chance for a championship and a possible NCAA berth was in last Saturday’s 100-yard butterfly final. Cortez-Fields gamely pursued Rowan sophomore Ella Pennington, a two-time conference champ last season. Pennington ended up with a win and a nationals qualifying mark at 55.31 with Cortez-Fields second at 57.05.

Cortez-Fields’ effort missed the NCAA B-cut qualifying time, but she did break the school record she set earlier this season and made her the first trans woman to reach a conference podium in NCAA division since Thomas did at the 2022 Ivy League Championships.

The previous day, Cortez-Fields finished fifth in the 200-yard individual medley at 2:08.20, which also set a Ramapo College record. She capped off her individual events Sunday with and eighth-place effort in the 100-yard freestyle at 55.13. She also swam legs on Roadrunner relay teams that both finished ninth.

Her swims, including notching Ramapo’s best individual finish of the championships, helped the Roadrunners avoid the cellar. They ended up finishing ninth in the 10-team meet.

Cortez-Fields smiled wide on the 100 fly podium. A second-place finish makes her the first trans student-athlete to reach a conference podium at any level since Lia Thomas 2 years ago | New Jersey Athletic Conference

For Cortez-Fields the weekend was a smiling end to a winding journey.

She previously competed on the men’s team at Ramapo, even while pushing through her transition while meeting the NCAA mandates for transgender inclusion. She told the Ramapo News last year that Lia Thomas’ championship season in 2022, even with the controversy, gave her the spark to stay with it.

“Thomas is an inspiration to me in that way, but also I felt so bad for her because I know exactly what she was going through,” Cortez said. “I think I’m in a very unique position being one of the first here at Ramapo. I hope that people can see what I’m going through and to show I can do this.”

Her smile on the podium of the 100 fly confirmed that she did what she set out to do, yet Meghan Cortez-Fields could be the last transgender woman student-athlete to have the chance in swimming. NCAA regulations are set to change next season and follow the guidelines set up by World Aquatics. Those regulations disqualify anyone who has experienced any stage of male puberty from women’s competition.

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